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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Transatlantic rowing race start delayed by gales

A team of three rowers practising for the Atlantic Challenge off the coast of La Gomera in fine weather recently
The start of the world's toughest rowing race, the 2017 edition of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, which was due to have taken place in San Sebastian de La Gomera this morning has been postponed until further notice due to northerly gales, rough seas and big swell. To quote the race organisers:
''Rowing the Atlantic is extremely challenging. It would be wrong to launch a fleet into conditions that are so extreme so early on. In order to give all rowers the best and safest possible start, the race has taken external advice and guidance from numerous sources and put the race start on hold, a decision backed up by the port authorities who would not have allowed the race to start.''
Initially there were 28 entrants for various charities to the race, from solo rowers to teams of four, but three teams had to pull out of the race at the last minute, leaving 25 boats from countries as far afield as the US and China ready to begin the 'toughest row on earth'.
International media are in La Gomera to cover the race start, including the BBC TV and National Geographic, and my guess is that they'll have to wait a couple of days until sea conditions are more favourable for starting the competitive row, as gale force northerly winds are forecast to blow until Wednesday night. This morning the weather station not far from where the race is to begin in the island's capital recorded a gust of 80 km/h at around 6 am, and about and hour later the station on the second highest peak in the centre of La Gomera registered sustained winds speeds of 79 km/h and a gust of 111 km/h.
Race headquarters in San Sebastian de La Gomera

Monday, December 11, 2017

Burnt again

The blaze early Sunday morning (Above image: 112Canarias)
In the early hours of yesterday morning the emergency services were alerted to the fact that there was a large fire in the area behind the council's yard where refuse trucks and other machinery are parked in Valle Gran Rey. The blaze was consuming all the organic material and tree cuttings which the council stores there awaiting to be shredded for composting. It is presumed that the fire was started deliberately and only about six weeks ago the same happened there. Indeed, the material collected there was set on fire on several occasions over the past years. The local voluntary fire brigade brought the blaze quickly under control but a pall of smoke was still hanging over lower Valle Gran Rey most of Sunday morning. The storage and chipping of the organic material and its composting is somewhat controversial here as a few farmers reckon that pests and plant diseases are spread that way. However, controlled burning of organic waste can be applied for and a professional fire crew will choose a date, direct the proceedings, and have a fire engine on standby. Luckily there was no wind at all early Sunday morning, but with the extremely dry conditions now, a few stray sparks could have caused a lot of damage.
Fire brigade and the council's JCB still at work later Sunday morning quenching  smouldering debris

Friday, December 08, 2017

Drought leads to water rationing in capital

Parched terraced farm land in La Gomera's north
The severe drought which is affecting the Canary Islands has now begun to affect the drinking water supply even on La Gomera, which normally has an abundant supply of spring water. Recently the council of the capital San Sebastian de La Gomera introduced emergency measures to ensure a sufficient supply to the taps of the town. Water in specific districts will be cut off in rotation at night from 11pm until 7am when supplies have fallen, in a measure to allow the supply to be maintained everywhere during the day. It is generally prohibited to use drinking water to wash cars, water gardens, etc. Public green areas will be irrigated with recycled and purified waste water. The town has already installed pressure-reducing valves in many locations to conserve water and is continuing to repair any leaking pipes.

Rainfall has been below average in the Canary Islands for four consecutive years now and the situation is grave, particularly for agriculture. In October and November of this year only 25% of the average amount of precipitation for this period fell in the Canaries. Crops have failed or couldn't be sown, fruit trees died and many irrigation-water reservoirs are completely empty. The low humidity, unseasonal heat and lack of rain have also led to a proliferation of pests and plant diseases. The beekeepers of La Gomera report that honey production is down to just 40% of normal because of the drought, and many wild bees are literally dying of hunger while beekeepers are having to feed their bees with sugared water.

Tourists and visitors hardly notice anything abnormal, except for the less green countryside, as the taps and showers still run. I don't want to sound alarmist, but I would appeal to all to please use La Gomera's water sparingly and help conserve what's left of the island's precious resource. Unlike the other Canary islands we don't have desalination plants to supply the tourism infrastructure on La Gomera, and even if some rain may fall soon it will take a lot of rain over a longer period of time to percolate deeply to feed the springs and to return the water deposits to normal levels.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Colourful pageant tonight plus concert and dancing

Tonight a spectacular pageant will be staged at 8 pm in the harbour of Vueltas in Valle Gran Rey re-enacting of the arrival of the medieval painting above many years ago.
According to local lore a foreign merchant brig or a pirate sailing ship (depending on the narrator) anchored in the the natural harbour of Valle Gran Rey and the sailors rowed ashore urgently looking for provisions and water, sometime in the middle of the last millennium. The area was very sparsely populated in those days, and the the locals were very poor but they made the sailors welcome and brought goats cheese, honey, water and more to provision the ship. They were promised the religious painting  above in return for the goods and a feast to celebrate the deal was held on the beach.
When the locals were asleep the sailors re-took the painting and tried to steal away, but the previously calm weather suddenly changed to continuously stormy weather that made it impossible for their ship to leave the bay. They eventually repented and  returned the painting to the locals, praying to be forgiven. Miraculously the weather immediately calmed again and they could continue their journey. 
The much venerated image has since been housed in the oldest church in Valle Gran Rey up in El Guro, and the valuable medieval painting is the focal point of the 'VII Bajada' fiesta which officially starts tomorrow (see: The Great Fiesta begins).
The pageant will be directly followed by a concert on the pier entitled 'Cabañuelas en La Gomera' featuring Pedro Manuel Afonso from Gran Canaria. After that there'll be salsa bands and dancing 'til late...well, early morning more likely.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Learn to leap

From tomorrow Dec. 7th 2017 the annual national gathering of the federation promoting the traditional Canarian shepherds leap (salto del pastor Canario) will take place in the municipal regions of Vallehermoso and Valle Gran Rey on La Gomera. There will be workshops and classes concerning this spectacular form of pole vaulting as well as other forms of culture and traditions in the Canary Islands. More than one hundred 'leapers' will be travelling cross country using the long poles. Here's how they do it...

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Three bands to play festival in Hermigua

Three bands from three islands will bring rock and contemporary world music to Hermigua this Wednesday,
Dec. 6th 2017, from 7pm. The event is free of charge and held in the open air in the upper part of Hermigua.

Monday, December 04, 2017

The great fiesta begins

...here in Valle Gran Rey on La Gomera with a special fiesta of our patron saint 'Nuestra Señora de Los Reyes' in earnest this weekend and will continue until the 7th of January 2018 ! 'Los Reyes' (Epiphany) is also the celebration of Christmas in the Canaries and X-mas presents are given on that day, Jan. 6th. 
This year It is the 'bajada' which is celebrated only every 5 years and means that the image and the statue of the saint is going to be taken from the church in El Guro to be processed through every hamlet and part of the parish and staying temporarily in many different churches and chapels. Some associated events like a torch run have already taken place in preparation for the month-long event.

The processions are noisy affairs with loud firecrackers being shot into the air along the route. A traditional dance is being performed by many worshippers during the processions, accompanied by 'chacaras y tambores', the former being a locally made very large type of castanets, of which there is a 'male' and a 'female', the 'female' having a slightly higher pitch. The 'tambores' are homemade goatskin drums with a muted snare sound.The percussion beats a steady, restrained rhythm that could put you almost into a trance.To all this the participants chant a repetitive song that has a distinctly North African feel and probably originates in pre-Christian times. So the processions go from place to place, stopping here and there for prayers, followed by shouts of 'VIVA...'
Ahead of the processions, and even ahead of the statue of the saint, the 'ramo' is being carried which is an artfully bound bouquet of fruit and vegetables of considerable weight, and even the fabrication of this offering is celebrated with music, food and drink by the volunteers and onlookers. 
Culture aside, the fiesta is a perfect occasion for just having a good time. The secular parts of the proceedings usually begin after mass and mostly start with Canarian folk music followed on stage by salsa and merengue bands  who play for the dancers and revellers until the early hours of the morning through professional (and loud) sound equipment, often even until the sun has risen. Stalls serve food and drink throughout the proceedings and young and old are having a party.
The main programme for the 'bajada' 2017/18 can be found here: VII Bajada

Sunday, December 03, 2017

A few welcome showers

Finally we had a couple of light showers in Valle Gran Rey, like the one in the image above which I took last night showing the precious drops of rain. There's a nice fresh smell in the air this morning. The coming week should be mostly sunny.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Large port and marina planned for Playa de Santiago

The existing harbour in La Gomera's southernmost town of Playa de Santiago will be dwarfed if the plans for a large extension of the pier and port will get funding. The plans have been around for quite some time but nothing has happened yet due to lack of financial support. Recently there have been renewed political efforts to have funds for project included in the 2018 budget of the Canarian government and to apply for some EU aid under the cohesion heading.
The project when first drawn up had a price tag of around 106.5 million Euros and will involve massive movement of rock and concrete, of which the municipal region of Alajero, in which Playa de Santiago is situated has more than plenty. The new port, if built, will provide berths for ships and ferries of up to 340 ft in length, a marina with berths for about 350 pleasure craft of various sizes, a dedicated comercial fishing section and ancillary works. 
If only they would finish the port of Valle Gran Rey, which badly needs a marina and has been awaiting the final 'phase two' for many years, first...
Below an impressive animated introduction to the ambitious plans for Playa de Santiago

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cruise ship season in full swing

La Gomera is fast becoming a very popular cruise ship destination and this winter season more cruise ships are visiting the island than in previous years. It now regularly happens that two cruise ships are arriving in the harbour of San Sebastian de La Gomera, forcing one to anchor outside the port and having to bring guests ashore by ship's tender. This was the case yesterday when P&O's Aurora was occupying the cruise ship berth on the pier and the Ocean Majesty anchoring just outside the harbour's mouth in glorious weather.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Benchi Express ferry winter timetable

 Benchi Express passenger ferry in the port of San Sebastian de La Gomera
The new passenger ferry which connects the La Gomera ports of Valle Gran Rey, Playa de Santiago and San Sebastian de La Gomera on the so-called  interior line has now become more reliable with three return trips a day and a fixed winter schedule (see below). Sailings are mostly on time, weather permitting. The only gripe is that some sailing don't directly connect with ferries to Tenerife, but the new ferry must firstly serve commuters between the three towns. They do serve good coffee, though, and lots of tourists too are using the service for excursions and exploring and to start or finish loop walks.
The Benchi Express winter schedule

Monday, November 27, 2017

Back to blue skies and drought


The first image shows the sky in Valle Gran Rey at dusk last night and the second was taken this morning. The low which stayed west of the Canary Islands for several days causing alarm and threatened to bring a lot of rain and wind is now dissipating. There were lots of thunderstorms near the islands still last night, but only a few scattered moderate showers came down over the weekend, and the drought continues. The high pressure over North Africa won out and the dry air from it consumed and blocked the moisture-laden air that the Atlantic depression had steered our way. Locals here were not impressed, but some are now depressed as their crops suffer.