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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.