Safety Tips for the Biker

No matter what type of motorcycle you ride, almost everyone falls off sooner or later and good protective riding gear can help prevent or reduce injuries.
Protective gear is most effective in simple falls and slides on the road. However there is a limit to what protective clothing can do. If you get hit by a car, or collide with a solid object, nothing you wear will protect you from the energy of the impact but it may help minimise some injuries and ensure a faster recovery. Inflatable jackets show some promise but have not as yet been adequately validated to be able to recommend them. Manufacturers now offer a wide range of protective riding gear for men and women of all shapes and sizes in different designs and colours. With all this highly specialised and often expensive gear available how can a rider tell what is fashion and what is genuine safety equipment? Most retailers of protective gear carry a wide range of brands and usually offer a number of options to suit most budgets. They will also advise what protection the particular item offers.
You cannot tell how well a product will perform in a crash just by looking at it in the shop. However, there are some design and construction features that help to identify the gear that is more likely to do the job.
Textiles or traditional leather?
Most people will say leather, but either type has its place. Product tests have shown that even gear made from the best, most expensive material is only as good as its construction. Seams and fastenings shouldn’t burst open and impact protectors need to stay in place. Double seams are usually the best as they resist bursting when the worst happens. Unlined denim offers very little protection. Fasteners must be secure – Velcro for sleeve closures, for instance, can be torn open in a crash and the sleeve of the jacket can be pushed up the arm, exposing you to injury.

Design is important

There are a number of design features to consider. Make sure vulnerable areas such as shoulders, elbows, back, knuckles, fingers, knees, backside, ankles and toes are protected. Not wearing gloves, which applies to a large number of motorcycle riders, results in some of the worst injuries. When crashing people instinctively put their hands out to try and soften the fall which can result in fingers being amputated or skin worn away, severely reducing hand function. Don’t spend all of your money on the helmet. Your protection budget should also include the purchase of boots, gloves, pants and a jacket to help you keep on riding in safety and comfort.
Helmets

All helmets have to pass the Standard and everyone has a different head shape. It is recommended you try on a range of different brands to see which one fits your head shape best. The difference in cost may be buying you comfort or fashion but not necessarily more protection in a crash. Helmets do require a lot of care to keep them in the best possible condition. A guide is when you put it on the ground, rest it on your gloves. Don’t sit it on the mirror, as this may dent and damage the interior helmet lining and it can fall off onto the hard road surface. Don’t rest it on the bike seat where it can get blown off by wind or passing cars/trucks. Use the helmet hooks under the seat. These are provided on most bikes to secure it from falling as well as from theft. Invest in a helmet bag made of protective material if you don’t get one with the helmet.

Keeping your visor clean and scratch free is also essential. Protect it from scratches by keeping it in a soft
cloth bag. Clean your helmet and visor with a quality helmet cleaning agent from a motorcycle store or dishwashing liquid and water. Rinse well and only use a soft cloth. Even soft brushes can scratch the visor.
Painting or adding decoration to your helmet is not a good idea. The strength of some materials used in helmet shells can be weakened by the solvents in paints and in some glue, (eg stickers). Most of all look after your helmet the way you want it to look after you.
If your helmet sustains a serious impact it needs to be replaced
Common sense tells you if you drop your helmet or it falls off your bike (stationary), then there’s little chance of damaging the outer shell which protects against abrasion and puncturing, or the inner shell which absorbs energy on impact. However, if you throw your helmet against a wall or down the road with some force you could damage the outer shell and affect the helmet’s ability to protect you. You can buy helmets that range from $100 to over $1000. Generally the more expensive helmets are lighter, which make them more comfortable to wear for long periods. Helmets are full or open face or flip front in plain colours, designs and race replicas. As they all must pass the standard you will be buying a helmet to suit your budget and the style you prefer. Flip front helmets can be easier if wearing glasses. Cooling is important with certain climates and some helmets have large scoops and holes in the helmet providing extra ventilation – just be aware those gaps increase noise levels. How the helmet fits can’t be stressed enough and a poor fitting helmet will increase your chances of severe injury. Try on a large number of brands and styles. If unsure, seek advice from the sales representative.
Correct helmet fit
  • lightly pushes in the cheeks
  • fits snugly over most of the head
  • doesn’t move around on the head
  • doesn’t place pressure on the forehead
  • can’t be pulled off under any conditions with the strap adjusted firmly.
  • Keep it on for 5 or 10 minutes before you buy, to be sure it is comfortable.
 Jackets
The type of riding you do will influence your choice of jacket. Many riders have a couple of jackets to suit most weather conditions. Leather usually offers the best protection but may not suit if riding in the rain, when a textile jacket with waterproof capabilities may be more suitable. Protection points such as inserts to the shoulders and elbows are most common in all types of jackets on the market. Back protectors offer a higher level of protection but are not seen in most jackets and are sold as a separate item (see body armour).
Gloves
A large range of gloves are available from plain leather or textile gloves to full race gloves made from kangaroo skins. Summer, winter, intermediate and waterproof gloves are available. It is recommended you have a pair of summer and winter gloves because if your hands are comfortable they are less likely to become numb from the cold and lose the feel of the controls.
Pants
Choose from leather or textile pants or denim jeans containing Kevlar inserts. If you buy a leather jacket and buy the same brand leather pants, most zip together offering further protection, although any option whether it be leather, textile or reinforced denim, is an excellent choice.
Boots
The most important factor when purchasing a pair of boots for motorcycling is that they cover above the ankle area. More expensive boots have better protection to reduce the risk of twisting an ankle. Again it depends on the type of riding you do as to what type of boot you buy. There are a number of waterproof boots available.
One Piece Suits
One piece race suits offer the best overall protection, but do not suit a lot of riding types, as they can take some time to get on and can be impractical depending on where you are going. When trying on a one piece suit, wear it for some time and move around in a riding position. Most brands have protection points in different places and will suit different body types. Handmade one piece suits will provide more comfort.
Body Armour
Body armour offers a higher level of safety by enhancing other protective gear. A back protector looks after the spine and back area in a fall. Various brands and sizes are available, so try a few to see which one is comfortable. Full vests, knee guards, under shorts and various types of knee sliders provide added safety and comfort.
Most importantly when riding a motorcycle, even just down to the shops, always wear protective riding gear and save yourself from the risk of suffering a severe injury.

The Bliss of Retiring in Belize

Belize in Central America is another place that you might consider as a destination for retirement. If you think that you could be happy in a tropical paradise, here’s one for the asking.

Belize, which was earlier known as the British Honduras, is flanked by the Caribbean Sea, Guatemala and Mexico. This is one place that has drawn many people who are looking for a laid back lifestyle, a low cost of living and good medical care. In fact, medical care in Belize may cost you just about a third of what you would pay for the same facilities in the United States. However, it would help to remember that Medicare is not accepted here or anywhere outside the United States.

The climate of Belize is warm and includes a rainy season. There’s a democratic government, the economy is stable and you can expect tax incentives. You could say that English is the official language here.

Belize has a population of about 250,000, of which roughly 10% are expatriates from the United States, Canada and Britain. Since it is a developing country, you may find that you’ll have to do without many of the conveniences you may have been accustomed to back home in the United States.

In fact, even if you do not consider yourself particularly well off, in Belize you would probably be regarded as rich. You may be surprised to know that it would be possible for a couple to live quite well in Belize on as little as $ 1000. Isn’t that incredible? As we said, the low cost of living is a distinct advantage here. However, living in Belize, you would also have to get by on your own to the extent that you would have to take care of repairs yourself.

If you decide that you would like to retire in Belize, there are a number of ways that you could go about it:

You could stay in the country on a tourist visa and have it renewed every month. After six months, you could apply for a work permit, which may set you back by about $ 750.

You could also get citizenship of Belize by staying in the country for a year, during which time you will need to show a steady income. If you are single this will amount to $ 750 a month, while for a couple, the minimum requirement is $ 1,000 a month. If you can do that, you’ll be able to work thereafter without a work permit.

You’ll also be free to come and go as you like and need not stay in Belize right through the year. What’s more, your citizenship will remain valid. That’s saying quite a lot, isn’t it? Who could ask for more?

The third option you have is to apply for the Retired Persons Incentive Program. This is a formal process of application that you have to go through to relocate to Belize. To qualify for this, you should be at least 45 years of age, be prepared for an application fee which is presently $ 710 and be willing to have your background checked. You will be required to show earnings of at least $ 2,000 from a source outside the country. Again, this figure has changed from time to time and may change yet again in the future. You should be prepared for that. However, under the incentive program you can only work if you are running a business undertaking of your own.

As for housing and real estate, you could acquire a lovely 3-bedroom house looking out over the ocean for about $ 250,000. Alternatively, you could buy a plot just near the water’s edge for $ 10,000. Do be careful to ensure that you have a clear title for the property. It would also be a good idea to pay a visit in the rainy season just to ensure that the property is safe from the water.

As a permanent resident, you could also procure homestead land here, taken on lease from the government for as little as $ 5 to $ 17 a year. If you can develop the land – which could include clearing of brush and putting down a foundation – you could then acquire this land from the government for the amazing cost of $ 250.

If that’s hard to believe, remember that Belize is a country where land is available in plenty and there aren’t too many people. So the government is ever ready to give away land to people who will put it to good use.

It’s been pretty good going so far, hasn’t it? Now for the downside of living in Belize – heavy traffic, beggars on the streets and the constant threat of hurricanes, even though they don’t usually pose any real danger. But then, if you are prepared to take the rough with the smooth, this is one place that does have a lot going for it.

The land that time forgot

The Botanical Gardens at Puerto de la Cruz, or El Jardín de Aclimatación de la Orotava, to give them their proper title, have a fascinating, if chequered, history.

Conceived by King Carlos III of Spain in 1788, the original purpose of the Gardens was to house examples of flora from all corners of Spain’s then still considerable empire. However, as the Spanish title suggests, the Gardens were not constructed to be merely some sort of horticultural museum. The King proposed that the plants should be brought from their tropical homes in Asia, Africa and Australia and allowed to acclimatise, before being shipped to Spain’s most renowned Botanical Garden in Madrid.

Puerto de la Cruz, with its near perfect climate, was chosen, and under the stewardship of Alonso de Nova y Gimon (a politician and businessman, who was in it more for the personal esteem than out of any horticultural interest) work began at a breathtaking pace. And then it all went wrong.

Although being completed in less than six months, the birth of the Gardens was not a happy time. The initial director, an Englishman who had previously worked at Kew, struggled with the language and was not popular with his fellow workers. No tears were shed when he departed a few months later. Then, when after six months of acclimatisation the first seeds and saplings were transported to the mainland, they all died; indeed, very few examples even survived the boat journey. Worse was yet to come.

Before he even managed to see the Gardens in person, Carlos III died. His successor, Carlos IV (I think it would be fair to speculate that Carlos was a popular name at the time) had little interest in this botanical ‘white elephant’.

In his defence however, he did have several more pressing matters on his proverbial plate, such as the unwanted attentions of Napoleon Bonaparte.

After this inauspicious start, things grew, if anything, grimmer. At various times during the past 200 years the site has been near to dereliction, only to be pulled back from the brink by some (usually foreign) saviour. The fact that the Gardens still exist at all is due largely to the efforts of two men – Frans Josef Wildpret (a Swiss) and Eric Sventenius (a Swede) – who in different centuries came to the rescue when no others were willing to try. Their stories are equally fascinating and deserve far more attention than can be afforded here.

Entering the Gardens, the first thing you notice is not some astounding tree or plant, but instead the wonderful aura of natural serenity that pervades throughout. As someone who hails from Santa Cruz – where car drivers are more inclined to use their horn than their brakes – the tranquillity is as refreshing as it is unusual. Strolling idly amongst colourful blooms and accompanied by a soundtrack of birdsong and scrabbling lizards, for a few minutes I simply revel in the historically charged ambience. With the sun shining hazily through the foliage, the setting feels almost timeless. So enchanted am I by my green and pleasant surroundings that in a dream-like state I only narrowly avoid impaling myself on a truly murderous looking cactus. And he’s not alone.

Deciding to leave anything with needle-like spines well alone for the time being, I turn my back on the cacti only to find myself face to face with another sinister monstrosity, this time in the form of the 40-metre high Higuera de la Isla Lord Howe. Named after an 18th Century British Admiral (though not because of any physical similarity I trust), this brute would be perfectly at home in any Gothic film or evil fairy tale. With a mass of entwining trunks at the base, the Higueira’s branches spout boughs that plunge vertically into the earth, providing a much-needed source of natural scaffolding. Growing upwards and outwards simultaneously, I pity the timid palm that tries to stand in its way.

Having escaped the combined clutches of the cacti and Higueira, I take a breather and spend a few minutes watching gaily coloured dragonflies dipping their red, green and blue tails into the small fountain situated at the very centre of the Gardens. Feeling muscles loosen and tension dissolving, I’m already convinced that I’ll stay here until physically ejected. Other inhabitants of the fountain also include the world’s most lethargic turtles, who refuse point blank to enter the water, whatever the reward or provocation.

Continuing my tour, I suddenly discover the Garden’s Achilles Heel – information. Although most of the exhibits are clearly labelled, with no pamphlet or public guides available I find myself continually frustrated at not being able to discover further the history of the incredibly varied exhibits. For example, I’d love to know what the fruit of the Árbol de las Salchichas (the Sausage tree) looks like. And was it purely coincidental that the Árbol del Pan (The Bread tree) could be found right next door?

But organisation has obviously never been El Jardín’s strong point. Quizzing amiable Head Botanist, Arnoldo Santos Guerra, about the lack of publicity, I soon discover that in many ways, not so much has changed since the days when every Spanish king was named Carlos.

“The future is never certain,” he admits readily. “There is always talk of expanding the Gardens, the plans have all been made up (I saw them), we just need to be given the final go ahead.”

I fear he may have been saying this for a long time now and could well be repeating it a good few more times in the future.

But for me, the uncertainty and controversy that has surrounded the Gardens since their inception over 200 years ago just adds to their allure. For whereas most botanical gardens have been lovingly nurtured from their conception, El Jardín has become used to contending with ridicule, neglect and a touch of apathy.

Also, the knowledge that many of the specimens have survived in spite, rather than because of their treatment through the centuries, gives the whole collection a far more natural, unaffected character. And while at present the future may be unclear, the collection of plants and trees is the largest and healthiest it’s ever been.
King Carlos III would have been proud.

The Botanical Gardens at Puerto de la Cruz are open 09.00 – 18.00 weekdays and 09.00 – 19.00 weekends.

MOUNTAIN BIKING IN BHUTAN

Want to turn heads in Bhutan?

Try whizzing past locals on a State Of The Art Mountain Bike and you’ll realise that Mountain Biking is a relatively new phenomenon in this rugged Buddhist kingdom.

Few people ride mountain bikes in Bhutan. Maybe it’s the rugged terrain or that the mandatory dress (Gho /Kira) is not conducive to bike riding. But the experience is nothing short of exhilarating. bhutan has some of the best places in the world to cycle.

There are plenty of good reasons to Mountain Bike in Bhutan

o Bhutan has immense areas of undisturbed nature and even cycling along its “highways” one sees a lot of it.
o The views are often stunning, but you are advised to stop before you look.
o The climate in spring and autumn is quite pleasant for cycling,
o None of the main roads are very steep. The steepest gradients are around 7%,
o Out of the urban areas there is little traffic.

The best way to start Mountain Biking in Bhutan is on the tarmac roads. Leave the cars, trucks and exhaust fumes behind and follow the journey of the rivers. From the capital Thimphu the road winds gently up the valley following the beautiful Thimphu River /Chu. As you pass through the small settlements of Taba and Denchencholing there is no shortage of kids to cheer you on, give you a high five and low 5 as you ride past, or a push up the hill if you’re lucky!

The road climbs high above the river, gently winding its way up the valley past farm houses and through the settlement of Begana where we stopped to visit friends, have a well earned break, and see what produce was for sale.

The valley starts to narrow and the Thimphu Chu becomes a rushing torrent of beautiful translucent green. Glimpses of river are seen below as the road takes you past a few side streams and a large rock mural of Guru Rinpoche who first brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 7th century.

Across a traditional Bailey bridge, the road swings left, following the river as the valley narrows further. A gentle climb leads through forests of oak and rhododendron with views of delightful picnic spots below.

The road ends at Dodena with a welcome drink stop. A short walk across a covered cantilever bridge leads to a chorten and a popular picnic spot.

Before the road ends a tarmac road to the right winds it way up to a view of Tango Goempa (monastery) high above. A walk up to this picturesque three-story monastery takes about an hour. A permit is required to enter the Llakhang or temple, which your guide can arrange.

Riding back down the valley is nothing short of exhilarating. Clean fresh air fills your lungs, white puffy clouds hang suspended over tall craggy ridges, with a backdrop of triangular snow capped peaks at the head of the valley. Its tempting to go flat out but its best to keep your speed at a controllable level, so go for slow, or relatively slow that way you can catch glimpses of the passing scenery as well.

Biking the trails and tracks

Mountain biking on the trails and tracks is very different in Bhutan.
Not only is it fun to do but the scenery is fantastic. Even little rest stops next to a group of prayer flags or a chorten is special. For those who are faint hearted the main tarmac roads around Thimphu and its valley provide ample enjoyment, but if you are a little mad, plain stupid or get duped into doing something with friends, then the trails up into the mountains and ridges are the go. Be prepared for some huffing and puffing as you carry your bike along some of the old trading routes. There are some forestry roads that provide relatively easy access up, but even these can be a lung-busting event if you are not acclimatised to the altitude. You generally need at least one week to get acclimatised to the altitude (Thimphu is about 2300 m above sea level).

Once heading uphill on the trails you often meet locals coming down and all are interested and bewildered by what you are doing and more importantly “Where are you going?” Locals are always very friendly and full of good information about which trails to follow, which is fortunate as there is a plethora of trails and tracks to follow (or more importantly – not to follow). Actually, most villagers assume that you are lost if are carrying a bike up a small trail, and they may try to show you the shortest way to a tarmac road, which is often where you just came from.

Most of the forests around Thimphu and in the surrounding country are grazed by cows and the higher pastures (above 3000m) by yaks in winter. Yak meadows often provide an excellent spot for a lunch stop and provide fantastic views. You may be lucky and see a couple of yaks but stay clear of them, they have vicious horns. Sometimes a yak herder’s dog may also hassle you but a squirt with the drink bottle or threaten to throw a stone and they stay clear, often barking until you are far away.

As you climb up, the vegetation changes from the pine forests and oaks on the lower slopes, to rhododendron forests with hemlock, fir and juniper. Then the long awaited downhill sections arrive. Some can be bone jarring shaking rocky paths. Others can be exhilarating windy runs. On one ride, we ended up on the main highway near Dochula pass (3400m) and had a great ride back to the capital along the tarmac. It was on a Sunday afternoon and there wasn’t much traffic. Due to the windy roads, most cars travel about 30km per hour and on a bike you can often catch and pass them. Drivers and passengers give you plenty of encouragement and often pull over to allow you to pass.

One of the must dos for those interested and who love long downhill runs is the descent from Chele La (the highest road pass at almost 3800m in Bhutan) down to the bridge just south of Paro. It’s a fantastic run. From the high pass on clear days you get views of the greater Himalayas including Mount Chomalari. Then it’s a windy paved road downhill for 35km, dropping from nearly 3800m at the pass to 2230m down in the Paro valley. There is hardly any traffic and the descent is not too steep or dangerous, we took it easy and averaged about 35km/hr on the downhill taking just over an hour to do the run. At one time going past a yak meadow we had to yell out to some young yaks to “get out the way!” – I don’t think they had ever seen mountain bikers before and looked very startled!

There are plenty of great views, one which sticks in the mind is the view through the tall cedars looking up to a distant nunnery perched halfway up a cliff.

The insider’s guide to Granadilla

Perched 600 metres above sea level in the south of the island, the picturesque town of Granadilla is surrounded by mountains and ravines, its hilly vista a hotch-potch of rural houses, terrace farms and vineyards. Recently, foreigners and locals alike have scooped scores of aging farmhouses in the region’s mountainous climbs. Once you get off the shabby main road and into the sleepy streets that make up Granadilla’s historical centre, it’s clear what affect this has had on the old part of town. Buildings are newly coloured in bright hues, cheery flowers are paraded on almost every windowsill and the year 2004 can be found etched onto inaugural plaques.

It’s easy to picture this knot of cobbled streets soon lined with chic boutiques, specialist shops and trendy restaurants. Whether that’ll be the case is anyone’s guess, though there is one current project, which promises to add to the increasingly well-to-do air about town – the development of a luxury Spa hotel ‘Casa Colina’, bang in the heart of the picturesque old town.

Whether or not it transforms itself into the Provence of Tenerife, Granadilla is still a pleasant place in which to enjoy a gentle stroll, one or two cultural stops and a spot of lunch.

History

Abona was one of the Menceyatos (Guanche kingdoms) established prior to Spanish invasion. The name of Granadilla was not added until the 16th century. From the moment the island was captured, settlers soon arrived to populate the area and the town was founded. A church was quickly erected and Granadilla gained the status of parish in 1617.

Due to inadequate routes, in order to reach the rest of the island from town, the inhabitants were forced to travel by boat from the ports of El Médano and Los Abrigos, until the 1930’s saw the road of the south finally extend to the town itself.

What to see

Convento de San Luis Obispo
Situated opposite the town hall, in the well-kept Plaza de Gonzalez Mena, this 17th century Franciscan convent is now a venue for cultural events. A fire ravaged the building in the early 1990s, requiring extensive restoration work. The refurbishment was completed just two months ago and the convent is now open to visitors (weekdays from 10.00 to 13.00 and 16.00 to 20.00).

La Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua
Built in the 1600’s, this church has an unassuming dark stone façade, which shifts the spotlight onto its bright white stripe of a tower. The church tower was added over a century and a half later, after the main structure was built. Relief columns and a floral-themed frieze frame the entrance, while the interior continues the unimposing style, with simple whitewashed walls and wooden pews and adornments.

What to do

Eat al fresco
A small picnic area with barbeque grills is situated on the left hand side of the road as you drive into town. While there are better places in the island to hold an outdoor social gathering, this provides a cosy lunch spot for two.

Break a sweat
There are several hikes in and around the hills of Granadilla, mainly heading towards the towns of La Fuente and Vilaflor. Most of the treks start by the church. Walking maps are available at the Hotel Senderos de Abona (see Where to stay) next door and if you’re a hotel guest they can also arrange a guided walking tour with a Belgian gentleman who lives in town, or with Jeep Safari Tamarán (00 34 922 794 757), a company based in Los Cristianos.

Brush up on your history

Located in an old Canarian house in the old part of town, the Museo de la Historia de Granadilla de Abona (History Museum of Granadilla de Abona) details the town’s past from the time of the Guanche people. A total of 12 rooms provide exhibits, displaying objects and photos that describe, amongst other topics, the town’s agricultural practises, popular customs and folklore dress.

922 660 803; Calle Architeco Marrero, 11; opening from 10.00 to 14.00 and 16.00 to 20.00, closed weekends; free entrance

Shopping

Yvonne’s Flores y Regalos
This little shop a few steps away from the church has an impossibly pretty setting. Taking up half of the ground floor of a restored Canarian house, the entrance lies at the end of a garden littered with flowers. As the name suggests, this store sells flower arrangements and gifts, such as candles, glasses and photo frames.

Calle el Pino, 36 (on the corner of Calle Architecto Marrero), open from 10.00 to 14.00 and 16.00 to 18.00, closed Sundays

Arte Galeria
Located along the main road just past the town hall, this shop specialises in art supplies. There’s a good stock of paints, brushes and canvasses, as well as a side room for full of figurine moulds and ready-to paint plaster statuettes. For wannabe artists the store runs oil painting classes (in Spanish) on Monday mornings during the spring/summer period. Ask at the shop for more details.

Calle el Calvario, 4; open from 09.30 to 13.00 and 16.30 to 20.00, Saturdays 10.00 to 13.00, closed Sundays

Muebles Nuri
This is the central branch of a chain of shops specialising in home decoration and furnishings. Free home delivery, store credit and wedding lists are some of the services they offer.

922 770 665; Calle Garajonay, 2; open from 09.00 to 13.00 and 16.00 to 20.00, Saturdays 10.00 to 13.00

Where to stay

Hotel Rural Senderos de Abona
Formerly the old post office, this 19th century family-owned hotel is hard to miss. Perched on a steep slope by the Iglesia San Antonio, the exterior is bright yellow. Set amidst tall palms, this beautifully restored rustic building has shady gardens with hammocks, fountains, fruit trees, a barbeque area and even a swimming pool. The romantic rooms are straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, with velvet lampshades, dusty Persian rugs and a cacophony of patterned fabrics. There’s even a museum in which every available surface parades a rusting agricultural tool or an aged instrument.

922 770 200; C/ Peatonal de la Iglesia, 5; www.senderosdeabona.com;

infor@senderosdeabona.com; double rooms from €65 a night, junior suite from €95, including breakfast

Pension Dos Hermanos
Located on the main road, this pension is run by the same people that own the bar next door. The rooms are very basic, but at least they’re clean and all en-suite.

922 770 735; Avda Fundador Gonzalo González; double rooms from €30 a night

Casa Rural El Traspatio
Situated in the historical centre next door to the museum, this rural hotel accommodates a grand total of just eight guests. Split into three rustic-style apartments, each living area has its own lounge with sofa bed, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and double bedroom. Spacious patios and palm-filled terraces make up the communal areas. It’s preferred that guests stay a minimum of three nights.

922 630 596; Arquitecto Marrero, 9; www.toprural.es; apartments from €48 a night

Where to eat

Pablo’s Tasca
The décor of this converted Canarian house takes its inspiration from one of Spain’s most famous artists. Stylish splashes of colour and a picking of Picasso prints liven up the rustic interior. Aside from main course dishes, this cosy eatery serves a good selection of well-prepared tapas, such as meatballs in mustard sauce. The menu is available in a range of languages to cater for the varied foreign clientele. Choose from a booth or a table. Alternatively, dine alfresco on the front patio.

922 774 477; Calle del Pino, 15; average price for a main course, €5; average price for a tapa, €3 ;open from 12.00 till midnight everyday

Restaurant El Terrero
Located within the Hotel Rural Senderos de Abona, this low-key eatery serves Canarian dishes. You can dine in a range of settings, from the elegantly decorated main salon to a number of outdoor terraces. You can even pull up a chair in the hotel’s own Canarian museum.

922 770 200; C/ Peatonal de la Iglesia, 5; average price for a main course, €5; open from 18.00 to 22.00

Casa Tagoro
Serving mainly Bavarian and Austrian cuisine, Casa Tagoro claims to have a young, fresh and creative menu. Antique tables and chairs embellish the restaurant, which also has a courtyard bar.

922 772 240; Calle Tagoro, 28; average price for a main course, €6, open from 18.30 to 24.00, Sundays 12.30 to 24.00, closed Mondays.

Areperia Venezuela
Found opposite the ayuntamiento, this friendly little bar serves the Venezuelan snack – arepas (fried polento scones). Even if you’re not peckish, they do a great cup of coffee, which you can sip in front of a hammy South American telenovela (soap) usually showing on the corner TV.

922 770 569; Calle Arquitecto Marrero; average price for a snack, €5; open from 07.30 to 23.00 weekdays, Saturdays 13.00 to 16.00, Sundays 13.00 to 23.00

Nightlife

As with most small towns on the island, there isn’t much in the way of nightlife aside from a clutch of restaurants. Evenings in Granadilla are generally as peaceful as the days. The only exception is when it’s fiesta time. The biggest festival on 13th June honours Saint Antonio de Padua, the Patron saint of Granadilla. Decorated floats parade through town, while musicians and folklore groups lead the dancing and singing.

Transport

Taxis
There’s a taxi stand on the main road, Avenida Fundador Gonzalo González, adjacent to the post office or you can also call a cab from the local firm on 922 392 119.

Useful info

Cash machines
There are a handful of banks along the main road of Calle el Calvario.

Tourist office
There’s a small office located in the Hotel Rural Senderos de Abona (922 770 362) which is closed until autumn because the office worker is on maternity leave. The nearest alternative tourist office is located in El Médano, a ten minute drive away.

But, if all you need is a map, you can pick one up in the town hall on Plaza González Mena.

Parking
There’s a tiny car park in front of the church, although it’s not too difficult to find a parking space near the old part of town.

San Sebastian de la Gomera

Set on the east coast of the circular island of La Gomera, today’s San Sebastián is the main port of entry for visitors and is a pleasant, laid back little place to explore. No teeming metropolis this, despite its importance as the island’s capital.

Located at sea level, ‘La Villa’ as it’s known locally, provides the perfect sojourn before moving on and up into the rest of the island. It’s all steeply uphill from San Sebastián. The mountains surrounding the town rise to 1,500 feet once you reach the stunning Garajonay National Park.

With its yacht marina, beaches, pretty esplanade featuring a map of Christopher Columbus’ voyage from La Gomera to the Americas, its ornamental trees, park and palm–shaded squares, there’s a timeless quality to the town. Something approaching bustle does break out at cortado (coffee) time when government officials consult each other and their Rolexes in bars. Market days are lively too.

Historical monuments from as far back as 1440 are there to be found. Old, crumbling or, increasingly, renovated colonial style houses rub eaves with modern buildings.

Gomeros from out of town come in daily for hospital, legal or government appointments, court appearances or shopping. There’s plenty to see and hear.

History
Hipalan was one of four kingdoms on pre-Spanish Gomera. It was invaded and taken by the Spanish in 1440 and San Sebastián was founded on the bay where the invaders landed. They set about the construction of the three key buildings vital to their continued presence on the island; Torre del Conde, the fort; La Casa de los Peraza, the house; and of course, La Asuncion, the church. Internal wrangling and Spanish cruelty apart, San Sebastián then had 50 years of quiet development as a town.

A man called Cristobal Colon’s subsequent arrival and supposed love affair with Beatriz de Bobadilla (the governor’s wife) while he restocked his ships are now part of history. Cristobal Colon’s English name is Christopher Columbus and on September 6th 1492, he and three ships set off from San Sebastián to find the short route to India. It turned out to be the wrong way, but they did ‘discover’ America.

Until well into the seventeenth century San Sebastián was favoured Canarian port and the town prospered as the port grew; its natural bay was protected at one end by the Roque de la Hila and Punta de los Canarios at the other.

San Sebastián was known before Columbus’ discovery, but afterwards it became a regular stop for victualling on the West Indies (Americas) route. As it got richer with this new Atlantic trade, it attracted the attentions of pirates and was attacked and sacked many times over the years.

On May 30th 1744, three ships flying the French flag approached the bay without causing too much consternation; after all, France was Spain’s ally. But the next day, they dropped anchor, lowered the French flags, raised the dreaded English flag and from midday till dark bombarded the hapless town. At daybreak they started again and at ten o’clock in the morning Admiral Charles Wyndham sent orders to the town to surrender and to send out all wines and food and hand over the keys to the strongholds. The Gomeros declined, so he sent an invading force to take the town. They were defeated and that was the end of English bid for power in La Gomera.

What’s in a name?
Hernan Peraza el Viejo, the commander of the invading Spanish force that conquered the island via San Sebastián, was from Castile in Spain. Hipalan was renamed in honour of Saint Sebastián, the patron saint of the Castilians.

What to see
The Torre del Conde, located in the pretty park opposite the main beach, is one of the best-preserved fortified buildings on the islands.
The impressive Asuncion church in Calle del Medio boasts a wealth of architectural detail. Since its foundation in the fifteenth century on the site of a pre-Spanish temple, it has suffered a series of sackings and pillage. The on-going renovations span five centuries; architecture buffs will enjoy spotting the periods. Don’t forget to look for the fresco depicting Admiral Charles Wyndham’s defeat. It’s high up on the wall in the Capilla del Pilar (go down the main aisle to the altar and look left).

El Pozo de la Aguada in Calle Real is the well where Columbus drew water to provision the ships for their transatlantic crossing. The New World was actually baptised with water from San Sebastián.

The Museo Casa de Colon (Christopher Columbus’ house) on Calle del Medio is a small museum and gallery housing various exhibitions (open Monday to Friday, 10.00 – 13.00 and 16.00 – 18.00; 922 141 512).

What to do
Market browsing
On Wednesday and Saturday mornings there’s a produce and handicrafts market in the town square. A wide range of fresh, locally grown fruit and veg is delivered from all over the island. Look for local home-made biscuits, cakes, jams, wine and almogrote, (spicy cheese spread.) Beautiful lillies and fresh flowers come in from garden plots at a fraction of florists’ prices. Enterprising foreign travellers sell jewellery, clothes, paintings and all manner of other items. Sit and enjoy a drink in the market square after your shopping.

Visit the past
Go to the Tourist Office (see Useful Info), get a map and information on the historical sites and walk the town stopping off at the aforementioned Asuncion church, the Torre del Conde, el Pozo de la Aguada and the Casa de Colon Museum. San Sebastián will boast an Achaeological Museum from early 2005. None of this is arduous or hard to find; it’s a very small town.

Explore the area
Take a short drive up the valley past what looks like an unpromising commercial and industrial zone. Follow the signs for Chejilipe and you’ll pass through charming small villages like San Antonio and La Laja with tiny local bars, beautiful market gardens and a reservoir at the top that waters the valley. Wander around on foot, stopping for tapas and drinks at one of the tiny bar/shops in the area.

Move on up
A half an hour drive takes you up into the beautiful Parque Nacional de Garajonay, (Garajonay National Park.) Only two roads lead out of San Sebastián and either will take you there. Stop at any of the walk signposts, abandon the car and stroll into the unique laurel forest with its tree mosses, dappled light and secret world of peace and birdsong. The views from any of the miradores (viewpoints) are breathtaking and if the conditions are right you can watch the clouds cascade over ridges to the valleys below.

Shopping
Trueque (Calle del Medio,19): A treasure trove of varied delights; lamps, coffers, amber, coral and crystal. Tiny but good.

Dulceria Isabel (Calle del Medio, 10): One of the oldest bakeries in La Gomera where generations-old recipes are still used for the delicious biscuits, cakes and sweets.

Molino de Gofio (Carretera del Faro, 5): Imendi’s gofio (toasted maize flour) mill is worth a visit if you’d like to see how this staple of Canarian cuisine is produced. Buy a bag of gofio to take home, sprinkle it on soups, mix it with milk for breakfast or add ground almonds and raisins for instant energy. The Gomeros swear by it.

Where to stay
Without a doubt, San Sebastián’s Parador Nacional del Turismo Conde de la Gomera is the nicest place to stay on the island. Follow the ‘Hermigua’ signs through town and turn off to the right when you see signs to La Lomada/Parador del Turismo. The road snakes up to the Parador’s superb location overlooking the town and port below. You can see it up to the right as you come in on the ferry. Set in lovely secluded gardens, with a nice pool, bar and restaurant, the hotel is beautifully appointed and furnished. Built round traditional Canarian garden patios, it’s full of lovely places to sit, relax and enjoy the good life.
(+34) 922 871 100; double rooms from e120, half board from e150. Phone for special offers

Hotel Torre del Conde
This clean and comfortable hotel is located in the town, overlooking the Torre del Conde and park and is on one of the two main streets, Ruiz de Padron.
922 870 000; Double rooms from e54

Where to eat
There’s a multitude of bars and restaurants in San Sebastián. Take potluck and most are passable. These are the best:

Marques de Oristano
An old Canarian house, attractively renovated, where good food is served in a nice atmosphere and pleasant surroundings. You can choose to eat in a cosy dining booth or in the open patio. The menu is varied, with an emphasis on high quality Canarian cuisine. Evening guests can enjoy live music and dancing.
Calle del Medio;922 872 901; 12.00 – 22.45, tasca bar 09.00 – 00.30, closed Monday; average price for a main course e11

El Charcon
In a great position overlooking La Playa de la Cueva, this small restaurant serves lunches and dinners. Ask for the fresh fish of the day, it’s usually spectacularly good. The desserts are also recommended. You can eat inside, or outside on the terrace pondering Teide and the ocean.
Paseo Maritimo;922 141 898; open 12.00 – 16.00 and 19.00 – 23.00, closed Monday; average price for a main course e9.50.

La Cumbre
This is a basic, but good out of town restaurant, some fifteen minutes drive from San Sebastián towards Hermigua. La Cumbre’s traditional style premises and menu are unpretentious and pleasant. If you sit at the patio tables outside you can enjoy the views to the mountains. Try the homemade specialities like rabbit and goat. The vino del pais, (local wine) parra and gomeron (local grappa and ditto with palm honey) are delicious but potent.
Average price for a main course is e7.
Carretera General del Norte km.11.5. Lunchtime opening. Kitchen closes around three, later if full.
922 880 283.

Nightlife
There isn’t much of a scene outside fiesta time. You can dance to live music in the Marques de Oristano Restaurant (see Where to Eat).
The evening paseo (stroll) is still a feature of the evening hours here, especially in the summer months.
Parandas (play and sing get-togethers) are alive and well too but as they’re impromptu, times can’t be guaranteed. If you’re lucky enough to coincide with one, don’t be shy, everyone’s welcome. Pull up a chair, order a drink – one for the musicians always goes down well – and enjoy.

Fiestas
January 30th is the feast of San Sebastián himself. The whole town struggles out, having more or less overcome the excesses of Christmas, the

January 6th Reyes (Kings) bash and New Year’s Eve. Religious events take place from midday to early evening on the 30th. All night dancing to local salsa bands takes place in the square on the 29th.

September 6th heralds the Fiestas Colombinas. These are fiestas to celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ departure from San Sebastián to America on September 6th 1492. There are usually three or four days of special events on and around the 6th, with a yacht regatta between Puerto de Santa Maria near Cadiz and La Gomera taking place to commemorate the first part of his historic voyage. The usual all night dancing to live bands happens on the 5th and 6th.

The first Monday in October of each year is important to all Gomeros, but especially so to the villanos (people from La Villa, San Sebastián.) The patron saint of the island is the Virgen de Guadalupe and this is her feast day. Her statue rests all year in the tiny chapel at Puntallana, along the coast from the town of San Sebastián but within the municipality. She’s brought out and aired amongst the populace amidst great partying. Once every four years there are fiestas lustrales (super-fiestas) where the partying is on an even greater scale. Boats of all shapes and sizes, even the ferries, come from all the island’s ports to join the maritime procession accompanying Guadalupe from Puntallana to San Sebastián.

Transport
For ferry services operating between Tenerife and San Sebastián (La Gomera) contact the following:
Fred Olsen 902 100 107
Garajonay Express 902 343 450
Transmediterranea 922 870 802
For further information visit the Canarian Government’s travel website www.canarias.org/esp/transportes/entre-islas.html

Taxis
There’s a taxi rank on Avenida Maritima. Taxis are also always available at the ferry terminal.

Useful info
· Cash machines have proliferated in the last five years. The town now has six, covering all major systems.
· San Sebastián is very small. You can’t get lost; it takes about thirty minutes to walk (fast) round the whole town. It’s safe and friendly.
· The Tourist Office is next to the Pozo. The staff are helpful, speak some English and have a lot of interesting information, maps, books and leaflets for visitors. Calle Real, 4. 922 141 552
·For further information visit the island council’s website www.gomera-island.com

Parking
Park along the main road round town rather than trying to park in the two principal streets. Beware of invisible traffic wardens; they’re lurking everywhere.