Last month (September 15th, to be precise) I wrote a blog about the island of La Gomera, saying how surprised I was that more tourists didn’t take a day or two out of their holidays to visit this beautiful island, which is literally a hop, skip and a jump away from the island of Tenerife. I also said that I would be writing about all of the other main islands (La Palma, El Hierro, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria) in the coming months, as all of them are within easy sailing distances from Tenerife, albeit one or two of them being accessible by overnight ferries, as the sailing times do run into double figures -but for any cruising fans who are reading this, then that would be a walk-in-the-park to them.
People often ask me if I ever get bored living on an island, rather than, say, living in mainland Spain, where one has the choice to drive around any country in Europe -or to travel even further by road if they so desire -which does make a lot of sense, I must confess. However, having traversed half of this planet overland already, I have to say that I love the thought of being within spitting distance of a coastline, no-matter which direction I choose to follow, as there is nothing like ending one’s day listening to the crashing of the waves against the rocks, or swimming in the cool (but rarely cold) waters that surround the wonderful Canary Islands.
Now and again I do get strong urges to leave the island, as I sometimes feel like ‘Papillon’, who has to get off-the-rock (so to speak) –even if only for a few days -and that is where any of the other 6 islands immediately become my perfect sanctuary. Every one of the islands is completely different to the next one, as I am sure you will realise once I have completed my blogs on the remaining five islands -and just to prove to you that I have traversed all ‘7’ of them I will include various extracts from my original write-ups on the islands, which I wrote a number of years ago.
Apart from taking ferries to Tenerife’s neighbouring islands, there are daily flights to all six of them, the flight-times ranging from around 30 minutes to about an hour -which, as all holiday-makers -and experienced travellers know, is ‘nothing’ in the great scheme of things. Also, there are regular flights to Marrakech in Morocco, which again, only take around one hour to complete -and once you are in this amazing Arabic country there is nothing stopping you from taking a drive out to the towns of Fes, Meknes and Rabat -or enjoying an unforgettable drive through the Atlas Mountains.
Push your flight-time up to ‘2’ hours and you could be enjoying all the delights that the Gambia has to offer, such as exciting jungle treks, as you are now in the realms of Darkest Africa –or how about flying down to the Cape Verde islands and enjoying a Caribbean-style holiday on one (or several) of these Portuguese tropical islands, which are encompassed by pristine-white sandy beaches, and surrounded by turquoise seas that are as warm as the morning sun. Anyway, enough waffling from me, so just sit back and enjoy a little insight into the island of La Palma -before joining me on my circumnavigation of the island.
La Palma, affectionately known as ‘La Isla Bonita’ -the pretty island, has the most beautiful mountain scenery of all the Canary Islands -and it is also one of the steepest islands in the world. The island is the fifth largest of the seven main Canary Islands, and covers an area of 706 km2. La Palma is the most north-westerly island in this archipelago of sub-tropical volcanic islands, which are situated off the north-western coast of Africa. Like all of the Canary Islands, La Palma, which was formed between three and four million years ago, originally formed as a seamount through submarine volcanic activity, and along with Tenerife, it is the most volcanically active of the Canary Islands. About half a million years ago, the Taburiente volcano collapsed with a giant landslide, forming the Caldera de Taburiente, a giant crater which has a width of 6 miles (around 10 km) and a depth of 4,921 ft (1,500 m) which dominates the northern part of La Palma.
The caldera is surrounded by a ring of mountains ranging from 5,249ft (1,600 m) to 7.874ft (2,400 m) in height. Only the deep Barranco de las Angustias (“Ravine of Anxiety”) which is, in itself, a National Park, leads into the inner area of the caldera -and this can only be reached on foot. The outer slopes are cut by numerous gorges which run from 6,562ft (2,000 m) all the way down to sea-level, but only a few of these carry water, due to the many water tunnels that have been cut into the islands’ structure over the years. To the south of the Caldera de Taburiente is the ‘Cumbre Nueva Ridge’ (the ‘New Ridge’), which despite its name, is actually older than the ‘Cumbre Vieja’ (the ‘Old Ridge’) -a volcanic ridge formed by numerous volcanic cones built of lava and scoria.
The Cumbre Vieja is active -but dormant, with the last eruption occurring back in 1971 at the ‘Teneguia vent’, which is located at the southern end of the Cumbre Vieja, called the ‘Punta de Fuencaliente’ (The ‘Point of the Hot Fountain’). Beyond Punta de Fuencaliente, the Cumbre Vieja continues in a southerly direction as a ‘submarine volcano’. The highest volcanic peak on the island rises almost 4 miles (7 km) above the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, of which almost 4,000 m (13,123 ft) is actually below sea level, and the summit is marked by an outcrop of rocks called ‘Los Muchachos’ (‘The Lads’). This is also the site of the ‘Roque de los Muchachos Observatory’, one of the world’s premier astronomical observatories.
The local economy is primarily based on both tourism and agriculture, and banana’s are grown throughout the island, the majority of the banana plantations being on the western side, in the valley of ‘Los llanos de Aridane’. Other crops include grapes, avocados and oranges (all of which grow well in the volcanic soil), along with ‘Strelitzia’ -more affectionately known as the ‘birds of paradise’ flowers. Local ranchers herd sheep, cows, and goats, utilising milk from the latter to make goats cheese -and fish is caught for the local fish-markets by fisherman, who operate from Tazacorte, Puerto Naos and Santa Cruz.
The most famous structures of La Palma are the minas galerias (water tunnels) which transport the water from the mountains down to the cities, villages and farms -predominantly the banana plantations. La Palma receives almost all of its water supply from the mar de nubes (sea of clouds) stratocumulus cloud, which sits at an altitude between 3,937ft (1,200m) and 5,249ft (1,600m), and is carried by the prevailing wind, which blows from the north-east trade winds. The water condenses on the long needles of the trees and other vegetation, before either dripping-down onto the ground, or running down the trunk of the trees into the ground. Eventually it collects inside the rock-strata, and is then drained via the galerias into aqueducts and pipes for distribution. A permit is required to visit these galerias, and it is also possible to walk along the many aqueducts. A visit to the ‘Marcos y Corderos Waterfall and Springs’ is also a very popular excursion for tourists.
“La Palma island is pear-shaped and there is a main road which virtually circumnavigates the whole coast-line, so we just have to choose whether we want to go north or south from Santa Cruz de la Palma, which is situated half-way down the eastern side. We decided to head north, to the village of Tenagua, after which we drove on to Puntallana, El Granal, Garachico, and San Andres y Sauces, before finally coming to rest in Barlovento on the north-eastern corner of the island. A pit-stop for lunch and then it was due west all the way through Roque del Faro and into the town of Punta Gorda. About 15km south-east of Punta Gorda, (on the road to Roque de los Muchachos), is the International Astrophysical Observatory, which opened in 1985. La Palma was chosen because of its geographical location, along with its excellent climatic conditions, which does not interfere with astrophysical observations.
The clear air and cloudless nights are ideal for astronomy and so a sun tower, which houses instruments for observing the sun, has also been built. The observatory is one of the most important in the world and it also boasts having the largest telescope in the whole of Europe . However, anyone wishing to visit the place can only do so by ‘special arrangement’. Because of the lack of development and the island’s remoteness, the observatory is free from distracting artificial light and thanks to the shape of the mountain, along with the prevailing winds, the airflow also remains undisturbed. It is known as ‘the finest window in the universe’.
Heading south all the way through Fagundo, Tijarafe, Arecida and La Punta, we then diverted inland through a series of bends to the town of Los Llanos, (La Palma’s second largest settlement), where we pulled-up for our second stop of the day. The car was running perfectly and our fuel consumption was better than I had expected it would be, especially considering the terrain we had encountered on certain stretches of road -and the many hills we had climbed during our travels so far. The top (larger) half of the island had now been traversed, but we still had the bottom-half to go, and so after half-an-hours’ break, we plodded-on south through Tajuya, Los Campitos, Las Manchas, Jedey, El Charco and all the way down to the town of Fuencaliente, located at the southernmost part of the main road.
We then followed a much narrower road right down to the very tip of the island, before coming to a halt at the black, sandy beach of Playa Nueva. From here it was north all the way through Monte De Luna, Tigalate, Malpaises, La Sabina, Mazo, La Rosa, and San Antonio, before hitting the final stretch back up to Santa Cruz de La Palma. It had been a very hectic three days since first starting our ‘7-island challenge’, but tomorrow we would return to Tenerife for a well-earned rest. Tonight I have booked us into a plush hotel with a superb swimming pool on the roof -and tomorrow morning we are going to spent a few hours playing various ball games and doing relay-races (in and out of rubber rings), up and down the pool, which will thrill the children no end, I am sure. See you on Island number ‘4’.”