Those Holiday Snaps in Full

view from the balcone

“…and here’s the view from our balcony”

Just kidding – after two weeks blogging absence you’ll be relieved to hear I’m not going to subject you to the full ‘and here is the view from the balcony looking the other way’ holiday slide show experience. But there were a few things I wanted to tell you about so stand by …

1. I have veg plot envy

La Gomera vegetable plot

For the second week we stayed in a casa rural on a small organic farm in a lush little valley where orange groves rub shoulders with potato patches and I am so incredibly jealous of the tiny little smallholdings clinging to the hillsides, because oh what a vegetable plot I could have here. I’m particularly taken with the way our host grows his lettuces in a neat spiral – for ease of irrigation, we assume, and although irrigation is not an issue at home, I may well adopt a similar layout for the new vegetable garden. And hell, we’ve already got the terracing in the garden at home, so we’re practically half way there


Look, we’re half way there already. just need to persuade some orange trees to grow in Scotland …

2. I have not cycled for a fortnight and I don’t care.

steps to the apartment

For a place like Playa Santiago, which is mostly steps, there were a surprisingly large number of bikes kicking about – not just road bikes being ridden by men in Lycra with the calves of superheros, but ordinary bikes with baskets and even a fair few folding bikes. In fact, a folder might make sense because outside of the approximately 500m of sea front in both San Sebastian and Playa de Santiago, La Gomera does not do flat, so anyone riding a bike is either toiling painfully uphill or gingerly descending down around narrow hairpin bends. A folder might give you the ultimate in Gomeran cycling – ride it downhill in the morning, and then chuck it in a taxi for the ride home. Although given the squirrely nature of the Brompton at speed, I’m not sure I’d even fancy that on some of the roads around here.

bench with pedals

3. We don’t walk anything like enough at home.

Los Gatos, La Gomera

The active travel mode of choice here is walking and so we’ve borrowed a book of walks written by someone who is apparently four-fifths mountain goat. So far we’ve managed at best a third of one of the easier ones. Book or no book, there are hiking paths anywhere and some of them seem like amazing shortcuts (30km by road, only 7km on foot) until you realise there’s a reason why they didn’t build a road over that ridge.

coastal path

‘Let’s try the coastal path, because it might be a bit easier,’ I said.

There are people who appear to make a thing of walking around the island and you can recognise them by their knee supports, hiking poles and the thousand yard stare that comes from realising that when their book of walks describes a stretch as ‘a steady climb’ it means a switch-backing scramble up a near vertical hillside, and that they have several kilometres of ‘steady climbing’ to go before lunch.

switchback path

“The path then climbs steadily for the next kilometre …”

A walk in La Gomera – hell, even coming back to our apartment from the sea front in Playa de Santiago – means doing more climbing than a postman in a tower block in a power cut. In the first week we almost killed ourselves and had to take a day to recover after each walk, but we have started to shape up a bit and have done a lot more walking, albeit with frequent stops to ‘admire the view’ ‘check out that tree for birds’ and ‘test to see if this rock is a comfortable as it looks’. Indeed, on our last full day we excelled ourselves by wondering if the path went all the way up to the ridge you can see in the distance – and discovered that, why yes, it did.

distant ridge

I am not kidding, the path went all the way up to the little notch you can see in the distance, and so did we


There was some amazing Laurisilva cloud forest on the other side, too*

Laurisilva forest

Literally 50 yards away, on the other side of the ridge, it was all agave and prickly pear. Microclimates in action

4. Hello birds, hello trees.

La Gomera plant

I got a bit obsessed with this bush which grew pretty much everywhere …

I hang my head in shame, but it’s been a while since we did much serious bird watching, but when there are actual canaries flitting around in the bushes you have to make the effort. We’ve done some proper bird watching (the kind where you need to distinguish between a buff or an off-white supercilium) and some just enjoying the spectacle kind (five kestrels enjoying a thermal at eye level to the rock where you are sitting ‘enjoying the view’? Here you go, then) and both have been great. Also the Monty Python fan in me can’t help but enjoy asking ‘African or European?’ as we attempt to identify the collared dove that has landed on our apartment balcony.

La Gomera plant

Not a legume

I also wish that despite over a decade working at Kew I knew more about plants than just being able to identify whether something is a legume or a not-a-legume. There are some fantastic plants here but I have no idea what most of them are. Except for the ones producing avocados, lemons, papayas, mangoes and chestnuts in the garden of our casa rural … did I mention I have veg plot envy?

tree in the plaza, Playa de Santiago

Now these are street trees

5. I can survive without the Internet.

map reading cat

It does help to have local knowledge when planning routes

Well, sort of. OK, so I’ve coughed up the 35p a day to get enough data on my phone to check email, send the odd tweet and google things (because without the internet we are now all completely helpless). But 10MB is not enough to do much more than that – I can forget whiling away a whole evening on Twitter, for a start. Instead we’ve had time to talk, chill out and above all read books. And that’s the rub. I had forgotten how quickly I can get through books when I’m not distracted by everything else. Back in the day, half my suitcase would be taken up with books when I went on holiday (and even then, one of them would be something heavy going by Dickens, to stop myself from tearing through them all in the first few days), but that was before they started charging for checked luggage (and weighing your carry on, for crying out loud). Having only shelled out for 20kg for both of us on this trip I panicked and made the fatal mistake of bringing too few books to read. Fortunately the local tourism office has a book swap arrangement but the choice is somewhat limited if you don’t speak German. I know, I know, you’re all screaming ‘Kindle’ at me at this point – and I think I may have to succumb if we ever do this again. Because while it’s been a real treat to reacquaint myself with the pleasure of settling down of an afternoon with a cup of coffee to hand and a good book – it’s been less so to remember the horror of being only one book away from having absolutely nothing to read.

Valley in La Gomera

*’Cloud forest’ sounds so much better than ‘dreich’, doesn’t it? I wonder if the Dumfries and Galloway tourist board isn’t missing a trick here. Forget messing around with the ‘Dark Skies Park’ and rebrand half the county as cloud forest and you’re laughing …

bush growing from rock

11 Responses to Those Holiday Snaps in Full

  1. Andy in Germany says:

    “…the horror of being only one book away from having absolutely nothing to read.”

    This is a constant bugbear living in Germany, especially as like you, I can devour doorstop sized books in a mater of hours, so buying books to keep up wpuld be expensive. Blogs and Wikipedia are a lifeline…

  2. disgruntled says:

    When we lived in Swaziland, all visitors would be frisked for books before they left … they were allowed one for the plane home, and that was it.

  3. I loved the photos. That looks and sounds like an amazing vacation. Except for the horror of having nothing to read, of course.

    I don’t know if this is available in the UK, but in the US, we are able to borrow books from the library and read them on our Kindle or on Kindle apps on our phones, tablets, laptops, etc.

    I don’t read nearly as much as I did before the Internet came along, either. But every now and then I discover something interesting and can get it in the middle of the night if I want – which I absolutely love. Fortunately, I have cards for four different libraries in 3 different states, so I can usually find whatever I’m looking for. Although I usually have to wait a couple of weeks for current best sellers.

    The thing is, it’s easy for visitors to get access to a library’s e-book catalogue or a daily pass for internet access over here. But I was trying to find something similar in London and didn’t have any luck. Considering how many things are free in the UK that we have to pay through the nose for here – like museums and basic health care, I thought visiting libraries would be a snap. You lived there for years, am I missing something?

    • disgruntled says:

      I think you can get e-books from our library, although without anything to read them on I haven’t really investigated. On your question about libraries – they’re funded by local authorities rather than central government so they’re pretty cash strapped. If it wasn’t a legal requirement for them to provide a library service, I would imagine they would have been dismantled long ago. So finding anything beyond the statutory service is a bit of a postcode lottery. The NHS and London’s museums and galleries are funded more centrally (and the museums were made free by government fiat, much to their horror at the time, until they realised they made far more money out of the gift shops and cafes than they did from entrance fees)

  4. WOL says:

    We have Eurasian collared doves here in the US. They’re considered an invasive species. Some (ahem) not-an-American person brought some to Nassau, and “less than 50” got out in 1974. Now they’re all over the place, including my back yard in TX..

  5. Flighty says:

    A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. xx

  6. Charles says:

    Quality walking and reading, what could be better. I saw a barn owl yesterday, the first one I have seen on the wing in 40 years, so that was good. Kindle does not match paper in my opinion. It’s one of those scissors, paper stone issues. Hardback beats paperback, except in the bath. All carbon based reading products beat screens on the beach.

    Congratulations on a great holiday, so good I enjoyed reading about it, that’s better than many of mine!

  7. […] This is probably the least cycling I’ve done (apart from a fortnight’s holiday spent on an island that consists mainly of flights of stairs) for years. It turns out that for me, riding a bike is largely an enjoyable way to get somewhere, […]

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