«Consider the heat,» warned my newly befriended local, Dominique. Somewhat skeptical about my intention to walk from La Calera at the bottom of Valle Gran Rey, up La Merica to Arure, at about 800 m above sea level, “…it’s really blistering today”.
I had studied the map and made up my mind; I had some excess energy to dispose of, and besides, my guidebook promised a breathtaking experience in more ways than one. I told her not to worry; I would take it easy and bring water, nuts and dried fruits.
Half way up, I could have kicked myself…If only I’d had the strength. The first part had been fun: I enjoyed myself, walking at a steady pace, frequently looking back to admire the view; the little hamlets down in the valley and the beach shrinking in size as I ascended.
Instead of getting cooler as I gained height, however, it was steadily growing hotter. The path was on intimate terms with the mountainside on which the sun was baking, and my clothes were clinging to my body like plastic wrap. I felt as if I were inside an oven with no fan setting.
I had, I realized, made some impressively stupid mistakes, competing with the view in spectacularity: I had started my hike during scorching midday, I had failed to bring some kind of headwear, I had brought too little water and I had gone against the unwritten, but sensible mountain rule never to walk alone.
I tried not to think of deserts and images of people lying in hot, dry sand, bodies wringing, hands clutching at their throats. Although I wasn’t actually hallucinating yet, visions of an establishment offering an assortment of drinks for my interior and a swimming pool for my exterior, were beginning to form in my liquid deprived mind.
The ground beneath my feet was dusty, and apart from the bath tub I could see way down below, commonly known as the Atlantic, there was not a drop of water in sight. Starting to feel faint, I decided to stop and consider what on the dry earth I was doing.
The nonexistent vultures of La Gomera were perched on nearby ledges, calmly observing me. Of course, I ruminated: If I shriveled up like a dried Gomeran fig and died, I would die happy, doing something I really enjoy(ed!). But then, as my line of thought in similar situations always continues: It would probably somewhat upset the immediate family and hopefully a couple of others, so I’d better take the necessary measures to land on my feet.
Looking up and down, I decided that going back was not an option. Even though I couldn’t yet see the ridge I was going for, and which would be the gateway to, if not Heaven, so at least more leisurely hiking and cooler air, my watch told me I had probably passed the point of no return a while ago.
Taking a sip of water from what little was left of my supply, I looked around and discovered an indention in the cliff that would hopefully provide enough space to get out of the scalding sun. I scrambled up to it, and sure enough; pressing my back against the rock face, I felt a surge of relief as shade fell over my burning face.
After a while, feeling less feverish and observing fewer vultures, I continued upwards again. And lo and behold, after a few minutes I discovered that I and my birds of prey were not alone in the world: A couple of two legged flesh and blood were descending towards me. I suppressed my wish to kiss them, but greeted them as long lost friends and inquired about the distance to the top. The “etwa dreizig Minuten (30 min)” the kind German handed me was a little disconcerting, but I figured I could handle just about that, particularly, I thought, if only I’d had some more water…
With new zest, powered by human contact and the ½ liter water bottle the darling Germans had given me, I made it to the top in less than 15 minutes.
The rest of the hike was like a walk in the park, albeit one of the most beautiful parks I’d ever been in. The topography was friendly, the air fresh. And all around me was the most astonishing of landscapes; Mountains and ravines comprising a dramatic backdrop for palms and agaves, cactuses, conifer trees with long needles, silky to the touch, and a selection of wild flowers in every color of the rainbow. The ground was a warm ochre, perfectly complementing the vegetation.
The little town of Arure, perched on top of the hill had been in sight for some time, and finally there, El Jape, a friendly little restaurant materialized. The simple water cress soup served with Gofio and homemade bread, tasted like manna from heaven, and the ice cold Dorada must have originated from the same celestial neighborhood.
I had barely finished my meal when people started to line up for the bus scheduled to come by and take us back to the valley. When it arrived, 25 minutes late, it went right past us, packed to the brim with locals and happy hikers, all of whom, including the chauffeur, smiling and waving apologetically at us.
The next bus was not due until a couple of hours later, so we resigned and went indoors to call a taxi. The waiter shook his head energetically, indicating with his thumb that hitchhiking would be a much better option.
And this is just one more of the upsides of the hilly La Gomera: Stick your neck out, and people don’t bit your head off. Stick your thumb out, and cars stop. Within few minutes, all ten of us had been picked up and taken back to our bases.
Most of us soon in our heads considering where on this, the hiker’s treasure island, the next trek should go.