Today I visited Cumbrecita, and I fell in love with Canary pine trees all over again.
So many of them look as though they’ve been carefully trained into artistic shapes, like gigantic bonsai trees.
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!
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 the air pollution of London, but near enough for His Majesty to pop over when he felt like it.
And then London grew and grew and swallowed Greenwich whole, and the smog got worse and worse. And streetlights became common, so the whole sky glowed. The observatory moved to Herstmonceux Castle on the south coast of Britain. This solved the problem with London, but they still had the British weather to contend with. Meanwhile, air travel was getting cheaper. When they were ready to build the next generation of telescopes, it made sense to look for a really good site.
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 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.
You can read more about the observatory in my book “A Breathtaking Window on the Universe“
I’ve seen lots more partridges near the Roque de Los Muchachos than last year. They mostly seem to live in the higher reaches of the pine forest, where they wander out onto the road sometimes. Earlier in the summer, I often saw families which all disappeared into the bushes before I could get my camera out. That makes it all the nicer to have caught this family before they flew off (with a characteristic whirring noise). But I do hope it isn’t one of the families that started out with about eight chicks, because they definitely only had one chick with them yesterday.
Los Llanos del Jable, with El Paso behind
The main roads on La Palma form a rough figure 8, with the main east-west road being the LP2 from Santa Cruz to Los Llanos, through the tunnel. But whenever I’ve got time, I like to take the scenic route, the LP203. This winds up through the heather and bayberry forest, then pine forest, past the barbecue and picnic areas at Pared Vieja and El Pilar. Just west of the top, you pop out of the forest at the Los Llanos del Jable viewpoint. From there you get a great view of El Paso and Los Llanos, the south wall of the Caldera, and Montaña Quemada.
Montaña Quemada means “burnt mountain,” and it’s easy to see where the name comes from. The only recorded eruption here was in the 15th century, but it looks much more recent than that. The ground is covered in volcanic gravel called lapilli. Don’t try to walk in sandals because the darn things get between the sole of your foot and the sole of the sandal, and they’re very uncomfortable.
Going west from Los Llanos del Jable, the road winds down through pine forests until it rejoins the main road.
Yesterday I discovered that the local lizards (Gallotia galloti palmae) are fond on watermelon on a hot day. Figures. Unlike most lizards, they eat quite a lot of plants, especially ripe fruit, to the point where they can become a nuisance in vinyards.
I recently discovered that we only have one species of small lizard here. What I thought were two species is one, with different colours for males and females. The one in the photo above is a female – brown and stripy. The males are greyish, with a blue throat (below.)
My friend has been told that it’s a big mistake to feed them, as they can loose all fear of humans to the point where they’ll bite your toes. We discussed this, and agreed it seemed unlikely, and if it did happen, it wouldn’t be all that bad. After reading Wikipedia, I conclude that it’s extremely unlikely. Apparently one colony on Teide of the subspecies on Tenerife (Gallotia galloti galloti) has become quite tame and will provide photo opportunities in exchange for ripe banana. There’s no mention of tourists getting their fingers bitten off.
I have to try this. Watch this space.
Today we have a guest post from Rosemary J. Kind of Alfie Dog Fiction. It seemed the least embarrassing way to do it.
The website www.alfiedog.com carries over 1500 stories from more than 350 authors around the globe, with more than 20 countries represented. Unlike most epublishing companies Alfie Dog is editorial led to ensure the high quality of the work available to the reader.
You can contact Rosemary at email@example.com
Local Author in International Fairytale Collection
Local author Sheila Crosby is the author of the lead story for the fairytale collection ‘Thrice Upon A Time’ from publisher Alfie Dog Fiction. The collection brings together some of the best fairytales from 18 authors across the globe.
Sheila who lives in Breña Baja on La Palma is a starlight guide, specialising in showing visitors around the European Northern Observatory at the Roque de Los Muchachos. She has 5 stories available for download with www.alfiedog.com which is one of the biggest short story download sites in the world.
With authors selected from America, Australia, France, The Canary Islands and the United Kingdom it truly is an international collection. ‘Thrice Upon A Time’ has some tales which retell stories written long ago, but from a different perspective, and others which are completely new. “Fairytales became popular again with the 200th anniversary of the brothers Grimm,” says Alfie Dog Fiction’s managing director, Rosemary Kind. “Our authors have set out to provide a continuation of this grand tradition.” The humour of the fairytales is aimed at adults and, as with the originals, the stories often have a moral to them.
Sheila has had SF and fantasy stories published in SF Adbusters, Cosmos Online, Wily Writers, Oceans of the Mind and Farthing, among others, and non-genre fiction to the UK magazines Chat and Yours. It comes to about 50 fiction sales so far. She has also published a non-fiction guide book to the astronomical observatory on the island of La Palma.
Sheila’s delighted to be in this collection of 18 fairy tales. Some of them are old favourites given a tasty twist, while others, like ‘Thrice Upon A Time’ are completely new. All of them are fun. Alfie Dog Fiction specialises in publishing short stories for download as well as in book form, and has over 1,500 stories on its website www.alfiedog.com, in multiple formats to suit most readers.
The collection will be available as download and in paperback from 21st August with the download priced from just £1.99 / $2.99 and can be bought direct through www.alfiedog.com or through Amazon and other leading online retailers and bookstores.
The view of Los Llanos from La Cancelita
La Palma has even more glorious viewpoints then the other Canary Islands. One of my favourites is La Cancelita, where you get two amazing views for the price of one. The good view covers Los Llanos and a good chunk of the surrounding plain. (Los Llanos means ‘the plains’ but it’s not that flat by UK standards.
The view of the Caldera de Taburiente from La Cancelita
And the fantastic view sweeps down across the Caldera de Taburiente. All right, so you get fantastic views of the Caldera from almost anywhere around its rim, and from an awful lot of the Caldera floor, too. But this ones very accessible — just a short drive from Los Llanos.
Follow the brown signs for the Caldera, and then take Calle Cancelita. You’ll need to park when you run out of tarmac, and then walk along the dirt track for about five minutes. Believe me, it’s worth it.
La Cancelita viewpoint
Fancy swimming in sea-water without the waves?
These are some rather nice salt-water swimming pools at Fajana, five km outside the village of Barlovento, on the main road to Santa Cruz. At one time they were only the natural pools, but they’ve been improved rather nicely. There’s a pool near the top for senior citizens and the disabled, but the best places are reached down two flights of steps. They come in different depths, so that some are ideal for nervous beginners and some have more space. There’s lots of flat space for sunbathing, and some caves beside the pools provide space for those who want to read a book without getting burned.
You can stay in the self-catering apartments (visible at the top of the first picture) Tel 922 186162.
There are also fresh water showers (50 cents) and toilets.
And would you believe it, the toilets/changing rooms have a lovely mural on the ceiling and the tops of the walls. ! It’s signed by the local artist, Luis Morera.
La Palma has a network of marked hiking trails. The LP 19, in Breña Alta runs up from San Pedro, past a series of springs, into the lower end of San Isidro, and back down to the main road. Like most of these paths, the scenery is beautiful and keeps changing. And this path included bonuses.
Several of the springs feed laundry bowls. Since it’s easier to carry clothes than water, women brought the family laundry to the springs. I don’t know when the ones here fell into disuse, but I believe the one at Isora, in El Hierro, was still being used in the 1960s.
But my favourite bit is near La Sociedad, in San Isidro. The path climbs steeply up the side of the ravine, and passes several small, natural caves. And somebody has been very busy. They’re full of pot plants and religious statuettes, with a sprinkling of religious medals and rosaries.
Well I’m not religious, but it’s absolutely lovely. The biggest cave has tree trunks to sit on, and it would be a wonderful place to come when you’re feeling troubled.