Thursday, December 10, 2009

December 9 – La Palma

From Madeira, we sailed south overnight to the Canary Islands, to visit the most Westerly of the islands (and one of the least touristy), La Palma. It's a beautifully green and fertile volcanic island, featuring an unspoilt landscape of steep slopes and volcanoes, extinct and still active.

I went on a tour up to the spectacular La Caldera de Taburiente, over 2000 meters above sea level – this huge Caldera is the largest in the world, at over one mile deep and 17 miles in circumference.

To get there, you have to pass over the steep line of mountains that runs down the middle of the island, and at the top, you pass through a mile long tunnel through the mountain, and you emerge at a totally different landscape from the one you left – on the eastern side of the island, it's full of dense vegetation, while on the west, the mountain is covered in a unique forest of tall Canarian pine trees – it's lovely to breath in the amazingly clean air, scented with pine.

At the Caldera, the weather was beautifully clear and the views across the pristine nature were just amazing – people on the tour who'd experienced the wonderful views of the Rockies, felt La Palma was even more impressive.

Tracy did a tour to the site of La Palma's last eruption, the volcano of Teneguia in the south of the island, which last erupted in 1971, watched a demonstration of potters and tasted yet more wine!

At the end of our tours, we had about an hour to explore the island's capital, Santa Cruz de La Palma. Unlike many of the Canary Island capitals, Santa Cruz is scarcely touched by tourism, so there's a genuine feel to the place, as you explore its historic streets of 17th and 18th century mansions, featuring their trademark wooden balconies, hanging over the cobblestone streets. We passed bars and restaurants busy with lunching locals, and wished we had time to savour a bit more of the local culture.

So, after this dash around town, we went back to the ship and stayed on deck for the sailaway into the Atlantic – as we won't be seeing land for the next 7 days, we wanted to savour the views.