Exploring La Isla Bonita

Wow – what a place. La Palma has blown our minds and we have all been lost for words, just pointing and making indecipherable noises to each other at yet another stunning landscape, ravine, plant or creature. We had never planned to come to La Palma; we had planned our last stop off to be in La Gomera, the neighbouring island, but the marina there said they were full, and Marina Lanzarote suggested we try their sister marina here in La Palma. We have been incredibly grateful for the suggestion as we have enjoyed a weekend off from sailing and boat duties, winding our way up roads with hundreds of hairpin-bends one after the other, through multiple habitats, to the top of volcanoes and through primeval forests.

It is hard to find the words to describe the places we have been and sights we have seen, and no photos do this landscape justice, but here are a few attempts.

The water is so clear and full of life

Firstly, the water in the marina is SO CLEAR and full of fish, not just the usual marina mullet, but parrot fish, reef fish, sea urchins and bright blue, red and yellow crabs.
And this morning, an Atlantic Trumpetfish, which had us all up on the pontoon in our pyjamas trying to figure out what it could be.

The roads are like rollercoaster rides

This isn’t called the steepest island in the world for nothing. Our hire car rapidly gained height, taking us from sea level to over 2500m over only 10km horizontal distance as the crow flies. This involved hundreds of hairpin bends and awestruck gasps at the drop off to the side of the road.

Rally driver John takes us up and down the hills (actually very safely – thank you John)

At one point (actually, on multiple occasions), we took wrong turns and found ourselves on even tinier roads winding their way along the side of steep gorges, through tunnels carved through the rock with seemingly no additional engineering – just bare rock with water dripping through the roof.

On one of the accidental detour roads
Approaching one of the rudimentary tunnels (complete with vine curtain)

BIRDS!

We got out of the car to admire the view and birds were singing! I hadn’t realised that the soundscape in Lanzarote had been so empty of birdsong, but of course there are almost no trees and very little songbird habitat.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to hear birdsong as in this pine forest by the side of the road

I have started writing a ‘20 things to do in 2020’ list, inspired by my friend Sam’s ‘35 things to do before turning 35’ list and partly to give my journey a little more direction. A list to be shared in another post, but one of the things is to see and identify 20 endemic birds, and La Palma has got me off to great start!

Not a great selfie, but this is a Canarian Raven, endemic to the Canary Islands – very bold and interested in our lunch!
Showing off his best side up above the clouds
And this is the endemic La Palma chaffinch, only found on this island, but even bolder than our friendly robins at home.

Back with my beloved trees

After three weeks in volcanic rocky Lanzarote, and in advance of three weeks out on the big blue sea, I was feeling in need of some serious tree time, and La Palma delivered. At sea level, the farms are full of avocado, lemon, orange and papaya trees. As we travelled higher, the steep mountain sides were covered in cacti, and then pine forests, then lush jungle-like vegetation, then sparser pines as we reached the tree line and emerged way above the clouds as we approached the rim of one of the massive volcanoes that created the island.

Green and blues for days
Everywhere is so steep that many are clinging on to barely anything with their roots

A majestical landscape …

… As Uncle Hec would say to Ricky Baker (if you haven’t seen it already, watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople and you will get so much more than just that reference).

Sometimes there are just no words. Majestical is as close as it gets.

Just wow.

A high altitude hike into a volcanic crater

La Palma has one of the first Starlight Reserves, and a whole collection of international telescopes, perched on the edge of a volcano. They are worth going to visit, just for their design – mirrors, huge spheres, eggs… but with a crew containing two geologists we were more interested in the volcano.

Another location that no words or photos can do justice to
A narrow path follows a ridge out into the crater, then down inside it. Not for anyone with a fear of heights, or susceptible to altitude sickness.
No safety rails here
We were pleased to find that the board showed exactly the same image as we could see in front of us – trade winds to carry us south then west across the Atlantic
Perched on the edge, with Tenerife floating on a cloud on the horizon
Fruit cake for lunch on the edge of the crater
Roque de los Muchachos in the background – the highest point in La Palma

Exploring up a ravine under a waterfall

After our visit to the highest point, we headed towards a walk to a waterfall recommended by the marina manager. Not content with simply finding a waterfall, we ducked underneath it and explored up the ravine behind. With little evidence of any human activity, it felt like we had been dropped into the Lost World or Jumanji.

Before the quick dash underneath
Another location that photos do no justice to. The scale is just too massive. And my phone died.

A primeval forest

Cubo de la Galga is an ancient forest, pretty much undisturbed by human activity and thousands of years old. A perfect location for some pre-ocean-crossing forest bathing. The rest of the crew indulged me in my wish to explore this primeval forest, and this morning we spent a few hours trekking through ferns, laurel and mahogany forest, up another gorge. Dreamy.

A moment to think back to when surrounded by blue.
Mahogany hugging
Following the white and yellow stripes through the forest
Enjoying a great view from the mirador at the top of the trail…!
I don’t know what these were, but they covered the walls of the gorge

The many colours of Santa Cruz de La Palma

The main town here is still very traditional – there are none of the modern high rises or holiday apartments covering the rest of the Canaries. Many of the streets are cobbled, the houses have traditional balconies full of flowers (and the original privys which emptied straight onto the street below), and are painted every colour combination imaginable. This evening we slept a couple of hours wandering through the streets, enjoying the peace of late Sunday afternoon.

A traditional house along the seafront, with privy on the right hand side of the balcony
The mint choc chip house
Sunday afternoon on the main street in Santa Cruz

So there we go. Two days and a bunch of photos are not enough to explore or appreciate La Palma – one day, when I have my own boat, I will definitely be sailing back here for much longer.

Tomorrow is final provisioning and preparing day. Gill and I are getting up early to get to the market for 7am, then it’s laundry, baking, filling up with water, fuel, checking lines, stowing everything away, and getting an early night before Tuesday morning’s departure. It is all starting to feel rather real…

5 thoughts on “Exploring La Isla Bonita

  1. We went there on holiday in 2010 and our holiday was most fortunately extended free of charge due to the “ash cloud” from the Iceland earthquake.So glad that you are experiencing the beauty of the most green of islands.You are fortunate that you arrived by sea and not via the rocky ledge which passes as an airport!A particular memory of ours was the whirring of Alpine swift wings seemingly in our faces when we were up at the telescope site,also a number of choughs strutting around quite approachably.
    I hope you continue to be thrilled by your adventures and that likewise we will continue to enjoy them vicariously.

    Melanie & Don.

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    1. Oh wow lucky you! I like the sound of being stuck here a bit longer, but alas, almost all the jobs are done, we have 80 oranges on board and the weather is looking good for a departure in the morning… love to you both x

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