The Santa Maria

Concrete replica of Columbus’s Santa Maria in Santa Cruz de la Palma
April 11, 2015

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…

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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…

April 6, 2015
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The Lover’s Leap

A long time ago, a young goatherd in Puntallana fell in love. Nothing unusual about that of course, especially since the girl was very beautiful. The trouble was that she didn’t feel the same way. He was tall, handsome and athletic, but she hoped to marry someone richer. After all, a goatherd’s wife worked fourteen hours a day and went hungry in the bad years. But he wouldn’t take “No,”…

June 2, 2014
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Cochineal and Prickerly Pears

In the 1850s the export market for Palmeran wine collapsed, and somebody had the bright idea of going into cochineal production. Before the advent of synthetic dyes, this was far and away the best red dye available, particularly for wool. For one thing, it doesn’t fade. Cochineal is made from a parasitic insect (Dactylopius coccus), which lives on prickly pears (tuneras), so the plants and insects were imported from Mexico….

May 5, 2014
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Prehistoric Rock Carvings

The people who lived here before the Spanish invasion in 1493 were called Benauaritas. Since they didn’t have writing, not all that much is known about them, and what there is comes from the invaders. Not exactly an unbiased source! Their technology was pretty basic, maybe because the climate in La Palma is kind enough not to encourage things like weaving. They wore skins, lived mostly in caves, herded goats…

April 28, 2014
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SuperWASP, the Planet-Hunter

Superwasp open for business, Roque de Los Muchachos
April 4, 2014

Most of the telescopes at the observatory here look spectacular even from the outside. SuperWASP looks like a big garden shed. It’s the white thing at bottom left. Even when it opens up, it still doesn’t look like a professional telescope. To me, it looks more like a small missile launcher. The equipment isn’t that spectacular either. As modern telescopes go, it was built for peanuts. It has eight cameras,…

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