A small rock in the Atlantic

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

Click for La Palma, Canary Islands Forecast

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Star Finders

Galaxy M100 taken with the Isaac Newton Telescope and Wide Field Camera by Simon Driver.
M100 (NGC 4321), a barred galaxy in the Virgo cluster

There's a really simple reason why the Royal Greenwich Observatory moved their telescopes here. It's one of the three best places in the world for astronomy.

A modern telescope could see the equivalent of a candle on the moon, so obviously they want to be well away from city lights. Even more obviously, they want to be somewhere that doesn't get many cloudy nights.

Much less obviously, they want to be somewhere the stars don't twinkle. This happens when the air's turbulent. It's pretty, but it really messes up your view.

There are three places in the world which are great on all three counts, and La Palma is one of them. (The other two are the peak of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the Atacama Desert in Chile.)

The problem is to keep it that way.

When the observatory moved here, they asked for, and got, an agreement to limit things like street lights. Los Llanos has a street with lamps which remind me of 1950's hairdryers - the sort that go all around your head.

Recently the island government committed to spending over a million euros to update the streetlights to reduce the light pollution even further.

The result of all this is that La Palma is a great place for amateur astronomers, too. Even in a resort, people notice how many more stars you see here, compared to almost any English town or city. Here's another picture, this time of M51, taken by my friends in Franceses with an 80mm amateur telescope on their first night's astronomy since they moved here. Of course there's a lot of skill involved too. But they used to live in Streatham, and no amount of skill would produce that kind of result there.

If you want to recognise the constellations, the best solution is something called a planisphere. This is two special circles of plastic fastened at the centre. Twirl them until the date on one lines up with the time on the other, and you get a picture of the night sky for the right time, date, and position on the planet. (In fact you want to set the time for an hour later than GMT because clocks on La Palma are set just one hour behind Madrid, which leaves us in the same time zone as
London, but a long way west.)

If you bring a UK planisphere with you, everything will be shifted and it won't show the southern stars at all.

Perhaps surprisingly, the best one for the Canaries is titled "Hawaii, Mexico, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan." This is because you have to buy one for the correct latitude (your distance north or south of the equator) but the longitude (east-west distance from London) doesn't matter, because you compensate for that when you set the time.

Amazon.co.uk sells normally sells them for £6.99 (at left), although the last time I looked they only had a used one, (and it was more expensive). If you want a UK planisphere, it's slightly cheaper (at right).

Amazon.com also sell them. The one for La Palma is $13.87 (below)
Philips Planisphere from Amazon.com

Happy stargazing!

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Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Balconies

These are the famous sea-front balconies in Santa Cruz de la Palma. Actually these are the backs of the houses: the fronts look onto the Calle Real.

When I first came to the island in 1990, the woodwork was all green and the plaster all white. For the town's 500th anniversay, in 1993, the whole lot disappeared behind acres of black plastic sheeting for weeks while they were repainted in the best possible guess at the original colours.

Then on 6th November 1993 they held an unveiling ceremony. The new paint job was quite a surprise.

Santa Cruz does a good job of that sort of thing. We had fireworks, music, people on stilts and the giants who normally only come out for Carnival

The owners of the houses were originally promised that the town hall would repaint the balconies in green and white, but most of them elected to keep the new colours for a while. These days they're a mixture between the two styles. Some people say it looks a mess, but I think it's exactly what you'd expect in real town in a free country, rather than a museum.

They have a narrow pavement in front of them, then there's a wall and another pavement perhaps two feet higher, and a main road. The explanation is simple. The houses and the lower pavement are about 350 years old. The higher pavement and road are much newer. I've seen old photographs where the beach comes right up to the old pavement.

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Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Tsunami Risk

You may remember the fuss in 2001 when two geologists, Steven Ward and Simon Day, announced their theory that the west side of the island of La Palma would collapse one day, creating a mega-tsunami that would cross the entire Atlantic and still be anything up to 25 metres high when it hit New York, and indeed everything from Newfoundland in Canada to Recife in Brazil.

These days, almost all geologists seem to disagree.

Certainly there is a fault line, and some movement has been detected, but the fault appears to be 4 km long, not 25 km. There is no evidence that it's 2 km deep, so any landslide would be superficial and might not happen all at once. There's a volcano, but it's comparatively small. And there's a lot of water inside the island, but if the volcano erupts and turns it to steam, it has lots and lots of escape routes through the porous lava. Therefore it won't push the rock into a landslide.

The tsunami that did such awful damage in December 2004 was caused by an earthquake along 1,000 km of sea bed. If a landslide does happen on La Palma, it couldn't possibly be longer than 25 km, so the tsunami will weaken as it spreads out. You'd hardly get a splash the other side of the Atlantic.

By the way, the research was paid for by an American insurance company. And it wasn't published in a peer-reviewed journal, which means that other scientists didn't get chance to give opinions before it was broadcast.

My opinion? It's a load of hype.

You can read more at: http://www.lapalma-tsunami.com/tsunami.html
and http://www.iberianature.com/material/megatsunami.html

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Friday, 30 October 2009

Dragon trees

Dragon tree at sunset

One of the most exotic looking plants on La Palma are the dragon trees.

The latin name is Dracaena draco Although they grow anything up to 12 metres tall, botanically, dragon trees aren't trees. They don't have annual rings, for one thing. Actually, they're classified in the same order (Asparagales) as garlic and asparagus, although they look nothing like each other. In fact, dragon trees look mostly like broccoli on steroids.

They grow throughout the Canary Islands, and also in Cape Verde, the Azores, Maderia, and western Morocco.

Because they don't have annual rings, it's hard to tell their age. The trunk branches every time they flower, which isn't every year. So you can tell how often a trees has flowered, and make an educated guess at its age that way. The tree in the photo has flowered just twice. The oldest ones seem to be about 650 years old.

The resin is reddish. In ancient Roman times, people used to dry it and sell it to alchemists as dragon blood. It must have fetched a packet.

The Canary Islands used to have a large, flightless bird, something like a Dodo. This bird ate dragon tree fruits, so the seeds evolved to have a hard protective covering to survive the bird's digestive tract. Now that the bird is extinct, this covering makes it had for the seed to germinate. The north of La Palma is one of the few places where the trees are reproducing naturally. In other places they put the seeds in an acid bath for a few hours (much like the inside of a bird) to remove the hard coating before planting the seed.

One of the best places to see them is at Buracas, below the village of Las Tricias in Garafía. That's where I took this photo. There's another lovely group at La Tosca, in Barlovento, which you can see from a viewpoint on the main road from Barlovento village to Gallegos. And there's the famous twin dragon trees in Breña Alta.

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Tuesday, 22 September 2009


Gofio made with chicken stock
Gofio made with chicken stock, and chicken stew.

Gofio is sort-of cooked flour (you toast the grains before you grind them) and it's been a staple of the Canarian diet since pre-hispanic times.

In principle, you can use just about any grain, although the commonest ones are wheat and maize. In times of famine, there's even a fern root you can use, although I believe it's very bitter, and not something you would chose to eat if there was anything else available. We like the whole-grain multi-cereal one best.

Gofio tastes better than it sounds -- OK, so that's not difficult -- and it's very versatile. You can mix it to a stiff dough with stock and serve it in place of mashed potatoes (like the top photo) or with warm milk instead of breakfast cereal (like the bottom photo). In fact most Canarian babies have gofio and milk just before bed, rather than baby-rice and milk. You can mix it with mashed bananas, a little sugar, and orange juice or milk for dessert, or put it round your pork scratchings to make chicharones,which are very nice to nibble with a beer. And if you're hiking past a spring, it also makes a light-weight lunch. Just add a tin of sardines and some finely chopped onion.

But don't confuse it with flour and try to bake a cake with it. Trust me, you'll get something closer to a cannonball than Victoria sponge.

Gofio and warm milk, for breakfast

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Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Los Sauces Bridge

The big bridge at Los Sauces

The new bridge over the barranco at Los Sauces is huge. It's 319 metres long and towers 150 metres above the valley floor. It opened in December 2004. To begin with, it was rather controversial because it crosses the same valley as the Los Tilos National Park. But you can't see the bridge from the park, and it's really rather elegant for something so big. It also knocks a full five minutes off the journey to Santa Cruz, which is important if you're in a hurry to get to the hospital.

If you're visiting the island, I recommend walking across it -- you get a much better view. Unless you suffer from vertigo!

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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Twin Dragon Trees

Twin dragon trees, Breña Alta, La Palma
Twin dragon trees (Dracaena draco), Breña Alta

These trees stand in Breña Alta, just off the minor road which winds over the central ridge to El Paso. They grow so close together that it's hard to tell where on trunk ends and the other begins.

Trunks of twin dragon trees, Breña Alta, La Palma

Of course there's a legend associated with the trees. Two brothers lived nearby, and were very close, but they fell in love with the same gorgeous girl.

Oh dear. You can already tell that this doesn't have a happy ending, can't you?

The girl was fond of them both, but she had the sense not to keep them dangling. She chose one, and they were married, but as they walked to their new home in the dark, the spurned brother attacked. He killed the new bridegroom, and tried to rape his sister-in-law. She got to the kitchen knife first, so that was the end of him.

The new widow honoured them both by planting these two dragon trees. As the cuttings grew, she watered them and they grew tall from the fertile soil and her warm memories. They say that the brothers' blood still flows within their trunks and gives them life.

Twin dragon trees, Breña Alta, La Palma
Dragon trees are odd plants (see Dragon trees). Like most mature dragon trees, these are so full of nooks and crannies that they're more a micro-climate than a plant.

To see the trees, take the LP 123 between San Pedro and Monte de la Breña, and then the LP 301 up the hill. The trees are on the left, about 400 m from the junction. There's a tiny car park.
Twin dragon trees, Breña Alta, La Palma

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Friday, 27 March 2009

The Living Statues are Back

Every year Santa Cruz has a demonstration of living statues, and this year is the fourth.

living statue in Santa Cruz de La Palma=

The statues are on the Calle Real today, Saturday and Sunday.
living statue in Santa Cruz de La Palma=
Everybody calls the main street in Santa Cruz de la Palma, "the Calle Real", but nowhere along it's length is there a street sign with that name! I used to suspect that the whole thing was invented to confuse visitors, but now I know better. It's called the Calle Real (Royal Road) because it's the one the Kings come along to visit baby Jesus each January 5th.
living statue in Santa Cruz de La Palma=
If you haven't seen them before, living statues stand perfectly still (or try to!) until you put money in the hat (or whatever), and then they perform.living statue in Santa Cruz de La Palma=
Last year there were different living statues each day, and you could vote for the best.living statue in Santa Cruz de La Palma=
I was at work today, so I didn't get to see them myself. All these photos are by Helen Bennett
living statue in Santa Cruz de La Palma=
Considering how rotten the light was today, I think she did a great job.
living statue in Santa Cruz de La Palma=
You can see pictures of last year's statues here and videos here
living statue in Santa Cruz de La Palma=

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Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Los Indianos

One minutes our of a whole night's partying.

As usual, the little kids are the cutest.

Sometimes the talc can get a bit much. I wonder why I never thought of this solution?
Man wearing a dust mask, at the carnival fiesta of los indianos, santa cruz de la Palma.

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Sunday, 22 February 2009

Canival programme during the week

Los Indianos, Santa Cruz de la Palma
Santa Cruz de La Palma
Monday, 23rd February
LOS INDIANOS - the main event for most people. At one time many Palmerans left the island in search of a better life in the Caribean. Los Indianos celebrates
those who came home again stinking rich. Basically, almost everyone wears white, usually "Gone with the Wind" style dresses for the women, and suits and Panama hats for the men. Some people carry cardboard suitcases, and everybody throws truly amazing quantities of talc at each other. If you dress up and join the parade, the town hall will provide talc. I believe last year they handed out five tones of the stuff and of course most people bought more. The talc is considerably cheaper at the supermarket then at the carnival stalls, and you probably want at least 500g per person. Lots of photos from two years ago here, and a description of last year's event here.

Give it a miss if you have bad asthma, or you're shaky on your feet - the ground gets very slippy. Otherwise make sure you see at least a bit of it. People come from South America for this!

10 am. Waiting. Dignitares wait outside the town hallto greet old friends, neighbours and family who wen to (south) American in search of fortune. Today they come to stir upthe town with Cuban rhythms.

11:00-12:30 am. Cuban music from Los Viejos in la plaza de la Alameda.

11:30 am - 1 00 pm. Tradicional Cuban Music from Pimienta and Ají in the plaza de España. During the performance, the dignitaries will recieve "la Negra Tomasa", a traditional character who represents the returning Palmerans.

And then there's something called "La Batatita, Las Chancleteras y el Manisero," performed by the students of the Municipal Theatre School.

12:30-2:00 pm. Cuban Music from Son Bohemio in la plaza de la Alameda.

13:00-14:30 pm. Tradicional Cuban from the group Mayeya in la plaza de España.

14:30 pm. I Festival Pimienta y Ají in la plaza de Santo Domingo with traditional Cuban music from various groups.

14:30-16:00 pm. Tradicional Cuban from the group Orillas del Son in la plaza de España.

16:00-17:00 pm. Yet more traditional Cuban music from Parranda del Gofio in the Plaza de España.

16:30 pm. Official reception for Los Indianos and the talc battle starts.

17:00 pm. The main procession of Los Indianos from Avenida de Los Indianos (the main road leading south out of town) to the plaza de la Alameda.

17:00-18:30 pm. Tradicional Cuban from the group Son Bohemio in the plaza de la Alameda.

17:30-19:00 pm. Tradicional Cuban from the groups ONG El Cardero Punto Com y Punto on the carnival stage.

18:30-20:00 pm. Tradicional Cuban from the group Cuarto Son in the plaza de la Alameda.

19:00-20:30 pm. Tradicional Cuban from the group Mayeya on the carnival stage.

20:00-21:30 pm. Tradicional Cuban from the group Changó in the plaza de la Alameda.

21:30-23:00 pm. Tradicional Cuban from the group Orillas del Son in the plaza de la Alameda.

23:00-00:30 pm. Tradicional Cuban from the group Changó in the plaza de la Alameda.

24:00 pm. Public dance with music performed by Salsaludando, Arena Caliente, Geniales and Rica Band on the carnival stage.

00:30-02:00 am. Tradicional Cuban from the group Cuarto Son in the plaza de la Alameda.

Los Indianos, Santa Cruz de la Palma

Martes, 24 de febrero

17:00 pm. Dance in fancy dress at the Day Centre for Pensioners

19:00 pm. Carnival Festival, with a performances by the La Longuera, Dance School, Ventacayce Cultural Centre, La Palma Dance School, La Encarnación childen's group, Chango Batuka Workshop Calcinas Dance Group and Devorah Velásquez León, at the carnival stage.

Viernes, 27 de febrero

21:00 pm. THE SARDINE'S FUNERAL This is the other crazy night, although the funeral in Santa Cruz seems to be less popular each year, whereas the one in Los Sauces gets more popular (that one's on March 9th this year). Yes, it's a funeral procession for a huge papiere mache sardine, complete with fake priests and moUrners howling with fake grief. It's like being inside a Monty Python sketch. (There's a longer description with photos here)

The funeral procession for Lady Sardine leaves the Plaza de la Alameda at 9p,and heads for the carnival stage. On arrival, the cremation and fireworks (NB the locals stand well back for a good reason!) After that there will be a public dance with music from Salsaludando and Los Geniales at the carnival stage.

Los Llanos de Aridane

MONDAY, February 23
Plaza de España

4.30 p.m. Parade and children's mask contest
Carnival Scene

10 p.m. Public Dance
with the musical group Libertad and Bolero at the Carnival Stage

TUESDAY, February 24
with a carnival groups parades: murgas, comparsas, batucadas, carrozas, etc.
From “La Vera de Argual” to Plaza de España.

WEDNESDAY, Feburary 25
8 p.m. Murgas in La Plaza de España

THURSDAY, February 26
8 p.m. Murgas in La Plaza de España

FRIDAY, February 27
9:30 p.m. The Sardine's Funeral (See the description for Sana Cruz, or a longer description with photos here)

The Burial starts at 1:00 p.m. in El Camino Los Lomos – Los Pedregales, from where the funeral procession leaves at 7:00 p.m. towards La Calle Ramón Pol.
Once the funeral procession arrives, the Sardine will e cremated.

10:00 p.m. VERBENA
With Ricaband and Grupo Libertad orchestras at the Carnival Stage

The Sardine'sfuneral, Santa Cruz de la Palma

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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Helen Bennett

Sunrise over La Palma by Helen Bennett

La Palma has a talented new digital artist called Helen Bennett. She left her high-stress job in London and moved to Franceses, in Garafía, with her partner. They bought a fixer-upper and set about fixing it up. Of course this wasn't always smooth going - you can read their adventures at http://casa-estrellas.blogspot.com

Helen also did the layout for several issues of Ruido.

For these two pictures, she used a digital model of the island, and added the lighting.

You can see more of Helen's work at http://helen.helresa.com/

Sunset behind La Palma by Helen Bennett

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Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Salt of the Earth

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 saltpans by taking a number 31 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.

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Monday, 12 January 2009


Yes busstops.

Here in the municipality of Breña Baja, we have the nicest busstops on the island. The council built them, and the local painters' association turned them into works of art.

That was two years ago, and they still haven't been vandalised, which is another thing I like about the place. It's not that the whole island is grafitti-free, but there isn't much, and it's usually on blank walls.

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Sunday, 4 January 2009

The Kings are Coming!

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. This is why the sales haven't really started yet - Christmas isn't over here. And on the evening of the 5th, they 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 also processions in Los Sauces and Santo Domingo de Garafía. The latter is supposed to be particularly good, but it doesn't start until 10pm, so I'm going to give it a miss.

The shops will stay open at least until midnight for people who've left buying presents until the last minute. Tuesday is a public holiday, and the sales start on Wednesday - if you've got any money left by then.

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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

An Unusual Christmas Tree

Agarve flower stalk made into a Christmas tree.

The Christmas decorations are up in Santa Cruz, and most of the villages too. I particularly liked this Christmas "tree" outside a shop on the main street in Santa Cruz. It's made from the dead flower stalk of an agarve plant.

Agarve flower.

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Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Camp Sites


If you want to get really close to nature and have really cheap accommodation, you can't do better than one of the camping sites on the island.

They're open all year round, but be aware that it can be cold in winter, and it's quite likely to rain. You have to pay before you put the tent up, but you don't have to book in advance except for the Caldera. You may also have a problem with transport. Some of them are a long way from public transport.

They've all got toilets, water, and picnic tables and benches. All except the Caldera camp site also have car parks, showers, and barbecues.

This is probably the best site if you haven't got a car. It's about 3 km from the bus stop in the village (still a long way carrying a tent, but just about manageable) and the offices are right beside the site. There's also a bar and restaurant, if you don't fancy cooking, plus a sports area and children's play area. The catch is that Barlovento is the wettest part of the island, and from about October to April the chance of rain is very high.

Tel 922 696023 Mon-Fri 10 am - 2 pm and 4pm - 6 pm. Saturdays 10 am to 3 pm. They say they speak "limited" English. Of course if you turn up at a camp site with a tent, it doesn't take a genius to get the general idea.

The last I heard it was €4.50 per tent per night Mon- Fri, and €9.00 at weekends and bank holidays. They also have small huts, €20 per hut Mon- Fri, and €30 at weekends and bank holidays.

El Pilar
Don't even think about getting here by public transport! It's up on the central ridge, and the nearest bus stop is in Tenerife. All right, I'm exaggerating. Just not very much. The office where you pay is in Santa Cruz (Avenida Los Indianos, 20) which is at least fairly close to the airport. The site must be well over 1,000 m and you need a decent sleeping bag even in summer, as I found out the hard way. (See Sleeping with my Best Friend's Wife ) Maximum 7 nights. In summer, it does tend to get very dusty.

So what's the good bit? You're in the pine forest, at the start of the volcanoes footpath (ruta de los volcanos), the kid's play area is really good, and the barbecues are large and plentiful.

Tel 922 411 583

San Antonio del Monte
This camp site is in Garafía, in the laurel forest. San Antonio used to be a big village, 400 years ago. Then the people moved away but the church and the fiesta stayed. Unless you coincide with the fiesta, it's very peaceful.
Max 1 night. Book in Santa Cruz, on (Avenida Los Indianos, 20).
Tel 922 411 583

As well as the campsite, there's a hostel intended for small groups of hikers doing the long distance path around the island. They only accept groups of ten or more, but lone travellers can phone up and ask if there's a group they can share with. You have to bring your own sleeping bag or sheets and blankets. They have heating, showers and a dining room.
http://www.alberguesanantoniodelmonte.com/index.htm (only works with IE, not Firefox.)

The Caldera Campsite
See The Caldera Campsite
Probably the most beautiful camp site of all. 2 nights maximum, pay in El Paso, and they'll want to see your ID card or passport. If it rains really hard, you may be stranded for a day or so.
Tel 922 497277

La Rosa (Puntagorda)
I've never been here, but it sounds so nice I think I will. They have hot showers (solar heated water) barbecue, a small gas cooker, dining room and 220V electricity available. You can hire a tent (sleeps three) for €4. Also mountain bikes, binoculars, Internet access, washing machine.
€5 per adult, €3 per child 3-6 years old.
They have also three cabins, each of which sleeps six, prices from €20 for two people to €90 for ten. They'll even cook for groups at reasonable prices.
You can hire a tent (sleeps three) for €4. Also mountain bikes, binoculars, telescope and star map, Internet access, and a washing machine.

The bus stops at the entrance to the site.

http://www.airelibrelapalma.org/ Click on "Centro de Naturaleza la Rosa"
Tel/fax:(+34) 922-493306 E-mail: airelibre@airelibrelapalma.org

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Sunday, 14 September 2008

El Hierro

view from La Peña, El Hierro, Canary Islands
View from La Peña, El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands

No, this blog's still about La Palma.

But there's practically nothing on the web in English about El Hierro, compared to not much on La Palma. And I thought that anyone trying to decide which one to visits would appreciate at least a little information.

El Hierro is shaped roughly like an equilateral triangle sucking its cheeks in. Each side of the triagle is about 18 km (12 miles) making it much smaller than La Palma. And the population is just 10,500, compared to 86,000 on La Palma. If you want to escape crowds, it's great.

Like La Palma, the mountainsides are very steep, which makes for great scenery and wonderful viewpoints. But the highest peaks are there are far fewer trees, which is probably why the island is much dryer. Most of it looks rather like the south-west of La Palma, although there is a pine forest and the only juniper forest in the Canaries (Juniperus phoenicea).

Charco Manso, El Hierro, Canary Islands
Charco Manso, El Hierro

Forget beaches - there are hardly any. But there are several inlets which have been adapted. And I've heard that the diving is terrific, particularly off Restinga in the south.

Apart from the scenery, there aren't many tourist sights.
The smallest hotel in the world, El Hierro, Canary Islands
The smallest hotel in the world, El Hierro

There's what claims to be the smallest hotel in the world, although other places claim that distinction too.

Giant lizard, El Hierro, Canary Islands
Gallotia simonyi, the giant lizard of El Hierro

The island has a unique species of giant lizard, Gallotia simonyi. A different species was recently discovered on La Palma, but you can go and see the ones on El Hierro. They're about 60 cm long, although most of that is tail. And for the same modest entrance fee, you can visit the ethnographic museum and see traditional houses from various times in the island's history. My God, people were poor!

Teh Ethnographic Museum, El Hierro, Canary Islands
A house in the museum, El Hierro

The old zero meridian runs though the western end of the island.
view from La Peña, El Hierro, Canary Islands
The old zero meridian, and the end of the world.

This used to be the edge of the known world, and it still feels like the end of the world. There's no trees or grass, just scrubby little bushes. The minor road turns into an unclassified road and then a dirt track. Then we had to park and walk a mile. The only building in sight was the lighthouse, at least a mile away. The mobile phone had no signal. As we arrived, a couple of people were just leaving in a 4x4, and that was the only other car we saw the whole time.

The monument itself is modest – just a block of concrete with half an iron globe poking out of it. But it was amazing to think that we were the most westerly of the 497,000,000 people in the EU.

The local tourist office will give you a pretty certificate to say you've been, and they take your word for it.

Which brings me onto my final point. The locals are nice. I mean really, really nice.

For all that, I think most people would prefer a holiday on La Palma, unless they've already seen La Palma several times.

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Friday, 4 July 2008

Satelite Photo of La Palma

This is one photo I didn't take myself - I wish! As you probably guessed, it's a NASA photo, taken from the Space Shuttle.

If you want to see the high-resolution version, together with some text about the geology of La Palma, and how the image was taken, click

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Friday, 27 June 2008

On Top of the World

Looking east towards Tenerife.

The highest point of the island is the Roque de Los Muchachos, at 2,426m (8,000 ft) above sea level. Most days of the year, the view is spectacular. Even when it's raining at sea-level, the summit is nearly always above the clouds. In fact, you can often look down on a sea of clouds surrounding the island. Of course that's one reason why the observatory is up here.

North towards the observatory. Telescopes left to right: Herschel, Dutch Open, Mercator, Swedish Solar Tower, Newton and Kapteyn.

You also get a wonderful view into the Caldera de Taburiente. I believe the patch of bright green at the bottom here are fields near the water-manager's house, some 1,600 m (5,280 ft) below.

South, along the central ridge.

The Roque is just inside the Caldera de Taburiente National Park, and part of the municipality of Garafía. When I came to La Palma, seventeen years ago, the place was as nature made it. But now that there's a road, they got enough visitors here to cause a serious problem with erosion. Now they've built paths out of local stone, and they've done a really good job of making it look natural, except for the occasional fence. It's best to keep tot he paths. If you slip on the lose gravel it's a long way down.

Roque de Los Muchachos
means Rock of the Boys. The name comes from the stone pinnacles at the summit, which look vaguely like giant people.

And these are the "boys" themselves.

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