A small rock in the Atlantic

All about the island of La Palma, in the Canaries.

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Friday, 21 March 2008

Holy Week Processions

It's Holy Week, and in this Catholic country, a lot of people take it very seriously. The bigger churches hold processions, which look very exotic to my English eyes.

It's not so that they take the obviously-heavy statues along the street. It's the costumes. They remind me of the KLu Klux Klan. This is unfair, because the costumes concerned are far older than the KKK. They ensure anonimity, but it's not to avoid prosecution; it's to stop onlookers admiring your piety.

The Tourist Office produce a leaflet which lists the processions and their routes. These photos are of the Good Friday Calgary procession from the church of San Francisco. The men in red and white are from the Brotherhood of the Crucified and the True Cross (Cofradia del Crucificado y la Vera Cruz). Each Cofradia is dovoted to a particular statue.

This is the stature of Our Lady of Loneliness (1733, Domingo Carmona).

These statures are The Crucified (1968, Ezequiel de Leon Dominguez), The Holy Mary Magdelene (XIX century, Fernando Estevez del Sacramento) and St John the Evangelist (1863 Aureilo Carmona Lopez).

I can easily understand suffering yourself in order to reduce someone else's suffering. Personally I don't see the point of this.

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Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Caldera Campsite

If you're very fit, you can see the Caldera national park on a one-day hike. But it's 27 km of rough going, (from the Los Brecitos viewpoint, via the campsite, to the Barranco de las Angustias) and I wouldn't dare try it myself these days.

The alternative is to spend a night or two at the campsite in the centre of the park, right by the river. This makes it much easier to get into the top end of the park. (Two nights is the maximum stay.) You need a permit in advance, which you get from the Visitor Centre in El Paso (Crta Gral. Padron, 47). They open from 9:00- 14:00 and from16:00- 18:30. You'll need to collect the permit in person, and they'll want to see either a passport or an ID card. Phone 922 497 277

The camp site provides water and picnic tables. There are toilets, but you have to bring your own toilet paper (these little things are important!).

All that water means beautiful, lush greenery, but it also means that mosquitoes can breed almost year-round. Be sure to remember insect repellent.

Pack carefully; it's about 30km to the nearest shop. You have to carry everything in yourself, and you have to take your rubbish away yourself. It's about 7 km from Los Brecitos to the campsite (almost all downhill), and 20km from where the road crosses the river bed in Barranco de las Angustias to the campsite, mostly uphill, and rough in places. In fact one stretch is called "el reventón" which roughly translates as "the killer".

On the other hand, in the middle of summer you don't need a tent. Isn't that nice?

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Sunday, 16 March 2008

The Caldera

Most people say La Palma is the most beautiful of the Canary Islands. And practically everybody agrees that the most beautiful part of La Palma is the Caldera de Taburiente.

In 1825, the German geologist Leopold von Buch studied the Caldera de Taburiente and concluded that the crater was formed by the emptying of a magma chamber below. He was sufficiently impressed with it that he gave the name "caldera" to all such formations. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caldera). Mauna Loa, on Hawaii, has a caldera. Olympus Mons, on Mars, has a caldera.

And the Caldera de Taburiente isn't a caldera! Von Buch got it wrong. It looks like a caldera, but it was actually formed by erosion.

However I formed, the Caldera is impressive. It's 5 miles (8 km) across, and most of the rim walls are almost 6,000 ft (1,800 m) above the floor. I've heard several people say that it looks bigger than the Grand Canyon, because your brain can just about cope with the size of the Caldera, and it just gives up with the Grand Canyon.

The geology is spectacular, but the most special thing about the Caldera is the water. The Taburiente is the only year-round river in the Canary Islands. True, a lot of water is taken out for irrigation, so that in summer the "estuary" is reduced to an underground trickle. But, except in the driest summers, you can hike all day without a water bottle, just drinking from the streams as you cross them. (But take an empty water bottle unless you're pretty flexible. It's a lot easier to fill the bottle and then drink, than to get both hands down to the water.) That means lush vegetation in the lower parts, even willow trees.

Most of the Caldera (18.3 square miles, or 46.9 km2) became a National Park in 1954.

More photos to follow soon.

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