We set off down the well marked trek from Laguna Grande, a zona recreativa in the middle of the island. Soon we are faced with all too clear evidence that the forest fire in 2012 has left its mark on this beautiful landscape.
Amid the laurisilva forest (a rainforest ecosystem covering much of the island’s centre) charred stumps of trees outnumber the healthy green growth at times. Burnt logs are stacked at intervals along the path. Bald patches appear along the forest floor.
It’s heart-breaking to see the contrast between the living and the dead wood. The living laurel grows higgledy-piggledy up to the sky obscuring the view or offering tantalising glimpses of blue through lacy leaves. The deadwood lays flat, charcoal black against the ground.
It’s even sadder when you remember that, after the fire had been dampened down, when the fire-fighters had assessed the damage, there was a strong suspicion that the fire had been started deliberately. Who would want to destroy La Gomera’s crowning glory? It’s hard to imagine.
Despite the charred remains, La Gomera still has charms enough to keep keen walkers happy for a week or two and, with the best of both worlds, sun seekers find warmth enough along the sunny south coast. Any visitor to La Gomera, however, would do well to remember the island’s central rainforest means that, on any day, the centre of the island can be enveloped in mist, if not heavy cloud. Walkers need to make like Scouts and Be Prepared!
We stay in Valle Gran Rey, a charming little resort which remains, for the most part, true to its hippy roots (but with lots more home comfort!). A short walk from the port at Vueltas brings you to a community at the Finca Arguyall (its name means ‘place of light’) which offers meditation and silent contemplation in its beautiful grounds. A stroll along the seafront at La Puntilla will reveal Yoga Workshops, massage therapies and holistic treatments. And you may also see some of the hippies, living in caves further down the coast, who come into Valle Gran Rey to juggle, drum and dance against the sunset; for a small donation, of course.
Accommodation is in plentiful supply but nowhere will you find built up areas. The largest hotel on the island, Jardin Tecina in Play Santiago, consists of bungalows and low buildings spread out over a wide area. In Valle Gran Rey we stay in Residencial El Llano; like much of the accommodation in the resort this is a collection of self catering apartments around a central, shaded pool. It is clean, cool and quiet (although Trip advisor does warn that some apartments, those near to the supermarket, can be noisy). I can’t imagine this island becoming commercialised somehow. It seems to have hit just the right balance between comfort and authenticity.
I am very sad to leave this beautiful island after a week and will, I hope, return again. There are plenty of walks still to tread, and many sunsets still to watch. I look forward to seeing the ravages of the forest fire fading and the laurisilva healing in the years to come.