The following is an excerpt from an article by Damien Enright, who like me will spend the spring and summer at home in Ireland. It appeared in the Irish Examiner last Monday and eloquently describes the type of atmosphere La Gomera calls its own:
''A king’s ‘ramson’ wouldn’t keep me from West Cork
IT’S goodbye to La Gomera and the canaries, their bubbling morning song from the fruit trees when we stayed in a friend’s house in the mountains, and from our neighbour Gerardo’s spacious aviary when we dwelt in the valley, writes Damien Enright.
... As you read this, we will be journeying home. We’ve greatly enjoyed the walking, swimming, meeting old friends and the food in La Gomera. Holidaymakers who visit the island always say what they most love is that it is so laid-back.
‘Laid-back’ is, of course, a 1960s hippy-term, now used by upright citizens who never actually got laid-back, back then. Why do they find La Gomera so easy-going? Well, they’re no hurry, not much traffic, no bustle, no hustlers, no crime, no aggravation. There are no garish tourist shops or waiters waving one into restaurants, girls in high-heeled cowboy-boots and short shorts handing out time-share leaflets, or signboards for monkey parks, excursions, whale-watching boats or dolphin aquariums blocking the pavements.
‘Laid-back’ has become a high saleable quality for many stressed-out city dwellers. There are, we know, hundreds of sun-blessed Caribbean, South American, and Asian beaches where commercial action is unknown: but holidaymakers ask themselves if they can relax in places where there are no other foreign footprints on the sand. These days, the locals may no longer be happy with just “livin’ on coconuts and fishes from de sea”.
A big plus for Gomera’s laid-back feeling is that there is no crime. Women can safely walk alone on remote trails. They can go out at night to a restaurant or bar with no fear of being approached, much less accosted, by intrusive locals or other holidaymakers. It is to be admitted that there isn’t a lot of after-dark action. There are no nightclubs or discos — not the place to take your teenage kids on holiday! — but two bars stay open late. Small groups of local and international musicians play impromptu sessions in others.
Most visitors are ‘into’ the island, its natural charms. Many are walkers, and German. German walkers eat dinner early, are asleep by 11pm and up at dawn to set off, a Nordic walking stick in each hand, rucksack on back, valderee-valderah. Then, there’s the ambience. There are no amusement parlours, McDonald’s or Starbucks.
Only one hotel is owned by multinational operators, The Tecina in Playa Santiago, a sort of luxury mini-Tenerife resort owned by Fred Olsen international. Elsewhere, towns have small, family-owned hotels or pensions. In Valle Gran Rey, the handful of hotels are small, low-rise and locally owned, with one or two four-star establishments.
Laid-back may also be a result of local families owning most businesses, being comfortably off, and living traditionally. At least a dozen Germans, long-term residents, have set up successful activity or amenity enterprises, which ‘fit in’.
Local families build their low-rise, small apartment blocks or rented accommodation units themselves; there’s always a builder in the family. The restaurants are largely locally owned, staffed by sons and daughters, with fresh fish and succulent sun-infused vegetables supplied by family members; there’s always a farmer or fishermen in the family.
So, the money is kept at home. The land is locally owned, not sold to conglomerates. The profits are not shipped out. The locals are not just waiters. They have a stake, and the island’s ambience, morality and laid-back way of life is theirs.
The same can be said of tourist villages in Ireland. Tourists say what they like best in Ireland is the atmosphere and the people. Our village in West Cork is a lot like Gomera, but for the weather. However, it will be spring — and we have to go home anyway, because we’ve run out of Barry’s Tea.''