Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

La Palma: One Week In

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First impressions are important, apparently. So what was my first impression of La Palma? Not good. I suppose that the bubble had to burst sometime. I’ve been almost floating around on this cloud of wonderment and some degree of happiness since last September. Not bad going really I suppose.

The Build Up

France, Ireland, London, La Gomera, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Graciosa had all woven spells on me in different ways, and then there had been time in La Gomera with Guy and his girlfriend in May, time with wonderful friends, and times with both of my sons in those months. The journey had been going well until the not unexpected, but still incredibly sad death of my Auntie Dot (about whom I wrote a few years back). She was ready, and it was time, I know, but deaths often bring on musings about life. For that reason it may be that I didn’t anticipate my next destination with as much excitement as before……then, again, that could be a good thing. I’d been lucky. What had been the odds that all those places would have really lived up to my expectations?

Hermigua

As it happened, I’d been asked to show someone around La Gomera on the weekend before I left, so it had been like making the rounds to say goodbye to some extent. I arrived in San Sebastian early last Tuesday, to walk around and confirm to myself a decision I’d come to over the previous few days – much as I love La Gomera, I don’t want to make my base there.

Beach San Sebastian de la Gomera

San Sebastian did its best to try to make me change my mind. The sun warmed, but didn’t fry me; the colors of the renovated, old buildings glowed, and I enjoyed a pizza, in a streetside café, Trix at my feet. Tempting, huh? Yet, I was ready to move on. I had no doubts.

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Marina San Sebastian de la Gomera

 Arrival

I’m not a fan of arriving anywhere in the dark, but both ferries to La Palma, the island I’d chosen to move onto, from La Gomera arrive at night. The port was a surprise. Coming from La Gomera, I’d expected it to be on the same kind of scale, but it was much busier and well, port-like, than San Sebastian. Still, it was relatively easy to find the aparthotel I’d booked.

Then came the first “smack in the belly with a wet fish.” The hotel I’d carefully chosen online through ******.co.uk because it was pet friendly, wasn’t. Wasn’t pet friendly that is. After bumping around outside of an unlit reception area to try to decipher the note on the door, I rang the number I eventually found there. A young man emerged from the open patio doors of the apartment next door, (don’t tell me he hadn’t heard my tripping, talking to Trixy or breaking my torch?!), and his first words were that dogs weren’t allowed in the complex. Why, then, did ******co.uk tell me they did I asked? Discussion was useless. When you are met with the Canarian shrug, which is to say “Dunno. Can’t help. Don’t care,” it’s best to move on and find another solution. Standing, tired, arguing the point at 11pm, served no purpose.

 

Trixy settled into the van for the journey. She seems to know what to expect now, but I kind of think she was happy that I'd dumped some stuff in storage and now she has more space :)

Trixy settled into the van for the journey. She seems to know what to expect now, but I kind of think she was happy that I’d dumped some stuff in storage and now she has more space :)

Thanks to a totally different kind of Canarian attitude from a helpful and concerned security guard from a nearby complex, I found somewhere else and sank into a nice, clean bed earlier than I’d anticipated an hour before.

Morning dawned bright, a walk by the ocean revealed not the unspoiled views I’d hoped for (though the previous night had more or less dashed those hopes), but a cookie-cutter tourist spot. Happily, there was an excellent café for breakfast to cheer me up before setting off for the other side of the island.

I knew it was around a two hour drive. La Palma is a small island, but it is the world’s steepest, so roads have to navigate its contours. No road is straight. No road is horizontal for much of its length. No road has long stretches where overtaking is easy. And then, I got lost.

Getting Lost

This getting lost was possibly the best thing that has happened to me so far, because it took me along a twisting, narrow mountain road, which wove through forests of magical proportions. Through the trees, I glimpsed peaks that surely came from some Disney movie; they towered, sharply, watching. Blackbirds and tiny canaries darted in front of, leading me along a mysterious path. We went through tunnels so narrow I was unsure of entering, carved directly through the rocks, without concrete, so it was like going into a cave, where water dripped from the ceilings. I felt like Snow White. If Prince Charming had emerged from the undergrowth to serenade me, I wouldn’t have been in the slightest surprised.

There was, quite simply, no turning around, but we came out, eventually onto a main road, and back to reality.

First Impressions

Since then I have driven up to see perhaps the most breathtaking view I’ve ever seen at Roque de los Muchachos, where the volcanic heights of the island spread before me, mists fingering their way between mountain tops, and the foreground a carpet of red and blue and yellow flora. Easy to understand why the island was named a Biosphere Reserve.

Below me, the sci-fi shapes of telescopes and observatories that bring astronomers here from around the world, to study space from some of the clearest night skies on earth.

Taburiente from Roque de los Muchachos

Taburiente from Roque de los Muchachos


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I have explored a couple of pretty, rural towns, and attended a “county fair.”   I already discovered my favorite eatery, a Belgian craft brewery which also serves delicious tapas……how do I know it’s my favorite? Well, because so far there hasn’t been any competition, which is no disrespect to Cevezeria Isla Verde, which would stand up to competition in any city center.

Fiesta de San Antonio La Palma

Fiesta de San Antonio La Palma

Fiesta San Antonio La Palma Canary Islands

 

Waffle from Ceverezria Isla Verde near Tijarafe

Waffle from Ceverezria Isla Verde near Tijarafe

I have seen a couple of breathtaking sunsets; tried local, smoked, fresh goat’s cheese; had the best and cheapest fruit juice ever. I’ve also had fried fish so awful I couldn’t get the greasy taste out of my mouth all day; tried to break the ice with people and been met with blank stares; seen a few instances of really scary driving on these difficult roads. Still, I totally acknowledge that there are pros and cons to everywhere and everything and everybody. Just that my personal scales are tilting in a direction I’d prefer they didn’t.

sunset las tricias la palma canary islands

So why the disgruntlement? Why the disappointment? Well, there are several, possible reasons, or it could be combination of them all. I will explore them in future posts, but mention now that the coast around Tazacorte on the west coast was an intense let-down. Tazacorte, one of those pretty, rural towns, is at the heart of the banana industry, and I use the word industry advisedly, because much of the landscape is covered with plastic, which, of course, is not only unsightly, but so bad for Nature on every level. It is an industrial vista from above, not the lush greenery seen in other places. Of course, yes, I’ve seen this in the south of Tenerife too, but from a Biosphere Reserve I’d expected so much more!

Historic, renovated sea front houses in Tazacorte

Historic, renovated sea front houses in Tazacorte

With the exceptions of the people to whom I had introductions and a charming girl at the Tourist Board stand at the aforementioned county fair, I’ve not found the natives exactly friendly – best description for now is disinterested, but when I mentioned a certain place where I’d experienced this to the girl on the Tourist Board stand a flicker of recognition crossed her face, and she glanced at a colleague as if to say, “Again!”

Modern banana plantations are as much plastic as greenery it seems

Modern banana plantations are as much plastic as greenery it seems

Plastic over bananas Tazacorte La Palma Canary Islands

Perhaps, after all, I was expecting too much. So many folk have told me that this is the most beautiful island of all, and I have to agree that the jewel at the center, the Taburiente caldera is incomparable. I hope I’m proved wrong, but for now it simply feels like a magnificent jewel in a tacky setting.

 

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Author: IslandMomma

Loving island life and exploring the freedoms Third Age brings: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

9 thoughts on “La Palma: One Week In

  1. Excelent chronicle, Linda. I read it in its entirety. My father was born in La Palma, but he himself was not that fond on the people there. Best regards Cristóbal

    • You know how much I value your opinion, Cristobal, so I feel better about feeling bad, if you know what I mean. There is, it sounds like, some justification for my rant, other than just me feeling out of sorts! As I said to Gaelyn I’ve now found the folk working in tourism or in the museum really friendly and helpful, so, as is often the case, I’m thinking that education and travel are the keys.

  2. When moving and exploring a lot I guess there’s bound to be a disappointment somewhere along the line. It looks beautiful, except for the plastic covered banana farms. Wonder why it’s such an unfriendly place.

    • It really is the most gorgeous jewel in the center of what must have once been a lovely setting, and I wouldn’t want to generalize too much about the people, of course. I’ve met some really people, especially those working in museums and directly in tourism, shops, bars etc not so much. I am guessing that it’s connected to the isolation. La Palma is the most remote island, and when I ask people if they are from here, they invariably say yes, whereas on other islands often they come from a different one. Plus, of course, it’s still early days, my post was very much a gut reaction to my first experiences.

  3. It must seem such a contrast to La Gomera, where you enjoyed such friendliness. some of the scenery is so spectacular. this plastic thing seems to become more a part of agriculture. see fields here covered. I suppose a weed suppressant or some such idea.
    How long will you be there … and where next…

    • Whatever the reason, it’s horrible! Not to mention dangerous for wildlife……I feel a rant coming on, but am sure it will a whole other post! Not sure yet. Was planning to spend the summer here, but not so keen to do that now :(

  4. Aw, a shame you didn’t have such a great first impression. We’ve lived on La Palma for over 12 years and, having traveled to all of the Canary Islands and some of them several times, and we wouldn’t swap it for anything.
    But yes I agree, sometimes you don’t get an ebullient welcome in bars, they are often quiet people. Some people do have a different way of looking after customers in that they wait for the customer to make a request.
    In the rural north where we live, it is not at all uncommon for someone to sit in a bar and not wish to partake in a coffee or wine, they are just happy to sit there for the company or to take the weight off their feet. If they do want a drink, they will call out an abrupt sounding ‘Look! Give me a coffee.’
    Idle chatter is not something that they all do and sometimes it can come over as being quite terse. But of course tourism is still in its infancy here which is something to celebrate.
    As for the bananas being covered in plastic – yes, some are but not by any means all. A small percentage I would say but of course it draws the eye and does look horrible. But I’m afraid that’s commercialism – the bananas grow in a more stable environment so that they are more perfectly formed which is what the majority of consumers like.
    For anyone who is into natural beauty, then I would say come to the north. The landscape – and people – will blow you away!
    Ann
    http://www.holiday-lapalma.com

  5. My apologies for not replying to you sooner, Ann. Normally when I get a comment from someone new to the blog I get a separate notification, but didn’t with yours. I only found it just now in looking for something else.

    As you might guess, my impressions softened over the time I was in La Palma, but I still left ahead of time. It was, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, simply the wrong time for me to be there. I have absolutely no doubts at all that I will return and like it better. For one thing I wasn’t able to hike, and I am convinced that that must be the very best way to see the island properly. Perhaps my expectations had been too high. Several friends adore hiking in La Palma, so I was very much looking forward to that, and then again, I’d come from a month in La Gomera (and had spent five months there at the turn of the year), where almost everywhere is so very green, that the plastic really shocked me. Having lived 26 years in Tenerife I am accumstomed to that, but totally didn’t expect it there.

    I was based in Las Tricias, which is, of course, north, or at least north west, and that wasn’t a good thing. It was too isolated in the sense of not meeting folk, and people always make a place for me. Add that to my somewhat disasterous arrival, and things began baddly. I racked my brain for an alternative, but there wasn’t an affordable one right then!

    Actually, didn’t find bar workers/owners that bad at all, with the exception of a spectacularly memorable one in Mazo, and I did find people in museums and information centers exceptionally helpful and well-informed (though there was a lack of information in general and opening times were puzzling – though this I think is down to “La Crisis.”), with the exception of the Visitors’ Center in El Paso, which, of course, is an important port of call if you want information! It was just, kind of, people in general I couldn’t warm to (or vice versa—–), people met in shops, bars in the street were unresponsive, and given that I wanted to learn about the island that seemed strange.

    I also came to like Tazacorte in the end (although not the surroundings!) given that I needed to go there several times because it was the nearest supermarket. I will do a more analytical post in due course, but I do appreciate that it was 50% me and 50% La Palma. Also remember that I wasn’t looking at it purely from a tourist point of view.

    Many thanks for your insights, and I have bookmarked your site for future reference!

  6. Pingback: Traveling with Trixy | Islandmomma

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