For the third year in a row we find ourselves huffing, puffing and sweating buckets as we climb a hot hillside on the Canary Island of La Gomera in high summer.
People might think we’re mad for tackling steep goat trail ascents and knee-crunching descents at the height of a sub-tropical summer. We wouldn’t normally take to mainly unshaded trails when the temperatures were stroking 30C. But once again circumstance and work commitments have conspired to leave late July, early August as the only time we can fit a reboot of walking routes on La Gomera into our schedule before the main hiking season begins in September.
Thankfully the heatwave which has scorched the Canary Islands for most of July has taken a week off. Instead of mid 30s C it’s a less-likely-to-kill upper 20s. It’s still hot enough to have rivers of salty sweat streaming into our eyes as we climb through a landscape where courgette plants, mango and palm trees morph into low junipers and finally (thankfully) dense laurel.
We climb for just over 5 kilometres before reaching a height where on much of La Gomera you find yourself standing on top of a hill, around 750m above sea level. From this point it’s a relatively easy traverse of the hillside, at least for the next few kilometres. We walk on a wide path with laurel forest above us whilst below arid slopes are peppered by a few solitary cottages overlooking a brilliantly blue ocean.
The still stickiness of the town of Vallehermoso is replaced by a surprisingly strong wind which sends cotton wool clouds racing across the treetops at speed. On a slope below us we’re hypnotised by a thicket of trees where the breeze creates green waves that ripple rhythmically across the thick green sea of their uppermost branches.
After many kilometres on this path the heat, distance and a lack of food starts to take its toll. We’re hungry, tired and getting narky about the possibility we might have taken a wrong path when, just at the perfect moment, we turn a corner to see the Chorros de Epina restaurant – sanctuary.
A plate of strong local white cheese, crispy fishy croquettes, picante mojos (Canarian salsas) that make the mouth smart, and some wonderful homemade chips, made with potatoes from the fields below us, are deliciously welcome fuel. Our spirits are revived, soaring like the kestrels outside windows that allow us wind-free views over the virginal landscape around us.
Our goal lies only a few hundred metres away in the heart of the laurel forest, the Chorros de Epina – a spring where water flows into a stone trough via seven tree branch channels.
An extended Canarian family fill 5 litre, plastic water bottles from the fountains. The water looks pure; sparkling and dancing in the dappled sunlight.
The temptation to let the mountain water kiss my lips is strong. But I won’t be drinking any of this spring water.
It’s nothing to do with a fear of drinking untreated water. I grew up at a time when we didn’t carry bottled water when we set off for adventures in the hills; we quenched our thirsts from fast flowing streams.
No, the reason I won’t be drinking from the Chorros de Epina is, being a magical fountain, it is a complicated business. Drink from some of wooden pipes in a certain sequence and you’re guaranteed love, happiness, wealth, good health or even poetic prowess. What that sequence is depends on whether you’re a man or a woman. Get it wrong and you might be turned into a witch or, presumably, warlock.
The consequences of getting it wrong are just too risky.
As the Canarian family fill bottle after bottle from the Chorros de Epina, I take a swig from my warm, shop bought bottle, remembering why I don’t really mind putting myself through the annual open-air sauna on La Gomera.
Like the water flowing through the old wooden spouts, La Gomera is perennially enchanting.
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+