Birkensee Summer 

I cannot say it enough: summer is finally here.  We had such a icy winter and such a cold wet Spring that it is hard to believe that it’s warm and sunny.  It still feels like a dream and we try to take advantage of the summer rays because once September rolls around, the summer fun will be over.


Today we decided to drive out to the town of Reichelsdord west of Nuremberg and take our little bbq grill for a walk to the Birkensee (Birch lake).  I habe to say that I was really surprised by the beauty of this small lake.  We parked our car at the edge of a forest and walked through the woods for 10 minutes until we landed right at the wdge of the lake.  It’s a family-friendly lake with sandy beaches and tree-covered enclaves, bbq areas, and refreshing water to swim in.  The only thing you should be prepared for is that nudity is allowed here, so if you’re uncomfortable with nude people swimming, sunning, or walking around you, then you should go to another local lake.  Otherwise, this is a great gem tucked away at the edge of the city that we will definitely return to for a summer refreshment.







Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 7

Oh man, my buddy the rooster is really going at it this morning.  Maybe when roosters get older they lose track of time?  He’s a 4am kind of guy…

Finally, my alarm goes off to remind me how much longer I could have slept had the rooster been able to tell that it was still dark outside.  We are up very early, again, eating breakfast under the stars before meeting our friend for another hike.  Today, we are hiking to the top of El Bejenado – a huge mountain on La Palma , but my stomach is not feeling so well from the meal at Franchipani last night…and I have to really make myself get going.

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Our friend shows up, and we drive together to the base of the mountain to begin our hike.  Yet again, we wide around some crazy dirt roads with pot holes large enough to dislocate the axle of many a car, and we start our hike.  We don’t have a lot of gear with us this time – just water and some dried mango and dried canary platanos (which I could live off of if you could get them off the island).

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As we start our hike, I notice that the landscape has changed.  We are hiking on soft fine beige sand combined with jagged rocks on a path that snakes through really thick pine trees.  The smell is amazing.  The hot sun warms the sap in the local canary pine trees and it smells of tangy wood mixed with the salty Atlantic smoothly flowing in off the coast.  It is absolutely delicious, and I try to take in as much as possible – I want to remember this smell forever.

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The Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) is a very fascinating tree.  It is not only very drought-resistant, but also fire-resistant!  Our friend has told us a few times along our hikes about the occasional forest fire that breaks out on the island, burning everything in sight – except the trees!  The pine needles just grow back a year or two later, and life goes on.  Crazy.

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Our hike is rather comfortable, and, after a while, we make it to the top where we are rewarded with a spectacular view of the other Canary Islands of La Gomera, El Hiero, and Teneriffa.  On Teneriffa, shooting through the clouds, we can see the volcano of El Teide – Spain’s tallest mountain.  It didn’t feel like we had climbed so high, but everything down bellow looks so small – we are 1854 meters up in the clouds.  We sit down and soak in the view, and then make our way back down.  I have now chewed enough gum to settle my stomach, and can enjoy the decent even more.

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Once we get back “home” – this place grows on you quickly – we make a delicious dinner of corn spaghetti with a sweet and tangy tamarillo sauce from our farmer’s market’s bounty.  Afterwards, we enjoy it with a glass of local Vega Norte white wine (which tastes like creamy peaches!) while we watch the sunset over the horizon.  Every day could be like this.

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Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 6

The first thought I had this morning, after a wonderful 10 hour sleep (!!!), is if the farmer sold his rooster.  I didn’t hear him this morning – just the faint calls of the neighbor roosters.  A few minutes later I was relieved to hear that he was still there…I might just have been too tired from yesterday’s hike to hear him.

It is late in the morning, and we enjoyed our breakfast of fruit and cereal grains with a hot cup of coffee while looking out over the ocean.  For the fourth time in the last few days, I watched a small speed boat head out south/south-west.  Where are they headed? …there is nothing out there.

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After breakfast, we headed out to Los Llanos.  We parked our car and asked an old white-haired lady with a cane if she could point us in the direction of the farmer’s market.  She consulted with two other ladies that just happened to be passing by, and the consensus is that we need to go 2 street over and walk straight down hill for 5 minutes until we run into the market.  The directions are right on, and we meander down yet another town of perfectly clean roads, quaint colorful houses, and gardens full of trees and flowers.

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We find the market at the end of the pedestrian zone, and walk through once before deciding to buy anything.  We return to the stands where we saw things that peaked our curiosity, and walked away with sweet-sour grapes, sweet tomatoes, huge red onions, pimentos del Padron, and a bag full of tangy tree tomatoes – all for a steel: 7,80€!!!

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We walk back to our car, purposely winding through tiny roads with more colorful houses – some just taller than I at the entrance.  We then quickly make our way home and make lunch – a skillet dish of potatoes, carrots, pimentos del Padron, onions, olives, tree tomatoes, and a hint of oregano.  Wow – the tree tomatoes are a tangy explosion of sweetly citrusy tomato softened potatoes in every bite.  Fantastic!

After lunch, we head off to the beach in El Remo – the salty smell in the air calms me and I am flooded with joyful feelings of my childhood.  I have not been on a beach in 8 years.  And, I have never seen a black sanded beach.

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We reach the beach – it is relatively small for a beach, but perfectly nudged in between volcanic rocks – like everything else around here.  The sand is hot – really hot.  We lay down on our mats and our towels, and still feel the burning heat soaked in by the island on our bodies.  The beach is pretty empty at 5:00pm.  The life guards have the red flag hanging high, forbidding everyone from swimming, it is high tide and there are strong rip currents.  An hour later, the yellow flags go up, the tide begins to subside, swimmers enter the lively waters, and the life guards stand directly on the beach to keep a close eye.  It is still not 100% safe, but the beach is starting to fill.  The sun is still high enough in the sky, and it will soon entertain everyone with a spectacular sunset.  As the tide falls, we walk to the water and cool our feet in the cold waves.  Every time a wave subsides back into the ocean, it reveals the end of the island…it just drops off a few meters in front of us.  How beautiful and scary at the same time.

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We make our way back home and rid ourselves of the cakey-feeling of sunscreen under the shower, and make our way off to dinner.  On our way we met our hostess, Karen, a really nice German lady who speaks with her hands like a true Spaniard.  She convinces us to change the restaurant we want to visit because they have a larger vegan selection.

We drive to Franchipani, and are seated in a small room with 3 large tall wooden tables.  The service is spectacular, and our waitress speaks German and Spanish.  We were delighted throughout the night with the service of a 1-star restaurant, but, unfortunately, the food was not as impressive.  The thought behind each dish was creative and well meant, but not well executed, and I left with indigestion from overly oiled food and a yogurt sauce that accidentally ended up on my vegan dish.  Such a shame…it was very promising.  I think I will move here one day and open a vacation rental complex with a restaurant down bellow.  I can definitely do better than this.

A beautiful stone house with red tile roof, reminiscent of the traditional Canary-style architecture of ages ago…with small apartments on either side of the house to rent.  In the middle is a restaurant that spills into a patio in a large garden where we will harvest the ingredients for the dishes we will prepare.  After a day’s work, I will sit out on my patio – all lights turned off on the property – and watch the amazing view of the stars and planets in the night’s sky.  This place is perfect.

Hiker’s Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 3

Today I stared at the power on death in the face and felt like I was hiking on the moon.

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We drove down to the sparsely populated southern tip of the island to the volcano of San Antonio, just south of the town of Los Canarios, and began our hike to Las Salinas de Teneguia there.

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I gently sunk into the descending path of black volcanic gravel in the hot and windy sun.  We took the decent slowly and enjoyed the silence of the tremendous gusts of wind that, as we descended, were slightly picking us up off our feet with every attempted step.  There was little vegetation here – planted grape vines for making wine accompany us at the beginning of our decent, but then disappear, and the landscape turns into a gigantic gravel filled sandbox.  Sporadically, we would pass by a cactus or other dessert plant as well as rocks of all sizes.

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Once down the path past the volcano of San Antonio – on the way to the volcanoes of Teneguia – I look up and feel very small.  San Antonio hovered above me in silence – its gentle power and majesty – and I feel amazed by the earth.  Three-hundred-forty years ago it erupted leaving this desolate sandbox behind (Teneguia erupted 45 years ago!).  And, still, in all of the destruction it caused, life has found a home here.  Something grows everywhere, and large groups of black and blue lizards (gallotia galloti) crawl under the colonies of rock formations…even here there is much life.

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There is no shade.  We descend further towards the coast and feel the power of being in hurricane-like winds.  I looked around at the gravel landscape, and not one rock, one pebble, or grain of sand rocked in the wind…as if they were all magnetically attached to the earth.  The view is calming.  In this torrential wind, the earth is calm and unfazed.  How amazing.

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We attempted to climb the the volcano of Teneguia, but decided to turn back.  We could not keep our feet on the ground – even though we were climbing with our packs on all-fours.  This day mother nature said no.

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We continued down and found a place with “less” wind, and sat down for lunch.  We had to hold onto everything tightly.  I smeared some hummus on my bread and then watched half of it gust away with the wind.  The lizards will be happy.  While sitting eating my cornbread, I just let myself be rocked back and forth by the wind.  It took more effort to try and stay still than to let it rock you.  We ate in silence – the wind was too loud for conversation.  This gave me time to ponder on my feeling of amazement of being where I am.

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While staring at the volcanic pebbles, that don’t even move a millimeter in this crazy wind, that surrounded me, I realized that many (but not all) of them have an iridescent rainbow on them – they shimmer like gems in the sun.  I held a few in my hand, and they felt so light.

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We packed away our lunch, and continued on our path towards Las Salinas.  We crossed a road and were greeted by a family of lizards of all sizes.  They were hungry.  They gently crawl towards our boots, and I felt startled because I was not sure what they wanted.  My husband opened his pack and got out a piece of old bread.  This noise alone brought out at least another 10 lizards!  I stayed very still because I knew they wouldn’t do anything to us, and I didn’t want to scare them…but I didn’t want to touch them either.  He fed them, and they walked right up to his hand and carefully removed the small pieces of bread from between his fingers.  Then, the scurried away to hide with their bread while being chased and attacked by the other lizards also trying to get a piece.  Amazing little creatures.

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We wandered our path downhill, towards the Salinas, and found ourselves on a fine black-sanded Sahara-like “beach”.  The sand was as fine as flour, and glittered like black diamonds in the scorching sun.  The salty smell of the Atlantic air mingled with the pungent smell of the harvesting of the delicious citrusy-flavored fleur de sel.  Even though there were people around us, this part of the world felt desolate and abandoned…until a local public transportation bus pulls up around the corner…and took us back to Los Canarios.

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We cooked ourselves a delicious, well earned, meal and enjoyed a glass of local Volcanic-kissed white Teneguia wine.  We enjoyed the many flavors and “spices” in every sip under the star-ladened night sky.

Our rooster neighbor has finally gone to bed…and we relaxed into tomorrow,

 

Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 2

Our alarm woke us up dark and early…but what hadn’t we heard the rooster yet…did he sleep in today?  Uh, no, our phone alarm reset it’s location to Germany, and woke us up an hour earlier (5:30am) than the timezone we were in.  At 5:59am the rooster made his first call…punctual little bastard.  Super groggy, we finished getting ready and had breakfast in the dark outside on our balcony under the stars.  Over the edge of my coffee cup was Orion’s belt.  We enjoyed twilight and watching the ocean and sea of platano trees come into view.  The morning is such a beautiful hour.

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We patiently waited for our friend to arrive on his motorcycle so we could all travel together by car – which he had lent us during our trip.  This is really a motorcyclist’s paradise – never a boring road and always a view.  We left shortly after 8am to Los Tilos National Park parking lot where we hitched a taxi wild safari ride up the mountain to start our hike.  This was one wild ride – rocking back and forth and up and down all at the same time.  I just relaxed, looked forward through the 7 other people sitting in front of me, and became part of the ride.  Clouds of red dust whirled around us as we hit every pothole while climbing up the mountain.  Green bushed marked our way up this 2-lane dirt road, and I felt like I was traveling up a small road out in west Texas.  We arrived an hour later, paid 15€ each (!!!), and were glad to be on our way by foot!

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Right in front of us was a trough of water that seemed to have no end and no beginning.  We climbed on it, balanced a few steps with our packs on our backs, and stepped down onto a parallel path.  Standing in the silence at the entrance to the forest, I listened to the water slowly, but intensely, move on by us as we took a few more steps forward.

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A few meters in front of us was a dark tunnel, and we followed the water trough upstream with our headlamps on until we came out on the other side.  This long “trough” is an aqueduct that was built in the 1950s to transport the spring water that seeps out of the mountains down to the people in the towns bellow.  My first living aqueduct!  It lead us from one tunnel to another – some where longer and some where shorter.

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And, after each tunnel, we broke out into the forest to have one amazing view after another revealed to us.  Mountains covered in bay leaf trees hovered above and bellow us.  Each step deeper into the forest took us one step back into the Jurassic Age.  Trees of all kinds encompassed us – pine trees, eucalyptus trees, and avocado trees wearings “wigs” of blackberry vines in dimensions that I have never seen – with leaves larger than my hand.

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We finally made our way up to the 11th tunnel and balanced our way through the middle – guiding ourselves in the darkness with the tips of our fingers and sliding them along the walls of the tunnel – crouching frequently to not knock our heads – this was a wet one.  We were so close to the source that water was seeping through every nook and cranny in the mountain – we were in nature’s water park.

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It was nice to cool down because we were ascending to the next water source at ~1600 meters above sea level, and the forest was changing face.  The dry sands were back, and we found ourselves in the midsts of a hot pine forest.  The wind was still, the pungent smell of pine trees filled the air, and the water drops still sitting on our arms were quickly evaporating in the hot sun.  We were literally standing above the clouds…and the change in humidity was noticeable.  We trudged on to the second spring, which was a nice rocky shaded area, and stopped for a late lunch.  We had been hiking for 4 hours and were about to begin our decent.

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At first, it was slow.  My legs were shaking with fatigue – steep lose rocks have never been my cup of tea.  The further we descended, the larger the rocks became, until we were at he foots of a dry rive bed full of boulders.  We were hiking IN a river!

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Around us, on all sides, are green mountains, covered in hanging ferns, that used to be filled with water.  I felt so small and was in such awe of the world around me.  Any second a large dinosaur was going to stroll through and nibble on those hanging blackberry vines.  Jeez – they must be a good 15 meters long!  Paradise.

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Walking over rocks takes a lot of concentration – big rocks, lose rocks, gravel, flat rocks, round rocks, boulders…it became a meditative trans at some point, and I finally started to let go of my daily life (family/work/school/etc).  I concentrate on each move…balancing my bodyweight with my pack properly…taking a moment every few steps to just stop and look up and back and forth.  I am here.  I am here

I forget my dislike of going downhill on rocky paths, and am completely content, and even sad when our path takes us out of the riverbed.  We meander up into a mossy shady forest – smell the must on the rocks – see the ferns – each frond is longer than I!  A tour group of about 20 travelers catches up to us, and I tens up.  Their chatter is so loud, and it feels like they don’t respect the beauty of the forest and the healing power of being in silence.  We slow down and let them pass – like a group of fast walking chickens just running through the forest to say they were there.  We are in no rush to get to the end.

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We finally end our journey at a local bodega hidden around the corner of a stone wall covered in maidenhair ferns slowly dancing in the sunset.  I sat there and watched the little birds hop around, and try to process and soak in the realization that I am actually on an island in the Atlantic off the coast of West Sahara that looks like it’s out of Jurassic Park!  I love trips to places that only make me more curious about what there is to see in this world – and this one has thrown more logs into my wanderlust fire.

Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 1

I recently came across my hiking photos from a few months ago, and decided that I finally had to post them!  Traveling to La Palma was such an eye-opening experience that really touched the deepest parts of my soul.  On this trip, I decided to revive my love of writing, and brought this blog to life shortly after.

Even though I had never been to the Canary Islands, the moment I stepped foot on the island, I felt at home – that is the best way to sum it up.  And, if you will bear with me, I would be honored to share my travel diary with you…

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Monday – Travel Day:

We woke up really early to get on our train to Frankfurt to catch our plane.  After an almost 3 hour train ride, we spent another 6-ish hours on different planes “continent hopping”.  Germany -> Spain, Spain -> Teneriffa, and Teneriffa -> La Palma.  We flew with Iberia, and while the stewards and stewardesses were very nice and helpful, they seemed to be a bit disorganized.  When we booked our flights, we were able to book a vegan meal that we could supposedly purchase on the plane.  Unfortunately, the only vegan items next to 7€ (!!!) ham sandwiches and 2,50€ bottles of water were small packs of olives, potatoes chips, and almonds – not much in the line of a meal for a long day of travel – and we were quickly out of 15€…and starving when we finally landed.  Our connections were very short.  In Madrid we literally walked off one plane and onto the next, and promptly took off.  Two thumbs up for not having to wait around, but it seemed that our luggage was not as quick as we were.  The flight to Teneriffa was uneventful, and the flight to La Palma with Bintner was short and sweet.  We arrived and were quickly on our way out…no customs, no immigration, just a helpful person at one of the luggage desks that helped up “find” our luggage.  It was great to know that no one knew were our luggage was, but apparently this happens on a regular basis and no one seems surprised or stressed out about it.  I would have given (almost) anything for a shower and a toothbrush, but it would have to wait.

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We met up with our friends, and took a roller coaster ride through the island.  If you get carsick easily, I suggest avoiding this island.  We drove through lush green winding roads and passes.  Just out the window of the car, when I reached my hand out, I could grab a banana growing on one of the many trees on the local “platano” farms that are literally right on the side of the road!  And, as we drove further, it was avocados heavily hanging on trees…then mangoes…green oranges basking in the sun taking their time to turn orange…chestnuts…loquats…papayas…my goodness…it’s paradise!climate-zone-change-from-east-to-west-la-palma--canary-islands_30282123944_o

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Then, we made a few million more winding turns and drove through a long tunnel – apparently one of the longest stretches of straight road on the whole island!  We broke through the other side and *snap fingers* we were transported to another world.  Goodbye lush green fruit trees and pleasant humid air…welcome to the hot dry dessert forest full of pine trees and cacti of all shapes and sizes!  Just like that…black & white, day & night, ying & yang – tropical forest next to coniferous dessert.  Amazing!

We headed to the largest town in the vicinity of the apartment we rented – Puerto de Tazacorte – and sat down for a nice meal at the Taberna del Puerto.  It was absolutely delicious!  I let the waiter know (in my rusty Spanish) that I am allergic to quite a lot of foods, and this didn’t seem to faze him or his kitchen crew a bit.  They even offered to wash the cutting boards and utensils before preparing my meal to insure that there was no cross contamination – now that is service!  I had a delicious salad with vegetables and pungently sweet tropical fruits drizzled in an herbal salad dressing laced with guava.

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We then drove off to our apartment (La Primavera Holiday Resort), unpacked the few things from our carry-ons (which luckily included a change of clothes & pjs), and we were so exhausted that we were quickly out!  The apartment was a great tip from our friend who has lived on the island for 8 years now.  We had a comfortable bed, warm running water, and adequate kitchen with all the appliances we needed, comfortable neighbors, privacy, and a calming view of the Atlantic.

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Tuesday – Day 1:


“Unfortunately”, we were woken up (at 6am) to find out that our beautiful apartment, with a full view of the Atlantic, was right smack dab next to one of those amazing platano and avocado farms, and their rooster decided that it was time.  I’m not sure what he thought it was time for, but he had to let everybody know.  It was still pitch black outside.  He kept at it until all the neighboring roosters joined in, and soon it was 7:35am and still pitch black outside.

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We gave in and made breakfast from the spelt oats we brought with us from home with some almond milk and local organic platanos that our friends organized for us before we arrived, as well as coffee we brought from home.  We never travel without our own coffee.  I know it sounds snobby, but that’s what happens when you work in a café for a years…I try to avoid cheaply roasted coffee like the plague.

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We eased through breakfast, enjoyed watching the sun slowly rise over the nearest mountain to the east, and amused ourselves by making fun of our rooster-neighbor.  We hung around the apartment most of the day waiting for that call telling us when and if our luggage would arrive.  We waited and waited…and then we waited some more.  The sun was pounding down so steadily and so beautifully, and the lapping of the pool meters away had me silently cursing Iberia that my swimsuit was somewhere in Spain…that and my beloved toothbrush.

Our friends showed up shortly after noon and let us know that our luggage had been found and that it would arrive in the evening.  Yes!

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We felt hunger sneaking up on us again, and drove off to a local organic grocery store – what a selection!! Organic bananas (platanos) that tasted 500% better than any banana I’ve ever eaten (like they had crossed a banana with a tangy super sweet guava) for only 1,60€/kg!  Among the lovely selection of local produce was a diverse selection of different plant-based milks, dried whole grains, puffed cereals, dried fruits with no added sugars (dried by the store owners to reduce the waste of over ripen produce), nuts, nut butters, tofus, soy-yogurts, seeds, noodles, rices, flours, and beauty products galore.  Even the well known German organic brands for laundry detergents and toothpastes had their place on the selves among local Canary and Spanish products.  Some things are more expensive than their German counterparts, but most products here were an organic bargain.

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We bought what we needed and rolled on down to the local hyper-Dino – a huge grocery store chain which also has a decent selection of organic products and plant based milks.  But, in all reality, we vegans come pretty far in any old grocery store, and here, the selection is grand – beans of all kinds and in jars that can be resealed, couscous, rice, and fruits and vegetables for ridiculously low prices.  Mangoes and potatoes cost about the same per kilo…and the price of papayas left me practically in tears from shear happiness!  We bought a papaya for 1,40€ that we would have paid anywhere from 8€-16€ for in Germany, and it wouldn’t have even tasted half as sweet.  We left feeling happy and headed back home to cook.  Shortly after 6:30pm our suitcases finally arrived.

First order of business: brush teeth.  Second: shower.  Third: *sign* feel like a human again.

The night sky was beautiful – for the first time I could really see the milky way and huge clusters of stars.  We prepared and packed everything we needed for our hike on Wednesday: food, lots of water, and gear.  We set our alarm, and hit bed like being pulled in by a big earth magnet.