Crafts in Fuencaliente

Crafts on sale at the volcanoes Visitor Centre, Fuencaliente

Crafts on sale at the volcanoes Visitor Centre

Fuencaliente town hall has decided to have a craft stall in the visitor centre at San Antonio volcano, just for those days when there’s a cruise ship in port. As you can see, there’s plenty of embroideries on sale, but they also have lovely soaps, hand made with olive oil and natural fragrances.

A new beach

Santa Cruz de La Palma from the Concepción headland

Santa Cruz de La Palma from the Concepción headland

Santa Cruz de La Palma has been working on a new beach for some time. The idea is to create better sea defences (very necessary with global climate change) which look good.

I’ve always rather liked the idea, although we all dislike the lack of parking space while the work goes on. Now that it’s nearing completion, I think the idea’s getting rather more popular. At the northern end, the sea walls are done, and they’re making the beach. that’s the black zone towards the top of the photo. (The southern end isn’t nearly so far along.)

When I say they’re making the beach, they’re spraying it. There’s a dredger out in the bay, feeding sand into a long, fat pipe, which sprays it onto the beach where the big diggers spread it out.

Apparently the whole town of Santa Cruz de La Palma has a new hobby – watching the sand spray onto the new beach. All day long there are people – grown ups – watching the mo-mos. Because they’re hypnotic.

Do come and see the show if you can.

How to make a new beach, Santa Cruz de La Palma, October, 2014

How to make a new beach

The Molino Museum

Old weights at the windmill museum, Mazo.
A collection of old weights

As well as the workshop making replica ceramics, the windmill at Mazo houses a small museum. Entry is free, but there are a couple of places you can make a donation. Upstairs is mostly a collection of old tools: an old Singer sewing machine, combs for flax, knife grinders, braziers…

Old oil lamps at the windmill museum, Mazo.
Oil lamps

… the millers glasses, shepherd’s poles, long handled pallets for putting bread in a large oven. To be honest, it’s all crammed in rather haphazardly, but it’s almost all labelled, and it’s rather fun.

Gears underneath the windmill, Mazo.

But the best bit is downstairs. Much of the bottom of the windmill is still there. You can see the main flywheel and the gears, and hoppers for the grain.

Gears underneath the windmill, Mazo.

Best of all, you can still turn some of the mechanism by hand. Of course young boys love this.

Gears underneath the windmill, Mazo.
The brake and the bread kneader

Pre-hispanic Ceramics in Mazo

The workshop at el Molino, Mazo
Inside the workshop at El Molino

The Benahoaritas (or Auaritas or Awaras) were the people who lived on La Palma before the Spanish invasion. They lived in caves and wore animal skins, but they farmed, and they had ceramics. The older ceramics are simpler, and the newer ones usually more decorated.

At El Molino, in Mazo, they make replicas of these ceramics. The business was started by Ramon and Vina, but these days they’re retired and other people work there.

Cutting the decoration into a replica bowl
Cutting the design into the clay

Each design — usually a bowl — is an exact copy of a object made before the Spanish invasion in 1492. The walls of the workshop are lined with the reference pieces, each one labelled with the place where the original was found. The finished items are for sale in the shop, and prices range from €12 to €200. They also sell a good variety of souvenirs.

Smoothing the base of a replica bowl
Smoothing the bowl with a pebble.

The workshop is in an old windmill. To get there, take the road from Santa Cruz to Fuencaliente which passes below Mazo, and look out for the signs and the windmill’s sails. The windmill also houses a small museum (more in another post) and it’s set in a beautiful garden.

Open Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 1 pm and 3 pm to 7 pm. Tel 922 440213

The kiln at el Molino, Mazo

The kiln at el Molino where the finished pieces are fired.

Dragon Trees

Dragon tree at sunset

Dragon tree at sunset, Buracas, Garafía

The north of La Palma is one of the best places to see dragon trees. These exotic-looking plants grow throughout the Canary Islands, and also in Cape Verde, the Azores, Maderia, and western Morocco, but  on La Palma, they’re still reproducing naturally.

The Canary Islands used to have a large, flightless bird, something like a Dodo. This bird ate dragon tree fruits, so the seeds evolved to have a hard protective covering to survive the bird’s digestive tract. Now that the bird is extinct, this covering makes it had for the seed to germinate. In other places they put the seeds in an acid bath for a few hours (much like the inside of a bird) to remove the hard coating before planting the seed.

The Latin name is Dracaena draco. Although they grow anything up to 12 metres tall, botanically, dragon trees aren’t trees. They don’t have annual rings, for one thing. Actually, they’re classified in the same order (Asparagales) as garlic and asparagus, although they look nothing like each other. In fact, young dragon trees look like giant loo brushes and mature ones look like broccoli on steroids.

Because they don’t have annual rings, it’s hard to tell their age. The trunk branches every time they flower, which isn’t every year. So you can tell how often a trees has flowered, and make an educated guess at its age that way. The tree in the photo has flowered just twice. The oldest ones seem to be about 650 years old.

The resin is reddish. In ancient Roman times, people used to dry it and sell it to alchemists as dragon blood. It must have fetched a packet.

One of the best places to see them is at Buracas, below the village of Las Tricias in Garafía which is where I took the sunset photo. The photo below is of another lovely group at La Tosca, in Barlovento, which you can see from a viewpoint on the main road from Barlovento village to Gallegos. And there’s the famous twin dragon treesin Breña Alta.

Dragon trees at La Tosca, Barlovento

Dragon trees at La Tosca, Barlovento

Fufo Horses in Tazacorte tonight

Fufo horses at the fiesta in Tazacorte.

Tea break for the dancing Fufo horses at the fiesta in Tazacorte. Well, probably rum, not tea.

Tonight night at 9 pm the Fufo Horses will dance in Tazacorte, followed (of course) by a public dance.

 

The fiesta carries on for another week. You can see the full programme (in Spanish) here.

Starmus

pine08

Have you heard of Starmus – it’s a big festival of astronomy art and music on Tenerife. I’d have loved to go, particularly for Stephen Hawkings talk on The Origin of the Universe, but it’s 300€ per day. So near and yet so far.

Canary Pine Trees

Canary pine , pinus canariensis

Canary pine , pinus canariensis, Cumbrecita

pine08

Today I visited Cumbrecita, and I fell in love with Canary pine trees all over again.

Canary pine , pinus canariensis, Cumbrecita

Canary pine , pinus canariensis, Cumbrecita

So many of them look as though they’ve been carefully trained into artistic shapes, like gigantic bonsai trees.

Canary pine , pinus canariensis, Cumbrecita

Canary pine , pinus canariensis, Cumbrecita

So here are a few of my favourites.
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Los Sauces Bridge


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!

Starlit Skies

Galaxy M51 taken with the Isaac Newton Telescope and Wide Field Camera by Simon Driver

Galaxy M51 taken with the Isaac Newton Telescope and Wide Field Camera by Simon Driver

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