I love finding out about old traditions and customs of the Island of El Hierro.
I used to talk to an old friend who ran an import and export business on the Island which had been started by his grandfather many years previous. In those days the only means of transport on the Island were of the four legged variety and mainly mules. He used to tell me that as a young boy he would go with his father and grandfather down to the port, Puerto de La Estaca, when the ferry used to call. In those days the ferry would visit just once a month and used to anchor off shore, where the locals would row out and unload the goods for the Island. The goods were then loaded onto the mules, or other beasts of burden for transporting up to the Islands capital Valverde.
This walk is neither a long walk or too strenuous. I chose to do the uphill route as it seemed the easier option for the buses and meant I was not in any hurry.
The bus dropped me off outside the new terminal building in the port.
The ferry was tied up waiting for its passengers later in the day. It now does 7 return trips a week.
Before the main path starts there are a flight of steps on your right which lead up to the tiny church of San Telmo. There are only 61 steps and the view from the church over the port and round the coast towards Timijiraque makes the climb worthwhile.
Once back on the road it’s only a few yards to the start of the official walk “Camino Ancho” PR EH 5 or the broad walk. The signs tell me it is only 4 kilometres to Valverde!
The path starts on its zig zag route past some of the very few houses in the port and round to the right onto Calle Garciá Escamez. As you climb you can see the numerous different volcanic layers of rocks and their multi colours which looked amazing in the morning sunshine.
Not long after this you pass in front of the last house you will see before Valverde. You will be greeted by barking dogs, but don’t be worried. They are always tied up and soon calm down when they realise you are only passing through.
At the top of this houses drive we meet the main road HI 2. The path here turns right and for the next kilometre or so the route takes you up the main road. The old track having long since vanished due to landslides etc. You will come to a newly built viewpoint which gives you an even better view down the coast towards the Parador and beyond. No view of either La Gomera or Tenerife today due to the Calima. You can look down on the church of San Telmo, the marina and I could even see where the extension to the jetty had been made when they had expanded the port in the early part of this century.
But enough of the views, it’s onwards and upwards.
As you reach the layby on your right, cross the road. Here you will see a little shack covered in bougainvillea, depending on the time of year. This is where the path starts again and is quite wide and cobbled.
As you start the gentle climb all you can hear is silence, the odd insect or bird. After a short while you get a view on your right down to the coastal village of La Caleta. You can also just see the southerly end of the airports runway.
The path regularly changes from cobbles to earth and gives a diversity of different fauna and flora. The edges are dry stone volcanic rock walls.
Around the next bend and it’s down a dip as you pass across one of the many barrancos in this area, which allow any excess rain water to drain down into the sea. It’s a lush little oasis of green, with the odd spring flower trying to put on an early display of colour. The large ants were busy transferring leaves across the path here. I sat a while for a drink and watched these super strong creatures at work.
As I continued I could see the main road as it meandered up towards Valverde. The path then reaches a fork, if you go right; it takes you down to La Caleta, 2.5Km away. The left hand fork takes you to Valverde which it also says is 2.5Km away. I then realise that it’s telling me I have walked 2.7Km from Puerto de La Estaca. (Yet the walk is only 4Km long?)
Here the path seems to get even wider and a little more uneven. I kept to the right, which I would regret later. Someone has kindly hacked back the Agaves in places to allow an easier passage away from the razor sharp leaves.
It is about here that you can hear a whoosh and hum from the hydroelectric wind farm, which I know is above me on the hillside, though not yet in view. As I climb further I go from seeing just the tips of the turbine blades to actually seeing more and more of the windmills.
It was not long after this I later realised I’d left the path, so keep left. A good guide is keep left when you can see the electricity substation on your right. Here I got a glimpse of the school building at the end of the walk.
The path once again is mostly cobbled and in some places worn smoother with the traffic use from earlier in the 20th Century. If my information is correct they just used the mules and never carts. With the unevenness of the path in places I can see why.
As I look back I can now see how the path zig zags up the hillside, and also how at first I had taken an unintentional right hand fork.
I knew I was getting near the top as I could hear the chatter from the students at the school at the top of the path. The weather felt even warmer than it had on the coast, 25ºC not bad for February.
The path becomes narrower and is lined by the dry stone walls, prickly pears, full of tempting red fruit, and other local plants, many favoured by the local crofters for animal fodder.
I then climbed the last few steps to bring me out at the top of the path, where again the sign told me I’d walked 4 Km.