Don’t look down
On four days, we tried to use the three local bus routes, which respectively go from San Sebastian to Santiago in the mid south of the island; Valle Gran Rey on the western tip and Valhermoso inland from Agulo on the north of the island. The whole island is only about 25 by 23 kilometres, and the longest bus journey is about an hour and three quarters.
But what journeys.
Every route is an absolute switchback of precipitous drops and perilous near misses with other traffic. Don’t look down! Even the locals seem to be continuously crossing themselves on these bus journeys. Our first journey to Santiago left us stranded with no bus actually turning up to bring us back for an extra three and a half hours. Santiago playa (beach area) is about half the size of West Bay, with a small concrete harbour. It is frankly underwhelming. John from Casa Canarias, said that Santiago has a “special charm”, but we managed to miss it. Once you’ve had morning coffee, lunchtime snack, three more coffees, a couple of lagers, and walked seven times up and down the 400 metre promenade, the twin smoke stacks of San Sebastian can beckon one back!
The journey to Valle Gran Rey is even more spectacular and takes in quite a lot of the southern edges of the National Park. We got there on our second attempt, after the bus failed to turn up at all on the first morning. The journey threads through rich green forests, all shrouded mysteriously in the clouds which are a permanent feature of the inner landscape, and ends in a steep, winding descent into a fine terraced valley running down to La Gomera’s main tourist area. You used to be able to get a boat to and from Valle Gran Rey, but that ferry has ceased operations.
If you like beach holidays, this could be for you. Quite a good, if steeply inclined beach, plenty of sand and some interesting rock pools. It’s the centre for lots of new tourist developments, but again it seems very much geared for the German market. Most of the people we said ‘hello’ to were German, Dutch, Scandinavian or Spanish. It was five days until we bumped into other Brits.
Marching along the beach in pairs
Back home in the UK, I’m a keen, if now relatively ageing cross-country runner. Yes, I have run the Seaton Grizzly quite a few times! I went running on La Gomera a few times, but I found that the vertical drops caused me to decide on a personal agenda of wimpishness. For walking the island on any of the countless paths, you need to be at least in pairs, have the correct equipment, including compass, the local Goldstadt German map of the island and stout shoes.
Even more important though, is a head for heights and confidence in mountain walking in difficult mountainous conditions. Many of the walks are classified as the highest level of difficulty in the guides and maps. There are also relatively few circular routes, with many taking up to seven and eight hours to the next village or town. So walking is really a mecca for the adventurous, who are prepared to camp or risk finding their own pensions for accommodation. Nicholas’ book offers lots of useful info on this type of room only accommodation.
Back in San Sebastian after a week, we felt that really we were there for a week too long. Going each day to the same beach isn’t really our type of holiday and we became increasingly puzzled by the behaviour of many Germans who used the two short black sandy stretches for what can only be called “synchronised route marching”. It’s somehow a bit disconcerting to see the same three couples march up and down, up and down along the shoreline, for hours on end.
We nearly escaped on an oil tanker. Six days into our holiday, we espied two middle aged men at the next market square table to ours. They were laughing. We suddenly realised that we’d hardly seen anyone smile, let alone laugh for the past week. We said, “Hello” and the older of the two, who turned out to be Niels, invited us to join them. Five rounds of drinks and much hilarity later, Captain Niels and First Engineer, Danny, were summoned on the mobile phone back to their oil tanker. They insisted on paying for all the drinks and invited us to join them in a private cabin on a short voyage taking in La Hiero, La Palma and ending up in Santa Cruz in north Tenerife.
I really fancied it, but Christine was put off by the thought of a whole ship full of men. Perhaps not all her Dorset lady friends would have shown the same reserve. Like me, she regretted it during the next days of watching marching Germans on San Sebastian beach.
Escape to Los Christianos
In the end, we fled for Tenerife and the crowds of Los Christianos. We booked in for two nights at the La Paloma pension. Nice clean room and only £16 night for the two. We ate great food, with lots of choice, talked with people of all nationalities, went on a boat trip to watch the pilot whales, and I even found the local mountains ‘run-able’. La Gomera looks magical, but it wasn’t quite for us.