Thursday, April 20, 2017

Inagua, the empty one

Some of the remaining old pines. Apparently, they grow in a very very uniform conical shape up to a certain age; after which they start to spread into an umbrella at the top.

I have refused to drive in the mountains on Gran Canaria ever since I got stuck on the pass of Degollada de las Yeguas on our way from Fataga to Ingenio. Having learned to drive in East Anglia, I prefer my roads straight, wide and flat; here I prefer to be driven. However, local public transport, although overall excellent, quite logically doesn't go where there are no people to carry. So some of the areas to the west of the island remained unexplored by me till this year, including some of the protected areas, such as Pilancones and Inagua.

Here and below all the black and white images are digital IR conversion
Then, luckily, I came across a tour company, called Arawak Travel; here is their website (shame no one pays me for this). Originally from Madrid, they opened offices on Tenerife and Gran Canaria relatively recently; and more recently still they expanded their hiking tours program to the Canary Islands.

Young, regular, same size - clearly these pine trees are reforestation program results. Black sticks at the bottom right are burnt tree trunks from a forest fire in 2007.
There are usually two excursions every day on weekends (that is, four excursions per week), insured and led by a qualified guide. The two routes of each given day are roughly in the same place (thus they can use the same bus), but differ in level of difficulty. Overall, my experience with them has been excellent so far; but I must say that applying a bit of common sense when booking is essential. If you are unaccustomed to hiking, don't start with level three ("medium difficulty") and above. Wear sensible clothes, suitable shoes and sun protection; generally, read the advice they send you before each booked excursion. The website is in Spanish, but once you manage to navigate it, some guides do speak English.

Now that my little free ad is over; let's talk about Inagua.

Young trees ones again
Inagua is a natural reserve; the full name, only occasionally used, seems to be "Parque Natural de Ojeda, Inagua y Pajonales". It is an old pine forest which, unfortunately, together with other areas of the island, got affected by a huge forest fire in 2007*. Although canarian pine, Pinus canariensis, is very resistant to fire, most of the old trees were lost. A big reforestation program followed and now there is a pine forest there again, but you can easily see that most of the trees are young. There are  very few old ones still standing.

This particular range had the sun for longest time, while the neighbors were all in shade
The whole area is very sparsely populated, practically empty. There are three houses which provide shelter to the environmental agency workers and that's pretty much it.

As far as I understood our guide, there is a movement to give Inagua a National Park status, which will give it more protection and hopefully allow to employ more people to care for it.

Looking east from the path

One of the creatures that live there and require special care is the blue bird of Gran Canaria, Pinzon azul. Its status in the Red List is marked as Endangered. There are very few birds surviving; they live in pine forests and eat pine nuts; and many perished in the fire. I have never seen one. Once our guide claimed she heard one, but that was it.

This reservoir has a non-PC name: Presa del Mulato
Permissions (obtainable from Cabildo, the island council) are required to cross the protected area; they are not given out over spring-summer at all because of the nesting period. Apparently, people still go in without permission, as probability of being caught is low; I urge you not to.

We met no one on our walk; the path was covered in pine cones which are a bugger to walk on — they roll. In more than one place the path is overgrown completely, mostly by the soft little puffs of hare's foot clover.

The paths we took was easy, although long. I am sure there are difficult ones too. Out of respect to the guides, for whom this knowledge is their livelihood, I am not going to publish our routes; you can find plenty of info on the web, though.

Trifolium arvense
The endemic that I spotted on our last walk was one of the lotus family; not that beautiful, but unique to the area: Lotus holosericeus, silky lotus. There are plenty more.


* As to the fire, I was told the story as follows: there was a chap, not quite right in the head, who was contracted every summer for a few months to (wait for it) watch out for forest fires. It is a seasonal work that usually goes on for three or four months, after which the workers are let go. If the summer is exceptionally hot, or if there were some incidents of fires already, the contracts are extended for another couple of months. As his contract was running out, our hero had figured that if he starts just the leeetlest of fires his contract will be extended. So he did. What followed was a rather unfortunate combination of weather conditions, perfect for fires ("30-30-30"; temperature over 30 °C, over 30 km/h wind, under 30 percent humidity) and an assumption which was made by people who spotted the fire first that it was a "controlled" one, i.e. something started deliberately and contained within a limited area.

So. I am not sure I got it right, and I can't find a confirmation easily, but I believe something around 20 percent of the whole surface of the island was burnt. The chap went to prison. How did they catch him? Oh, his own report of spotting the fire was word-to-word the same as the one he submitted a few years before, which means he had already performed the same trick at least once before, and successfully.

Human stupidity is boundless really.

Pictures of Gran Canaria on Shutterstock

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