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La Gomera, Canary Islands

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San Sebastian de la Gomera

La Gomera is a paradise!. We heard this line and we booked a trip with our friends in Hera Travel and today we drove again to Los Christianos, boarded a bus that brought us to the harbor where we got on Fred Olsen ferry to the island in about 45 minutes.

The island is obviously different. Right after you leave San Sebastian, its capital, you realize that you are surrounded only by tall peaks looking like Switzerland. The views are amazing and you cannot stop taking pictures. Only 22000 live on the island and this number dwindle every year. You can see the locals tending the field with hoes and shovels, planting potatoes and corn, and collecting the sap from the palm trees to make a palm honey. This palm honey mixed with Grapa makes for a tasty drink called gomeron. The bus stopped us for a quick gomeron, at the suggestion of a guide that was way too dramatic but made an interesting tour with classical music that was synced to the dramatic views on the way.

The entire way is going through hills and valleys with occasional views of the coast bathed in the blue ocean. The hills have on them terraces built by hand with walls made out of the same broken rocks used to be build the houses. These terraces resemble the ones you see in Peru built by Incas. These terraces are everywhere and you see them cultivated also with bananas, diligently patched like in a puzzle. Close to San Sebastian you can guess also the depopulation because the terraces are abandoned, their shaped still being seen but instead of crops are covered by cacti. The locals still use a way to communicate by whistling, a more assured way to be understood between two far away mountains.

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Laurisilva, Parque Nacional Gurajonay

We stopped again in Carbonaria to admire the views and latter to Hermigua where the old 400 old church school was transformed by a family in a charming bedroom apartment. The bus stopped at a tourist store were they were selling lots of interesting things including a palm gem and palm honey good for pancakes instead of maple syrup. After the mandatory group lunch where we had a nice conversation with a Dutch mother and daughter that looked almost the same and a couple from Barcelona who told us that the central government is discriminating against Catalans, we continued to the highlight of the trip, the Laurisilva, the old forest covered in mist and moss in the middle of Parque Nacional Gurajonay. The museum/visitor center has a garden with remarkable flowers from the area that grow way higher than in many other places, eg poinsettia and dandelion. We also found out that at the arrival of the Spaniards around 1445, the Canary islands were populated by Guanche a population that probably was originally from Africa. The Spaniards decimated the population who not having writing did not leave many signs of their evolution, except a fertility cult and some mummies. The copy of the artifact that is sold in tourist store show a woman with large hips, a symbol of the Goddess, widespread in Europe and away before the arrival of the Christianity.

The mysterious forest is really beautiful and only for this is worth every moment of the trip. First and only time when I was able to see something similar I hiked in awe in Patagonia through such a landscape. I called it the Patagonian forest in Torre del Paine but mainly in El Chalten close to Fitz Roy on Rio Electrico. All trees were covered in green moss, all type of moss hanging from their branches. La Gomera forest is spooky, with shapes that in the night may start to move and breathe, all green from the moss. I stayed in it as much as the time permitted being the last to the bus and wished that they have left without me.

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The volcanic cones in Rock Ledge, La Gomera

One more stop before San Sebastian was an area of volcanic cones that are looking like stone towers. The Rock Ledge is the most famous of it overlooking a valley in late day sun. From there the road to San Sebastian goes down in hairpins through deep ravines and valleys full of abandoned terraces just before showing the harbor. Fred Olsen ferry was waiting for us with the town buildings bathed in sunset light and firecrackers noise announcing the New Year’s eve. We left La Gomera dream with an hour delay from the harbor in the golden light of a cloudy sunset and with dolphins jumping behind the ferry.

On Tenerife the parties for the New Year were starting attended by tourists dressed in tasteless party dresses, men with coats or sweaters but women in short and skimpy shinny skirts and tight blouses that made me cold only looking at them.

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Sunset over La Gomera

We left to have the dinner in Playa de las Americas, looking more like Naples, FL or Santa Barbara, CA than Spain and while dining on sardines and other fish we watched the parade on costumes on the main drag. After dinner we started to make calls for families and friends in other countries to send them congratulations for 2012 and we drove back to Los Christianos where a large party was aggregated in the main square in front of the church. We partied with them, with champagne at the turn of the year and lots of dancing done by a people that love to enjoy the party. Men and women of all ages were dancing together, no inhibitions just pure enjoyment, together with kids, friends and families all were celebrating. We had our celebration with them and we left, with only one turn around for a picture, around 2:00 am reaching Los Gigantes around 3 pm after a slow but safe drive.

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Posted by on January 1, 2012 in Blog, Canary Islands, Spain

 
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New Year’s Eve in Tenerife

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Playa de Las Americas, Tenerife

After a New Year’s dinner in Playa de Las Americas that is more catered for groups we went to Los Christianos for an outside party in the main square, enjoyed by foreigners and locals alike.

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Los Christianos, Tenerife

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Blog, Canary Islands, Spain

 

Tenerife – North, Canary Islands

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El Teide National Park, Tenerife

Next day we booked a trip to visit the island but after we waited for about 45 minutes in front of Princess Darcil Hotel, in Los Christianos, we realized that the buses already passed. We left for the tour on our car and that was probably better because we had the flexibility that a bus tour cannot confer. We went directly in Vilaflor, a place at the entrance in El Teide, a national park around the volcano, a peak of 3714 meters. We drove in the park surrounded by lava flows, impressed by the landscape that looked so close with Arizona only on tones of black instead of the yellow red of the Painted Desert. The park is really impressive and in its middle is the peak of El Teide overlooking the entire island. The roads are well maintained and have lots of places to stop, park and take pictures. We got to the base of El Teide but it was obvious that if we get the cabin to go on top we could not see anything else during the day so we skipped that part continuing all the way, through the park, to La Oratova. The drive was a little stressful because we ran on empty with the gas tank and we were relieved to find a pump in La Orotava. Our target was to get to Garichico but the unplanned stop for gas showed us a charm of a city.

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La Oratova, Tenerife

Narrow cobbled streets guarded by houses with balconies some with flowers were everywhere  Most of the houses are old having a history displayed on their walls. The entire city looks like a charming living museum, even if inside there are modern offices. The heart of the visit is around Casa de los Balcones and the museum, two old houses preserved beautifully that have inside beside museums and store for traditional artifacts, demonstrations of various trades. Unfortunately the short hours of day light drove us quicker from there than we would have liked to stay and we drove 20 km to Garichico, a place located on the ocean’s shore.

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Garichico, Tenerife

The first things you see in town are the natural pools that are on the promenade, near the fort that once was guarding against pirates. The volcanic rock formed all sorts of pools that communicate and were connected by paths that make for an excellent park on water. On the water front the Cohiba store and the other water front stores make a quick stop till you get on the back streets, aligned with the same beautiful old houses with balconies that congregate in the cathedral square, around a park were locals play a local card game named “embite”,  if my spelling is right. In many stores I listened to traditional Canarian music and I finally was able to get a CD in one of them.

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Masca, Tenerife

Again a short stay and we drove for another 20 km to Masca, a village up in the mountain on very winding and narrow roads that for some reason I understood that scare the locals. The views on the way are stupendously beautiful and even only for the views the trip is worth doing. The village, famous for an organized hikes where you climb down 4 hours to be picked up by a boat and brought back to the hotel, is really charming especially in the dusk light that made the valley golden. Old houses made out of rocks, on narrow paths flooded in bougainvillea and all hanging on the mountain and overlooking a chasm that ends in the ocean. The paths and houses are hanged sometimes to cliffs and the walk continues from one side to the other of the village. We spent the sunset in Masca and the light was fantastic.

From there we drove all the way to Los Gigantes and continued to Los Christianos but the road was traffic jammed and after waited for a while we turned around, had a sangria and ate in a restaurant in Los Gigantes leaving again some evening time for our charming terrace.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Blog, Canary Islands, Spain

 
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Tenerife – South, Canary Islands

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Playa Porto Santiago, Tenerife

To get to the Canary islands is taking way to long no matter where you are coming from. We had to fly from Bucharest, through London and Madrid and no matter that we left for the airport in Bucharest at 6:30 am, with some delayed flights we ended up in Tenerife Norte around 10:30 pm with one luggage less, the photographic tripod, that somehow was lost in Heathrow. We tried to send the luggage directly in TFN but the check-in  lady from Bucharest told that is not possible being two separate flights, but for sure she did not want to try. Having to report the lost luggage in Madrid plus the time spent to recheck-in gave us only a very short time to take the bus into the city, (E2, 30min, every 15 minutes). We took a bus and went to Plaza de Cibeles and we took a breath in the nice city, enough for one of our backpacks to get opened and grace to the attention of a Spaniard that saw it, nothing was lost or stolen.

Tenerife has two airports, the one in the north TFN serving “the peninsula” as Spanish people called it and the new one in the south for international flights. The island is long, only between the two airports being more than 1 hour drive on the highway. El Teide volcano from the middle of the island creates a different climate in the north, cloudy and wet in comparison with the south that is desert and completely dry many days with blue sky. This north climate made the airport more difficult to be used and after a air crash involving a PANAM and a KLM the southern airport was built.  The climate of the island is mild on both sides, its location on the same parallel with the southern tip of Morocco making a perfect destination for winter trips.

We finally booked the accommodations about 2 weeks before and to my utmost surprise I could not find ANY rent-a-car from the major agencies. After an entire day of trying I finally found a local agency that did NOT operate in the Northern airport but for a higher fare sent the driver with the car to TFN. So Jeremy waited with a sign and off we went to the island. We drove for about one hour and he gave me an introduction to the islands’ less known facts, one being the political move that all Canary islands want to secede from Spain on their extremely strong economy based exclusively on tourism. Finally we arrived at a McDonalds were he drafted the papers and Jeremy gave us the car and left home wishing us good luck in finding the apartment.

This proved to be more difficult to do that planned. We arrived in Los Gigantes, another 40 minutes drive, around 12:30 pm but there were no street signs or numbers. Nobody knew where the address is and driving by the Police station in Los Gigantes we asked for assistance. They told us where the address is but they were completely confused about the number and told us to come back if we cannot find. A thing that we did right away and they obliged themselves by getting in a police car, two of them and coming with us. Their attitude was impressive and confirmed again my excellent impression I built in many years about the Spaniards. With diligence they did all that was possible, phone, internet, calling around, speaking with people close-by to locate the place and in the end they found it and spent almost 60 minutes going everywhere to locate a key. After about more than an hour of searches I gave up and wanted to go to find a room for the night, so they drove around with us and showed us two hotels, the last one Hotel de Los Dragos Sur (E51) having an apartment available. Only than, around 3 am, they left not before answering to my many thanks that they just did their duty. Probably they did only their duty but with such dedication, diligence, friendliness and distinction that I doubt that I can find in many places in the world a similar behavior. In any case the advice is never come by night because is not easy even for locals to find a location….

Next morning after an excellent and surprisingly inexpensive buffet breakfast (E6) in the hotel I called the owner of the apartment and I went to see if is anybody there. In front I found a guy, Javier who waited till about 12:30 am for us, who was also owner for some of the units. He apologized for the confusion and in no time we transported the luggage to the apartment that had a fantastic view over Los Gigantes, so nice that you wanted to sleep on its terrace and we left to visit Los Gigantes and Puerto Santiago, two connected resorts. I asked Javier to check for my tripod but from London was still no response so I considered the tripod as a lost cause. In our rush we missed the harbor with its lighthouse that no matter that was very close to us we never been able to see.

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Los Christianos, Tenerife

The Spanish coast, as its Canary Islands are overbuilt but what we saw here is beyond belief. Entire mountain slopes were covered in apartments, all units to be rented or sold to sun-starved north Europeans who are coming here in hordes. La Arena beach, made out of black volcanic sand, was covered by Brits, Swiss and Germans few topless enjoying the end of December sun, still hot during the day. In many building sites the construction was stopped, a sign of the current lack of financing connected with a drop in demand. After we walked for about an hour on the beach and on the maritime avenue we drove all the way south to Los Christianos. Originally all locals were living in the north, the south being a desert with nothing on it where some were buying plots of land to have a cottage. Now-a-days the south is covered by concrete, apartments, houses, malls, high-rises, bars and restaurants creating a jungle of development that spreads on the entire coast. Los Christianos and Playa de las Americas are two of these sprawling communities, the second having the allure of glitz and kitsch of Las Vegas buildings with spas built as Cleopatra temples….

The beach in Los Christianos is central to the community surrounded by a nice promenade in its middle palm trees circled by serpentine of lights. After taking the view and shooting the beach we walked on the promenade and we bumped into a guy, Vasea, who was selling trips around the island and surroundings.

Vasea together with his partner Adrian are the owners of Hera Travel, on Paseo Roma and they proved to be an extremely reliable source of information with whom we booked several trips, all very good.

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Los Gigantes, Tenerife

After a first sunset in Canary we left to Los Gigantes were we had a good dinner on a restaurant right on the beach giving us some time to rest on the magnificent terrace of our apartment.

2 days latter we returned to the Southern part to the island.  The last full day in Tenerife we woke up late and enjoyed a great breakfast on our gorgeous terrace overlooking La Gomera paradise in front and Los Gigantes to the right. Finally we left directly to the Jungle Park, Parque de Aquilla, a place that I would not mention if I did not find it way better than many others we visited.

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Parque de Aquilla, Tenerife

Built on a smaller than imagined land, the park is decorated in African style with gates and statues all over it. The habitats can be viewed by ground walks but also by some interesting suspended ones. But what is really impressive is a birds of pray show where bald eagles and many other birds are mingling with the audiences and fly on top of their heads touching occasionally their hats with the wings. I know that this is a déjà vu activity in most of the islands but we found this place to be exceptional and it is worth every penny.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Blog, Canary Islands, Spain