Degollada de Becerra - Cueva Grande
GENERAL DESCRIPTION. This area is exposed to the trade winds, so the level of humidity is almost constantly high. Since this trail runs down from the high mountain region to the middle mountain region, walkers will perceive vertically stepped variations in both the vegetation and the climatic conditions they'll encounter.
In general, especially in winter, rainfalls are abundant, and there are occasional snowfalls as well, usually accompanied by moderate winds. During the rest of the year, except for the summer months, the weather is generally cool, with temperatures dropping at night time.
The vegetation encountered throughout this itinerary also varies, as it adapts to the different climatic conditions. In areas of greater altitude there is a prevalence of pine forests, in this case mostly the product of reforestation programmes, as for instance the pine forest at Llanos de Ana López, which is currently equipped with recreational facilities. The reforestation programmes were undertaken during the 1950s and 60s -barely 40 years ago this was an area where flocks were still brought to graze. The pine forest's shrub layer is made up of brooms, flatpods and other species typical of the undergrowth associated with this ecosystem, which also includes species of the genus Hypericum and ferns, excellent bioindicators of the conditions of humidity to be found in this area.
As we come down and approach the area around Cueva Grande, the vegetation changes. Pine forests almost disappear, giving way to mostly shrubs and subshrubs, such as flatpods, brooms, buglosses and some false brooms.
The middle stretch of this itinerary runs through an environment acutely modified by human activity. We'll find pastures for fresh grazing, old drystone walls and abandoned farming terraces. In Cueva Grande it is still possible to see flocks of sheep which, as pastures are grazed, are taken on seasonal migrations elsewhere to go on grazing.
Although to a lesser extent than in the past, there is still some farming activity in Cueva Grande. Farming has become a complement to family income, and livestock farming, at present a rather residual activity, does however still produce exquisite goat and sheep milk cheese. The population of Cueva Grande has so far remained more or less stable.
Degollada de Becerra - Cueva Grande
We start at the scenic viewpoint located at Degollada Becerra. We walk up a dirt track towards the south and soon get to a flat stretch where the trail runs among pine trees. We carry on past a house that lies to our left, near which we'll see the cobbled path that runs from this high mountain area down to La Culata. We carry on until we get to a tarmacked road. We walk down this road for a further 700 metres, until we find another dirt track to our left, easily identifiable because there is a water trough where it begins.
We follow this track towards the NE, ignoring all the turnings left and right as well as the entrances to private farms, some of which are fenced. About five minutes later we'll walk past a water deposit that lies to the right of the path. Along this stretch we are surrounded by brooms, flatpods, chestnut and apple trees.
The track takes us to a pigsty, where we turn left. We walk past a eucalyptus tree and two poplars. We walk towards a water deposit covered by a gable roof, opposite which we find two columns with a chain across them. This is where the next path that we have to follow starts; it runs along a small narrow ravine flanked to the right of the road by a stone wall and a fence.
As we get to a wider track we'll see a pine forest to our right, with an undergrowth of ferns and common asphodels, which indicate we are looking at the shady mountainside; on the other hand, if we look towards the left, we'll see the sunny mountainside, with brooms and flatpods. We'll come across another water trough, where we'll take a narrower path that runs parallel to the ravine bed. There is a fence here as well, which we must always keep to our left.
The path gradually moves away from the bed of the ravine-known as Barranco del Sao-, which has grown deeper as we have advanced along it. We'll arrive at the crest of a small col from which we can see the hamlet of Cueva Grande to our right.
From here on the path runs downhill, flanked at stretches by a small drystone wall. In the distance we can see San Mateo. Having left the pine forest behind, we will only encounter isolated pine trees along this stretch. We carry on downhill until we get to a farm entrance, where we first turn left and then right along a concrete path. We follow this concrete path, past the entrance to the dam of La Siberia, as far as a tarmacked road which will take us to Cueva Grande.
Canary Island Flatpod (Adenocarpus foliolosus)
It is endemic to the Canary Islands. It is a shrub that may reach up to four metres in height, and is frequently found in the pine forests of the western islands, including Gran Canaria, especially in the most humid northerly areas. It is a particularly resistant invasive species. Its flowers are yellow, with a glandless calyx, its banner petal is sericeous and it has glanded leaves and pods. Its flowering period goes from the end of winter to midsummer.
This species is a good bioindicator of the greater or lesser abundance of cattle. It has traditionally been used as forage and cattle bedding by the island's livestock farmers, and it produces excellent manure.
The production of handmade cheese
The Canary Islands is the region with the largest production of handmade cheeses in Spain, as well as the region with the highest rate of cheese consumption. Cheese has been, and still is, an essential ingredient in the islanders' diet. Many of the islands' typical dishes are often eaten accompanied by cheese, of which there are many varieties: cured, fresh, smoked, flowered, rubbed with oil and gofio or paprika, etc.
The production of cheese started with the Spanish conquest, for there is no evidence of cheesemaking among ancient Canarians. Almost every family had two or three goats to support them -even the youngest learnt to milk them- and it was the women who were in charge of making cheese.
The Association of Artisan Cheesemakers regards cheese as handmade when it has been crafted by an artisan cheesemaker with -preferably raw- milk from his or her own livestock or from other farmers' livestock in the same -or a neighbouring- municipality.
Canarian artisan cheeses are currently regarded as an important part of the islands' cultural heritage. This artisan tradition has always been important in Vega de San Mateo, in Tejeda and in Valsequillo, areas where cheese production displays distinct characteristics, with a quality that explains their widespread consumption and the numerous awards won at local, regional and even national cheese tasting competitions.