|The Ballards - Spain La Palma|
England, Summer 2008.
La Palma is the Westernmost Canary island; governed by
Spain but geographically closer to Morocco. Like all of the Canaries it's
a volcano, so geographically very young which means all the rocks are
sharp and clean; erosion has had little time to round the edges.
Until early 2008 there were no direct flights from the
UK; you needed to change in Madrid, Tenerife or Munich (Munich....?).
The island rises very steeply from the ocean and reaches
2,421m (that's 7,942ft for Americans and the Old); this means that very
few of the roads are straight or level, making for rather frustrating
driving. Only one piece of proper dual carriageway exists on the island:
the main Santa Cruz Airport road.
Part of the reason for the investment is the world-famous
the summit of the Roque de Los Muchachos, the highest mountain on the
island, and clear of any atmospheric pollution (well, apart from my farts...).
A little research shows the area around the observatories
to be protected
airspace from FL70 upwards, in a cone, and as they are 7,900ft AMSL
you aren't going to be able to fly close enough to get any pictures.
Many of the roads show extensive civil works: there are many tunnels and spectacular lookout points as the roads traverse the wrinkled landscape.
The steepness of the island makes the scenery change
very quickly from the coastal banana plantations to pine forests to bare
The bananas grown are the wrong type for the EU (EU bananas
are grown in the Caribbean) so are sold in Africa at an EU-subsidised
price; many of the bananas are also pulped, and the whole enterprise is
heavily funded by the EU's CAP as an employment mechanism for the locals.
The Canaries are "Duty Free", which in practice,
as the term has been so abused, means you will pay a price about half
way between the Duty Free price of the item and it's Duty Paid counterpart.
The architecture is Spanish, appropriate to an island
that has been under Spanish ownership since 1479. Logically, though, the
entire archipelago should belong to Morocco. I suspect the populace, mainly
retired Spanish, might reject that.
The populace is concentrated around the towns of Santa
Cruz De La Palma and the capital on the Eastern side of the island clustered
around the only harbour (and now the airport); and Los Llanos de Andane
on the Western side of the central mountain spine on the only relatively
flat area of land.
We dived off the South West coast of the island and the visibility was very good. The fish were not as plentiful as the Red Sea, and a little more wary of divers, but still interesting.
The North-Eastern side of the island is also quite heavily
populated, although quite what everybody does for a living eludes me.
They can't all be growing bananas.
San Andres, near the bridge, is probably the find of the island, home to a really nice church square with a superb open-air restaurant and unspoiled architecture. Worth a visit.
The year-round temperate climate makes for effusive plant growth, except at 2,400m where absolutely nothing grows....)
Occasional oddities present themselves, such as this crash barrier on the wrong side of the tree...
The airport at Santa Cruz resembles an aircraft carrier;
one approach you really don't want to undershoot. A consant stream of
inter-island ATR72s went in and out; I don't think anyone seriously uses
the ferries any more.
The whole island is infested with small lizards: the males have the blue puff beneat their jawline. They are quite sweet.