Stage 1 GR131: Fuencaliente > El Pilar.
There’s something about going into the wilderness with nothing more than the stuff on my back and a loose plan. I love the feel of total freedom and just as much so, the sense of a challenge. I often get this feeling of being trapped in everyday life (and I wouldn’t say I’m one to follow much of a routine) and I need to get out into nature for a few days.
Luckily Carlos is pretty much up for everything, and while he doesn’t share my enthusiasm for putting myself in uncomfortable situations to “make myself stronger”, he’s certainly up for a challenge. We booked flights to La Palma for my birthday to walk the Transvulcania route which is a famous ultra-marathon (which my brother is competing in this year). The official race is 75km long, over a number of 2000m+ volcanos – we walked 70km of it, the official walking route.
My brother had done a little research on the route before qualifying for the race so I consulted him for a good idea of what we could expect. We were to walk it backwards, despite what the guidebooks say, mainly because I wanted to end on a beach with some bars so I could refresh in the sea and enjoy a cold beer! As this was Carlos’s first multi-day hike, we gave ourselves four and a half days to really enjoy the walk Due to the altitude, it was one not to be taken lightly.
I was surprised how hot it was as I stepped off the plane. 23 degrees in late November. I was overjoyed. We caught a taxi to Fuencaliente lighthouse which was just short of £40. The taxi driver told us about a Michelin-starred restaurant near the lighthouse but said there was nowhere else to get food. Oh, dear. Thankfully the restaurant had an adjoining bistro that overlooked the salt farm and sea which was more relaxed and less expensive. We enjoyed typical canary island food (papas con mojo picón), croquettes and a cold beer. Around 3pm we set off on the volcano trial. It was hot and there was black volcanic sand underfoot so it was tough going, even though our packs weren’t fully loaded. It took us around 2 hours to walk the 6.5km uphill to Los Canarios.
We checked into our Air B&B which was basic but pleasant, that’s all we needed. We set off to explore the town which was bigger than we expected and had two large supermarkets. A lot of the bars and restaurants were closed as it was still off-season but we did stumble across patisserie Zulay – not at all common in Spain. What glorious cakes they had! I fancied something more savoury though, so we shared a ham and cheese toastie which was of exceptional quality.
In town, we stocked up on food at the supermarket, 4 days’ worth as we would not be passing any shops or eateries on our walk. Tuna, couscous, noodles, peanut butter, Nutella, nuts, protein bars, chocolate, and bananas were going to be our diet for the next few days.
The evening was spent having dinner on the roof terrace of our Air BnB looking at the beautiful stars and preparing our packs for the following morning. When we woke it was my Birthday, so we celebrated with a breakfast of Nutella and banana wraps on the rooftop. We spent a bit of time distributing the weight evenly amongst our two packs.
I hurled my pack onto my back and dread filled my stomach. It was incredibly heavy and definitely heavier than I had ever carried (except for my previous 5-day hike in New Zealand). If I’m honest, I was a little annoyed at having spent the previous week cutting down my weight only now to be lumbered with more. Carlos’s pack wasn’t as big as mine and he had packed more clothes and his sleeping bag and mat were heavier which meant I took the tent and a lot of the food. I was being one grumpy girlfriend to no fault of his. After an hour of walking my body started to get used to the weight. Every sip of water or handful of nuts we had, lifted a load off my back. We walked through lush pine forests which were soft underfoot, although we did need to watch the pinecones scattering the ground.
We walked up into the clouds and stayed there for at least 2 hours. Here, visibility was zero and it was rather cold with lots of water vapour in the air, which felt like rain. The ground was very sandy again and it felt like I was taking two steps back for every step I took forward. We saw a couple of other walkers on the route but all doing day walks, none with big packs like us.
All of a sudden, we went from thick clouds to clear sunny skies in just a couple of meters. It was a very surreal experience. Down below were views of the sea, banana plantations, colourful towns and the clouds we had just passed. We could also see the entire route we had ahead of us which was fantastic. We stopped for lunch, a tuna and olive wrap, on the ledge of a volcanic crater. It really was something special.
This first section of our route until El Pilar is named Ruta de los Volcanes (route of the volcanos) and in my opinion, is probably the best section of the walk. There’s plenty of contrasting colours and different variation of rocks to admire plus volcano craters and the aftermath of lava flows.
We were feeling good so decided to head off track and summit a couple of volcanic peaks. We left our packs at the side of the trail so we didn’t have to lug them the extra 100m up to the top. The views upon the tops were amazing and we could see out to Tenerife and La Gomera. There were a couple of nosy crows up there too which were very tame and were obviously just hanging about for food.
We reached the campsite El Pilar at 5:30pm and were surprised at how big it was with lots of fire pits and shelters where families were enjoying food and drink. There was even a children’s play park – not quite the peaceful woodland campsite I had imagined. The weather wasn’t great and it was off-season so we were surprised to find a burger van there!
We couldn’t believe our eyes. It would have been rude not to indulge in a couple of cold beers! I was short on change but the kind burger van man let me off 3 cents, I told him it was my birthday. He gave us a box of wood which he had kept dry under his van as it was now raining. We placed this in the campsite toilets to stay dry and started to set up our tent as it had started to rain. Within minutes everyone had left the campsite and we were the only ones left.
I made a fire on one of the fire pits and boiled some water for our 3-minute noodles which were surprisingly very tasty. We celebrated my birthday with a dehydrated custard dessert, beer, and chocolate. Bliss! It was raining and pretty chilly so we went to bed at 8pm.
Look out for my next post about Stage 2 of our walk across La Palma on the GR131 route. Subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss it!