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
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
2. I have not cycled for a fortnight and I don’t care.
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.
3. We don’t walk anything like enough at home.
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.
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.
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.
There was some amazing Laurisilva cloud forest on the other side, too*
4. Hello birds, hello trees.
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.
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?
5. I can survive without the Internet.
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.
*’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 …