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I had too many blogs. There was this one, and the personal blog qwith the writing stuff, and one about astronomy and one about El Hierro. Plus there’s my main site (or at least it used to be my main site, but it was very neglected and old-fashioned.) And my bookshop. All this took up far too much of my time and interfered with writing. So I combined them. I am now on stage 4 of the grand plan.

Stage 4: Add the other two blogs and the bookshop.

Stage 5: Finish the whodunnit.

Stage 6: WORLD DOMINATION!

Fiesta de La Cruz 2015

 

It’s Fiesta de la Cruz again. I was really busy this year, so I just went for a quick look at Calle Rodriguez Lopez, the street in Santa Cruz where they have all the mayos.

As always, it was fun. This year they had a theme of jobs and professions.

Goat mayos

Goat mayos

A daddy mayo with a toddler in a baby carrier

A modern daddy

A mayo frying churros, Santa Cruz de La Palma, 03/05/2015

Frying churros

Builder mayos, Santa Cruz de La Palma, 03/05/2015

Builders

Detail of the laundry drying over the builders' heads

Detail of the laundry drying over the builders’ heads

I'm sure this is a portrait of a real person

I’m sure this is a portrait of a real person


Mayos ironing with a flat iron, Santa Cruz de La Palma

Ironing with a flat iron

A mayo toasting maize for gofio, snata cruz de La Palma

Toasting maize for gofio

Newspaper kiosk

Newspaper kiosk

A hairdresser and customer mayos

A hairdresser and customer

A crechefull of little mayos, Santa Cruz de La Palma 03/05/2015

A crechefull of little mayos

Fiesta de la Cruz

 
Detail of a cross decorated with jewellry for Fiesta de La Cruz, Breña Baja

Detail of a cross decorated with jewellry for Fiesta de La Cruz, Breña Baja

Fiesta de La Cruz is a major festival in Santa Cruz de La Palma, Breña Alta, and Breña Baja. On the night of May 2nd (Saturday), practically all the roadside crosses in Santa Cruz, Breña Baja and Breña Alta will be decorated, most of them gorgeously. The people who worked on them sit close all night, usually making a party of it and setting off lots of fire-crackers. This is partly because the crosses are hung with jewellery.

For more details and photos, see my article on Fiesta de la Cruz

Sunset at the Roque

 

Gran Telescopio Canarias at sunset, Roque de Los Muchachos observatory, La Palma island

Gran Telescopio Canarias at sunset, Roque de Los Muchachos observatory


The Roque de Los Muchachos is a spectacular place to watch the sunset. For one thing, you’re usually above the clouds (which is one reason the observatory is there.)

Long, leggy shadows at sunset, Roque de Los Muchachos car park
In fact, sometimes the clouds are so much lower than the Roque that the sun sets well below you. This means that your shadow on a wall is taller than you, and the shadows of your legs go on forever.

For another, very shortly before sunset, you can see the shadow of the island itself growing eastwards over the cloud sea.

The shadow of La Palma streaming eastwards at sunset

The shadow of La Palma streaming eastwards at sunset, with Mt Teide on the right

And of course, you’re surrounded by the telescopes. If you’re not used to them, they look surreal and science-fictiony. And all the domes are painted white or silver. This is to reflect heat, but it makes them very photogenic at sunset, or indeed by moonlight.

The road to the Roque is closed at night because tourists cause local light pollution. Several of the telescopes could spot the light of a candle on the moon, so hand-held torches and car headlights are a big problem. Even side-lights are enough to sugar up the observations of the MAGIC telescope. So the road closes shortly after sunset, but the site’s night watchman goes around to chivvy people out. You’ll have to leave before most of the stars come out, but you have a good chance of seeing the moon and Venus.

And then, I’m afriad, you’ll have to drive down all those bends in the dark.

The Galileo telescope at sunset, Roque de Los Muchachos, La Palma island

The Galileo telescope at sunset

New Cherenkov Telescopes

Artist´s representation of the four giant telescopes proposed for the CTA. Credits: IFAE, CTA Consortium.

Artist´s representation of the four giant telescopes proposed for the CTA. Credits: IFAE, CTA Consortium.

 

The Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) is negotiating with the IAC to site more Cherenkov telescopes on La Palma. It’s not guarenteed that they’ll come here, but it’s highly likely. What is certain is that they’re going to build a prototype here.

So what’s a Cherenkov telescope? The oversimplification is that it’s a telescope to look at gamma rays instead of visible light. For more detail, see this article on the MAGIC Telescope, which is already on La Palma. The MAGIC consosts of two enormous telescopes, each with a segmented mirror 17 m in diameter. The new prototype will be 23 m in diameter, and the camera will be 3 m across.

Artesanía Christina

 
Inside Artesania Christina, Santa Cruz de La Palma

Inside Artesania Christina

I love Christina’s shop. She started off in the local flea market, selling fancy knitting yarn in the most wonderful colours. I always wanted to buy the lot and spend the next year knitting. Now she has a shop on the Calle Real, still selling the yarn, but also finished knitware and costume jewelry which she makes herself out of local lava and coral, with silver or gold-plated silver mountings.

Knitters: the yarn is best knitted on 10 mm needles (also on sale) so you finish quickly. And she has free pattern booklets.

She opens mornings from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm, and Monday to Friday afternoons from 5pm to 8 pm. She speaks good English.

Outside Artesania Christina, Santa Cruz de La Palma

Outside Artesania Christina

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.

The southern end of the Calle Real (from the post office to Avenida El Puente) is called Calle O’Daly, and the northern end (Avenida El Puente to Plaza Alemeda) is Perez de Brito. Christina’s shop is at Perez de Brito, 28, just south of the Placeta.

Archaeology at the Roque de los Muchachos

A spiral rock carving, Roque de los Muchachos, Garafia, La Palma

A damaged spiral rock carving, perhaps a gift to the gods, Roque de los Muchachos

 

For centuries, goatherds have brought their flocks to the Roque de los Muchachos, the highest point on the island of La Palma. As the lower pastures dried out in summer, they moved to fresh pastures on higher ground. These days, farmers can drive home for the night, but of course that wasn’t the case 50 years ago, much less 500 years ago. They came up some time in June, and stayed until the rains began lower down. The best guess is that their wives came up every few days with food, and took away the cheeses. If the rains were late, they might still be on the Roque as late as September, when the nights start to get distinctly nippy. Perhaps that’s when they started offering gifts to the gods. Certainly, the mountainside is dotted with low cairns and engraved rocks, although neither is very noticeable unless you know what to look for. In particular, the rocks are carved in very low relief indeed, so that the carving only really shows with grazing light. You could walk right over them at midday. Many of the carved rocks have been found inside cairns, so they clearly weren’t for human enjoyment.

 

A meander rock carving, Roque de los Muchachos, Garafia, La Palma

A meander rock carving, perhaps a gift to the gods, Roque de los Muchachos

The goatherds slept in natural caves, or in little huts, just 1.60 m high, – the huts seem to have been only for sleeping, since it was summer, and probably the header made a new roof of vegetation each year. Curiously though, the huts always have a shelf in them, which seem to have been used to store cheeses. Milk and cheese were the main reasons for keeping goats in the first place.

A tiny goatherds' hut, Roque de los Muchachos, Garafia, La Palma

A tiny goatherds’ hut, very basic accommodation, Roque de los Muchachos. Of course, the goatherds would have left long before it snowed.

Concepción

The Concepcion headland, from Bajamar beach, Breña Alta

The Concepcion headland, from Bajamar beach

Concepción is a headland on the boundary between Santa Cruz de la Palma and Breña Alta. The top is at 400m, and the sheer cliff down to the beach is about 300 ft (100 m ) high, which is about the size of a mature California redwood tree, or a Saturn V moon rocket. These days it’s got a tunnel drilled through it, but until 1917, the only way to get from one side to the other was to wait until low tide and scramble over the rocks. The beach at the bottom of the cliff is man-made, but still a very nice place for a swim.

Geologically, it’s one of the older part of the island. Before the Cumbre Nueva was formed, the Concepcion volcano erupted under the sea, so that the magma interacted with water (a phreatomagmatic eruption). The chemical reaction turned the magma tan-coloured, unlike most of the rock on the island which is black.  Much later, a second eruption took place inside the crater. Much of the original volcano has eroded away, but it must have been huge – experts believe it was the biggest eruption of its type in the Canaries

 
Santa Cruz from the Concepcion viewpoint, Breña Alta

Santa Cruz from the Concepcion viewpoint

There’s a viewpoint (mirador) on the top, which gives a great view of Santa Cruz to the north, and the Breñas to the south. It’s not the best viewpoint on the island, but it’s easy to reach and you get an awful lot of view for precious little effort. It’s even got a car park.

Breña Alta and  Breña Baja from Concepcion viewpoint

Breña Alta and Breña Baja from Concepcion viewpoint

It’s a favourite place for hang-gliders to launch, and they generally land on the beach below.  There’s also a pretty little chapel, built in 1672 on the site of a 15th century chapel.

The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Breña Alta.

The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Breña Alta.

A Breathtaking Window on the Universe

A Breathtaking Window cover

“A Breathtaking Window on the Universe: A guide to the observatory at the Roque de los Muchachos SECOND EDITION”
By Sheila M. Crosby
(Non-Fiction Paperback)
164 pages (16 more than the first edition)

Welcome to the Roque de Los Muchachos, where 15 telescopes from 19 nations use the best night sky in Europe to explore the cosmos. Find out what it’s like to work in this strange world above the clouds. Learn about each telescope, how they’re run, and a little of what they’ve discovered.

This book is written for the general public rather than professional astronomers, with over 120 photos and diagrams, and a full glossary of all the technical terms for non-geeks.

To see more detailsor to buy the book online, go to Dragon Tree Publishing. To see the list of places on LA Palma which stock it, go here.

The Santa Maria

Replica of Columbus’s Santa Maria in Santa Cruz de la Palma

Replica of Columbus’s Santa Maria in Santa Cruz de la Palma

 
Painted “nails” on the replica of Columbus’s Santa Maria

Painted “nails” on the replica of Columbus’s Santa Maria

Back when I worked for the observatory, we ocassionally gave visiting astronomers a lift up to the mountaintop. I always enjoyed detouring past the replica of Christopher Columbus’s ship, the Santa Maria, partly to see the visitor’s reaction.

Astronomer: “What on earth is that!?”
Me: It’s a concrete ship in the middle of the road. What’s it look like?”
Astronomer: “Concrete!?”

One astronomer even begged us to stop, so that he could go up and touch it, because the “wood” paint was so convincing that he couldn’t believe it was concrete. It’s beautifully done. It even has old fashioned “nails” with “shadows”.

Model ship in the naval museumSanta Cruz de La Palma

Model ship in the naval museum

The ship houses a small naval museum. Now I’m no expert on ships because I get sea-sick standing in a puddle, but I enjoyed it. Downstairs they have some rather nice model ships, sextants, and two old figureheads.

Figurehead in the naval museum, Santa Cruz de La Palma

Figurehead in the naval museum

(They also have several empty display cases, because they haven’t quite finished the refurbishment yet). Upstairs there’s a display of old charts.

When appoaching the Straits of Gibraltar, be aware that fishermen have tunny nets extending up to seven miles from the coast.

If you want to take photos of them, you’ll need a polarizing filter to remove the reflections.

And then you can go out onto the deck and up to the aftcastle and forecastle. At that point, if I were eight years old, I’d instantly be desperate to play pirates. They even have two small canons. That is, they look small until you imagine canonballs that size whizzing straight at you.

The stairs are steep, and might be a problem for elderly knees. And they have genunine C15th safety barriers, which is to say no barriers at all, so you’ll need to hang onto any impetuous little people. It’s no problem for sensible adults in the replica, although it must have been downright dangerous in a storm on the original.

Canons on the main deck of the Santa Maria, Santa Cruz de La Palma

Canons on the main deck

The bit that surprises me is that this full-scale model is so small. Columbus’s crew of thirty-nine men spent thirty-four days in a boat this size, from La Gomera to the Bahamas. I suppose an estate agent would have called it cosy.

To be honest, it’s not the world’s greatest museum, and I was only in there for twenty minues, but then it costs one measely euro.

The Santa Maria is on the Plaza Alemeda at the north end of Santa Cruz de la Palma. It opens from 10 am to 2 pm, Monday – Friday. Price €1.00. There are public toilets opposite.

The deck of the Santa Maria, in Santa Cruz de la Palma

The deck of the Santa Maria, in Santa Cruz de la Palma