By Linda Wainwright
A few years back, I spent a day on the Canary Island of La Gomera with a friend who was recovering from a serious illness. I was living in the South of Tenerife, and crossing by ferry from Los Cristianos is something less than an hour, so it’s easily accessible for a simple day out from the “big” island. It was a very gentle day because of my friend’s condition. Mainly it was a slow drive, and a lazy fish lunch. We stopped a couple of times to stroll, once along the beach, and once in the forest, as we skirted the Garajonay National Park. Back home, my friend described the day as “healing.”
I’d marvelled at the beauty of this, the second-smallest Canary Island, before, but that was the first time I’d experienced a kind of mystic quality to the air here. It comes as no surprise, then, to note that the President of the La Gomera Inter-island Council, in an introduction to the booklet I picked up in the tourist office, says, “The Island has a reputation for being a magical place.”
I don’t doubt that one of the reasons for this tranquillity is that mass tourism has yet to invade the island. It may never do so. The island authorities have thus far chosen to control it. Let’s hope they are successful, because for the rest of us this is an emerald set in the sapphire Atlantic – and I make no apologies for the corn there. I am in love with La Gomera. I’m here for a few months to get to know the island better.
When you arrive by ferry (and despite a new airport most folk arrive by sea), much of the vehicle space is taken up by refrigerated delivery vans, and on certain days by tour buses. What I’ve noticed so far about these tour buses, however, is that when the occupants descend to take a look around a viewpoint or landmark, they have an almost reverent attitude. I think this atmosphere gets to us all.
Friends expressed concern that I would be bored within a couple of weeks and yearning for the “high life” in Tenerife. So far that hasn’t happened. True, there are certain things which require a trip off island, to Tenerife or further afield, but the tranquillity of La Gomera more than compensates for anything I miss.
In place of shopping centers I have a lush valley; in place of cinema I have friendly bars, where, as a woman, I have no concerns about going alone; in place of big supermarkets I have small shops, where the staff get to know me, perhaps not so much choice, but that only makes the shopping easier! There are no burger chains, few Italian restaurants, and I have yet to find a Chinese restaurant or an Irish bar, though I’m sure they must be here, somewhere!
If they exist, they will, surely, be over on the south coast, the only area that gives a nod in the direction of mainstream tourism. Playa Santiago boasts a golf course and larger hotels. The town of Valle Gran Rey is the sort of sleepy seaside resort, which reminds me of Southern Spain or France in the 60s or 70s. It’s developed but low rise, and in the afternoon, at siesta time, the only places open are bars and restaurants. That might be too much for some, and not enough for others.
Laurisilva forests, where trees drip with soft lichen, cover the island’s center. As you drive these roads the trees form sheltering arches. The Garajonay National Park combines history, and myth with stunning beauty. History: it is one of the last surviving examples of the Tertiary Era forests, which were once found all around the shores of the Mediterranean. These forests on mainland Europe were wiped out after the last Ice Age. Myth: it is named for Gara and Jonay, the Canary Islands’own Romeo and Juliet. Often shrouded in shifting mists the forests exude a magical vibe in spades.
The island’s capital, San Sebastian, is more of a sleepy village than a busy town. Although there are government buildings; some tourist shops (mainly artisan wares and less of the made-in-Asia junk seen elsewhere); historic monuments; and a pretty, thriving harbour, which is more of a sailors’ port than anywhere in Tenerife.
Above San Sebastian the roads wind along hillsides, through at first barren scenery, but with stunning vistas from viewpoints created along the way. From one point you can peek down into a green valley, from another you can see the island of Tenerife, hovering on the horizon. From one side you arrive in the Garajonay Park, from the other the road bends through a series of tunnels until you emerge into tranquil, agricultural valleys.
Valle de Hermigua and Valle Hermosa and the places in between are models for rural tourism. Although buses pass through to certain points of interest, mostly the tourists you meet along the way are walkers, or exploring by bike. Many roads are, happily, too narrow for buses, and the connection of the people of these valleys to the land is palpable. Inevitably, much land has been abandoned, but, taken over by weeds or cane, it remains green. It truly feels like arriving in another world.
So, would you like La Gomera? If you value beauty and serenity, if you like to be outdoors, or if you want to well and truly leave behind the daily grind (my 3G connection is very iffy here), then this island is for you. As I mentioned at the beginning, even a day-trip from the island of Tenerife can be an inspiring experience.
Linda likes to say that she is “re-inventing herself for her third age” these days. She transplanted to the Canary Islands more than 20 years ago. Now with kids grown up, leaving behind the 9 to 5, she studies writing and photography and is beginning to scratch a living from them, thus fulfilling a lifelong dream. She blogs at www.islandmomma.wordpress.com