Ray comes calling for a good dinner

The roads that snakes down to the sea from the escarpment 3,000ft above the Valle Gran Rey in La Gomera, Canary Islands, is already dramatic, with curves, hairpin bends and breathtaking drops all the way.

Ray comes calling for a good dinner

Nowadays, the surface is as good as any road in Ireland — better than any in West Cork — and barriers strong enough to precludes the possibility of a truck ‘going over the edge’.

However, as I drove across the island from the ferry the other day, I noticed that on one particular ‘curva’ one might worry more about something falling upon one from above than missing the corner and falling from above oneself.

Above this curve, a small herd of goat grazes on an almost sheer cliff.

Now, to have a falling rock hop off the roof of one’s car would be traumatic but to have a kid splat on the bonnet would not be nice. However, the kids, like their parents, are sensible, so it never happens. And, as for rocks, the more unstable slopes are nowadays held in place by heavy, steel nets, and where a rocks does, occasionally, fall as a result of rain, it always falls on the verge, and never on the road itself.

So, cars getting dented by rocks is rare. When we first came here, in the early 1980s, it did happen sometimes, and once, every few years, an incautious driver plunged over the edge of the then barrier-less, dusty, unsurfaced pista road. The other evening, we stood on the lip of mountain that plunged almost vertically to a scattering of farmhouses 3,000ft below us.

We watched the setting sun light up the peaks of La Palma, dark above the clouds, 30 miles to the north-west and the dark, rounded plateau of El Hierro 20 miles to the south. The air smelled of pine and, for the first minutes, not a sound broke the silence. Then, distantly, we heard the chiming of goat bells and soon the herd appeared passing between the pines clinging to the slope, goats in variegated colours, piebald, pinto and skewbald, pucks with corkscrew horns, slim mothers with kids, each and every one of them clean and dainty with vivid plastic identification earrings in both ears and caparisoned with leather collars four inches wide, embossed with rivets and supporting square-shaped bells.

As they climbed the sheer rock face and passed beneath us there on the mountains, we found ourselves in the midst of a carillion of bells — we might have been in a great city, in Wenceslas Square in Prague at Christmas, so many were the chimes and so mellifluous.

They trooped past, below us, on a path that only a goat would venture. Ten minutes later, a goatherd, with a small dog and a woollen balaclava hat followed (it was 14C but the mountain Gomeros think 14C cold, and even the coastal Gomeros would not dream of entering the sea before June or after September).

He told us that the goats passed every evening as the light fell, returning to their corral where he milked them.

These days, it was at about 5.45pm. The bellwether, an old she-goat, led them; she knew when to begin the ascent from the slopes where they foraged.

Soon, it would be the shortest day. At the port beach, where the high-prowed one-man fishing boats moor, and where the big, deep-water oceanic fish are landed (perhaps the catch of the day is just one fish by one man in one boat, but it is likely to weigh 20kg or 30kg, a grouper, or pargo, or boca azul) we watched a local man feed the manta rays that, as long as I can remember (since 1981) come into the shallow water that edges the black-sand beach.

He fed them freshly-caught sardines and they all but climbed up the concrete steps to follow him, giant manta rays (manta means blanket) some three metres across.

One at a time, they came and went, surfing out of the water and slipping onto the first step and over his bare toes, and he pushed his hand under their great heads with gleaming eyes, protected by spiky horns, to reach their mouths with a sardine.

Visitors watched. It was not a commercial show. Gomera isn’t like that. He’d feed them anyway.

It’s not an Aquapark with captive dolphins. He doesn’t change a fee to watch

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