While walking towards town, I meet Antje’s son, Pablo. He tells me that when I reach the bottom of the path, instead of turning left into the village I should go to the right and take the trail to the barranco, the ravine. This trail is the ancient Camino Real de La Costa (The Royal Road of the Coast) and wraps around the entire island, linking the villages and towns. It is marked by three distinct bands of color—red, yellow and white—painted on rocks, posts and signs along the way. It is an ancient road and just how long it has been in use is unknown. The Guanche people (aboriginal Berbers from mainland Africa) inhabited the island beginning in 1000 BC and Roman commander, Pliny the Elder makes mention of the Canary Islands as far back as 50 BC when a Mauretanian expedition landed there to find the abandoned ruins of massive buildings.
I take Pablo's advice and descend into the dense, thicketed canyon. The rock-studded trail is edged with gnarled trees, plump cacti, ferns, palms and succulents. At each steep drop-off, I stop to enjoy the magnificent scenery—a symphony of things blooming and growing, all of it tethered to the dark red, stone-riddled earth.
At the bottom of the barranco, the steep climbing begins. It is unbelievably hot and the walls of the ravine sway like giant, draped green nets on all sides. Sweat drips into the corners of my eyes and I try and ignore my fluttering heart as my feet slide across a loose fan of rocks near the trail’s edge. I catch my breath and continue to trudge upward, all to aware of the signs along the way that warn: Landslides! Peligro! Danger! After several switchbacks, I stop for a drink of water. Looking around, I notice a small, wooden door built into the mountainside. I sit down on its little stoop and just as I am wondering what could be inside, I hear a soft crunching.
A man is coming down the path above me carrying a massive bundle of grasses bound with twine. He supports this load with his back, neck and head. As he draws near, I stand hastily and gather up my pack.
“Buen día, señor,” I say. “Disculpe.” Excuse me. I scoot to one side of the narrow trail, away from the little mountainside door and keenly aware that there is no rail behind me to prevent a fall into the deep, green barranco.
“Nada, nada,” the man says and smiles. It’s nothing, it’s fine. With one hand, he opens the mysterious door and in a smooth motion, heaves the bundle of grass inside. Ah-ha! I think. Mystery solved. It’s a mountainside hay mow.
Inching away from the sheer drop-off, I continue upward. Suddenly, I hear the tinkle of bells. I look ahead and behind for the bobbing heads of goats, but there is nothing, just the grass man dashing nimbly down the trail. I walk on and the bells become louder. Still, no goats on the path. I stop and listen. There is sudden smacking sound. I look over and am startled to see a pair of goats sitting in the shadows of a large cave. They stare at me with deliberate interest, chewing placidly; heads swiveling in unison as I draw closer. They are seated upon a ledge above a large, open area of the cave where there are beds of straw and bowls filled with water and food, even a little gate fashioned from branches tied shut with rope. It is a very clever mountainside pen; the goats are cool and sheltered from the sun and in close proximity to the tableau grasslands at the top of the trail where they feed.
I walk on. There is another switchback and then, another. Finally, I stand upon the plateau of land that I can see from the window of my little cabin, all the way across the ravine. It is a breath-taking place; abundant with golden grasses, dragon trees and majestic views of the sea. Blue on blue as far as the eye can see. I breathe a sigh of relief and bask in the rich colors. Me, the girl whose knees ache at the mere thought of heights. I made it.