With six long-distance trails in the United States under my belt, it’s long past time for my first long-distance trail outside of North America. Soon, I’ll make my way to the Canary Islands to hike the 560 km (350 mile) GR131 trail.
The Canary Islands
The Canary Islands are a volcanic archipelago, with seven main islands and a few tiny ones, located about 70 miles off the western coast of northern Africa, at roughly the same latitude as Florida.
A Spanish territory since the 1400s, the islands were used as a stopping point for travel to the Americas. Now, they are a popular European tourist destination, thanks to their proximity to Europe and subtropical climate.
The trail begins on the island of Lanzarote, the easternmost of the Canary Islands, and heads westward, traversing the islands of Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Gomera, and La Palma, and ending on El Hierro, once thought to be the westernmost edge of the world.
Why the Canaries?
I’d expected my first long trail outside of the U.S. to be New Zealand’s Te Araroa, but that was before a global pandemic that has closed many borders (and also delayed my planned Continental Divide Trail thru-hike by two years. Instead, the GR131 unexpectedly presented itself as a solution to a number of different problems.
My partner, CareFree, is a lecturer for a university in New Zealand, and as a result of the pandemic, she so far has been unable to actually enter the country. And when she is able to get there, it is uncertain if or when she would be able to leave, or I would be able to visit, especially considering the CDT still on my agenda for later this year.
But, as she is in Germany now, and it is also conveniently summer break for New Zealand schools, the opportunity presented itself for us to hike somewhere in Europe. What better place for a (northern hemisphere) winter than somewhere “south”, with a great climate? And, though it will still be two months between the end of this hike and the start of my CDT hike, it will give me the opportunity to stretch my legs a bit beforehand on a trail unlike any I’ve been on so far.
Being a volcanic archipelago, the Canary Islands will present very different scenery to what I’ve previously hiked, as well as the new logistical challenges of hopping between islands. It will be my most unique hike to date!
I’ve now already made my way to Germany (and mostly adjusted to six hours of time zone difference), and very soon, CareFree and I will be heading off on our next adventure.