2 Nov 2015

3. First Impressions 2015

Today there is no longer the sensation of adventure in travelling to the island, no feeling that you are going somewhere different, far away. Communications by plane and ferry are rapid and “twenty-first-century” comfortable. Once on the island there are real roads, not the dusty old tracks of fifty years ago, and even tunnels through the mountains. And, of course, we have all the services a modern society expects: electricity, municipal water, a modern hospital, maritime cable and satellite telecommunications connections with the rest of the world ... When you come out of the airport you’ll see one of those monolithic advertisements informing us this is the first “wifi free” island in the world. Ignore it! What it means is that there is a free wifi service at different points on the island. Of course, it doesn’t usually work! So perhaps after all “wifi free” is more correct than “free wifi”.

Fortunately, not much else has changed, really. The villages are much the same, a bit tidier and cleaner. One or two on the coast near the port and airport have grown considerably and become dormitories for people working in Valverde. The forests, recently hit by several fires, are better attended. What always strikes me, and I suppose many other people, when I return from somewhere else is the air. It is simply clean. You feel it in your lungs, especially as you go higher into the mountains. It also affects your vision: you can see things more clearly and further away. Another curiosity is that things don’t smell. You have to stick your nose right into a flower to smell it; on the plateau in the centre of the island you cannot smell the fields of grass and hay and you can only rarely smell the pines in the forest. Perhaps our air, constantly on the move, does not have time to absorb odours.

People talk of the climate change. Our weather hasn’t changed much though, I don’t think. You may still freeze in August at Jinama or have Christmas dinner in the garden in Frontera or even in El Pinar. Don't think that because it's a sunny day in Valverde, it will be sunny in Frontera, too. Or that you know all about it because you've been to the Canaries before. El Hierro will not let you do that. El Hierro must be approached without assumptions. El Hierro dictates the rules.

El Golfo, looking northeast. Jinama is above the cloud at top right.

2. First Impressions 1970's

As a family, we first visited El Hierro back in the late 70’s. At that time there was not even a ferry to the island: a crane picked up the car in a huge net and deposited it on the deck of the rusty old ship that made the crossing from Tenerife every week. After an interminable 12 hour voyage, we climbed the old winding road, at times cut into the very face of the cliff, towards Valverde the capital of the island. It was cloudy, windy and cold, the kids were screaming in the back of the station wagon and my wife asked “Where on earth have you brought us?” Good question. In Valverde, this Sunday in August was like a cold October day in England, misty and wet. Our spirits were dropping. We continued up the mountain road through deserted villages to Jinama, a vantage point with a magnificent view of the northwestern coast.

At least it was supposed to have a view. When we got there the wind was howling and you could see no further than your imaginary shadow. We were right in the clouds. There was a little chapel there, locked up, into which people threw coins - and others fished out with bits of wire – and next to it a stable from which we could hear the bleating of sheep. A door creaked open and a man in dark shapeless woolen clothes appeared and called the children inside. We had to follow. The place stank although it was welcomingly warm. Pancho introduced himself and milked a couple of sheep into some filthy yogurt pots for the delighted children. He then took us to a little lean-to where he made coffee, the best I’ve ever had, and offered us some cake. He explained that the weather was sometimes like this in August. The trade winds came in from the north, hurtling themselves against the mountains. That’s why he had to hand some home-made “aguardiente” - transparent spirit distilled from winemaking leftovers. We began to feel better and went outside to see what the children were doing.

The sun had come out! The wind had dropped! It was still very cool, but what can you expect if you’re out in the middle of the Atlantic at more than a thousand metres above sea level. We leant against the wall and looked out over the bay, El Golfo. There were still a few clouds, but they were chasing each other way below us, giving us moving glimpses of the white houses of Frontera and green vineyards. Above them, the forested slopes of the mountains formed a great arc that seemed to cradle the village and the little hamlets at the edge of the immense ocean. My wife felt considerably better about the place I had brought her to.

View of El Golfo from Jinama on 1 September 2015

1. About this blog

“Oh! We know El Hierro. We went there last year for a couple of days. Didn’t like it much. Too quiet for us. No beaches, nothing to do. You can see everything in one day.”
How many times have I heard that! This blog is not really for fools like this but for those to whom “knowing” is more than just getting a tan and sending a postcard home. Over the years I’ve met curious people who’ve asked me the most extraordinary questions about the island, about its people, their customs and idiosyncrasies, … even about its politics! If you have anything you want to ask about, please contact me.
So I hope to tell you things about El Hierro that you won’t find in official brochures or guide books. Things that might help you understand this island. I may exaggerate a little sometimes, or be too critical, or simply wrong. The entries will not be in any special order, just more or less in the order I write them.
I take responsibility for my ideas and views and what I say, but I ask you to respect the principle of copyright. Unless stated otherwise, the pictures are mine.

I could have offered a wild flower but somehow apricot blossom seemed more appropriate.

(If you want to see superb National Geographic-type photos of the island, check out José Luis Rodríguez in Facebook, or Google JoseMRW13.)