Tuesday 27 February 2024

Meandering to La Gomera

By the end of January, we were ready to move on and visit La Gomera. We wanted to be back in Tenerife in good time for the Carnival, so planned to only be there for a couple of weeks. 

The journey would take about eleven hours so we planned to break it in to two parts. We would sail to Punta de Abona, about 4 hours away and anchor overnight and then head to La Gomera the next day, arriving whilst we still had good daylight and hopefully, the weather would be kind and we could anchor out for a few days before heading into the marina at San Sebastian.

We left Santa Cruz around midday on a clear sunny day, but with very little wind and so under engine. Before we headed out of the harbour though, Mark wanted to calibrate the autopilot. To the amusement of Sunday walkers on the paseo, we went round in circles until the calibration was complete.

We left the harbour entrance with mixed emotions.  On the one hand, we wanted to get out and explore further afield, but on the other hand, we had grown attached to Santa Cruz. But not to worry, the marina was booked for two weeks time so we knew we would be returning.

Once out at sea, with a slight breeze in our hair, it felt good to be out of the confines of the marina.  North of Santa Cruz was very misty and we didn't get to have final glimpses of the beautiful Anaga Mountains, but by this time lunch was calling!

The journey to Bahia Abona was uneventful and we dropped anchor late afternoon. The bay itself was nice, with a small beach and dwellings on top of a small hill, but there wasn't really much to see so we just relaxed and listened to the waves lapping against the shore.

Next day we were up bright and early (well, early for us). It had been a bit of a rolly night and we were keen to get over to La Gomera.

Again there was no wind to speak off so we were under motor. But, we did have one knot of current with us which pushed us along and gave us an average speed of 6.5 knots. 

We were practically flying!

Whilst it's frustrating not to have wind to sail with, the plus side is that the sea state is usually quite calm. On this particular day, we were in waters of 500+ metres and it was glassy still, which meant that if there were dolphins or whales, we would be able to see them clearly. I was on full alert.

We caught our first glimpse of a whale in the south of the island around midday. We think it was a Minke whale but couldn't be certain as it was about a quarter of a mile away. We tracked the whale for a few minutes, not going too close as we don't like to disturb them, especially if they're feeding. Whilst tracking the whale though, a pod of 5 or so pilot whales appeared between us and the  Minke whale. We put the engine into neutral and bobbed around for a bit just so we could enjoy the beautiful sight of them leisurely passing in front of our bows.

Crossing the channel between Tenerife and La Gomera we were on full alert. The straits here are notorious for confused seas as there is swell coming from both sides of the islands, meeting in the middle. Add in how the sea bed shelves, and pushes water through, it can have the effect of being in a washing machine. On top of that, you also have to contend with fast ferries whizzing backwards and forwards between southern Tenerife and San Sebastian in La Gomera at speeds up to 35 knots. We had to keep our wits about us as they could be on us in minutes.

By mid afternoon there was a bit of wind, so Mark raised the mainsail and gib. Unfortunately the wind wasn't quite strong enough to sail without the engine on, but it did steady the boat from the effects of the swell.

We arrived in Playa de Chinguarme late afternoon. A pretty little cala, with nothing there, other than people living off grid in the caves. There must have been at least 20 different dwellings, some with just a couple of people in them, right through to a family with 4 young children. It was fascinating watching them go about their business and at night, the caves were lit by candles and fires. 

I can certainly see why you would be tempted to live like that, away from the madding crowds, no overheads, no mobile signal, just you and nature. 

That was until the next morning when, sitting in the cockpit having coffee, a young woman walks down to the shoreline, naked as the day she was born, points her bum into the water and does her business in the sea. 

Hmm, shan't be going for a swim after all! 

Whilst we were having breakfast, we had a couple of visitors swim out to the boat.  Couple of German guys asking if they could hitch a lift to San Sebastian but, could we pick them up from the beach in our dinghy otherwise their stuff would get wet. As our dinghy still needed repairs we couldn't help them.  

Never mind they said, as they swam back to shore, naked bums in the air.

By mid morning we were ready to leave - still under motor.  We headed south as we wanted to check out other possible anchorages. Cala Cantera was particularly pretty and one that we will return to another time.  

Touring the coastline finished, it was time to head towards San Sebastian but not until we'd been out to sea again to spot dolphins or whales.

Two sets of pilot whales made the detour worthwhile and by mid afternoon we were ready to head north to San Sebastian. 

What adventures awaited us here?


Wednesday 21 February 2024

Sightseeing in Tenerife (Part One)

After the excitement of Christmas and New Year,  we decided to focus on exploring the island. With so much history and great transport networks, we were spoilt for choice.

First up was Puerto de la Cruz on the western side of the island.

Taking the direct bus from Santa Cruz, we wound our way through the pass between the Montana de Guerra and Montana Terremoto to reach the Western side. We were amazed at how green and lush the landscape was and we're treated to a spectacular view of Mount Teide peaking through the clouds.

The journey was only 45 minutes, but it was a great way to see the western coastline and a tantalising glimpse of the island of  of La Palma in the distance.

Puerto de la Cruz dates back to the 16th century when it existed as a coastal port. Originally a fishing village, by the 19th century tourism had become an important factor for the local economy.  It was during this time that grand structures, churches and plazas appeared, many of which are still in use today.

Known in the late 18th century as the Port of Orotava, Puerto de la Cruz  was one of the first places in the world to attract the growing international tourist trade. 

It was evident from the buildings  and monuments located around the old port that it played a key strategic role in the history of the town.  

The white building in the top left picture is the original Customs House, a very grand structure whose guardians could clearly observe the comings and goings in the port and manage compliance with legal regulations.  Restored in 1999, it is now a Museum of Contemporary Art, housing art from 20th century artists from the Canary Islands.

Also in the picture above,  is the Bateria de Santa Barbara, built in the 18th century to protect the old port from possible attacks by pirates and corsairs, still has the original iron and bronze canons from the 18th and 19th centuries.

During our wandering around the town, we happened to come across the Museo del Pescador.

Managed by the Brotherhood of Fishermen, it is a treasure trove of history relating to the port.

With model boats of every shape and size, from small fishing boats to sailboats to cruise liners, Mark was in his element!

We were lucky enough to start talking with one of the guys who works at the museum.  He gave us a personal tour,  explaining the history of the port and showing us photos from the 19th and 20th century. He told us how it used to be the main fishing port for the island, with numerous boats leaving the harbour each day to get their catch,  but now, with the main fishing port being moved to Santa Cruz, there are only eight fishing boats left. 

He also told us how tourism in the town had grown. With the advent of cruising, Tenerife became the first stop for those making an Atlantic crossing to and from the Americas.

 Ships would moor off the port, and tourist would be brought ashore to rest and enjoy the island before departing either east or west.

Mark and I were fascinated by the history, particularly as the entrance to the port is quite narrow and surrounded by reefs. Coming in and out in small tenders would be rather precarious in anything other than relative calm. We wouldn't be taking Offbeat there for that adventure! 

Next on our places to visit was a day in the Anaga Mountains. 

The Anaga mountain range, located behind the marina of Santa Cruz had been tantalising us since
we had sailed past them when we arrived. 

They looked amazing!

Steep, rugged and mysterious, we had promised ourselves a day out to walk in these mountains and savour the spectacular views that they would provide.

To get there, we had to take the tram to La Laguna and from there take the bus.  There's only three buses a day, so we set out early to make sure we had plenty of time to get the the bus station. We needn't have worried, the transport system is so good in Tenerife we got there with plenty of time to spare. Great, coffee was in order before we left. Mistake!

We had planned to do a circular route, taking the bus the length of the mountains, stopping for a walk and lunch and then coming back down the mountains to the east of Santa Cruz and along the coast.

However,  the best laid plans of mice and men often change. When we had left Santa Cruz, it had been quite mild with the sun shining. By the time we reached the mountains, it was cold and fog had descended. It's not a great combination with a couple of cups of coffee and yes, you've guessed it, we needed the toilet and had to get off. Luckily, at the top of the mountain range is a visitors center and cafe and as there was still another hour's journey to our planned destination, we got off there for our relief. 

As there wasn't going to be a bus for another hour, we had to reassess our plans. Not easy with limited phone signal, but with well signed walking trails and Mark's Wikiwalks, we decided to head into the woods which would take us to the western side of the island.  

By this time, the mist and fog was truly coming down. We were so glad we'd brought our thick coats with us. As we walked deeper into the woods and down tracks, we were teased by tiny glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean. 

We must have been walking for at least an hour when we got to a crossroads. One route would take us back up the mountain,  the other would take us to the small village of Las Carboneras. 

We both wanted to go to the village, after all, it had turned into bit of an adventure,  but we were practical too. Two questions then before our final decision a) did it have a bus route and could we get back to La Laguna today b) did it have somewhere to eat? Luckily I had a bit of a signal and yes, there was a bus leaving the village at 4pm, going to La Laguna and yes, there was a restaurant/bar in the village and it was open. Decision made to go to the village, we took the downward path, further into the forest!

We continued walking through the forest for another 30 minutes or so, but by now the ground was damp and slippery. We reached a road that would take us to the village, so decided to take this route rather than slipping and sliding on the forest trail.

We had walked for about half a mile when we came to a bend that had a great view down to the sea. I stopped to take a photo, not really taking notice that there was a small bungalow a few metres away.

As I'm taking photos, a man comes out of the bungalow,  looking rather bedraggled in a grubby vest and jogging bottoms. As he approached us slowly, we both noticed the hammer in his hand. Crikeys!  Normally, we would have said 'hola' or 'buenas dias' but today there were no niceties.  Quickly turning on our heels, we practically ran down the road, listening to see if he was running after us. Once we were at the next bend in the road, we looked back. He was still there, casually watching, with hammer in hand, but at least he wasn't following us!

At a faster pace, we continued walking to the village. By now the mist and fog had cleared and the clouds were rolling away. The views of the rolling landscape and the Atlantic coastline were breathtaking. 
We soon reached the village, which is tucked away in the green forest mountains on the north side of the island. 

Las Carboneras is a small village, which has a central plaza, church, school and restaurant and as it's on the bus route, it's very popular with hikers as it's a starting point for many trails. 

Hooray, the restaurant was open, the walk and the adrenaline rush had made us quite hungry. The food was pretty good, typical Canary Island cuisine and with a couple of glasses of red wine, it was a great way to end our hike.

The bus journey back to La Laguna was quite spectacular.  We got to see the views that we hadn't seen on the way down because of the fog and mist. We had a moment when we went past the bungalow, but there was no sign of hammer man, so we could sigh with relief and continue to enjoy the beautiful scenery around us.

Although our original plans didn't work out, plan B turned into quite an adventure! 


Our final day trip was to La Orotava.

Set 400 metres above Puerto de la Cruz in the Orotava Valley, much of the Teide National Park is located within the municipality. 

One of the oldest towns in the Canary Islands, it was founded in the early 16th Century after the Spanish conquest. Rich in heritage it has many grand buildings and gardens.

I particularly wanted to visit La Orotava for it's spectacular gardens and architect. When I was researching places to visit in Tenerife, I came across La Orotava and was drawn to it by it's positioning high above the ocean and it's history.  We were not disappointed! 

The town has a feel of times gone by, quiet and genteel.  With quiet cobbled streets, not throbbing with traffic or tourists, we were able to wander around and soak up the beauty at leisure. Highlights for us were

The main square, Plaza de la Constitución. Home to Iglesia San Augustin, built between 1671 and 1694 on the remains of the former hermitage of San Roque, it's bell tower is made from black lava rock, found in abundance around the island. 

Set with restaurants around the plaza and a decorative bandstand with views to the sea, it would be a nice spot to have lunch later.

But first, a visit to the Marquesado de la Quinta Roja Garde. Consisting of several terraces laid out in a stepped design, they are decorated with promenades, fountains, lush vegetation and crowned with a marble building overlooking the whole garden.

The gardens and Mausoleum were built in the nineteenth century to house the remains of the Marquis Diego Ponte del Castillo who was denied burial in the local cemetery because he was a Freemason.

The gardens were pretty, but we felt they were a bit too regimental and formal. Although they were well trimmed and manicured, they felt perfunctory,  not loved.

However, the views at the top of gardens were amazing. We were so lucky that we had good weather and no haze. Not only could we see along the length of the west coast, we also had a birdseye view of Puerto de la Cruz and further out, the island of La Palma. 

That made Mark's day!

Leaving the formal gardens, by chance we came across the Botanical Gardens Hijuela del Botanical. 

Set in the former orchard of the convent of San Jose, this urban plot of land was transformed into a nursery at the end of the eighteenth century.

In the gardens, there is an abundance of exotic plants, originally planted as seeds by botanists returning from scientific expeditions. 

The gardens stand out for their rare exotic specimens, set in flower beds along the walkways and include the Indian chestnut, the sapodilla, Australian conifers and a beautiful specimen of dragon tree.

Still in the original layout and design, we enjoyed wandering around these gardens. There was a feeling of being transported back to a time when these gardens would have provided sanctuary to the residents of La Orotava, away from the beating sun and a place to wonder about the world outside of their island.

Leaving the sanctuary of shade from the gardens, we had a pleasant wander through the streets, admiring the architecture and opulent buildings and churches.

It was clear to see that the previous inhabitants of the town were wealthy, with a penchant for balconies on their homes and extremely large bell towers on their churches.

Our meanderings around the town took us back to the main square, where we enjoyed a light lunch with a chilled glass of wine. We reflected on how much the town reminded us of some back in England, particularly Aldeburgh and Southwold. Both are coastal towns and give the perception that time has stood still and the same could be said for La Orotava. 

But, time doesn't stand still and all too soon it was time to catch the bus back to the 21st century and get ready to head over to La Gomera for our next adventure! 

Friday 16 February 2024

Celebrating King's Night

The most magical night for everyone in Spain, especially children, is January 5th, King's night, when the three Wise Men or King's visit homes and leave presents for everyone.

Part of the tradition is that on the evening of the 5th, children leave a cleaned pair of shoes outside their doors for the Kings to fill with gifts. Just like with Santa, children write letters to the kings and are encouraged to leave snacks for their exhausted camels before going to bed.

In villages, towns and cities across Spain, the celebrations start early in the day with the arrival of the kings, who arrive on a wide variety of means, from donkey to helicopter. Children will be gathered waiting for their arrival so that they can deliver their letters.

Later in the day, usually early evening, King's night is celebrated with very grand parades, featuring an array of floats and people dressed in costumes, distributing sweets and presents during the parade.

The celebrations in Santa Cruz started around midday, with a helicopter flying over the city announcing the arrival of the three kings in one of the city's large parks. The city was eerily quiet as I guess most people were off to see the Kings. 

Just before sunset we headed off to the city centre to find somewhere to watch the parade. The streets were filled with children, parents and grandparents, balconies were full of families and friends, all excitedly waiting for the parade to pass.  The atmosphere was electric and you could sense the anticipation of people waiting to catch sight of the spectacular floats, costumes and Los Reyes.

It didn't disappoint, the parade was spectacular, with something for everyone.  There were floats with Disney princesses and characters, dancing displays and other various characters and surprisingly, the parade started on time!


Once the parade had passed, we headed to our favourite area to have something to eat.  Hmm, no such luck, all the restaurants were booked. We did eventually find somewhere and it was pleasant enough, but it made us realise that we would needto book well ahead for the carnival.

The next day, January 6th is the day when families come together exchange gifts, followed by an abundance of eating and drinking 

Not homemade! 
The most traditional food is the iconic Roscón de Reyes cake, a sweet, brioche like cake, filled with cream and decorated with candied fruits. The cake is part of Spanish tradition as hidden inside are a tiny figurine and a favourite bean.  Tradition says that if you find the figurine, you are king or queen for the day, but if you find the bean, you pay for the cake the following year.

In previous years we have celebrated with friends in Estepona,  but this year it was a quiet affair with just Mark and I. After a morning walk, we enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner with roast turkey and all the trimmings, followed by the Roscón de Reyes cake. 

Interestingly, even though I had the figurine in my piece of cake, I still did the washing up!