viernes, 13 de julio de 2012

GARAJONAY: NATURAL PARADISE OF GOMERA ISLAND

Text and Pictures: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
SPANISH
Garajonay National Park, located on top area of Gomera (one of the Canary Islands, on the west of Tenerife and accessible by ferry or plane), belonging to the Western group of Canarian Archipelago, is one of the most beautiful places in the world.


After arriving at the harbour of San Sebastián de la Gomera (visible in the middle of upper picture, in which Mount Teide profile in the north of Tenerife island can be glimpsed beyond the sea), we have to start the climbing leading to Garajonay National Park, following the road from San Sebastián to Arure across the summit.

During the first minutes of ascension, we begin realizing the fundamental trait of La Gomera Island which will become a constant thing and will progressively keep on standing out as we approach the Jewel of Tertiary: its very abrupt relief, featuring a very strong personality and having its maximum embodiment in Garajonay National Park, encompassing an extension of 3,984 hectares, with a minimum height of 650 m. and maximum of 1,487 m., occupying the 10% of the surface of La Gomera Island, and consists of two main zones:

a) The Area of the Roques (huge rocky formations typical in Canary Islands, which are often imposing natural rock towers whose origin was a volcano), the most famous ones being the Roque of Agando, the Roque of La Zarcita and the Roque of Ojila.

b) The Forest of Laurisilva, often wrapped (in the same was as the Roques) by a dense mist bestowing it a grandiose and awesome appearance alike, and that along with the slew of brooks and cascades shape Garajonay National Park, provide enough levels of humidity to generate its mythical look, with a monteverde - green mount-  (covering more than 85% of its surface) as a main identity token, made up by different kinds of woods with around 20 species of evergreen trees and inside which a very exotic variety of mountain  heath is very abundant.

This is by far the most representative area of the whole Garajonay National Park, and watching these prehistoric forests becomes an unforgettable experience.

Roque de Agando, the most spectacular and well-known of all the ones existing in Garajonay National Park. Surrounded by laurisilva, fayas and heathers, it is located at a height of 1250 meters on sea level and has a height of 180 m., being situated within a short distance of the Road of the Center.

Very near its summit, there are the remnants of a primitive Güanche little shrine, which proves that the old inhabitants of the island climbed this Roque.

It belongs to the municipal district of Santiago de la Gomera and is located between the Barranco of La Laja (La Laja Gully) and the Barranco of Benchijigua (Benchijigua Gully).

A distinctive hallmark of Gomera Island in comparison to the rest of Canary Islands is that the most recent eruptions took place around two million years ago, which has brought about a steady and durable erosive action having modified the original volcanic relief, begetting the current steep landscape of the island.

On the other hand, the lack of volcanic eruptions during Cuaternary Age has made that the Roques are very characteristic elements of the island, particularly in Garajonay National Park.

Such Roques, which are esentially leftover parts of volcanic chimneys discovered by erosion, perform decisevely for the astonishing spectacularity of Garajonay National Park, with the added bonus of an amazing atmospheric phenomenon observable by visitors: the transition in a matter of seconds from a clear sunny landscape with the Roques being utterly visible


to its progressive covering by an almost tangible dense mist typical of this natural paradise. This highly special thick coat of fog oozing a unique texture, also spawns a luminic melting pot in which sparsed solar beams cross this kind of aethereal wet layer and project in manifold directions, constantly modifying lights and shadows areas in the Roques, even sometimes altering the visual perception of their colour and contrast.

It´s worth visiting Garajonay National Park only to see this.


The landscape in the area is very abrupt, such as can be seen in this picture, with massive presence of dense mist providing the environment the suitable quantity of humidity in order that its nature can be so magnificent, with deep ravines and a succession of gorgeous green valleys inhabited by a wide range of flora and fauna species, 120 of them being autochthonous and exclusive from canary Islands and 26 of them which are endemic from Gomera Island, without forgetting the existence on its lower area of a comprehensive assortment of typical old Canary houses (for instance, in the bottom of the very steep valley appearing in the image, you can see the Caserío of La Laja - The Typical Old House of La Laja- , surrounded by Canary pine, fayaheather and a splendid nearby landscape of terraces).

On the other hand, the roads crossing Garajonay National Park have a far-flung network of lookouts enabling to relish these unique and peerless sceneries on top of Gomera Island, which were a sacred ground for the Gomera Island Güanche Prehispanic inhabitants, whose kingdoms of Agana, Orone, Mulagua and Ipalán converged into it.


Another image of the extraordinary landscape of steep gulches and valleys of Garajonay National Park (fruit of both the absence of volcanic eruptions in recent times and the erosion of the water), with remains of terraced cultivations in the foreground.

It´s visible how the omnipresent dense sea of clouds is beginning to spread, constantly changing the areas of light and shadow, a transition fairly watchable by visitors.


The sancta sanctorum of the Tertiary Jewel: the area of prehistoric Laurisilva makes up the most representative area of Garajonay National Park, with an extensive array of evergreen trees, in a paradisiac setting characterized by its high levels of humidity and mild temperatures.

The abundance of vegetation is so lavish that the trees located on both sides of the footpaths frequently cover them with their branches touching one another on their aupper area, which results in a fantastic sight typical of prehistoric forests appearing in famous movies like King Kong or the Tarzan saga.

The framework of trees setting up the dense Forest of Tertiary Laurisilva of Garajonay National Park is a full-fledged living relic exceedingly prominent in a richness and chormatic variety of greens that has to be seen to be believed, it all being catalyzed by the sea of clouds wrapping the zone and whose condensation of water vapour on trees leaves with the subsequent horizontal rain, highly raises the water quantity on the ground.


It is a Laurisilva whose seminal component is the monteverde, covering more than 85% of its surface, with around 20 treee species like heather, acebiño, beech, viñátigo, loro and others, complemented by the abundant presence of mosses and lichens covering the trees trunks, together with ferns, it all as a result of the high ambient humidity.



It´s a true botanic fossil, survivor of the humid forests of different species of evergreen leaves which covered nearly all of Europe during Tertiary, of which vast majority of them dissappeared with the elapse of time.


Besides, the strategic location of this Tertiary Laurisilva becomes decisive for the hidrological recharge of Gomera Island and the protection of its grounds.
The Laurisilva Forest of Garajonay National Park exudes great exotism and is the most relevant area of the summit area oriented to the north of Gomera Island, being covered by forests, woods and arborescent underbrush which make up the monteverde.

The sensations perceived on getting into these subtropical botanic shrines shaped by tree species of Lauriaciae family being the living testimony of a remote past, are not easy to describe, also being hugely interesting his deep floors characteristic of the northern medianías influenced by the fogs of trade winds.

It´s also an area lacking freezes, with constant annual average temperatures between 15º C and 19º C and relatively scarce and variable from year to year rainfalls oscillating between 600 and 1,600 mm.

These exceedingly special environmental conditions enabling the existence of Laurisilva, are due to the fact that the fresh and humid lower layer of trade wind during its path over Atlantic Ocean, climbs on making contact with the abrupt orography of Gomera Island, and during such rise, air condenses generating clouds whcih touch the cover of the hotter and drier trade wind upper layer, so when the encounter of clouds with the relief in this area takes place, slight drizzles and the so-called horizontal rain develop.

If we add to it the great quantity of water captured from the dense mists by the Laurisilva, we can even better understand the wonderful uniqueness of these tertiary forests.


Roque de la Zarcita, located at a height of 1,233 meters. It can be seen how a typical sea of clouds begins spreading and will cover within a short time this fonolitic dome, which was originally a natural spire which suffered the push of an eruptive column, after which the diifferential erosion obliterated the weakest outer scoriaceous materials, simultaneously preserving the more resistant central body of massive lava, which makes up the core of the modern Roques of Garajonay National Parks, with shape of monoliths of vertical walls.

Close-up of the Roque of the Zarcita captured a few seconds after the previous picture. The dense mist full of humidity which has already crossed its peak and is about to wrap it, along with the different trajectories described by sun beams on piercing it, have modified both the chromatism of the Roque walls and its contrast, which also affects to its adjacent areas.

This phenomenom, also visible in other famous Canarian Roques like the Roque of the Ánimas in Tenerife, made that in remote times, thousands of years ago, the primitive Güanche inhabitants considered them enchanted mountains that were abode of a mysterious light appearing in specific moments.


Impressive cliff in Garajonay National Park, with lavishness of greens and palm trees being born from inside the rocks. Once more, you can watch a sea of clouds advancing towards this sublime landscape and which will wrap it in a humid mist within a few minutes, progressively changing its orography areas of lights and shadows.

On the other hand, different species of evergreen trees are also visible, since the botanic weakth of this natural paradise is amazing, and La Gomera is a 12 million years old island, created through accumulation of materials emitted in different eruptive periods separated by prolonged calm stages.


Typical scenery of Garajonay National Park, with the Roques of San Pedro (also called Roque Chico and Roque Grande) in Hermigua, surrounded by some characteristic Canarian rural houses and a great profusion of trees and plants, with a chromatic massive chromatic presence of greens everywhere.

The dense humid mist, highly representative of this wondrous biotope and essential for the preservation of the monteverde, approaches both giants, generating an astoundingly beautiful and daunting alike, and those awaiting for the arrival of such mist will be able to clearly perceive its very special texture, almost tangible by the minute, and which will become a part of their beings.

Not in vain, there are tons of Gäunche legends focused on the qualities and great significance that for the area of Garajonay had since its very origin these unutterable dense and humid mists, that are perhaps the key factor for the denomination of ´Magical Island´ with which this piece of Eden has traditionally been called.


The terrace cultivations on the slopes of access to Garajonay are another of the typical features of the area, in which economy has diachronically based on agriculture and primary sector in general, either for self catering (vegetables) or for exportation (bananas).

Although the ground orography is far from being the most suitable for this activity, the atavistic tenacity and landscape care of both Gomera and rests of Canary Islands inhabitants, have made possible these cultivations thanks to the terraces built through strenuous effort on the land and also to the wisely distributed watering systems.


Copyright Text and Pictures: José Manuel Serrano Esparza