On our last day in La Gomera in Spain’s Canary Islands, the day after my 30th birthday, we took an hour and a half drive, winding up into the centre of the island and back down again to another coastal town called Valle Gran Rey.
The road twisted through Garajonay National Park, the island’s subtropical rain forest and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mist settled around the edge of the forest, trees standing in rows like a surreal skeletal army.
The temperatures crept way down and the wind whipped up as we climbed higher through the moss-covered branches that formed tunnels over the car in some places.
It’s lush, green, leafy and full of ferns bigger than me.
We also had a sobering glimpse at the remains of blackened trees left behind from the horrible fire that raged across the area in 2012.
The name of the park has a fun story attached to it – a Romeo and Juliet style romance. There are various versions, but it usually goes like this: Gara and Jonay were lovers. Gara was a beautiful princess from La Gomera and Jonay was a prince from Tenerife. Their families were against their relationship. So, naturally, they decided to kill themselves by sharpening both ends of a stick and driving it into their stomachs in a final embrace. Nice.
Nearly reaching Valle Gran Rey, we stopped at the Mirador de Palmarejo, a lookout point with a restaurant built into a cliff, which was designed by the Canarian artist César Manrique (whose work Jorge wrote about on his blog, Hunt For Design, in more detail).
From the look out point, a stunning view sweeps down around you – hundreds of man-made terraces that made it possible to cultivate the land on the steep slopes of the island.
It reminded me of the photos I’ve seen of rice terraces in Bali.
Valle Gran Rey is all about fishing and tourism.
It was another sleepy little village to explore, though there was a live band playing Bob Marley tunes on the beach, which seemed out of place.
The pebble beach was quite popular, despite the fact that it was actually quite chilly.
I spent some time walking on the rocks near the water while Jorge basked in the sun above.
My favourite part?
The stones stacked carefully along the shore.
For lunch, we chose the wrong restaurant (too greasy) but made up for it with a pretty awesome ice cream sandwich.
We took a quick drive to the other side of the village which actually seemed a bit nicer than where we had passed the last hour, but it was time to hit the road.
On our way back to the capital, San Sebastian, where we were to catch the ferry, we got side-tracked by a sign in the rain forest that pointed to a visitor’s centre.
Little did we know it was down a narrow winding road that went on for about half an hour before we actually found it, so we carried on to the north of the island to reconnect with the main road and ended up driving through other small villages like Agulo (surrounded by banana plantations) and the slightly larger Hermigua (with farming land and a cedar forest).
We parked the car in the ferry queue with an hour to spare.
The wind around the busy port area was bitter cold and we didn’t have coats, but we decided to venture into the main streets of San Sebastian to see what was happening.
On the surface, not much.
You could tell the small city had been hit by the recession.
Everywhere, there were abandoned houses, dilapidated rooftops, boarded windows.
I poked my camera in a missing segment of a door to one of these homes to see what was inside: a bunch on rubble, paint cans and not much else.
Places like this make me wonder – what happened to the people who lived there? When did they leave? Why did they leave? Where are they now?
Many places were for rent or sale, but it was unlikely they would find a tenant or a buyer very quickly.
I loved the colour of the town though, the character and the stories hidden in the peeling paint.
Like London has Big Ben and Paris has the Eiffel Tower, La Gomera has Torre del Conde, a piece of military architecture sat in Parque de la Torre near the port. It was closed that day, but normally you can go inside to see old maps of the island.
I would have liked to explore a bit longer, but we were freezing and the ferry was calling.
It was time to sail back to Tenerife.