The ship woke today in time to catch the sun rising across the marina of the La Palma. As the sun began its ascent and cleared the few remaining clouds it promised a ‘scorchio’ day ahead. As usual everyone mustered to the call of a full English breakfast, but more importantly for all was the chance to fulfil the dream of many sailors: to explore a new place. (Perhaps more surprising than the high morale and the high sunshine, was the news from Paul that he was considered a champion dishwasher at home – the news surprised his watch mates as much as they felt it would surprise his family at home).
With breakfast stowed away, and the crew washed and readied, most gathered for a guided tour of the island. La Palma, which is the second smallest of the main islands in the Canaries, proved again the old adage that good things come in small packages.
The stunning volcanic scenery of the north westerly most Canarian island was soon apparent to all of those who went to explore – just as it has been to all those who have arrive here since the Spanish conquest in 1493 and people before those.
Lush greenery covers mountain gorges leading up the summit of a volcano which continues defines the island having first raised it from the seabed over 1.5 million years ago. Home to only 90,000 people across 700 square kilometres, La Palma retains the sense of an island that is inviting to explorers seeking something different. The lack a beach culture means a more discerning visitor seeks a different experiences on this island – it’s not the more traditional holiday-type experience found in the larger islands. The rugged geologically active environment beckons those with an interest in nature, flora and fauna, geology, and those who have a yearning to hike through unspoilt forests or walk along the ridge of volcanos that have been active as recently as he 1970s.
The crew felt the tour was superb, varied, informative and with an engaged guide and a skilled driver – which was needed along some of the treacherous routes! From the vast banana plantations that form the backbone of the economy, employing one in three of the local population and exporting 190million tonnes a year, to the fledgling avocado farms and newly formed beaches, the crew saw all that this little Atlantic gem had to offer.
Quaint historic churches dominated quiet villages that nestled precariously across the sides of the volcanos. The balconies of the town houses belied the influence of generations of incomers to this subtropical island – especially those from Arabia, north Africa, and the lowlands of Europe.
The crew looked out across the Atlantic from the very top of the 2,400 metre high island; stood on the very edge of the volcanos and wandered into the lush forests that line the (very!) vertical drops. The lava from recent eruptions criss crossing the local highways remained a hugely vivid reminder of the power of nature and the resilience the population.
The chance to enjoy some of the amazing local tapas, and marvel at the natural beauty left many wondering whether the earliest inhabitants of the island, who had, apparently, set sail from Africa and then, finding all they needed to live on the island, simply stayed had got it right. Like those earliest arrivals, getting here had been demanding, but everyone as sure that leaving would prove equally tough. But there were other islands to explore, and other gems to find – and that was surely the point.
Super Steve- on behalf of the crew who took the tour