Monday, February 5, 2018

February 5, 2017: Goodbye El Hierro. You're Our Hero

“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” 
― Jack KerouacOn the Road

A toast to El Hierro

Today we are leaving our home for the last six days--El Hierro, the smallest of the Canaries and the least developed, most rugged and so far, with the craziest weather.

Yesterday, we determined to see everything we hadn't which fortunately isn't too much of a feat in such a small place. With a car.   We started by hiking from Charco Sargos, natural pools on the oceanside to Punta Grande, the big point at the northwest side.  This was about a 2 mile hike along the water with stunning views of the landscape and also of the island of LaPalma. For once, we had lovely weather and clear enough skies to see it.
Looking North from our casita home in El Golfo. La Palma in the distance.

At Punta Grande, there are a number of large rocks just offshore. The largest in the background, Salamor, is home to the rescue colony of giant iguanas. 

This little restaurant, La Maceta, was an accidental find our first day out in El Hierro and a wonderful dining place. For anyone venturing this far out, give it a try. We ate here almost every night.

El Golfo

After this, Paul treated me to lunch at the Parador hotel on the OTHER side of the island. That small coastline was about all there was left to explore.
The Parador in El Hierro. We considered staying here, but it's pretty remote and not conducive to easy exploration of the island.
Let me take a  moment to speak about the Parador hotels. This is a lovely series of accommodations, many of which are old historic buildings such as forts, hospitals, monasteries etc. There are 94 of them scattered throughout Spain, and one in Portugal. Paul and I stayed at the one in Santiago de Compostela and it was so beautiful . But don't do your laundry there unless you have plenty of extra euros. Expensive!  We have also eaten meals in the lovely paradores in Leon, La Palma  and La Gomera. The El Hierro parador looks to be of recent construction, but no doubt is the best hotel on the island. It might even have climate control, a feature rarely found in the Canary Islands.

After our lunch, we were off to see the Roques Bonanza, the "symbol of El Hierro." Basically, it's two big rocks in the ocean, but..
Los Roques Bonanza. The symbol of El Hierro. This lead to a discussion of the TV show, Bonanza. And that of course, led to a discussion of Pernell Roberts who quit the show because he thought it was ridiculous for three adult men to live with their daddy and ask his permission to go into town. Sadly, both he and "Little Joe" died of pancreatic cancer. Hoss had "the big one." 

I think the lovely natural arch we saw on our morning walk would make a better symbol. But what do I know?
Natural arch near our casita
From here we ventured to the very northern tip of the island to see Echedo, the wine growing area of El Hierro. We enjoyed a lovely seco blanco from the Frontera winery on more than one night here and figured it wouldn't hurt to look at their version of Napa Valley.
Let's just say it's pretty scrappy here. Made me appreciate that they can make wine at all on this rough terrain.

From here we traversed to our final destination, Pozo de Calcosas. This is a very tiny town indeed with some more natural swimming pools. And the world's smallest church. And a totally deserted village near the ocean at the bottom of the cliffs.
Dwarf church with Paul "darkening the door."

Coastline and turistas

This village at the foot of  the cliffs is totally deserted. We don't know if it opens in better seasons or if it's just been abandoned. You can see the natural ocean water pool in the upper left hand corner. There are many of these volcanic pools in the Canaries.
From here, it was all over but the crying and packing up to go home. One last trip to our tiny restaurant, La Maceta though:
Sunset from our tiny 8 table restaurant: La Maceta

Salad in a tomato basket

The seafood pasta. The place is tiny but the presentation is large.
So today we are off El Hierro and starting our first leg of the journey home. Should you be inspired to go to El Hierro, here are a few tips:

1. There's plenty of hiking, but it's mostly up and down--i.e. moderately to seriously strenuous, so poles and hiking boots are a must.
2. There's very little in the way of public transport (they have buses but service is infrequent). A car is a big help. It is possible to hitchhike and is well-accepted amongst the locals and tourists. Be aware that the roads are pretty decent, but there are areas of narrow one-laned tracks and hairpin curves.
3.  The weather here is blustery, rainy and downright cold at times with intermittent bursts of lovely weather and everything in between. Few buildings have any climate control, so prepare with clothing of all types. Or travel in a more weather friendly month, which we are told is March to December.

I'd call this vacation  a resounding success with Paul Pirate Parris functioning as the sole travel agent. Thank you, Babu for a great sixth anniversary.

And now...

Paul's Ponderings:   A grand finale to our latest sojourn in the Canaries and possibly the best weather day for us on El Hierro.    I think we did this island justice in multiple ways, including dining, some hiking, sightseeing, etc.    It is by far the most remote of the islands and certainly fairly remote for the world as well.    Driving was pretty easy I have to say, as it was VERY well marked.   

What's next?   As far as the Canaries, probably Lanzarote and Feurteventura, the last two islands.   Time will tell.   In the short term, trips to the UK and South Africa are on the horizon, so plenty more to come if all goes to plan.    High hopes as the restaurant manager in Los Lllanos said every time he set down a plate of food or a drink :-)  

Saturday, February 3, 2018

February 3, 2018: Museum Mongers of El Hierro

“So instead I stare at the steaming liquid dripping into a coffeepot and start thinking of steaming volcanoes. And dinosaurs standing around drinking coffee, staring up at the giant meteor soaring through the air, commenting on how pretty it is.” 
― Lynda Mullaly HuntFish in a Tree

Inside a lava tube in La Frontera, El Hierro
Yesterday, Paul and I visited a museum of ethnography, in which they convinced us that if we bought the island "pasaporte, " we could save about 8 Euros on museum admissions, as long as we visited every museum on the island. Since the island of El Hierro is only about 166 sq miles in size (the city of Knoxville,  by comparison is about 105 sq miles), we figured this was doable. Plus it got to be a quest.

Yesterday, in addition to the ethnography museum we saw the vulcanology museum. That left us four  to see today. So off we went.

First we went to the lava tube/ giant lizard/ housing of El Hierro museum. We were first treated to a tour of a lava tube which forms when the external lava dries around an air bubble and makes a tube. We saw these in Hawaii and also, I have visited them in Oregon on the continental USA and in Jeju island in South Korea. They are interesting structures. The local Bimbache tribe used them to house goats as well as for their housing. The temperature is pretty constant and they have also been used for wine storage. The pirate found that useful information.
The pirate gears up for his lava tube excursion

Wine cellar, anyone?

From here, we visited at this same museum a display of the nearly extinct Canarian giant lizard. They have wonderful protective coloration and are difficult to spot in their lava environs. The project to restore them has been partially successful without over 380 animals reintroduced into their natural habitats. They are predominantly vegetarian but do eat insects and larvae. They are threatened by natural predators such as raptors and feral cats. The eggs are at risk from the rodent population.

Can you see me? I am well camoflaged against the lava rocks.

From there, we wandered through a series of dwellings from El Hierro covering centuries of life here. These folks were industrious and used to rugged conditions. 
Thatched rooves and no AC or heat.

A more modern version from early 1900s. We have seen many houses that STILL look like this during our drives through El Hierro.
Once we conquered this museum, we were up the mountains above La Frontera to the museum Julan.
A look back at Frontera from the mountain top.

We drove through beautiful pine forests to reach Julan, the most recent addition to the el Hierro museums.
Julan is the site of many aboriginal hieroglyphics. The message hasn't been interpreted and despite a lot of plunder, they have managed to preserve a good bit of these rock carvings and discuss them in this nice new modern museum

Beautiful modern building houses some carvings and discusses their importance.

The ride out to Julan is on a very narrow and curvy road and it's pretty isolated. But it is a scenic journey and you get the impression they are trying to preserve this heritage of the island.

From Julan, we were back to the "city" of El Pinar to the geology museum. This was a small spaced manned by a Spanish guy speaking perfect English. Generally, the geology here is that of volcanic origin and we saw much of it at the vulcanology museum yesterday. For me, the highlight was seeing actual pieces of restingolita, the rock formed from the volcanic area near the city of Restinga. It's a unique stone found nowhere else. For Paul, I'm sure the highlight was the nearby pizza store. 
Restingolita stones formed by volcanic activity off the coast of El Hierro in 2011-12

Pizza for pirates in El Pinar

From here, we were off to the last museum to complete our "pasaporte." The museum of the biosphere in Isora--which the pirate nicknamed Eyesore. But it's not. In fact, it has a lovely viewpoint onto the shores below. 
Mirador Isora. We plan to visit this part of the island below tomorrow. It's the only place we haven't been!
The biosphere museum is in an old casino. The entire island of El Hierro is a world Biosphere park and they are self sustaining with solar and wind power. And rightfully quite proud of it. 
The biosphere museum in Isora is in the old casino. In addition to giving information about world biosphere parks and specifically the "park" which comprises the entire island of el Hierro, there is a nice exhibit about how important the casinos were to island social culture in the past.

Numerous exhibits occupy the top floor and explain the culture of island life as well as discuss the natural attributes and preservation efforts.

So with this museum, we made all the museums of the island . The island is sufficiently small to have done it all in about five hours. Lotsa information, tiny roads with crazy curves and a good overall overview of El Hierro.

We headed back to La Frontera, where we viewed the "smallest hotel in the world. Only seven rooms near the Punta Grande.

Maybe it's not really the smallest but at one time, it was. 
A tiny hotel indeed.

Punta Grande
We ended up eating our evening meal again at Mirador La Pena. The local pineapple with shrimp was scrumptious. 
Cheers from the pirate

The local pineapples are small but delicious and sweet and a great pairing with shrimp.
So tomorrow, we have only one part of El Hierro left unexplored---the shoreline of the east coast. And we will unturn that stone, godlordwillingandthecreekdon'trise!

Paul's Ponderings:   Another slightly slow day by our standards, but great visits to multiple museos across the island, a good lunch, and all kinds of weather as normal here!

We can't speak for year round, but NOW, the wind blows a LOT and the temperature varies wildly across the island, as does rain and sun.   Pretty much standard island weather.

It's pretty hard to imagine what living here must have been like 100+ years ago.   It's pretty much "survive or die" on a place like this....there are no lazy people.    

We've seen a lot of this island, some of it more than once in a different light, so think we know it as reasonably as a couple of Americans can based on the time we've been here.    Not sure if we'd come back in the winter, but it's cut way down on traffic here.

Like most of the Canaries, there is NO collar to this's not tropical, the beaches are minimal, etc.   That's part of the attractiveness to us, but perhaps not so much to folks seeking sun and sand. 

Our last day here is tomorrow, before flying back to Madrid, so a bit more to come...

Friday, February 2, 2018

February 2. 2018. El Hierro: Self Sufficiency, Volcanic Eruption and Dinner on High...and a sacred tree to boot

The legend states that the "GaroƩ" was a large laurel tree that assured the life of the Bimbaches, providing them with water in sufficient amounts for their survival. The islands are located where tradewinds occur, and water from clouds condensed on the branches of the tree and it later poured rain around the island.


Paul stands guard on the sacred tree, Garoe, stinkwood of the laurisilva rain forest that produces it's own water from the cloud mists above.  Ancients depended on it for water. There is no natural fresh water in the Canaries except on La Palma.

Today we started our sojourn with a trip to La Quintera, an ethnographic museum in the capital city of Valverde. Despite being the capital, the city is small and has very little going on.  The ethnographic museum concentrated on life sustaining activities of the local people when they were very isolated from the rest of the planet. Not that they aren't pretty isolated now!
Giant bellows of the black smith shop. There are not many animals here now needing shoes, but in the past there were up to 13 registered blacksmiths in El Hierro.

The loom. Since this is an island still filled with sheep and goats, the women made looms and spun wool from primitive looms

This insect lives in the cactus plants here and produces a blue dye. The dye was an industry until synthetics replaced it. Now with the advent of "natural dyes" it is making a comeback. 

Naturally woven clothes of the area.

Pottery was produced, predominantly by women in a tradition handed down from mother to daughter. They did NOT have a spinning wheel. All done by hand.

Museum of ethnography in Valverde

Paul and I agree that the most important thing we learned at the museum was the importance of self sufficiency in an environment where outside contact was limited and not guaranteed.

Our next stop was the legendary tree, Garoe, a stinkwood tree of the laurel forest which produces its own water from the cloud mists. We cannot over emphasize how misty the walk to the tree, about 5 miles roundtrip was. Our clothes were soaked on the way. But the tree produced a lot of fresh water. And still does.

Our hiking path to the sacred tree, Garoe.

The canarian pine forest we walked beside.

Play misty for us.
These trees (and everything else) exist in a constant bath of mist

This pool beside the sacred tree measures about 5 feet wide and 9 feet deep. On an island with little fresh water, the Bimbache native considered this tree and it's pool a miracle.

Garoe. The sacred water producing tree. It still produces copious water. In the 1600s , the original 500 yr old tree blew down in a hurricane. A  replacement was planted in the 1940s to commemorate the "miracle tree."

As a modern homage to the miraculous laurisilva (laurel trees) that still produce water in excess for human and other uses, Paul and I walked through a cattle farm to get to the "sacred tree." We passed this cattle trough below a laurisilva tree. It produced enough water out of the mists to keep these troughs full for the local cattle. 
After leaving this really interesting site, we were off to another island museum... the museum of Vulcanology which specifically covered the eruption in 2011 in Restinga, a local fishing and diving village at the South end of El Hierro. I was really impressed with the information which covered the underwater offshore eruption that occured from July of 2011 well into March of 2012 with over 300 earthquakes and evacuation of the village of Restinga (which we visited today.)

Volcanic activiity from the ocean floor produced innumerable "lava bubbles" of the shores of Restinga village. No fish could be eaten and many washed ashore dead. The island got bigger during this undersea eruption and added shoreline.

you can see the volcano bubbling up into the ocean. There was a zone of "green" where the volcano erupted. The village was evacuatated. The eruption continued in various degrees of strength for about 9 months and produced > 300 earthquakes. 

This was  a fascinating museum and a good lesson about undersea eruptions. 
From here, it was back to La Frontera and our casita to get ready for dinner at La Mirador de Pena.

The unused pool at our La Frontera house...Way too cold Wind is merciless here in the current month. Apparently, its very nice March through December.

The garden of our casita

A tower of mountain above our rental car. The car is called a Leon, which is Paul's dads name.

For dinner, we made our way to the beautiful sunset viewpoint of La Mirador de Pena. Food was good. View was outstanding.

A great view of Sunset over El Golfo de Frontera

Late sunset. It was nice to watch clouds float by at eye level.

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” 
― Rabindranath TagoreStray Birds

Paul's Ponderings:  Another complex day on El Hierro.  We got a slightly late start, but had a day that ranged from ancient Canarian culture in the clouds, to warm weather on the south end of the island, coupled with a great dinner at an architectural marvel in the clouds yet again.   This is what a vacation on a rock in the ocean is all about!       

Overall, nothing too aggressive, but we are learning a LOT about this unique island.  In general, so far is the most the most unusual of the islands we've visited.