A small rock in the Atlantic

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

Click for La Palma, Canary Islands Forecast

Thursday, 8 May 2008


If a beach is all you're after, then frankly you're better off in Tenerife. But if a beach is part of the mix, then we have two main beach resorts, Cancajos and Puerto Naos.

Our sand is like the Model T Ford - "Any colour you like, as long as it's black". When the sea mashes up black, volcanic rock, that's what you get. However, black sand warms up in the sun faster than yellow sand, which is decidedly nice for winter holidays.

Cancajos is on the east of the island, which is comparatively cool, cloudy and wet. (But I do mean "comparatively". It's still a much nicer climate than, say, Manchester.) That also makes the surrounding countryside much greener.

The beach

If you like to swim a long way off shore, the east side of the island is safer, because the ocean currents push you back towards the shore, rather than out to sea. If you're a less confident swimmer and like to stay closer in, the two artificial islands break up the Atlantic rollers. This makes it a great beach for kids.

And for small children, there's a large natural rock pool, perhaps fifteen feet across, with almost no waves at all. The depth depends on the tides, but the bottom is sand and slopes gently.

Lots of shops, cafés, and restaurants, some of them very close to the beach. Tourist Information office. A climbing frame shaped like a ship on the beach. A few free fresh-water showers, plus changing rooms available for a small fee.

Local Colour
There's a very pleasant walk along the top of small cliffs, to the south of the main beach, smooth and flat enough for a push-chair.

Transfer to and from the airport is only about ten minutes. You will hear the planes. They're not very loud, but it could bother light sleepers.

Buses to the airport and Santa Cruz every half hour. Several hire car firms have offices in the shopping centre. 4 km walk to Santa Cruz (the island's capital).

Where to stay:

Hotel Taburiente Playa (4 star)
Hotel Hacienda San Jorge (3 keys)
Aparthotel Las Olas (3 star)
Aparthotel Costa Salinas (3 keys)
La Caleta Apartments (3 keys)
Centro Cancajos Apartments (3 keys)
EL CERRITO Apartments (3 keys)
Largo Azul Apartments (2 keys)
La Cascada Apartments (2 keys)
Oasis San Antonio Apartments (2 keys)
Los Cancajos Apartments (2 keys)
Los Rosales Apartments (1 key)

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Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Cochineal and Prickerly Pears

In the 1850s the export market for Palmeran wine collapsed, and somebody had the bright idea of going into cochineal production. Before the advent of synthetic dyes, this was far and away the best red dye available, particularly for wool. For one thing, it doesn't fade.

Cochineal is made from a parasitic insect (Dactylopius coccus), which lives on prickly pears (tuneras), so the plants and insects were imported from Mexico. In this climate, prickly pears grow without needing any special attention. In fact they have a tendency to take over your garden if you don't fight back. The insects thrive on neglect, too.

Peasants collected the pale gray females, which were then dried and ground up to produce the dye. Although collecting the insects was labour intensive, soon it was the mainstay of the island's economy.

And then some rotten so-and-so invented synthetic alizarine dye, which was much cheaper. The bottom fell out of the cochineal market.

There's still a small market for cochineal, because it's safe to use in food and cosmetics. And of course you can eat the prickly pears. They're harvested using giant wooden tongs, and eaten with a knife and fork, to avoid the spines.

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Sunday, 4 May 2008

Mother's Day

Today is mother's day in Spain.

And to the best of my knowledge, the first place in Spain to have an official Mother's Day was Breña Baja. The local poet, Félix Duarte Pérez , left home for Venezuela at some horrendously young age (fifteen, I think). Not surprisingly, he missed his mother a good deal, and they sent each other lots of letters. When he finally came home at the age of 35, he persuaded the town hall to adopt the "American" idea of Mother's Day.

They decided to celebrate it on the first Sunday in May. And in Breña Baja, people traditionally wear flowers. If your mother's still alive, you wear a red one, and if she's died, you wear a white on.

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Fiesta de la Cruz (again)

Bride, groom, and bridesmaid

I was a little slow getting out to see the crosses this year, but I was glad I made the effort. The traditional crosses were much the same as last year (see http://sheilacrosby.com/fiestas/cruz.php ). But one street in Santa Cruz absolutely delighted me.

Wedding breakfast

For the last few years, it's been fairly common to have a few mayos or machangos beside the cross. These are giant rag dolls, something like scarecrows or the guys I used to make for bonfire night.

More wedding guests

Well this street in Santa Cruz was full of them. The display just went on and on. I tried to count them, but I got lost somewhere after 200.

More wedding guests

At the bottom end they, had a 1960s wedding, with bride, groom, and lots of guests.

The bride's mother perhaps?

More wedding guests

Further on, they had people picnicking at the Las Nieves Fiesta.

The picnic

I think he's hungry, don't you?

Including one man who had clearly overdone it.

And he was thirsty earlier on

Higher up there was a protest march.

The protest march.

With people watching it.

Watching the march, with the nibbles to hand

Higher up still, I found people fishing in the street.

Hope they got a good catch.

And at the very top, they had an entire Easter parade. (see Holy Week Processions)

Holy Week

No wonder they won first prize!

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