It’s a small place, La Palma. Not only on a map; I was sure I’d heard this tale of growing up in Venezuela and moving back home to La Palma to avoid military service before. Maybe this guy was a relative of the driver from the previous night.
La Palma, one of the smallest and least-visited Canary Islands, has long had a connection with South America and the Caribbean. A pattern of emigration and return began in the 15th century when conquistadors set out to discover the Americas. Franco’s regime in the 1950s brought economic hardship to the Canary islands (as well as mainland Spain) which saw thousands flee to Venezuela.
The bright yellow bus shelters around Santa Cruz don’t say ‘autobus’; ‘guagua’ is the word used here, a term more common in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
You can find it on many lunch menus too, away from the tourist restaurants; arepas filled with cheese, tuna and all sorts of delicious fillings for only a couple of euros.
The Canary Islands dialect has more in common with faraway shores too, as this quote illustrates:
‘Canary Island Spanish could easily be confused with Cuban, Panamanian or Venezuelan Spanish by the casual observer. The close ties with Cuba and Venezuela are also reflected in the language, life-style, music and cuisine. Both the pronunciation and the vocabulary of the Spanish spoken on La Palma have been strongly influenced by Latin America. The same applies to the traditional music and folklore, to the way people drink their coffee and to certain dishes such as Arroz a la Cubana.’
La Palma may be quieter than it’s neighbour across the bay, Tenerife, but its scenery is equally dramatic. A giant caldera forms the centre of the island along the Ruta de los Volcanos, thick with the heady scent of Canarian pines. As an escape from a northern European winter, it couldn’t be a brighter blast of colour; tropical flowers, vibrantly painted houses and everywhere the dazzling blue outline of the Atlantic ocean.
In Las Manchas local artist Luis Morera, heavily influenced by local flora and the work of Gaudi, has created a unique mosaic-filled square.
Elsewhere you’ll find plenty of traditional whitewashed churches set with dark volcanic stone, with dazzling carved wooden Mudéjar roofs. I love the simple style and contrast between the outside and inside.
And no shortage of colourful houses with traditional Canarian balconies (slightly different to the ones we saw in Tenerife).
La Palma had far more to offer than I expected and it’s well worth hiring a car/driver to explore more of the island if you only have a few days. There are some stunning viewpoints; the view was constantly changing as we drove around the east and north coast from Santa Cruz.
And we found one last South American link from Santa Cruz; this famous tiled Art Deco advert from the 1930s. Nitrate from Chile was exported to the Canary Islands and then on to Europe at the time.
Have you visited La Palma? How do you think it compares to the other Canary Islands?