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Carnival is starting.
Friday night in Santa Cruz includes a wigs fiesta, a parade, and public dances at the Alemeda and Carnival stage.
In 1553 French pirates attacked Santa Cruz de La Palma, so they built
a small fort to defend the town from future attacks. This was just a
platform with a tower, and it was destroyed by flooding during a
storm in 1671. In 1676 work started on the current fort, and it was finished
It’s nothing like the tower of London, but then it didn’t need to be.
I wouldn’t want to try to force my way through the outer rampart with
18th century weapons, and access to the front door is via a wooden
bridge over a moat. If the people inside smashed the bridge, you’d be
trying to reach a doorway on the first floor. Inside, there’s a
dungeon, storehouse, a house for the man in charge and barracks for
St. Catherine’s fort helped to repel Sir Francis Drake’s attack in 1585.
The modern statue on the seaward side is by Martin Chirino and
represents the trade winds.
The north-west of the island is home to great many almond trees, and at this time of the year, they’re all blossoming.
The trees in El Paso and Garafía are beautiful, but the best display of all is at Puntagorda. In fact Puntagorda hosts an annual almond blossom fiesta. The date varies — the Town Hall sets it a couple of weeks in advance, to (hopefully) coincide with the best blossom. This year it’s planned for February 1st-3rd. I’ll be giving more details nearer the date.
San Jose has a temporary exhibition of 12 steel sculptures in the Plaza de Las Madres by the artist Pereda de Castro. The sculptor says he gets his inspiration in “mythology and the sea”. They’re next to the new kiosk, so you can get some refreshment while you admire the art.
I don’t know how long they’ll be staying there, so if you’re planning to go, I suggest you do it sooner rather than later since they’ve already been to Madrid, Santander and Valladolid and are clearly in demand. (On the other hand, they’re quite big and obviously heavy, and not something you’d move every five minutes.)
Well actually, it’s the salt of the sea. Almost all salt on La Palma is sea salt, made at the southernmost tip of the island. You can visit the salt pans by taking a number 203 bus from the centre of Los Canarios to the lighthouse (Faro in Spanish). There’s a bus every two hours for most of the day.
It’s a simple process. The salt water is pumped into shallow ponds and left to dry in the sun. As the water evaporates, the salt starts to crystallise out on the bottom, and the workers scrape it into piles to drain and dry in the sun.
When it’s mostly dry, it’s brought into the shed for a final dry with warm air. From close to, you can here the machinery groaning away as though it’s got indigestion.
Finally, it’s put into packets. You can buy coarse salt (sal gorda or gruesa) for cooking or fine salt (sal fina) for the table. Being sea-salt it has more potassium, magnesium, calcium and iodine, and less sodium.
While you’re there, it’s worth looking at the Interpretation Centre for the marine reserve, which is in the older lighthouse. They have an audio-visual presentation available in several languages, including English. And it’s the only such place I’ve seen with a memorable floor.
Friday is the fiesta of San Antonio Abad (St. Anthony the Abbot) in Fuencaliente, and at midday the priest holds a special, traditional service to bless the animals in the church square. I was curious, so a few years ago, I went.
I didn’t know whether to expect pets or farm animals, but there were both. At twelve promptly, the priest came out, gave a short sermon on looking after your animals, said a prayer, and then sprinkled the animals with holy water.
When the cat got wet, he said something you don’t expect to hear in church, but everyone else seemed happy.
Members of the congregation
These days, Santa Cruz de la Palma is a bit of a backwater. But three hundred years ago, it was the third biggest port in the Spanish Empire. Almost every ship traveling from Spain to the Americas stopped here. In the 19th century, it was still a major port, and many of the inhabitants waited anxiously for a ship bringing their merchandise, letters from family members who’d emigrated to Cuba or Venezuela, or the loved ones themselves, as passengers or crew.
Consequently many of the older houses have viewpoints on the roof, like a little crow’s nest. They’re all designed to give a view of the port, although in some cases the view is now blocked by a tall, new building, like these houses in the Calle Real. They’re a nice reminder of the past, and I have fun trying to spot them, even though I can’t believe that they get much use in the internet age
Although Father Christmas does visit Spanish children, he’s a new arrival. Traditionally the presents arrive on the morning of January 6th, when the three kings visit baby Jesus. (The sales don’t normally start this early, because Christmas isn’t over here.) And on the evening of the 5th, their majesties ride in procession through most of the major towns and villages in Spain. In previous years we’ve usually gone to see the procession in Santa Cruz. They start at the south end of town and meet up at the Plaza España, where they find they’re all following the same star and agree to travel together. When they get to the Alemeda, they find King Herod’s court. Of course, he wants to know what they’re doing in his country, and then makes them promise to tell him where the child is. They travel up the baranco from the concrete ship, and find Mary, Joseph and Jesus in a cave, and leave their presents. Then finally, an angel tells them not to even think about telling Herod where to find Jesus.
At that point they light the bonfires in the (hopefully dry) river bed and set off the fireworks.
There are lots of processions on La Palma (Santa Cruz de la Palma, Villa de Mazo, Puntagorda,Tazacorte, Los Llanos de Aridane, Los Cancajos, and San Andrés y Sauces) and the one in Santo Domingo de Garafía, which is supposed to be particularly good. Traditionally it starts at 10pm, and there’s a long drive back for me, which is why I’ve never seen it.
The shops will stay open at least until midnight for people who’ve left buying presents until the last minute. the 6th is always a public holiday, but since it falls on a Sunday this year, most places will be shut on Monday too.
Bad children traditionally get coal. Well, the Spanish use the same word for coal, charcoal and carbon – carbón. There’s a kind of sweet coal you can buy as a joke. But actually I hope I get my carbon very, very compressed , as diamonds.
I can dream, can’t I?