Saturday, 17 December 2011

La Gomera, a compact island of contrasts

We have now spent a week exploring Gomera with my parents and it may just be our favourite Canary island. There is lots of good hiking, with extensive forests on the cool high plateau in the centre of the island and terraced ravines on its outside. In fact, everywhere that can be terraced has been terraced, but unfortunately most of the terraces are no longer cultivated; at most a few little dragon trees grow on them. It's not quite clear why so much land has been abandoned for agricultural production, but most likely it's due to the climate being significantly drier than in the past. The temperature gradient on the island is amazing. We've passed in an hour from 25C at sea level to 10C at around 1000m elevation.

There are a lot of interesting small boats about in the marina. The Talisker Challenge (rowing across the Atlantic,  solo or in teams) left from here just before we arrived, but two of the boats subsequently limped back. For a row boat they are quite deluxe, but it's still a hardcore endeavour. Jim admits to being strangely tempted by these little craft...

On our pontoon there are some French sailing legends, twins Emannuel and Maximilien Berque, who have made a habit of sailing tiny home-built vessels across the Atlantic. They have even done it without any instruments - no sextant, no GPS, no compass - nada. The latest Micromegas is their fifth, a 5 metre-long catamaran. Each hull is just a big enough pod for one to sleep in. They have a Trangia camping stove and carry 50L of drinking water for the crossing. Ah, the home comforts of Fettler!

Seeing numerous bags of gofio piled up on the catamaran made us want to try this Canarian cereal flour and it turns out to be great boat food. Gofio is pre-cooked and comes in different grain varieties (maize, wheat, barley and mixed). It's somewhat reminiscent of Weetabix. We've now switched to it for breakfast, mixed up with milk, date syrup and banana. Gofio, especially the corn variety, can also be used in savoury dishes, for thickening soups etc. Maximilien and Emannuel even mix it with red wine.

We checked out several possible anchorages on the south coast of the island by land and they all seem quite open and prone to swell so we are not sure if we are going to go there by sea. The Canaries are definitely not an anchoring hotspot; the only protected anchorages being found inside larger harbours. The wind fairly howls through the marina most days, funnelling through the high valleys, but once out of the wind the weather is balmy and, unlike the locals, we still swim in the sea most days. We are now chillling in San Sebastian and waiting for the strong northeasterlies to subside for a couple of days so that we can make for Las Palmas in time for Christmas and New Year. That being said, this place is growing on us to the extent that we might just sit tight a while longer.

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