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

Where did the benahorita come from?


The people who lived on La Palma before the Spanish arrived in 1493 called the island Benahoare, and themselves Benahorita. (Or according to some people Benawara and Benawaritas. They insist their spelling is correct. I find this odd, because to me the correct spelling would be the one the people themselves used, only they didn’t write.)

The Benahorita probably arrived on La Palma somewhere between 1000 BC and 100 BC, and the best guess is that they were Berbers from North Africa, or related to Berbers. (Of course if that’s where they came from, they left well before the Arab invasion of North Africa, which changed the Berber gene pool.) Modern DNA analysis suggests that 42 – 73% of the modern gene pool is Berber. Since this is maternal DNA only, it’s probably skewed towards women who survived the Spanish invasion and away from the invading men. Come to that, it’s also skewed away from the sailors who spent stopovers in Santa Cruz de la Palma when it was the biggest port in the Canaries, and towards the women who gave them a good time while they were here.

A new study of DNA from the teeth of 38 Benahorita shows 70% north African, 7% sub-Saharan origin, and something they haven’t found outside the Canaries. They also found a high gene diversity, which suggests that the Benahorita didn’t stay isolated once they got here.

You can read the abstract itself here.

Argual Flea Market


The flea market in Argual, just outside Los Llanos, takes place every Sunday from about 10 am to about 2 pm. It’s smaller than the monthly market in Santa Cruz, but it’s a much nicer situation. I think it’s been a market square for a very long time. At any rate, it’s surrounded by beautiful old buildings and has trees growing in the middle (which must be really nice on the hottest days).

Yesterday it was rather a small affair. This was partly because it clashed with the market in Santa Cruz, but mostly because the forecast was rain.

Even so, it was enough to see that this market has a slightly different flavour to Santa Cruz. It has a much higher percentage of German Hippies selling New Age things like Tibetan singing bowls.

I only saw two stalls setting plants. One also sold vegetables, and I bought some really good broccoli, plus sage and dill for the garden.

And one man was selling Palmeran cigars. Now I don’t smoke, but I believe Palmeran tobacco has a very good reputation.

But perhaps my favourite bit was the dreamy live music. I haven’t seen these two before. The instrument on the left is a digeridoo. If anyone knows the name of the instrument on the right, please let me know, because I haven’t seen one before.

Spring is here

The Swedish solar tower(left)  and the Dutch Open Telescope (right), Roque de Los Muchachos observatory.

The Swedish solar tower (left) and the Dutch Open Telescope (right) yesterday.


Spring is obviously here. Some people look for the swifts returning or flowers blooming, but I know it’s spring when the solar telescopes start work after their summer break. It’s not very easy to see whether the Swedish Solar Telescope is working unless you’re close, but yesterday, the Dutch Open Telescope had the clamshell dome down and they were clearly open for science.

It must be time to buy a swimsuit.

Lepidoptera humunguous

A small Caterpillar digger

Young caterpillar of  feeding at the roadside.

Today is the perfect day to go and find the larvae of Lepidoptera humunguous feeding beside the roadworks in Fuencaliente. Lepidoptra is the order of insects which includes moths and butterflies. I’ve never seen the cocoons, but I believe the adult form can sometimes be seen at the airport.

A big Caterpillar digger at the roadworks in Fuencaliente.

Older caterpillar of Lepidoptera humunguous feeding at the roadside.

Training vines

New vine leaves growing along the ground, Fuencaliente, March 2015

New vine leaves growing along the ground.


Spring is here, and the vines are sprouting all over the island.

In the south of the island, particularly in Fuencaliente, it’s dry. In a hot summer day, the wind sometmies feels almost like a hairdryer. This could turn the grapes to raisins before you harvest them, so the vines are trained low to the ground to keep them out of the wind. They’re usually planeted in hollows, or surrounded by drystone walls higher than the vines.

Vines growing low to the ground in Fuencaliente, surrounded by a drystone wall

Vines growing low to the ground in Fuencaliente

There’s little chance of the grapes drying out in the north of the island. People are more worried about mold, so the vines are trained much higher. In fact many people grow them over the patio. That way they get sun on the patio in winter, and it’s shady in summer. Towards the end of the summer you can even reach up and help yourself to a bunch.

Vines trained over the patio of a house in Garafía. (The vines are on the left.)

Vines trained over the top of the patio of a house in Garafía. (The vines are on the left.)

La Zamora Kiosk

The kiosk at La Zamora, Fuencaliente, La Palma

The kiosk at La Zamora, Fuencaliente, La Palma


There are several kiosks around La Palma. They all give good value for money in unpretentious surroundings, and some are great.

La Zamora is on the south-west coast of La Palma, in Fuencaliente.

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It sits on top of a cliff, with a great view down to the bay below. When the sea’s rough, the waves breaking on the rocks out to sea are spectacular. I really want to see the sunset from here.

Waves breaking over the stacks at La Zamora, Fuencaliente, La Palma

Waves breaking over the stacks at La Zamora, Fuencaliente, La Palma

And when the sea’s calmer, you can swim from the tiny beach below.

La Zamora's tiny beach, Fuencaliente, La Palma

La Zamora's tiny beach, Fuencaliente, La Palma

The decor’s very simple and the menu’s limited, but we had a good meal (salad, potatoes, sea food and drinks) for about 15€ each, and the fried baby octopus were extremely good. We’ll be going back.

People eating lunch at La Zamora kiosk, Fuencaliente, La Palma

People eating lunch at La Zamora kiosk, Fuencaliente, La Palma