Monday, 11 April 2016


La Fortaleza – last stand of the Guanches. Note the road across the valley!
Here I was, standing in a murky expanse, like a hole bored right through the mountain by a gigantic worm. It had been laborious to access it, by ascending a precarious path crisscrossing a steep slope. The exit would be much more easy going, but deadly: balancing on the rim of a vertical cliff and sailing a thousand feet down to the bottom of the barranco. 

At the edge of that abyss, some figures were outlined by rays of the opposing sun. With eyes squinting, I suddenly had a vision of the giant of a man, in loincloth, with feathers on head and arm, standing on the brink, at his back a group of warriors. Suddenly, screeching "Atis tirmaaa …", he lifted his arms like wings and disappeared into the void, followed by his flock of feathered braves.

I was envisaging the last stand of the Guanches in the Conquista of Gran Canaria. On 29 April 1483, Queen Guayuarmina Semidán surrendered to Their Catholic Majesties. In desperate defiance of this deed, War Chief Betejui and his entourage decided to end their life at the verge of the cavern fortress "La Fortaleza", where they had fought off Their Majesties' mercenaries to the bitter end. 

La Fortaleza, seen from the road across the valley. Note the black dot on the cliff!
Five years have passed since this heroic vision. Am I still the man I was then, filled with grandstanding thoughts and envisaging myself as a man able to accomplish great deeds? I am back on Gran Canaria yet again and can compare myself to this self-occupied man of yore.

At my advanced age, five years mean a lot of change in body and mind. Those have not been idle years. Far from it! Working on photographic output, producing books, and promoting books on two continents has kept boredom away from my door. It is as if I had felt the urge to prove myself, to put my mark on the world, so as to convince posterity that I was a Great Man, indeed, in my time. 

But, with all this work finished and the books published, sober afterthought has intruded of late. In the great scheme of life, my achievements must surely be minuscule, like grain in the sand of human accomplishment. Granted, that the three books I have produced will live on, safely stored in Sweden's Royal Library, to bear witness of my existence long after my demise. But even that lustrous institution will eventually fade away, and with it the last remaining traces of myself.

These insights of "vanitas vanitatis", sobering as they may be, lead me to a surprisingly optimistic conclusion. Once you realize that your existence is of no great concern to humanity, you can forget about making imprints and instead start enjoying life as it evolves. There are still some years of ahead of me to enjoy, although the inevitable end is getting ever closer. So, instead of  striving endlessly for vain achievements, "Carpe diem!" shall be the motto for the remainder of my days. 

Sand Dunes at Maspalomas
It is this new perspective that brought me back to the "Isla Fortunata", from which I keep so many favorable memories, partly documented in the preceding chapters of this blog. As to recording my new visit, I am older and – hopefully – wiser now, so this post will present a condensed review of the ten days of hiking and leisure spent on Gran Canaria during March this year.

So what is new on the hiking front? As during earlier visits, the company Free Motion is still alive and kicking, but Happy Hiking has folded down. As to the former, it will spin off its hiking services into a separate company later this year, although tours can still be booked on its own web page. Manfred, the amiable guide known from an earlier blog, is leading its hiking groups now, with the help of a hiking friend from Switzerland, André. José Vanderveken, who used to lead Happy Hiking, is nowadays guiding visitors on taylor-made tours, accessible through his new website Joselitomoves.

Let me now present highlights from the five hiking tours I partook in, together with Manfred and André from Free Motion.

The gate to the great Caldera, Roque seen from the parking lot.
FIRST, the hikes brought me to an area hitherto not penetrated, the huge expanse of the Caldera de Tejeda. This crater, with a diameter of fully 22 kilometers, is the remainder of a volcano that millions of years ago rose out of the sea to create the island. We cannot fathom the original mountain's size, but to judge from the hole in the ground left from its explosion, I gather that it must have been at least as high as Tejde on Tenerife, the highest mountain of Spain. 

Pictures cannot give credit to the caldera's enormous expanse. So let me start by showing you a tiny detail in the overall hugeness. When the mountain was formed, lava of various materials were flowing upwards from the clefts lodged thousands of meters under sea level. Some of the lava streams consisted of especially hard material and formed "chimneys" in the overall mountain mass. With the mountain's explosion and subsequent erosion, these eventually became free standing columns of immense size. The foremost example is Roque Nublo, who is aptly standing out in the void. Still, massive as it looks, it really represents just a small "needle" in the caldera's huge expanse. 

A small "needle" in the Caldera's huge Expanse
The easiest way to access the rim of this void is to start at the parking lot of the Roque Nublo trail. From there, a four hours' walk along the eastern rim provides you with many a marvelous view and lets you judge the grandeur of this natural wonder. Your eyes, with their 3D capacity, can appreciate the emptiness to the fullest, whereas pictures taken with a one eyed camera can only provide you with a meager shadow of it. 

Roque Nublo, as well as Roque Bentayga, are but small needles in the seemingly limitless void.
The above picture proves my point. It was taken from the south-eastern part of the rim, looking towards the north-west. You can easily identify Roque Nublo, jutting up from its promontory that stretches way into the caldera, much like an "Island in the Sky". To its right, about in the middle of the void, another "needle" is rising above the caldera floor, called Roque Bentayga. Like Roque Nublo, this rock "needle" was venerated by the Guanches, with vast cave settlements built around it in their time. Bentayga was site of major battles between Betejui and the Spaniards, before the War Chief retreated south-eastward to the Fortaleza, where he made his last stand.

At Bentayga's roots one can vaguely make out El Espinello with its neighbor villages. Much farther on, the opposite side of the rim is discernible, more than 20 kilometers from where I am standing, and half veiled in haze. Normally, the air is quite clear on top of the island and you can see far, even across open sea all the way to Teide on the neighbor island of Tenerife. But on that day, the Calima reigned supreme over the island. This cool (in winter!) wind from the Sahara carries with it a lot of fine dust, leading to haze on the mountain ranges. 

The Caldera de Tejeda forms an almost closed circumference. There is just one breakthrough, westward towards the sea, formed by millions of years of erosion. It is called Barranco de la Alsea de San Nicolas and at its foot lies the village (and harbor) of the same name. On the panorama, you can see where the caldera rim in the far north, after rising to its highest point (Los Moriscos), is easing off towards the sea. Apart from that breakthrough, the outer crater rim still stands like the wall of a gigantic fortress, especially when seen from the south-west.

Descending Cruz de Mogan towards Barranco de Veneguera. The "Grand Wall" looming above it all.
SECOND, at the root of that "Grand Wall" towards the south-west, erosion has set in with a vengeance, creating deep barrancos that taper off towards the ocean. This leaves a series of ridges, which, like fingers of a giant's hand, reach out to the sea from their base a thousand meters up in the air. It is an exquisite pleasure to explore this region on foot. 

In between those ridges, and at the confluence of run-offs (like small brooks) from the heights and the Grand Wall, small conglomerations of farms had formed of yore, eking out their meager existence, as long as the water kept flowing from above. Water is the scarce resource in this barren region, which is sheltered from the trade winds by the Grand Wall. As long as it keeps running, the mineral-rich lava ground provides for ample harvests of potato, vegetable and fruit. But water supply was fickle in the old days. The Generalissimo, as governor of the Canaries, changed it all. He had a large number of dams built in the highlands, to preserve the water trickling down from the trade wind clouds and being caught on the needles of the big Canary Pines prevalent on the heights. Since then, water supply is getting more dependable, permitting the former small villages to grow into larger settlements. 

The village of Veneguera, at the confluence of run-offs from the ridges.
The Barranco de Veneguera, which we accessed through traversing the high ridge of Cruz de Mogan, is one of the few canyons left bearing witness of yore. Veneguera of the same name is the only village in this canyon, ever since the days when water was scarce and forbid more contiguous settlements. But, harken you readers, who yearn to experience an unspoiled environment: please make haste in preparing your hike into the region. There are already plans to develop the beach at the barranco's outlet into the sea, as well as to build roads and tourist settlements well into the barranco. Fortunately, the crisis of 2008 put a temporary stop to those plans. But considerable tranches of the barranco are still owned by the largest building company of the Canaries, so real estate development remains a permanent threat to this unspoiled canyon. 

But for now, bucolic experiences can still be had by traversing the Barranco de Veneguera. Friendly farmers will great you in the valley, exhibiting the broad range of fruit and vegetable that are being produced on that fertile soil; old farm houses will welcome you to have a picnic in their shade; here and there old installations to preserve and use scarce water supply can still be discerned in the valley.

Guide Manfred and friendly farmer                      Honey tasting
Farm house in Veneguera.
Washing cloths the old (natural) way.
Run-off from the ridges. The only water supply of yore.
The hiker, after leaving the village, will strive ever upwards on the next ridge, so as to eventually arrive at the foot of the "Grand Wall". Our small hiking group did this, and I can tell you that it was a strenuous two hours' hike, especially laborious towards the second hour, when we arrived at the last steep slope and had to ascend it like mountain goats. Still, the effort was worth it. Along the way, interesting vistas opened up and delighted this exhausted veteran.

Derelict goat stable up on the ridge, about to be restored.
Open air oven outside goat stable.
Ever upwards, approaching the final steep slope.
THIRD, let us now move to the opposite side of the island, to the region in the north-east around Telde, the first European settlement on Gran Canaria. Interestingly, this settlement was established well before the Conquista. Pope Clemens VI decreed, as early as in 1351, that a group of Franciscan monks from Mallorca should move there, to establish a Bishopry and convert the Guanches. The pope chose wisely, since that part of the island enjoys a steady supply of water; the trade wind clouds, approaching from the north-east and meeting the welcoming slopes, release readily their moisture on fertile ground. As a result, the barrancos here, at least those not yet cultivated by farmers, are clad in greenery not unlike subtropical rain forests.

Our hiking group ascended one of those canyons, still unspoiled by civilization. Its name was Barranco de Cernicalos (Kestrel Canyon), named after a subspecies of hawk that thrives in (or rather above) this canyon. The kestrel is known for its ability to float, seemingly effortless, in the air whilst looking out for prey. The latter consists of small rodents and lizards, since larger wild herbivores do not exist on the island. It was a treat to see those birds hovering above the canyon, just occasionally moving their wings quickly up and down. Unfortunately, my camera equipment was not up to the task of documenting them for you, so you just have to take my word for it. 

Starting point for ascent of Barranco de Cernicalos.
The canyon itself is a marvel of lush vegetation. A small brook is descending it, with water gurgling downward year round, which is rare on Gran Canaria. The hike essentially follows that brook uphill, criss-crossing it numerous times and eventually leading to a nice little waterfall, a delight for any weary hiker, since it signals the endpoint of the ascent.

Entering the barranco.
André, the hiking guide, pointing out indigenous plants in the barranco "jungle"
The waterfall, at long last …                                                      … after a final perilous scramble        
FINALLY, we have to thank Manfred for being an avid amateur botanist. Our hikes would have been very strenuous, had they not been interrupted off and on by the guide stopping us to show and explain the intricacies of Canarian vegetation. We are talking here of a great variety of plants, since Gran Canaria enjoys an unusually large number of micro-climates, ranging from dry desert, via subtropical forest to dense pine wood and, eventually, high alpine country. Most of the plants look rather different from ours (in Europe, that is!), even if some of them are of European descent. The latter have been sowed by migrating birds, carrying seed down from the cold north in their plumage, but have since developed their own peculiar characteristics, after having lived long-time in isolation on the island.

Manfred explaining the intricacies of Canarian vegetation.
I would love to present you with a comprehensive review of Gran Canaria's flora, weren't it for two hang-ups. Firstly, growing old, I see myself incapable of remembering all the enticing stories told by Manfred. Secondly, being a photographer, I will only take pictures of plants if the light is right and an appropriate composition achievable. Thus, I am afraid, you have to content yourself with a rather eclectic choice of specimen here. Furthermore, I hardly recall the name of many a plant, but am hoping for assistance in that regard from the eminent botanists among my readers. Please don't hesitate to help me out with names, in Latin or English, by putting them into comments to this blog post. 

#1  Flower behind the back of Manfred in the above picture
#2  Flower in the village of Veneguera
#3  Prickly Pears Cactus (Opuntia)
#4  Another cactus in the village of Veneguera
#5  Manga tree bloom in plantation outside Veneguera
#6  Blooming brush on the highlands below Roque Nublo
#7  Thistle near Ingenio in the Barranco de Tirajana
#8  Plant in Ingenio
#9 Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)  
#10  Sage? in the Barranco de Tirajana
#11  Bloom in the Barranco de Cernicalos
#12  Blooms in the Barranco de Cernicalos
#13  Brush in the Barranco de Cernicalos
This pretty much wraps it up, my latest tale from Gran Canaria. But there is a question remaining, you say? What about the title of this blog post? Well, for those who do not speak German, the words allude to a famous song, dear to me, that has always been firmly engraved in my mind, without me thinking too much about its content. Only recently has the song surfaced from the unconscious, triggered by a bit of video I chanced upon, whilst looking for films with the famous actor Hans Moser. I then discovered that the song's second stanza tells the tale of an old-timer, a septuagenarian like me, reminiscing about pleasures of yore. 

If you are about my age, or otherwise fond of romantic songs, this one is for you!

"Wie mein Ahnerl siebzig Jahr´ und ein alter Kracher war,
schaut er einmal so am Bach, d'längste Zeit ein Dirndl nach;
hat dann geseufzt: o mei o mei, wo wohl jetzt das Reserl sei?
Hat dann g'jauchzt als wie ein Bua, und g'sungen still dazua!

Noch einmal, noch einmal, noch einmal, sing dein Lied, Nachtigall!
Noch einmal, noch einmal, noch einmal, wie du's g'sungen hast im Tal!"

Yet again, yet again, yet again, sing oh sing, Mockingbird!
Yet again, yet again, yet again, sing the song that we once heard!"

Carl Zeller, Der Vogelhändler


  1. Danke, lieber Emil, für dieses Erlebniskunstwerk. Du hast Dein Multitalent als Naturliebhaber, Alpinist (!?), Fotograf, Literat, Historiker und Menschenfreund eindringlich demonstriert. Herzliche Gratulationen und tausend Dank, dass Du Deinen Inselaufenthalt auch mir zugänglich gemacht hast, Dein Heinz

  2. Hallo Emil,

    ich hoffe es geht dir gut, aber wie ich sehe genießt du die Schönheiten der Welt;-)
    Echt wunderschöne pics... Gran Canaria ist absolut einen oder auch mehrere Trips wert!!!

    lg renate

  3. Etwas Schönes wird noch schöner, wenn man es beschreibt - und dazu noch so gekonnt.

  4. Emil, dear friend, another work of your pen transports us old- timers back to our youth! Keep writing and you will stay young!

  5. Emil, I enjoyed your blog on Gran Canaria. I recognized the fruit tree in #9 as a loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). Growing up in Fresno California, we had one and enjoyed the fruit. I have one at my home in Livermore but it is not yet old enough to have fruit. I was surprised to learn that it is an asian tree.
    By the way, you cannot be “of a certain age”, as we share the same birth year! I am not yet declaring myself "over the hill”, even though it is harder climbing those hills these days!

  6. Hi Emil. I enjoyed your pictures again as well as your narrative. I don't see where you get all the ambition to do all this. It's good to do all this hiking as long as you do some walking or exercise during the week in between all the long strenuou9s hikes. You must be in good shape.

  7. Hej Emil

    Härligt reportage från Kanarieöarna! Du ger mig lust att besöka denna plats på jorden.
    Fint att läsa om Dina tankar om livet. Jag ska bara göra klart några manuskript till – sedan ska jag göra annat. Det har jag sagt länge…
    Välkommen hit till Kvasa – tag gärna med Dig kameran och ta bilder. Du bör skriva en bok om Österlen – fast Du skulle lägga sådana planer på hyllan.

    Hälsar Lars J

  8. Lieber Emil,
    Danke für den wunderbaren Blog.
    Bei uns kommen hier Erinnerungen hoch.
    Wir waren über die Jahreswende ebenfalls auf Gran Canaria und haben in bei mind. 3 Deiner touren gleiche Erlebnisse gehabt. Wir haben in Porto de Mogan in einer sehr schönen Hotelanlage gewohnt.
    Und haben von da aus unsere Tagestouren gemacht. Die Tour zum Beispiel von Mogan über den Berg haben wir auch unternommen und haben auch den netten Bauern getroffen, von dem wir Obst gekauft haben. Er ist ein cleverer Kaufmann. Wir haben natürlich auch ein Glas Honig gekauft, das aber verglichen mit deutschen Preisen etwas überhöht war. Aber was solls. Wir waren ja in Urlaub.
    Liebe Grüße und alles Gute aus Bonn,
    Mechthild und Volkhard

  9. Hello Emil,
    Many thanks for sharing your Gran Canaria visit with us. Lovely photos accompanied by some interesting (as ever) food for thought!

  10. Nobuko Fujimoto20 April 2016 at 13:22

    Thank you very very much for this blog post.
    These pictures from Gran Canaria were nice as always, especially the many wonderful pictures of flowers!
    I enjoyed it very much.
    Please keep on hiking and take care,

  11. Lieber Emil,
    Es ist stets eine freude, Deinem Blog zu folgen -und Deine Bilder und Erzählungen sind eine Bereicherung.
    Alles Liebe

  12. Lieber Emil,
    ein toller Bericht, der Lust auf die Insel macht! Besser kann man´s ja nicht dokumentieren...und dass du den Vogelhändler von Carl Zeller auftreten lässt, macht mich als Oldtimer ein bisschen nachdenklich!
    Vielen Dank und liebe Grüße, Wilfried