Today I planned a big tour around the island by car. To prepare for a long day, I started with my traditional café cortado in the café next door, then went to the local market to buy some fresh sea bass for dinner. After that, I was ready, and I set off north around the coast. It was cloudy, but the views from the road were still impressive.
My first stop was Los Tilos, an ancient forest of laurel trees on the East coast. This type of forest was very common throughout the Mediterranean millions of years ago but now is restricted to a few spots in the Canary Islands. I headed up a steep path, pausing to admire the dense vegetation. A fine drizzle from the clouds sweeping in from the West kept the path fresh and cool. On the way I paused to make friends with some pretty local birds and to give them a little food. They seemed to be very comfortable with tourists, even teddy bears, and walked right up to me.
At the end of the path was a viewing platform that looked out over steep canyons. The sun had finally come out and lit up pretty flowers of many different colours, whilst a thick mist rolled in from the sea and evaporated before my eyes. After admiring and filming the view I headed back to the car – in total it was a 2-hour walk, the sort of light exercise I needed after yesterday’s heroic treck.
Next, I explored the north of La Palma by car. I took a wrong turn somewhere, but the minor road I took was going in the right direction and was probably prettier than the main road that I occasionally glimpsed far below.
I missed the town of Barlovento completely (oh dear, missed an old church, never mind) and found myself at Zarza, and old archaeological site with ancient rock carvings. Since I was there, I decided to visit; the carvings were simple spiral shapes in the rocks lining a river valley. It is the sort of thing archaeologists get excited about, but personally I don’t see a big difference between ancient rock carvings and modern graffiti.
Still, it was a pretty site and nice walk. In the visitor’s centre there was an interesting relief map of the island, which helped me understand just how tall the central volcano, Cumbre Vieja, was. This inspired me to continue the road up, clinging to the side of the mountain. Below me impressive views opened of the sea and some of the coastal towns, but the road kept climbing. Finally, I arrived at the entrance to a complex of huge telescopes – at this altitude the sky is very clear and there is no light pollution, so it is a great place for an observatory.
The road carried on past several large telescopes to a car park on the very top of the volcano. Leaving the car and walking up to the edge of the cliff, I was struck by the most amazing view. The ancient volcano was enormous, and its caldera spread for many kilometres in a huge circle. It must have been formed by an immense explosion. The sides were so sheer and deep that it made my head spin to look down.
A short path continued around the ridge of the caldera, where I met more feathered friends – two magnificent ravens. They were so big I didn’t dare to get too close!
There were yet more viewing platforms, each giving a slightly different perspective of the caldera – either south down the length of the island and across the crater, or west and north towards the sea. Although I am a very well-travelled teddy bear, this view was one of the most stunning I’d ever seen – the stark volcanic rock and bright white telescopes dotted along the ridge gave the feeling of being on a different planet. Cumbre Vieja is dormant now, but not extinct. Small earthquakes occur often, and scientists think that some time in the next 10,000 years the volcano will explode again. When it does, the massive volcano walls will collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami that could submerge the east coast of the USA and south coast of Britain.
I admired the view for a long time, but it was getting late and reluctantly I set off on the drive home. There was a direct (but very steep!) walking route all the way back to Santa Cruz that was only 20km, but the road twisted and turned and was much longer than that. However, I was rewarded by more spectacular views – firstly of the sea, and Mount Teide on Tenerife looking up out of the clouds……..
And then of the clouds blowing in from the sea and being swallowed by a thick pine forest.
I finally got home at around 7pm after a very long and fulfilling day. I deserved my meal of roasted sea bass washed down with a very good local white wine, in the period setting of my townhouse’s dining room!