Ramón Mayor is one of the last of his guild. At first you can hardly see him coming, in the backlight of the already low sun. But the bleating and bleating of his flock already announced him before the silhouette of the man gains stature. The battered hat that casts a shadow over his face, the green and white checked shirt, the rough blanket thrown over his shoulder. “Buena tarde”, greets the 58-year-old and, as usual in the Canary Islands, leaves out the “s” at the end of the words. He drives his sheep and goats away from the road down a small slope, where they are supposed to fortify themselves for the night with grasses, thistles and a little sage.
When the coffee blooms again
“It has rained too little, there isn’t much food.” Mayor weighs his head. Soon, he says, they would be moving on. He’s been doing it for as long as he can remember. Like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him. Year in, year out, he guides his animals across Gran Canaria in search of pastures. They are still 18 shepherds here in the mountainous north of the island, who, as semi-nomads, uphold this more than two thousand year old tradition of “trashumancia”, the migrant pasture farming. “Sometimes it’s tough.” But if they find good food and the animals give them enough milk, Mayor’s wife Margarita turns it into the flower cheese Queso de Flor de Guía, which is typical of Gran Canaria. And that despite some hardships he has one of the most beautiful jobs in the world, Mayor is convinced.
The island that many Germans love, especially in the winter months, is particularly known for its dunes and extensive sandy beaches in the south. Maspalomas and Playa del Inglés are the strongholds of tourism, and since the federal government removed all the Canary Islands from the list of corona risk areas punctually at the beginning of the local season in October, they have been hoping for the return of the guests here. What is less well known, however, is that Gran Canaria is also attractive for hikers and walkers who want to be on the less well-trodden paths. Those who are followed by the Shepherd Ramón Mayor and his flock. Thereby surprising discoveries can be made.
In the Agaete valley, Victor Lugo starts the day with a cup of coffee from his own production. “You’re amazed, aren’t you?” He says with a laugh. Because his family has been doing this at Finca La Laja for five generations. It has the most northerly coffee plantation in the world and the only one in Europe. Now in November and December the coffee trees bloom as white as jasmine. Their sweet, floral scent is also similar. Lugo serves a freshly brewed espresso with beans from the past harvest. Black, without sugar. Nothing should tarnish the taste of the coffee. There are only around 4,000 kilograms of it each year, and Lugo watches over it so jealously that he doesn’t export a gram.
The fact that the Arábica Típica coffee plants, which were once imported from Cuba, thrive so well on Gran Canaria has to do with the location of the valley. It’s warm and humid. All around, bizarre rock formations from volcanic eruptions tower up like mighty giants. The trade wind clouds coming from the northeast hit their slopes, are forced to rise and slowly give off their water in the form of fog.
If you hike high enough in the north of the island, you will come across this deep cloud cover and suddenly feel like in the fairy tale of Hans and the Beanstalk. The silence is almost complete. Maspalomas, Playa del Inglés, the sea and the capital Las Palmas are hidden under the carpet. Above it opens up what the writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno described as a “petrified storm”: mountains shaped like hail, lightning and thunder, gorges as mighty as the canyons in the United States. The Roque Nublo, one of the island’s landmarks, rises like a cathedral and was probably sacred to the natives. Just like the nearby Roque Bentayga. In the distance it appears as if a peak is floating above the clouds. It is the Teide volcano on the neighboring island of Tenerife.