Tuesday, June 08, 2021

La Gomera video from the 1950s

Above video was shot as a b/w 8mm film all around La Gomera island in the 1950s by some Austrian academics and explorers. To watch, just click on 'Watch this video on YouTube', the first three minutes are a bit boring, though. For those familiar with the island this video is a real gem as it shows how different life was then and the infrastructure that's in place now was almost non-existent just one generation back. In most places in La Gomera there wasn't even electricity and the island was called 'The Forgotten Island' or 'The Lost Island'. 
For those interested, a book translated into English by Barbara Clayton called 'Tales from the Lost Island' by author Jose Miguel Trujillo Ascanio is a well-written fascinating book and highly recommended. It's available in some shops in La Gomera (ISBN 84-922526-2-6). 
Sadly the commentary and soundtrack of the above film has been lost, but the images speak for themselves. I do not know who holds the copyright of the film, but it was published recently by the 'Valle Gran Rey...was geht?!' Facebook page.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Prickly Pear Cactus in La Gomera

Prickly Pear (Opuntia) in La Gomera. There are literally millions of these plants all over the island.

 The Prickly Pear cactus, locally called Tunera, has spread all over La Gomera island since its introduction from Mexico many years ago and is considered an invasive species. The delicious and vitamin-rich fruit are still eaten and jams are also made from them. Be careful when picking the fruit also known as 'cactus figs', because their very thin glass-like spikes penetrate skin easily and cause pain for a few days thereafter. The local method to remove the spines from the fruit is to half-fill a bucket with them and top it up with water. Then stir the prickly pears vigorously in the water so the spines break off, drain the bucket and repeat a couple of times.
Should you ever get the spikes into your skin, just put vinegar repeatedly on the affected area and the embedded spines will gradually dissolve.

Below is more on the Prickly Pear cactus and the red dye provided by the cochineal lice on them by Writer Damien Enright in his recent La Gomera article in the Irish Examiner newspaper:

''...On Sunday morning, looking out the bedroom window before the sun struck the fields, I saw an elderly man and his wife harvesting avocados from the trees.
Beyond them, a schoolboy was energetically attacking a stand of cactus with a stick, There was a time when his grandfather might well have taken a stick to the boy. The cactus was once the basic food for an industry that brought wealth to these, then isolated, Canary islands.

Pre-teenage boys take it to be their duty to punish weeds. I’ve seen my sons thrashing nettles; my brother and I vigorously attacked these icons of herbal medicine when we were children. Visitors to the Canaries will be very familiar with the tunera or “plate” cactus, the edges of which sprout red, prickly pears, delicious when the spines are burnt off. On the plates, colonies of small, dark beetles like truncated woodlice gather under a white, waxy “spider” webs, secreted to protect them from the sun.

The Aztecs first used these cochineal beetles for dyes. By the 17th century the colouring of fabrics had become an important European industry and cochineal dye from Spain’s South American colonies was a commodity equal to gold and silver. Wisely, just before Mexico became independent in 1836, they introduced the beetles to the Canaries where the Opuntia cactus on which they feed was already successfully producing the prickly pear fruit. The climate and temperature were perfect.
It’s hard to believe that these innocuous, apparently torpid insects are the source of a dye redder than blood. It was originally used for textiles and ill-advisedly for the brilliant scarlet tunics worn by British officers during the Indian Mutiny and at Rorke’s Drift in the Zulu wars. The colour could only have made them easier targets for the enemy.

The dye, being natural and non-toxic, was used to colour sweets and icing, and for flavouring, medicines and cosmetics. Plantations of cochineal-laden cactus made fortunes for their owners and were also a life-saving peasant industry; the cactus escaped, went wild and the beetles followed. The females produce the dye. Typically harvested by hand, they could also easily be transferred to the plates of wild plants. In fact, they need no help to create new colonies. Female nymphs crawl to the tops of cacti, and use wind to disperse to others, travelling up to several metres.
Female crawlers that successfully and safely land find a suitable spot, insert their mouthparts and feed off the cactus for the rest of their lifespan which is around 70 to 90 days. After three weeks of feeding, moulting and undergoing physical change, they lay eggs that produce 1,100 to 1,250 successful offspring. They are harvested close to their natural deaths, so that they grow as large as possible.

As for the males, they are much fewer. Unlike the wingless females, they can fly. It is the duty of a solitary male to fly from plant to plant and cope with about 300 females for the purpose of reproduction. The industry survived in La Gomera until the early 20th century, when synthetic dyes replaced the carminic acid produced by the beetles. When demand collapsed large scale immigration to Cuba and Venezuela was the only option for many smallholders.

Cochineal is still produced in Lanzarote and Gran Canaria although synthetic dyes have made the breeding and harvesting of the cochineal beetle too costly and labour-intensive. It requires 70,000 beetles to provide a single pound of cochineal dye as well as the labour of, largely, a lot of women wearing layers of protective clothing against the cactus thorns when gathering the beetles.
Historically, women scraped the insects into flat metal trays. The trays would then be placed in ovens for the insects to toast. They were also put into boiling water and later dried in the sun. Another method involved mixing the insects with black sand in a linen bag several feet long which would then be swung back and forth by men holding each end of the bag until the juices seeped out.

Up to 3,000 tonnes of cochineal were annually produced in 1870s. Now, the market is much smaller, but significant production still occurs of possibly 200 to 700 tonnes. Insect welfare advocates and vegans argue that the annual death toll of the cochineal beetles is likely five to 20 trillion and that cochineal should be entirely replaced by synthetic dyes.

However, adversely, the naturalness of cochineal dyes makes them popular for high-end consumer goods and natural foods. In 2012, after it became public that they used insect-derived dyes in drinks, Starbucks bowed to consumer pressure and switched to tomato-derived dyes.'' (DAMIEN ENRIGHT)

Thursday, April 01, 2021

New police station to be opened in former 'Bar Maria'

Canarian police in action near 'Bar Maria' on their recent stint in Valle Gran Rey (image: Ayuntamiento V.G.R.)

After several years on the property market, the legendary landmark hostelry 'Bar Maria', aka 'Bar Las Journadas' and 'Casa Maria', remains unsold (see previous post) and the building is beginning to deteriorate. For many years a popular meeting spot for locals and visitors with its bar, restaurant and basic tourist accommodation, the site occupies a strategic location on the beachfront in La Playa, Valle Gran Rey. 
Recently La Gomera's Spanish Guardia Civil police force received support from the Canarian police when ten officers of the latter were sent to Valle Gran Rey to help enforce the multitude of measures and restrictions imposed due to coronavirus fears. This police force had not been seen in the municipality previously, but their presence had been requested by the local administration (Ayuntamiento) recently.
However, these officers had to withdraw to their base in Tenerife after about a week due to insufficient space at the Guardia Civil station and lack of suitable accommodation. They are however returning for the Easter holidays, as tougher restrictions and nightly curfews are now in force. Last time they made their presence widely felt, controlling and checking such important matters as the wearing and correct fitting of face coverings by tourists and locals out for a stroll along the beachfront.
New police station 
It has just been confirmed that an agreement has been reached with the help of the Ayuntamiento between the owners of 'Bar Maria' and the Policia Canaria to house about a dozen officers for a longer period there. The Canarian police will  have use of the premises initially for a period of three years and will adapt the building to their needs.
The former dining room will become the main office where a counter with protective glass screens as well as a waiting area will be sectioned-off to accommodate interaction with the public. The separate bar area with its historic huge wooden fridge will become the ''officers mess and recreation area'' while the small commercial kitchen behind it will just need a clean-up. There is plenty of basic accommodation overhead suitable for police officers. Two of the smallest and most basic former guest rooms will be turned into temporary holding cells for apprehended offenders. Initially there is no major redevelopment planned and all alterations will be carried out so they can be changed back if and when the officers leave.
However, it has been disclosed that the Canarian government (under whose control the Policia Canaria is and who provide the funding) has secured an option to purchase the premises as ''the building's two levels of roof terraces (azoteas) offer sweeping views over wide areas of Valle Gran Rey and its coastline, making it ideal for police surveillance work and this may remain needed in the future''.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Roque Agando in the morning mist

La Gomera's emblematic Roque Agando is the most prominent of a group of volcanic plugs called Los Roques. The others are named Roque Ojila and Roque Zarcita, and sometimes Roque Carmona and Roque Las Lajas are also included.
Agando rises to 1250 metres beside the main road leading west from the island's capital San Sebastián just before Garajonay National Park in the centre of the island.
The summit is not accessible and climbing it is not permitted as it forms part of a protected area.
Historic remains left by the indigenous Guanche tribes have been found on the summit and these were in good condition until the 1980s, when they were ''disturbed and looted by a German group making a documentary film''. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Sadly there won't be any wild live Irish music sessions this St. Patricks Day in La Gomera and in Ireland.   Hope the above image I took in Ireland some time ago will cheer you up.  CHEERS... and don't stop having a laugh.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Campers evicted in Valle Gran Rey

About 20 persons found camping ''illegally'' along Valle Gran Rey's coastline in the south-west of La Gomera were evicted by police from their hide-aways early yesterday. The eviction was filmed by Canarian TV (see video above). These evictions happen once or twice a year, supposedly to protect the environment, and can cause great hardship for those evicted, as some of them are homeless and most cannot afford to rent accommodation. An added excuse for the latest eviction was the pandemic and the mass of restrictions. 
It must be said that all of these people called 'hippies' by the authorities are harmless and usually keep their surroundings very clean and tidy, often even collecting litter left by 'normal' tourists and locals.

Below I'm quoting an article written by former La Gomera resident Damien Enright for the Irish Examiner some time ago in which he explains the island's hippie culture:

''...Pressed shorts or crisp new holiday gear may look seriously out-of-place in Valle Gran Rey. A battered straw hat, faded levis, a washed-out T-shirt and well worn sandals is better suited.
Thus accoutered, one may even meld with the long-term foreigners with their battered cars, and join the local culture where ‘making a million’ comes second place to living a hassle-free life, and sartorial elegance is strictly for ‘occasions’.

The first foreigners to show up in latter day Gomera were dubbed ‘beatniks’, but were actually ‘peaceniks’, American draft-dodgers fleeing the governmental diktat that they were obliged to go killing people in a far away country called Vietnam.
By 1970, a colony of 20 of so had somehow drifted in and set up camp at the Playa Ingles, a beach still as wild and unspoiled today as it was then.

The locals had no objection. As a friend of mine Barbara Belt wrote in Living Tenerife magazine “Cities like Paris, London and Stockholm offered them shelter. So, surprisingly, did an isolated valley in La Gomera.

In the late sixties, Valle Gran Rey was about as far away from modern Europe as you could get.
There was no blacktop road. In bad weather, even walking in the valley was tricky. The only ferry left from the other side of the island and then took all day to reach Tenerife. No-one had mains electricity.
Telephones were a rarity (as were the state police, the Guardia Civil). It was the perfect spot to hole up and wait for the world to change.”

This group expanded. Girlfriends arrived. Barbara continues the history “The parties were famous; the foreign girls spectacularly uncovered and uninhibited and the boys “hairy like Robinson Crusoe”.
The beach became a magnet for the young people from the village. Interestingly, there was no parental paranoia, no warnings to keep away. These – the first foreigners to come and stay – were seen as ‘buena gente’ (good people ).

They were gentle, friendly and well-mannered, and were welcomed. Valle Gran Rey, to its credit, was an open-minded community, blissfully free of sensationalist (or indeed any!) press or TV.
Locals contributed to their welfare, bringing fish for baking in their rock oven, potatoes for the pot, avocadoes and papayas. They shopped for non-local essentials at the tiny local shop.”

The idyll drew to an end at about the same time as the war they’d wanted no part in. By 1975, only a few of the original group were still here.
These drifted home one by one, leaving their valley to be discovered by other young travellers who’d heard of ‘the Gomera scene.’
The Gomeros remember los americanos with great affection. Strange to think that they were treated with more tolerance here, in a distant outpost of Franco’s dictatorship, than in their own country...''

''...Gomera’s association with alternative lifestyles is still here, and attracts holidaymakers wanting to avoid the brash commercialism and big resorts.
The ‘alternatives’, now dubbed ‘hippies’, lead separate lives, but their sunset drumming and fire shows draw ‘straight’ visitors in their dozens to join the exotic milieu. At the Sunday craft market, they display their wares.
Many are skilled jewellers, potters and artists.

The local authorities, however, face a dilemma. Recently, they licensed a remote beach for an international Rainbow Gathering of people who annually congregate somewhere on earth to celebrate a month of peace, harmony, freedom and respect.
However, after it ended, stragglers wandered to Valle Gran Rey, bathed and washed their clothes at the beach showers, and strolled the town naked, waiting for them to dry.
Not a good image, the authorities decided, and turned off the water. The eye-catching unclothed soon drifted away, and showers are, again, today, restored. But how to reconcile hippy ambience and vacationers’ expectations?

There’s the rub...''        (Damien Enright February 2018)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Mini Carnival 2021 in Valle Gran Rey

There won't be the usual outdoor carnival celebrations in 2021 and instead there are a few 
indoor events with very limited ticket availability (see poster above). All will take place in 
the Casa de la Cultura in La Calera, Valle Gran Rey, and this year's theme is 'Mexico'.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

No public fiesta

For obvious reasons the main fiesta in Valle Gran Rey around Epiphany, which is always celebrated at the chapel above El Guro, will be closed to the public and the popular all-night dancing, etc., has been cancelled. Only the religious part of the fiesta is being held with a select few participants on January 6th and 7th 2021, and can be followed by the public on the town hall's Facebook page
Above is an image which I took during the procession around the church in El Guro in 2018, when this spectacle was still being followed by music and general merriment until the early hours of next morning. To find out more about this important fiesta and how it is being celebrated in normal times read 'The Great Fiesta' (click)...

Monday, December 14, 2020

Bus travels in record time...

 ...from Valle Gran Rey in La Gomera's south-west across the mountains and through the national park to the island's capital San Sebastian de La Gomera. A journey that normally takes about 100 minutes was done in less than nine minutes (!) by this Mesa coach, as the video below shows. Caution: Better have a bucket handy just in case your stomach isn't up to what you're about to see: