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

The Cistercian Convent

The Cistercian convent at Breña Alta, La Palma

The Cistercian convent at Breña Alta

 

The Cistercian convent of the Holy Trinity at Buenavista in Breña Alta is surprisingly new. It was founded in 1946, and it’s the only closed order on the island. I was surprised to find out that there are only ten nuns who live there.

The convent has a small shop. I first went there about ten years ago, in search of a rosary made of dragon-tree seeds, for a Catholic friend who was losing her eyesight. The seeds are big enough that you can feel your way through the prayers, and she was delighted. At the time, the shop was still in the older part of the building, and to my eyes, very exotic. The room was rather dark, and seemed darker because of the wooden paneling. The nun who came to serve me stayed behind a tiny barred window, as though she were in jail – until she saw that I had a toddler with me. Then she disappeared, and came round to my side for a good coochi-coo.

The shop of the Convent of the Holy Trinity, Brena Alta

The shop of the Convent of the Holy Trinity, Brena Alta

The new shop is much airier, as you can see. They still sell rosaries and religious medals, but they’re best known for their biscuits, pastries and fruit liquors. Since they’re handmade, they’re a bit on the expensive side (these were €4.50), but they’re delicious. My mother-in-law always used to say, “God knows what they put in them, but they taste divine.”

Biscuits from the Convent of the Holy Trinity, Brena Alta

Biscuits from the Convent of the Holy Trinity, Brena Alta

The shop’s open from 9:30 – 2 pm, from 3 pm – 6pm and 7 pm – 8pm. Take the road from Conception towards Velhoco, and then drive up the narrow lane almost opposite the La Graja restaurant. It’s signposted “Monasterio el cister”. After about 300 m you’ll find the entrance on your right. It’s signposted again, but much less promenantly.


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San Jose Wheelbarrow Race

 
Sack race, San Jose wheelbarrow race, Breña Baja

Sack race

San Jose is Spanish for St Joseph, and St Joseph was Jeses’s earthly father, so Spanish father’s day is held on St Joseph’s day (March 17th) and the village of San José has a fiesta. On the Sunday after the 17th, they have a wheelbarrow race. Each couple gets timed as they hop in sacks to the wheelbarrows;

Pushing the wheelbarrow, San Jose wheelbarrow race, Breña Baja

Pushing the wheelbarrow

…slalom to the first stand where they put lipstick on each other while blindfolded;

Putting lipstick on each other, blindfoldedSan Jose wheelbarrow race, Breña Baja

Putting lipstick on each other, blindfolded

…pour water from one cup to another, while blindfolded, without using hands;

Pouring water while blindfolded, San Jose wheelbarrow race, Breña Baja

Pouring water while blindfolded

… feed each other whipped cream while blindfolded;

Feeding each other cream while blindfoldedSan Jose wheelbarrow race, Breña Baja

Feeding each other cream while blindfolded

…put a nappy on the one in the wheelbarrow, using plenty of talc;

Putting on a nappy, with talcSan Jose wheelbarrow race, Breña Baja

Putting on a nappy, with talc

… go over the sea-saw;

Over the sea-saw, San Jose wheelbarrow race, Breña Baja

Over the sea-saw

…collect an egg to be carried in a spoon held in the mouth;

Carrying an egg with a spoon in your mouth,San Jose wheelbarrow race, Breña Baja

Carrying an egg with a spoon in your mouth

… eat the egg at the next stop, and then dash for the finish line.

Of course the fastest couple around the track are the winners. Thw two adult winners were clearly delighted.

The adult winners of the 2015 sack race, San Jose, Breña Baja.

The adult winners of the 2015 sack race

Life is what happens…

 
The MAGIC telescope webcam, Roque de Los Muchachos, 20/03/2015 Snow and ice

The MAGIC telescope webcam, Roque de Los Muchachos, 20/03/2015

..after you made other plans.

Here’s what was supposed to happen today:
I had a group of students to show around two telescopes. Since they were going up in a bus from Los Cancajos and the weather forecast was poor, I arranged to drive to Los Cancajos, leave my car there, and go up with them in the bus. This would avoid the usual confusion created by bad weather days, and save me 8€ of petrol. Then I’d come down with them and drive home.

The first part worked. The direct road was blocked, so we set off on the longer route to the observatory. I phoned the first telescope to say we’d be late. They said, “No don’t come up. The weather’s very bad indeed, and it won’t get better. We’re in the cloud.”

This was an awful pity, because this group had come to La Palma especially for the telescopes and they had to fly out this afternoon.

Since we couldn’t control the wather, they decided to play tourists for a day.

At that point the penny dropped. Since the visit was cancelled, I wouldn’t be paid. And my car was back at Los Cancajos. I’d effectively been kidnapped by my lack of foresight. Obviously I should have driven behind the bus.

I did considered catching the public buses back to Los Cancajos, but I estimated it would take two hours. Meanwhile, this group was going nice places and I was heartily sick of sitting at a computer all day.

So I played truant, and stayed with them.

The first stop was the visitor centre for the Cumbrecita National Park. We were in luck – there was a space for the bus in the car park. So we went for a lovely hike to Las Chozas viewpoint. It was rather chilly up at 1,200 m (4,000 ft) but the view was fantastic (as usual) everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Panorama looking north from the crater of San Antonio volcano, Fuencaliente

Panorama looking north from the crater of San Antonio volcano, Fuencaliente

Then we went to San Antonio volcano. It was pretty breezy out on the crater, but again, the views were fantastic as usual.

Then we had a nice lunch, and went to the airport so everyone else could get their flight, and the bus driver kindly dropped me off in Los Cancajos.

So my day wasn’t lucrative or productive, but my goodness it was fun.

Panorama looking south from the crater of San Antonio volcano, Fuencaliente

Panorama looking south from the crater of San Antonio volcano, Fuencaliente

Tazacorte Church

The outside of the church of St Michael the Archangel, TazacorteThe outside of the church of St Michael the Archangel, Tazacorte

 

I’m not religious, but most of the churches on La Palma are beautiful, and worth at least a quick look. Even if the building itself isn’t special, there’s often a beautiful renaissance statue. I translated a text about Tazacorete chuurch which said that it “was built at the end of the 15th century, making it the oldest religious building on the island. It has been restored, enlarged and altered on several occasions.” It got me curious enough to visit.

The old nave in Tazacorte churchThe old nave in Tazacorte church

Sure enough, this nave is very like most of the old churches on La Palma, with whitewashed walls, semi-circular arches, and a lovely coffered ceiling and baroque altar-piece.

The new nave of Tazacorte churchThe new nave of Tazacorte church

And this is the other nave! They weren’t kidding about ” restored, enlarged and altered” were they? I haven’t been able to find out a definite date, but the style looks like the 1960s or 1970s.

The amazing thing is that the combination looks great. The architect must be a genius. I’m sure that if I tried to put a 1960s nave next to a 1490s nave, the result would be a right dog’s breakfast.

Standing in the old nave of Tazacorte church, looking towards the new naveStanding in the old nave of Tazacorte church, looking towards the new nave.

So I tried to work out why the two very different nave look as though they belong to each other. Well, they both have white-washed walls, and the same floor and pews. They’re joined by semi-circular archways, which are common in the old churches here. Both have wooden ceilings, although the new one is lower, lighter, and simpler. So I sort-of see why it works. but I still say the architect is a genius.

And yes, there’s a very old painting of St Michael the Archangel defeating the devil.

Old painting of St Michael in Tazacorte churchOld painting of St Michael in Tazacorte church

A Memorial to the Tazacorte Martyrs

The underwater memorial to the Tazacorte martyrs, La Palma

The memorial to the Tazacorte martyrs. Photo: Christian Carlos Tdo. Rguez

 

The Tazacote martytrs have an unusual memorial – 18m underwater at Malpique, the site where they drowned. There are 40 crosses, one for each of the victims.

The memorial was created in 2000, and I’m told that it’s easy to visit even for novice divers.

The photo was taken by Christian Carlos Tdo. Rguez who is a local diving instructor and ecologist. He has a blog in Spanish (with excellent photos) at http://lenopus.blogspot.com.es/

Sahara Dust

 
Satellite shot of Saharan dust blowing over the Canary Islands

After an colder-than-average winter, the temperatures here have shot up. This happens whenever the trade winds give way to calima – a hot, dry wind and dust blowing from the Sahara. We used to get it only in summer, but for the last few years it’s been happening earlier in the year.

Actually, it’s really nice at this time of year. Suddenly it’s warm enough to sit on the beach, even if you haven’t just flown in from northern Europe. The only catch is that it does tend to spoil landscape photos. Whereas in summer, it’s frankly too hot. Anything over about 35ºC, and I start to melt.

Local history: The Tazacorte Martyrs

 

Tazacorte Martyrs: Father Acevedo gives the relics to Don Melchor.

Father Acevedo gives the relics to Don Melchor.

In 1570, a party of Jesuit missionaries were on their way from Portugal to Brazil. They broke their journey in Puerto de Tazacorte. It was an unplanned stop: they’d been heading for Santa Cruz de la Palma, but the winds were against them.

On arrival in Tazacorte, Fr. Acevedo was amazed to find that the owner of the estate was an old friend from Oporto, don Melchor de Monteverde y Pruss. Don Melchor invited the priest to stay, and the priest gave him a small chest of relics.

Tazacorte Martyrs: Father Acevedo has a vision of his impending martyrdom

Father Acevedo has a vision of his impending martyrdom

Fr. Acevedo said mass in the chapel of Our Lady of Anguish (Nuestra Senñora de Angustias). As he raised the chalice, he had a vision of impending martyrdom, and bit the chalice. His teeth marks are still on it.

Once in Tazacorte, they discussed the possibility of travelling to Santa Cruz over land, but decided to sail instead, in spite of the rumours of pirates in the area. I think this says a lot about the footpaths at the time.

Tazacorte Martyrs: The missionaries meet the pirates

The missionaries meet the pirates

On July, 15th, they set sail for Santa Cruz, but the wind was still against them, and they made slow progress. Two days later they saw sails, which turned out to be boats belonging to a French pirate, Jacques Sourie.

Sourie had his men search the ship for anyone wearing a black cassock. Some were killed outright, and others had their arms hacked off before they were thrown into the sea to drown. John Sánchez was the only survivor, and only because the pirates needed a cook. So he cooked for them until they got back to La Rochelle, in France, where he escaped and made his way back to Portugal to tell the gruesome tale.

The martyr’s relics are preserved in the church of San Miguel and in the the chapel of Nuestra Señora de Las Angustias. These paintings are on display in Tazacorte church.

Tazacorte Martyrs: The martyrs go to heaven

The Martyrs go to heaven