Peace Day

Peace Day at an infant school

Peace Day doves at an infant school

Spain stayed out of both world wars, so they don’t celebrate Remembrance Day in November. They have Peace Day instead, which schools celebrate on January 30th. In Primary school they wear something white, or mostly white (if the children remembered to tell Mummy), and usually they go into the village centre and sing a song.

At high school, the teachers try to work a peace theme into the lesson. For example, my son´s English lesson was the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. I’ve seen a few little Peace Gardens dotted around too.

New statue in San José

New statue of a mother in San José, Breña Baja

New statue of a mother in San José

San José in Breña Baja has a new statue to celebrate mothers. The square outside the Town Hall is called Plaza de Las Madres – Mother’s Square, and they have a special celebration for Mother’s Day.

New statue of a mother in San José, Breña Baja

New statue of a mother in San José, Breña Baja.

Water Mines on La Palma

Water bottles being filled at the water mine on the road to the observatory, La Palma island

The tap from the water mine on the road to the observatory

Although La Palma has more water than the other Canary Islands, many farmers used to be desperately poor and frequently hungry. The only water for irrigation was rainwater, and obviously they had no control over how much they got.

Then somebody suggested digging into the hillside to find water. (If anybody knows who, please tell me.) The idea is that much of the rainwater seeps into the ground, and runs through tiny cracks in the volcanic rocks for miles and miles before it comes out as a spring. (There are lots of springs where you can refill your water bottle on a hike, especially in the Caldera, which saves carrying so much water with you.) Much of it reaches sea-level underground, and is wasted. If you dig a tunnel horizontally into the hillside, you might well find an aquifer. Crucially, since the water takes anything up to fifty years to work its way through the ground, these galerías still run in a dry year.

It worked. In some places, this meant three harvests per a year instead of one, and the children weren’t hungry any more.

It was a tremendous amount of work, hacking away at the rock with only hand tools and no idea of when, or even whether, you’d find water. But the prospect of a better life was enough to make people start, and keep going. The Pajarito galería is over 5 km long. I wonder how long that took?

These days, over half of La Palma’s water comes from the 170 galerías on the island. And very good water it is too.

Even better, you can help yourself. The local bottled water is so cheap that it’s not worth making a special trip, but my usual route to the Roque goes right past one of them. The water is channelled into a tank, and I refill old water bottles from the tap.

Where the Heck is La Palma Anyway?

The Canary Islands ar off Morocco. La Palma is at the top left

The Canary Islands are off Morocco. La Palma is at the top left

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 daughter’s going to work there. It’s the Civil Service, so I don’t think it’s a cover for the white slave trade.”

“But there’s no island in the Canaries called La Palma. Just the city of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria.” And she got out a map to prove it. It showed the four islands where they sold package holidays: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fueraventura.

I can just picture my Dad trying to keep his temper at this point.

So my parents went across the road to the bookshop, who knew them well enough to loan them an atlas. They took the atlas to the travel agent, and said, “Look!”

“Oh!” she said, much astonished. “In that case it can’t have an airport.”

My father took a deep breath. “My daughter is not planning to swim there.”

The travel agent finally admitted to ignorance.

To be fair this was 1990. Not many travel agents would have done any better at the time. These days there are two direct weekly flights from London Gatwick, (with Thomson or Norwegian) and the island is on the map, literally.

But for the benefit of anyone still in the dark, the seven (not four!) Canary Islands are an autonomous region of Spain, but they lie about 125 miles off the coast of Morocco. La Palma is one of the smaller ones, at the top left-hand corner of the archipelago. It’s about 31 miles long, 16 miles wide, and an amazing 8,000 ft at it’s highest point.

And yes, it has an airport.

My Google map of the island is here.

Tuesday 13th

You know how some Brits and Americans are superstitious about Friday 13th? Well in Spain, some people are superstitious about Tuesday 13th. So this is your chance for slightly cheaper flights.

The Bell from La Verdad

Today we have a guest post by Thomas Cox from Maine, USA

The Bell from La Verdad. Photo: Thomas Cox

The Bell from La Verdad. Photo: Thomas Cox

Being a lifelong ocean sailor, some years ago I was intrigued when I found the ships bell from La Verdad for sale in a marine antique store. I bought it. In searching for some history about the Verdad, I came to realize that the vessel was built in La Palma in 1873 and has quite a history. There appears to be e considerable historic pride in La Verdad according to documents that I find on the Internet.

The vessel was wrecked on reefs at Bermuda on January 12, 1899, while en route to La Palma from Cuba. Apparently the water was shallow enough that the crew was able to escape. Apparently also, the shallow water enabled someone to salvage the vessel’s bell. How it made its way to the United States, I do not know. I do know that Bermuda is a popular destination for US ocean racing sailors, having raced there myself, and suspect that some US sailor found the bell for sale in Bermuda and brought it here.

I can see no reason not to believe that the bell is not indeed the original one, as I can see no reason for someone to fabricate a fake. The engraving of the name and date is clearly hand done and the patina on the bronze as well as some signs of wear and tear suggest that it indeed has been used, but still well cared for.

The bell and stand for it must weight together more than fifty pounds. The bell alone measures about ten inches tall by about twelve inches wide. From the bottom of the stand to the top measures about 14 inches. It is apparent to me that there is some sort of decorative fixture missing from the top of the bell stand as there is a threaded hole there.


Thomas Cox


Two kinds of pitahaya

Two kinds of pitahaya


The fruits of several different cactuses are called pitahayas. The yellow ones in the picture are Hylocereus megalanthus, and the pink ones are Hylocereus undatus. To be honest, I was rather disappointed by the (lack of) flavour of them both. Some time ago I had what I think was a Hylocereus costaricensis, which was deep red all the way through, and much tastier.

I wish I had a bigger garden, because this is what Hylocereus looks like:

Hylocereus - Queen of the night cactus, early inthe morning before the flowers closed.

Hylocereus – Queen of the night cactus, early inthe morning before the flowers closed. Breña Alta

Their Majesties, the Reyes Magos

Gaspar visiting Santa Cruz de la PalmaGaspar visiting Santa Cruz de la Palma

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. (The sales don’t normally start this early, because Christmas isn’t over here.) And on the evening of the 5th, their majesties 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 lots of processions on La Palma (Santa Cruz de la Palma, Villa de Mazo, Puntagorda,Tazacorte, Los Llanos de Aridane, Los Cancajos, and San Andrés y Sauces) and the one in Santo Domingo de Garafía, which is supposed to be particularly good. Traditionally it starts at 10pm, and there’s a long drive back for me, which is why I’ve never seen it.

The shops will stay open at least until midnight for people who’ve left buying presents until the last minute. the 6th is always a public holiday.
Bad children traditionally get coal. Well, the Spanish use the same word for coal, charcoal and carbon – carbón. There’s a kind of sweet coal you can buy as a joke.  But actually I hope I get my carbon very, very compressed , as diamonds.

I can dream, can’t I?

Baltazar visiting Santa Cruz de la PalmaBaltazar visiting Santa Cruz de la Palma

Have a happy 2015

New Year Fireworks in Santa Cruz de la Palma

New Year Fireworks in Santa Cruz de la Palma

I hope you enjoyed new year’s eve, I hope 2015 brings you whatever you most want. I “left the year” (as they say in Spanish) with the extended family.

New year is a big thing in Spain. Many people dress up – I mean really dress up, as though they were going to the opera at Covent Garden. Traditionally, lots of people eat out, although I suspect there’ll be less of that this year. At midnight, people traditionally eat one grape for each “boing” of the clock. If you manage all twelve on schedule, it’s supposed to bring good luck, or prosperity, or something. (It usually gives me indigestion.) People drink champagne, and every town hall on the island lets off fireworks.

Holy Innocents on La Palma


The 28th of December is Holy Innocents’ Day, which commemorates the massacre of the innocents by Herod in Matthew’s gospel (although according to Wikipedia, it’s probably not a historical event). In Spain and Spanish-speaking countries, it’s the Spanish equivalent of April Fool’s Day.

For example, one year I told my husband that the police had been around asking whether he’d been jogging in the nude. Now my husband does go jogging, but not in the nude — although sometimes he goes topless. Anyway, I said the police had had complaints about him jogging nude, and wanted to talk to him urgently, and I’d like it cleared up too, because I found the whole thing terribly embarrassing. And I kept it going for about ten minutes before I collapsed into giggles.

So watch out today