Where the Heck is La Palma Anyway?

I originally came to La Palma to work at the astronomical observatory here. Almost as soon as I heard I’d got the job, my parents went to a travel agent to find out how much it would cost to visit. The girl at the desk said, “Las Palmas de Gran Canaris? Certainly Sir. I’ll just look it up for you.” “No,” explained my father. “The island of La Palma. My…

January 16, 2015
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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…

September 15, 2014
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Starlit Skies

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. The observatory was founded in 1675 by Charles II of England – hence the “royal” for £520 (£20 over budget!). It was the first purpose-built scientific research facility in Britain. At the time, Greenwich was a great place to build it – away from…

September 12, 2014
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Flags Galore

You see a lot of flags on La Palma. Most English visitors will recognise the flags of Spain and the European Union. But the Canary Islands are an autonomous region within Spain, and they have their own flag too. You see it a lot, especially around May 30th, which is Canary Day. And then each island has its own flag. Here’s the flag of La Palma: And as if that…

June 11, 2014
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The Lover’s Leap

A long time ago, a young goatherd in Puntallana fell in love. Nothing unusual about that of course, especially since the girl was very beautiful. The trouble was that she didn’t feel the same way. He was tall, handsome and athletic, but she hoped to marry someone richer. After all, a goatherd’s wife worked fourteen hours a day and went hungry in the bad years. But he wouldn’t take “No,”…

June 2, 2014
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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….

May 5, 2014
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