Wednesday 25 January 2023


The African sun is tickling my nose and my feet are curling their toes in the caramel coloured sand having sailed from the desert further East. The fine grains are covering, like a delicate carpet, the underlying gravel, black as night, which forms a solid grounding for my steady treading ahead. On my left, the caramel carpet turns into a glittering glacis, caressed by the retreating waves of the churning waters that divide us from the ancient continent. 

“With age comes wisdom”, they say. With me, it comes with a landfill of memories that re-emerge from time to time, especially on occasions such as this: when taking a leisurely stroll on the “Playa del Inglès” in Maspalomas on Gran Canaria. The more so, since this year is a “Jubilee”. In January 1993, thirty years ago, I arrived on the felicitous isle for the first time. 

It was not an auspicious occasion. Worn out was I, after half a year’s wrangling with troubles in the financial sector (see Good Night Sweden) and my former wife had passed away just a month afore. Not even the warm sun and delights of this island close to Aftica could assuage the dark thoughts clouding my mind. So I spent the week walking, in deep melancholic reflections, along the strand promenade in Maspalomas, not giving any thought to either the wonders of the beach or the challenges of the mountains in the island’s interior; just feeling miserable and longing to be back in Stockholm as timely as possible. 

Emil the Beachcomber                         Emil the Mountain Man

First after a ten years’ hiatus I started to really discover this sunkissed isle. By then I had already moved to Brussels and settled in there to live the life of a challenged, but still sedate European Functionnaire. Thus, as soon as having returned to the island, in January 2003,I undertook with a more open mind to explore the treasures that such a resort had to offer. This was when I discovered the immense pleasure of taking off my shoes and let the toes curl around the mellow sands on a real beach. 

Not only that: within the decade since my first visit, a number of Austrian and Belgian enterprising enthusiasts had opened business for guided tours into the island’s interior. Glad to grab this opportunity, I spent half of my stay with hiking the interior, and the rest with treading barefoot on the beach. 

Since then, not a January has passed by without me returning to the felicitous isle. I am an old man now, soon octogenerian, so hiking in the mountains is no longer an option for my tired limbs. But the immense pleasure of curating your feet through walking the beach barefoot is definitely an option for me to explore as long as I am able to move my limbs at all and taking the flight South to this delight. 

Three valiant leaders
          José                                    Dieter                                     Manfred

During my twenty years of vigorous January exercises, I have met many interesting people that are as engaged as I am in these bodily activities. Among them, four are standing out, three of them tour guides and one of them co-founder of the main biking tour group on the island.

José Vanderveken, of Flemish/Spanish descent, is one of the pioneers as guide of hiking and biking groups on Gran Canaria. He was also my first guide, with whom I ventured into the interior twenty years ago. With his smooth apparition and original descriptions of nature and culture, he is standing out as one of the grand old men of introducing tourists to outdoor activities. 

Speaking of grand old men: Der Olle Dieter, already an octogenerian now, who took up the job of hiking guide first in his seventies, has also been a delight to experience. He has a special gift in story telling, which has made many a hiker’s walk seemingly short whilst listening to his enjoyable yarns along the way.

In later years, I hiked increasingly with Manfred Ritsch as guide. As I was getting weaker in the feet, I benefitted increasingly from his habit of making numerous stops along the way, to explain to us ignorami the botanical wonders on Gran Canaria in exquisite detail. 

Last but not least, let me present to you Sandra Mäser, the great entrepreneur who co-started the company Free Motion, which, from humble origins, has developed into the grandest business for biking tours on the Canaries. I am pleased to say that I witnessed its development from its early starts. Twenty years ago, Sandra was still leading Nordic Walking tours in the dunes and along the beach of Maspalomas. But, from the outset, her's has mainly been a biking company and has since ceased to provide hiking tours, to my regret. 

All these notables are my friendly imaginary companions, as I am treading my way on the blessed beach of Maspalomas. As I am slowly advancing, putting foot upon foot on the mellow sand, only to be cooled off by intermittent tipping into the salty waves, the beach seems to stretch ahead to infinity. Eventually, I am falling into trance and hardly notice that I am ambling along. In my dream-state, the far away wispy clouds are gradually turning into a mirage: the picture of a transparent and alluring female that beckons ahead and starts dropping sweet words of encouragement into my eager ears. Yes, sweet apparition, I will come back to you every New Year in future, as I have done the past twenty years! 

Komm zurück!                      

Ich warte auf dich,                

denn du bist für mich                   

all mein Glück!                      

                                Komm zurück!

                                Ruft mein Herz immerzu,

                                Nun erfülle du

                                mein Geschick!

Ist der Weg auch weit,

führt er dich und auch mich

in die Seligkeit.

Darum bitt ich dich heut,

komm zurück!

Come always back to me!        

I will wait for you,                     

my fullfillment!                          

                                Come always back to me!

                                My heart yearns for you,

                                my destiny!

May your way be long,

it will lead us to eternal bliss.

So, I beg you now,

Come always back to me!

As I am continuing onward with my beach ambling, the apparition’s sweet words slowly but surely seem to turn into music; I begin humming a tune, almost a century old and lost for generations. Alas, the modern wonders of Internet permit us to conjure back what once seemed irretrievably gone. Why not benefit from this, lean back and savour this olden tune together with me:

Monday 11 April 2016


La Fortaleza – last stand of the Guanches. Note the road across the valley!
Here I was, standing in a murky expanse, like a hole bored right through the mountain by a gigantic worm. It had been laborious to access it, by ascending a precarious path crisscrossing a steep slope. The exit would be much more easy going, but deadly: balancing on the rim of a vertical cliff and sailing a thousand feet down to the bottom of the barranco. 

At the edge of that abyss, some figures were outlined by rays of the opposing sun. With eyes squinting, I suddenly had a vision of the giant of a man, in loincloth, with feathers on head and arm, standing on the brink, at his back a group of warriors. Suddenly, screeching "Atis tirmaaa …", he lifted his arms like wings and disappeared into the void, followed by his flock of feathered braves.

I was envisaging the last stand of the Guanches in the Conquista of Gran Canaria. On 29 April 1483, Queen Guayuarmina Semidán surrendered to Their Catholic Majesties. In desperate defiance of this deed, War Chief Betejui and his entourage decided to end their life at the verge of the cavern fortress "La Fortaleza", where they had fought off Their Majesties' mercenaries to the bitter end. 

La Fortaleza, seen from the road across the valley. Note the black dot on the cliff!
Five years have passed since this heroic vision. Am I still the man I was then, filled with grandstanding thoughts and envisaging myself as a man able to accomplish great deeds? I am back on Gran Canaria yet again and can compare myself to this self-occupied man of yore.

At my advanced age, five years mean a lot of change in body and mind. Those have not been idle years. Far from it! Working on photographic output, producing books, and promoting books on two continents has kept boredom away from my door. It is as if I had felt the urge to prove myself, to put my mark on the world, so as to convince posterity that I was a Great Man, indeed, in my time. 

But, with all this work finished and the books published, sober afterthought has intruded of late. In the great scheme of life, my achievements must surely be minuscule, like grain in the sand of human accomplishment. Granted, that the three books I have produced will live on, safely stored in Sweden's Royal Library, to bear witness of my existence long after my demise. But even that lustrous institution will eventually fade away, and with it the last remaining traces of myself.

These insights of "vanitas vanitatis", sobering as they may be, lead me to a surprisingly optimistic conclusion. Once you realize that your existence is of no great concern to humanity, you can forget about making imprints and instead start enjoying life as it evolves. There are still some years of ahead of me to enjoy, although the inevitable end is getting ever closer. So, instead of  striving endlessly for vain achievements, "Carpe diem!" shall be the motto for the remainder of my days. 

Sand Dunes at Maspalomas
It is this new perspective that brought me back to the "Isla Fortunata", from which I keep so many favorable memories, partly documented in the preceding chapters of this blog. As to recording my new visit, I am older and – hopefully – wiser now, so this post will present a condensed review of the ten days of hiking and leisure spent on Gran Canaria during March this year.

So what is new on the hiking front? As during earlier visits, the company Free Motion is still alive and kicking, but Happy Hiking has folded down. As to the former, it will spin off its hiking services into a separate company later this year, although tours can still be booked on its own web page. Manfred, the amiable guide known from an earlier blog, is leading its hiking groups now, with the help of a hiking friend from Switzerland, André. José Vanderveken, who used to lead Happy Hiking, is nowadays guiding visitors on taylor-made tours, accessible through his new website Joselitomoves.

Let me now present highlights from the five hiking tours I partook in, together with Manfred and André from Free Motion.

The gate to the great Caldera, Roque seen from the parking lot.
FIRST, the hikes brought me to an area hitherto not penetrated, the huge expanse of the Caldera de Tejeda. This crater, with a diameter of fully 22 kilometers, is the remainder of a volcano that millions of years ago rose out of the sea to create the island. We cannot fathom the original mountain's size, but to judge from the hole in the ground left from its explosion, I gather that it must have been at least as high as Tejde on Tenerife, the highest mountain of Spain. 

Pictures cannot give credit to the caldera's enormous expanse. So let me start by showing you a tiny detail in the overall hugeness. When the mountain was formed, lava of various materials were flowing upwards from the clefts lodged thousands of meters under sea level. Some of the lava streams consisted of especially hard material and formed "chimneys" in the overall mountain mass. With the mountain's explosion and subsequent erosion, these eventually became free standing columns of immense size. The foremost example is Roque Nublo, who is aptly standing out in the void. Still, massive as it looks, it really represents just a small "needle" in the caldera's huge expanse. 

A small "needle" in the Caldera's huge Expanse
The easiest way to access the rim of this void is to start at the parking lot of the Roque Nublo trail. From there, a four hours' walk along the eastern rim provides you with many a marvelous view and lets you judge the grandeur of this natural wonder. Your eyes, with their 3D capacity, can appreciate the emptiness to the fullest, whereas pictures taken with a one eyed camera can only provide you with a meager shadow of it. 

Roque Nublo, as well as Roque Bentayga, are but small needles in the seemingly limitless void.
The above picture proves my point. It was taken from the south-eastern part of the rim, looking towards the north-west. You can easily identify Roque Nublo, jutting up from its promontory that stretches way into the caldera, much like an "Island in the Sky". To its right, about in the middle of the void, another "needle" is rising above the caldera floor, called Roque Bentayga. Like Roque Nublo, this rock "needle" was venerated by the Guanches, with vast cave settlements built around it in their time. Bentayga was site of major battles between Betejui and the Spaniards, before the War Chief retreated south-eastward to the Fortaleza, where he made his last stand.

At Bentayga's roots one can vaguely make out El Espinello with its neighbor villages. Much farther on, the opposite side of the rim is discernible, more than 20 kilometers from where I am standing, and half veiled in haze. Normally, the air is quite clear on top of the island and you can see far, even across open sea all the way to Teide on the neighbor island of Tenerife. But on that day, the Calima reigned supreme over the island. This cool (in winter!) wind from the Sahara carries with it a lot of fine dust, leading to haze on the mountain ranges. 

The Caldera de Tejeda forms an almost closed circumference. There is just one breakthrough, westward towards the sea, formed by millions of years of erosion. It is called Barranco de la Alsea de San Nicolas and at its foot lies the village (and harbor) of the same name. On the panorama, you can see where the caldera rim in the far north, after rising to its highest point (Los Moriscos), is easing off towards the sea. Apart from that breakthrough, the outer crater rim still stands like the wall of a gigantic fortress, especially when seen from the south-west.

Descending Cruz de Mogan towards Barranco de Veneguera. The "Grand Wall" looming above it all.
SECOND, at the root of that "Grand Wall" towards the south-west, erosion has set in with a vengeance, creating deep barrancos that taper off towards the ocean. This leaves a series of ridges, which, like fingers of a giant's hand, reach out to the sea from their base a thousand meters up in the air. It is an exquisite pleasure to explore this region on foot. 

In between those ridges, and at the confluence of run-offs (like small brooks) from the heights and the Grand Wall, small conglomerations of farms had formed of yore, eking out their meager existence, as long as the water kept flowing from above. Water is the scarce resource in this barren region, which is sheltered from the trade winds by the Grand Wall. As long as it keeps running, the mineral-rich lava ground provides for ample harvests of potato, vegetable and fruit. But water supply was fickle in the old days. The Generalissimo, as governor of the Canaries, changed it all. He had a large number of dams built in the highlands, to preserve the water trickling down from the trade wind clouds and being caught on the needles of the big Canary Pines prevalent on the heights. Since then, water supply is getting more dependable, permitting the former small villages to grow into larger settlements. 

The village of Veneguera, at the confluence of run-offs from the ridges.
The Barranco de Veneguera, which we accessed through traversing the high ridge of Cruz de Mogan, is one of the few canyons left bearing witness of yore. Veneguera of the same name is the only village in this canyon, ever since the days when water was scarce and forbid more contiguous settlements. But, harken you readers, who yearn to experience an unspoiled environment: please make haste in preparing your hike into the region. There are already plans to develop the beach at the barranco's outlet into the sea, as well as to build roads and tourist settlements well into the barranco. Fortunately, the crisis of 2008 put a temporary stop to those plans. But considerable tranches of the barranco are still owned by the largest building company of the Canaries, so real estate development remains a permanent threat to this unspoiled canyon. 

But for now, bucolic experiences can still be had by traversing the Barranco de Veneguera. Friendly farmers will great you in the valley, exhibiting the broad range of fruit and vegetable that are being produced on that fertile soil; old farm houses will welcome you to have a picnic in their shade; here and there old installations to preserve and use scarce water supply can still be discerned in the valley.

Guide Manfred and friendly farmer                      Honey tasting
Farm house in Veneguera.
Washing cloths the old (natural) way.
Run-off from the ridges. The only water supply of yore.
The hiker, after leaving the village, will strive ever upwards on the next ridge, so as to eventually arrive at the foot of the "Grand Wall". Our small hiking group did this, and I can tell you that it was a strenuous two hours' hike, especially laborious towards the second hour, when we arrived at the last steep slope and had to ascend it like mountain goats. Still, the effort was worth it. Along the way, interesting vistas opened up and delighted this exhausted veteran.

Derelict goat stable up on the ridge, about to be restored.
Open air oven outside goat stable.
Ever upwards, approaching the final steep slope.
THIRD, let us now move to the opposite side of the island, to the region in the north-east around Telde, the first European settlement on Gran Canaria. Interestingly, this settlement was established well before the Conquista. Pope Clemens VI decreed, as early as in 1351, that a group of Franciscan monks from Mallorca should move there, to establish a Bishopry and convert the Guanches. The pope chose wisely, since that part of the island enjoys a steady supply of water; the trade wind clouds, approaching from the north-east and meeting the welcoming slopes, release readily their moisture on fertile ground. As a result, the barrancos here, at least those not yet cultivated by farmers, are clad in greenery not unlike subtropical rain forests.

Our hiking group ascended one of those canyons, still unspoiled by civilization. Its name was Barranco de Cernicalos (Kestrel Canyon), named after a subspecies of hawk that thrives in (or rather above) this canyon. The kestrel is known for its ability to float, seemingly effortless, in the air whilst looking out for prey. The latter consists of small rodents and lizards, since larger wild herbivores do not exist on the island. It was a treat to see those birds hovering above the canyon, just occasionally moving their wings quickly up and down. Unfortunately, my camera equipment was not up to the task of documenting them for you, so you just have to take my word for it. 

Starting point for ascent of Barranco de Cernicalos.
The canyon itself is a marvel of lush vegetation. A small brook is descending it, with water gurgling downward year round, which is rare on Gran Canaria. The hike essentially follows that brook uphill, criss-crossing it numerous times and eventually leading to a nice little waterfall, a delight for any weary hiker, since it signals the endpoint of the ascent.

Entering the barranco.
André, the hiking guide, pointing out indigenous plants in the barranco "jungle"
The waterfall, at long last …                                                      … after a final perilous scramble        
FINALLY, we have to thank Manfred for being an avid amateur botanist. Our hikes would have been very strenuous, had they not been interrupted off and on by the guide stopping us to show and explain the intricacies of Canarian vegetation. We are talking here of a great variety of plants, since Gran Canaria enjoys an unusually large number of micro-climates, ranging from dry desert, via subtropical forest to dense pine wood and, eventually, high alpine country. Most of the plants look rather different from ours (in Europe, that is!), even if some of them are of European descent. The latter have been sowed by migrating birds, carrying seed down from the cold north in their plumage, but have since developed their own peculiar characteristics, after having lived long-time in isolation on the island.

Manfred explaining the intricacies of Canarian vegetation.
I would love to present you with a comprehensive review of Gran Canaria's flora, weren't it for two hang-ups. Firstly, growing old, I see myself incapable of remembering all the enticing stories told by Manfred. Secondly, being a photographer, I will only take pictures of plants if the light is right and an appropriate composition achievable. Thus, I am afraid, you have to content yourself with a rather eclectic choice of specimen here. Furthermore, I hardly recall the name of many a plant, but am hoping for assistance in that regard from the eminent botanists among my readers. Please don't hesitate to help me out with names, in Latin or English, by putting them into comments to this blog post. 

#1  Flower behind the back of Manfred in the above picture
#2  Flower in the village of Veneguera
#3  Prickly Pears Cactus (Opuntia)
#4  Another cactus in the village of Veneguera
#5  Manga tree bloom in plantation outside Veneguera
#6  Blooming brush on the highlands below Roque Nublo
#7  Thistle near Ingenio in the Barranco de Tirajana
#8  Plant in Ingenio
#9 Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)  
#10  Sage? in the Barranco de Tirajana
#11  Bloom in the Barranco de Cernicalos
#12  Blooms in the Barranco de Cernicalos
#13  Brush in the Barranco de Cernicalos
This pretty much wraps it up, my latest tale from Gran Canaria. But there is a question remaining, you say? What about the title of this blog post? Well, for those who do not speak German, the words allude to a famous song, dear to me, that has always been firmly engraved in my mind, without me thinking too much about its content. Only recently has the song surfaced from the unconscious, triggered by a bit of video I chanced upon, whilst looking for films with the famous actor Hans Moser. I then discovered that the song's second stanza tells the tale of an old-timer, a septuagenarian like me, reminiscing about pleasures of yore. 

If you are about my age, or otherwise fond of romantic songs, this one is for you!

"Wie mein Ahnerl siebzig Jahr´ und ein alter Kracher war,
schaut er einmal so am Bach, d'längste Zeit ein Dirndl nach;
hat dann geseufzt: o mei o mei, wo wohl jetzt das Reserl sei?
Hat dann g'jauchzt als wie ein Bua, und g'sungen still dazua!

Noch einmal, noch einmal, noch einmal, sing dein Lied, Nachtigall!
Noch einmal, noch einmal, noch einmal, wie du's g'sungen hast im Tal!"

Yet again, yet again, yet again, sing oh sing, Mockingbird!
Yet again, yet again, yet again, sing the song that we once heard!"

Carl Zeller, Der Vogelhändler

Friday 11 February 2011


Well, "Yes", here we are again, looking at the enchanting "sugar loaf" of Gran Canaria. How come I happened to climb up to this outpost for a second time within a week?

Yesterday I was hiking with my good old friend José Vanderveken from Happy Hiking/Biking, with whom I have been criss-crossing the island many a time in the past eight years. This time, the plan was to hike in the higher reaches. However, the weather gods did not fully comply with the plan, since it had snowed heavily up there all of the preceding night. When our bus reached the usual staging station in Ayacata yesterday morning, it was not certain that it could proceed to the starting point of José's planned route. 

As an aside, snow in the upper reaches, although not unknown, is not precisely common. The residents on the coast of course love snowing and consider this to be a treat to be savoured with abandon. As soon as the roads are opened again, after a heavy snowing, you can witness a caravan of cars queueing their way up to the uppermost parking lot, which happens to be located just below Pico de las Nueves. Rushing out of the cars, the children frolic in the white blanket, throwing snowballs at each other; the grown-ups play their own favorite snow game: each family father, worth his name, is carefully placing a snow man on top of the engine hood just before leaving for back home. Why? Well, there is a competition among the drivers on who manages to keep his snowman the longest, before it is melting completely away, on the way back down to the coast!

A rare treat: snow on Pico de las Nieves (left) and Pico de Campanario (right)

But back to our hike! Despite the sordid road conditions, the weather was clearing up rapidly whilst we considered alternatives to the hike José had envisaged. Finally he decided to approach the mountains through a lower road, unencumbered by snow, and have us reach the heights from there. The starting point happened to be the same as the one we already know from Tuesday's hike, and so did the end point. However, this being José, a spritely young fellow, the route we chose was the HARD WAY up to Roque Nublo. Even if this route partly coincided with the Thursday route, I did not complain at all. In fact, for a photographer, there is nothing more proficient than taking a trodden path once again, since it means that you are better prepared for the scenery to catch in your machine. In addition, light conditions are ever changing in those mountains and exactly the same scenery can give rise to completely different pictures, even taken with only a few days in between.

For instance, you may wish to compare the picture above with the corresponding view I presented in my earlier blog post Rocking Roque. Even if looking at the same motive, you tend to be inspired by different angles and contrasts, due to the difference in light conditions; the outcome, in terms of a picture, will be far from identical.

This day I was hiking in splendid company. All members of the group but me were dedicated walkers, who had booked, from Germany, a week full of exercise in this memorable island's interior, rather than wasting their time on the beach. With pleasant chatter and in good humour, up we trampled on narrow paths already described before. One fellow distinguished himself through his never ending tales, which kept us invigorated and encouraged all the way up to the top and down again. Unfortunately, his name escapes me now, but I hope he will make himself known in a comment to this post. You can see him on the picture below, standing just behind José.

This picture was taken about halfway to the top, at one of the many stops used by José to explain to us the various intricacies of Canarian nature. At this occasion, since we were standing in a pleasant grove of native Canarian pine trees, his explanations centered on their miraculous properties. We of course are already familiar with the way, in which the pines are getting water through "milking" of the clouds. But you may yet wish to hear that they are also very resistant to forest fires. But why should I attempt to explain this to you, if we have José to do it for us, just for the clicking on the video icon below?

At our picnic spot, almost the same as last time, I got again some moments to put my act together to present a panorama for your benefit. As you can see, the clouds had already dispersed after the snowing and a wide view opened up towards the Western coast.

You are complaining again that you cannot see Teide, the by now well known landmark of Teneriffa and the highest mountain of Spain? Well, I cannot help you with that, unfortunately; Teide happens to be hidden behind a cloud, just up from and to the right of the village of Saint Nicholas, which you can glance (barely) on the upper right (just look at the white area close to the sea).

But never fear. The mandatory picture of Teide can be admired yet. José pointed out to me that there was a better spot for viewing it some hundred meters up from our picnic site and I hastened to follow his advice. When I arrived at the outlined location, Teide had chosen to get rid of hiding veils and reappear in royal splendour. You may notice that His Highness' dress looks considerably more snowy than hitherto; I doubt one will ever again be seeing that much white covering on his coat.

But let's not tally at far away vistas! By now we were already on the narrow path, leading directly to the platform on which Roque is throning, huffing and puffing our way up towards the desired goal. And it turned out that the end result was well worth the effort. Having arrived at the upper plane we could take a deep breath of crystal clear air, still slightly chilly after the night's downpour. But none of the snow that certainly must have blanketed both Roque and his underpinnings was still left for us to frolic in. Only spread-out puddles of water here and there witnessed of a snowfall, all but forgotten in these majestic surroundings.

You do not find Roque very impressive, standing, as it does, far in the background? Well, this misconception is easily corrected. In the clear air, the least detail is clearly outlined for the photographer to document and you to appreciate. Does Roque look sufficiently impressive now?

Whilst you are still standing agape before the portentous shape of this prominence, our little group of hikers was already on its way down to the lower plane. And splendid indeed was the descent! Clouds had started to darken the lower platform, but the sun was still blazing on the huge pine forest located on the saddle joining the two calderas. Far in the distance, the two most prominent outgrowths of the Caldera de Tirajana (Pico de las Nuebles and Pico de Campanero) could be glanced in clear detail, their heads shrouded in snow.

Our heads full of admiration for the amazing vistas we had been confronted with, we continued our descent on the easy way down to the parking lot. After the earlier exercises this appeared to us a "piece of cake". Let me illustrate this by the "letting off steam" shown, by two of our group members, on a small arena just above the parking lot.

However, it turned out that we had relaxed to soon. José had another treat in store for us. Instead of letting us enter the bus at the parking lot, he suggested, and we followed his advice, that we descend on foot all the way down to Ayacata and its by now well known staging café. This decision led us down a rather steep foot path and treading it became a somewhat laborious exercise, far worse than covering the same slope in the other direction. In fact, I can compare both directions, since I had mounted exactly the same path the week before, that time with Manfred (also from Happy Hiking/Biking) as guide. What appeared then as an easygoing uphill stride, now was a sharp down-hill adventure, demanding every ounce of remaining stamina. 

But all's well that ends well! Soon we arrived at our café and could relax and review this marvelous day. Why don't you join us in our review by having a look at the video I have included here for your benefit? In case you are missing the icon I put in here for your convenience (for reasons that escape me, some readers do not receive them) I have also included a traditional link to Youtube, through which you can access the same video.

Thursday 10 February 2011


You may be led to believe that this picture shows paintings by the aborigines of Gran Canaria, the Guanches. This would not be far fetched, since similar paintings have been found in caves on most of the Canaries, above all on La Palma. However, these red spirals and symbols are of more recent origin, painted as they were by an interesting artist living in an isolated, self constructed, compound deep down in the clefts of Barranco de Tirajana.

Since the issue of the Guanches has come up by itself, so to speak, let me briefly present to you these intriguing people. They lived on the Canaries for thousands of years (although not continuously, they seemed to have died out and come back intermittently) and had colonised the islands out of Northern Africa. Genetic research shows them being closely related to the Berbers still living in the Atlas area.

The saying on the Canaries nowadays is that these aborigines are sorely extinct. This is not exactly true, as more recent genetic research has shown. Intriguingly, a majority of the population (not counting the many immigrants that have arrived during the past 50 years) has its female tracer gene (mDNA) in common with their counterpart found in mummified remains of the Guanches. In contrast, this is not the case for the male tracer gene (Y Chromosome)! This tends to corroborate what has been hinted at, but never openly told, about the colonizing behaviour of the Spanish Conquistatores: that they used to kill off male adversaries, whilst keeping women as slaves, servants and, sometimes, living partners. So we have a lot of "Guanches" still living on the Canaries, directly descended, in female lineage, from the aborigines.

Now to the topic of today's posting! Yesterday, I participated in a charming hike through the bucolic lower reaches of the Southern inland, organized by Free Motion and again led by valiant Dieter, well known by now from our earlier exploits. The tour started a bit upstreams in Barranco de Fataga and went from there steeply uphill towards a pass on the mountain ridge dividing it from its brother, the Barranco de Tirajana. From there we had a stupendous descent all the way down to the deepest clefts of that huge canyon. Up again we trudged, through oases lush with vegetation, until finally arriving in Santa Lucia, the regional capital. As if this was not enough, we continued our hike on a steep ascent towards another regional capital, San Bartolomé de Tirajana (also known by its Guanche name of Tunte).

Small potato farm, halfway down Barranco de Tirajana. The Oasis of Ingenio lies way up on the upper left, across from a deep gorge all the way down, hidden behind the brushes starting in the lower left corner.
This hike brought a pleasant change of pace and altitude, after two mountain hikes in the upper reaches. It provided an interesting insight into how people used to live, and partly still live, on this island. The South is getting increasingly humid, the higher up you tread and the reaches of between 500 and 1000 meters' altitude have always been the most proficient for sustaining a small, but still sizable, rural population. The limiting factor for sustenance in those parts is water, as always. As soon as a small brook, a well, or even the run-off from pine groves higher up the slopes, provides a sustainable supply of water, peasants on the island will always find ways to hook on to ground for cultivation, be it very small plots among cliffs, sustained by walls keeping the scarce earth in place, larger systems of terraces, or, in rare cases, more extended stretches of reasonably straight ground.

By crossing Barranco de Tirajana from flank to flank, and from top to bottom, you get an amazing overview of nature and its interaction with human cultivation, as it has persisted for ages, probably already since the time of the Guanches.

But let's get on with the march. We started our tour in Fataga, which is located in the Barranco that bears its name and dominates vast stretches of citrus and mango(a) plantations. What used to be a small peasant community, with church and basic services, has now become a tourist spot with many an artist's shop and ateliers. Still, well-kept as it is, it has preserved the basic appearance of yore. Maybe we will come back to this nice place at a future blog posting, time and perseverance permitting.

Whilst trekking slowly upwards, on a narrow path, along the flank of the ridge dividing Barranco de Fataga from Barranco de Tirajana, the air got increasingly dimmer and it looked like rain may be coming soon, which would have been a disaster for my photographic ambitions. I hastened to take some pictures of the village, while the sky was still reasonably clear, but had scant hopes of good vistas, once the pass would be reached and we would gain the overview of Barranco de Tirajana.

As we continued upwards, the sky started to change into darker grey, which did not exactly lift my spirits. Still - I tried to console myself - it is not the weather that makes the photographer, it is his eyes and the motives he chooses. And indeed, there were still pictures to be had even in these dreading surroundings. I hope you agree with me on this, when looking at my companions striding steadfastly towards the pass.

On we went, rather stolidly, determined to face any adversity in store for us, once arriving at the pass and looking down Barranco de Tirajana. The weather gods must have looked benignly at our dedication, since - "surprise, surprise!" - the clouds dispersed and the sun came in full swing as soon as we were on top of the ridge. Below our feet a wondrous vista spread its wings, allowing us to savour the sweep of the barranco, from its lofty heights at the caldera rim opposite us  down to the village of Santa Lucia and, onwards from there, the vast oasis of Ingenio.

A warning to you readers: the eyes are tricking you. You are not seeing a broad valley floor, flanked by moderate hills on the horizon. In fact, Santa Lucia, with its typical domed church, is hovering at the foot of a steep precipice, stretching close to 1000 meters straight upwards. And, what looks like a  green valley floor beneath the village is in fact a further declining slope, ending in another steep precipice (hidden in the picture), which leads down to a final narrow gorge, through which a small brook is spluttering contentedly, after having carved out these deep cliffs through erosion during the past million years or so. The greenery you see at the lower right is not a dense pine forest; rather, it represents groves of the indigenous palm tree, Phoenix Canariensis, which tend to accumulate in oases wherever run-off from the Caldera rim resurfaces as springs further down in the barrancos. We are seeing here the oasis of Ingenio, located below Santa Lucia.

Where I was taking this picture, I was standing at about the same altitude as Santa Lucia and we had a steep descent ahead of us, having to trace our steps carefully down the beginning of the traditional, stony and narrow path between the two villages. And if that was not enough, after groping our way down some 300 meters in altitude, and having forded the small brook at the bottom of the final precipice, the exercise had to be reversed on the other side, lifting our weighty bodies up these same 300 meters all over again.

Goat farm on the brink of the final gorge
Do I sound like I was complaining? Far from it! The continuing change in scenery made the exercise seem feather-light. From vineyards to potato farms, from goat farms to artist's hideout, from cactus plantations to almond trees, we saw it all and admired it along the way! Not to speak about the stupendous nature surrounding all these human endeavours.

The most spectacular scenery was savoured when approaching the final gorge and carefully climbing down the narrow cliffs leading down to the brook at its bottom. Here we are standing at the brink of this final gorge, contemplating the narrow path leading all the way down. I have stood on that same spot two times before in earlier years, but not seen the cliffs all GREEN, as this time. They usually have a yellow-gray flavour to them, with the brushes being in their ordinary dried out stage after long periods of drought.

But let's get on with our tour! At the bottom of the gorge, when fording the purpling brook, a strange animal cast its wondering eyes upon us, with an almost scary intensity of color and shape. But never fear! We had arrived at the artist's lair - recall the image at the top of this Chapter! The originator of these paintings on the gorge's stone walls is a very original hermit who chose to establish his abode smack down in the gorge, just beside the small brook that is so conveniently providing him with freshwater year round.

This picture of his lodging was taken from the opposite cliff, on our way down, and it shows how diligently and intelligently he has used native materials to construct a cosy combined atelier, villa and museum, all for the benefits of a few knowledgeable friends who know their way down the gorge and have stamina enough to make it back up.

The artist's name is José, his family name being unknown to me. That notwithstanding, I have known him for many years, although he usually does not remember me when I am passing by on my hikes across Barranco de Tirajana. How did I get to know him? On my very first hike into the interior, with José Vanderveken from Happy Hiking as guide, way back in 2003, we had approached the gorge from the opposite side, on a tour through the Oasis of Ingenio. At a midday picnic spot on the gorge's fringe, José had encouraged the most eager of us hikers to dare the descent, with the majority having been content with munching their sandwiches. I had been a lot younger then - as I see it know - and of course had rushed down the steep incline full of enthusiasm, arriving down there far ahead of the few others daring the deed.

The brook looked so inviting that I could but surge upstream, in the hope of getting a better picture of the beautiful scenery. None had followed me on this venture; probably I was the only serious photographer in the group. Suddenly, around a bend, a yellow construction had appeared to my unbelieving eyes, not unlike a crow's nest, located a bit up in the cliffs. How could that be, right in the middle of an enchanting wilderness?

Hardly had I articulated the thought that a man had popped up, like out of thin air,  looking at me with stern eyes, as if I was an unwelcome visitor to his manor. Smiling at him, I had fired off a quick shot and retreated, so as not to disturb his spiritual equilibrium.

You don't believe this tale? Have a look at the photo I have scanned in for you from the slide film I still held in use in those days. You can see the yellow edifice about two thirds up in the picture. In retrospect, I must have witnessed the very beginning of José's building activities and I can but admire the elaborate compound of artifacts he has managed to construct since then.

At subsequent crossings of the brook, down in the gorge (three times by now), we have always approached his housings with friendly greetings and have in return been graciously welcomed by this hermit among artists. I have sent him the picture that you are seeing here last year and was glad to hear that it had been well received. Let's wish him luck in his solitary paradise and let's get on with our journey!

Upwards we strived on the gorge's opposite wall until, heaving a sigh, we could settle down on its rim for a well earned picnic. Dieter had chosen the place with diligence. Just below our feet, as he explained to us with glee, was the ancient site of a male fertility cult. We could easily observe the reason for this cult, looking at a prominent stone pillar rising proudly to the sky, as if challenging the gods on who was the most masculine of them all. I hesitate to show you here a picture of this monument, common decency prevents me from doing so. But I can probably be excused for showing it in the slide show you can watch as a video, as usual, at the end of this blog.

Whilst we were gulping our sandwiches, Dieter regaled us with many a tale of Canarian customs, among them the story of the savory Canarian olive and its preparation. I don't have to tell the story myself, since we have our knowledgeable guide on record here:

But let us not dwell too long on this enchanted spot. Half of the tour still remained to be conquered. The next section held a more mildly rising slope in store for us, leading us through the fruitful landscape of Oasis of Ingenio. Among palm trees, Almond trees and cute little farms we slowly advanced upwards.

Soon we started to see intriguing cultivations of a special sort of cactus, which seemed a favorite for fencing in the small plots of cultivated land.

As Dieter could explain to us, this was nought else but the famous Prickly Pears Cactus (Opuntia); a cactus of Mexican origin, but imported to the Canaries in the eighteenhundreds. Contrary to its name, the main reason for cultivating this stranger was a small insect, called Cochineal, housing on the stickling leaves.

It can be discerned as living in small, white, lichen-like growths. When taken off the plant and crushed in your hands, an intense purple color will taint your hand. This color, originating from the insect's intestines, is among the few substances allowed in food nowadays, commonly used to enhance red colors. Cinzano anyone?

There used to be huge cactus plantations all over the island until the beginning of the nineteenhundreds. This stopped abruptly, ruining a pillar of livelihood for the poor inhabitants, when the aniline colors were invented. Since then, the cactus is slowly clawing back its raison d'être. The Canarians have always continued to keep the it as a house plant, since its fruit, tasting very much like fig, could be used in various ways, for instance, as fresh fruit on the table or as marmalade. Recently, it has made its comeback as basis for food coloring, in an age that is getting more knowledgeable about risks with chemical additives in food.

We got a chance of tasting the delicate flavor of this cactus fruit, when Dieter braved the prickles with a newly bought brush and collected some "figs" for us to savour. The taste is indeed delicious, just like figs, even fresher and not so sugary.

Time went fast with gaining these biological insights and we forgot to complain about the last steep steps to take before arriving at the second hamlet of this tour, Santa Lucia. It is as well preserved as Fataga (apparently all villages in the interior are being well maintained; no doubt due to the huge tax incomes stemming from the coast trade, as well as to EU money).

Taking a brief detour up to the village church, I could not help noticing an intriguing statue in front of it. Could this represent the patron saint of the town? "Yes", but with a twist. Instead of the appropriate representation, as seen in respectable catholic churches (for instance in the Cathedral in Syracusa, Sicily), this statue had a distinctly Nordic flair, with candles in the saint's hair and with her being partnered by Staffan (Stephen), the little "Stjärngosse" (Starboy).

As far as I know, this combination of Santa Lucia (13 December) with St. Stephen (25 December) is uniquely Nordic. In more knowledgeable countries (as religion is concerned), the Starboy(s) would appear (with or without the Three Kings) in processions starting at Christmas and ending with Three Kings' Day (6 January). So why this Nordic statue in the interior of Gran Canaria? I honestly don't know. Hopefully one of you readers knows the story behind it and can convey it to us as a comment to this blog post?

By now you may feel that this was a loong hike through Canarian fields. And you have a point there. We were already a bit tired when leaving Santa Lucia, but had nonetheless to collect all our remaining stamina to conquer THE STEEPEST ASCENT of the hike, which now lay yet before us! We decided to collect our wits for a group picture before starting (and before getting too exhausted to be seen on  photos).

Take another look at this picture, that is, at the signs, not at the spritely hikers! Do you recognize the name on top? "Yes", indeed, we have regained our old friend of mountain climing lore ("To the Top!!"), the old pilgrims' trail! This time we had to take it in the right direction, from South to North, as the islanders use to do, when hiking the long way to Santiago de Compostella. Let us not dwell too long on the story of how we made that last painful stretch of upwards trekking. Suffice it to say, that we were helped greatly by Dieter's instructions and encouragements, as can be seen in the video below.

And finally, we had arrived, at the lovely hamlet of Tunte (the Spanish name being too long to be repeated all the time). This village is not only the regional capital of the lower reaches hereabouts, its régime extends all the way down to the coast. Indeed, Tunte is the regional capital also of the major tourist region of Spain, Maspalomas. No wonder that its buildings are spitting clean and preserved, as the final picture of this blog post demonstrates, showing the fine church of Tunte.

This has been a loong blog post, I know, filled to the brim with informative texts and pictures. But don't give up, dear readers. It would be a mistake to leave it now. You won't regret playing the video here at the end, guiding you through the hike in a very amenable manner.

Double click here to see the video!