From the cloudy east, to the sunny west
As I came out of the so-called “weather tunnel”, and emerged into the clear skies on the west side of La Palma, it was a magical moment.
The tunnel goes through the island’s central spine, Cumbre Nueva, and the nickname comes from the fact that weather conditions can be very different on the two slopes of the divide, at the same time, on the same day. The typical situation is cloud on the east side, sun on the west. True to expectations, I had just left the layer of mist, and the gloomy, evergreen woods behind me, and now found myself in sunlit pine forest: the vegetation was no longer dripping with moisture, but was dry, and smelt of resin.
The road descended and crossed a flat expanse of fields, and then went through El Paso. My destination was a town further west, sometimes referred to as La Palma’s secret capital: Los Llanos de Aridane.
The town centre of Los Llanos
I had done a bit of research beforehand, and decided that the best place to start would be in the central square, Plaza de España. After parking, I made my way there on foot, and was immediately impressed by the clean streets and well-maintained buildings. The square itself turned out to be a real gem, nicely isolated from through traffic by having only pedestrian access. So it still preserved a dignified, traditional air: the ideal place for a stroll, for meeting friends, or simply for unabashed people-watching in pleasant surroundings:
I looked around. Shade was provided by massive Indian Laurel trees, some of them originally planted in the 19th century. The key buildings could all be seen in the vicinity: the Town Hall, the Casa de la Cultura and Public Library, the Post Office, and the historic church. A number of street cafés were also visible, and a handful of small shops. The kiosk, purportedly selling the best coffee in town, offered strategic seating beneath the trees.
Leading gently uphill from the square are three parallel streets. I ambled up the first, and then cut through an alley to the next one, admiring the rows of smart little houses as I went, all harmoniously colour-schemed. On my way back downhill, I came across several other quaint corners, not least of which the Plaza Chica (“Little Square”), tucked away round the back of the church.
All three streets are pedestrianized, and have cafés with terraces, making this a great area for relaxing over a coffee or a snack.
Highlight nº 1: The contemporary murals
One of the town’s highlights is a group of murals. Dotted around the centre you’ll see large, colourful paintings which were specially commissioned by the local council from renowned present-day artists, to create an open-air art gallery: more precisely, the town itself is conceived as being included within the exhibition, hence the project’s rather arcane subtitle of “The City inside the Gallery” (La Ciudad en el Museo).
This modern art collection dates from 2000-2007, and was something I was eagerly anticipating. The large-scale acrylic paintings are located on the sides of the buildings, above street level, so you need to look up to see them. Representing the work of 13 different artists, they vary considerably in style, ranging from the almost cartoon-like, to surrealistic, or vividly expressionistic… and including more geometrical or abstract ones.
Each is a striking creation in its own right, and the combined effect adds a dash of colour and, in some cases, humour to the streets… plus a certain cosmopolitan atmosphere. There are 14 works altogether, one of them being a sculpture entitled “Guanche Head”, which acts as an original, albeit somewhat distracting, traffic island.
To find the last mural on my tour, I walked along the road leading out of town towards Puerto Naos. A few minutes later I stood at the foot of an impressive tableau, predominantly pale-blue in colour, entitled “View of La Palma from Saint Brendan”, measuring 55 square metres. Over two-thirds of the canvas was sky, the remainder sea, with the west flank of La Palma identifiable on the horizon, and a human figure silhouetted on a coast in the foreground:
The painting is an allusion to the mythical isle of Saint Brendan, supposedly lying somewhere to the west of La Palma, and allegedly discovered by the Irish monk of the same name, around AD 512-530. The legend below reads, freely translated: “From Saint Brendan everyone sees La Palma. From La Palma no-one sees Saint Brendan. Whoever looks a lot, sees little. Whoever sees a lot, does little looking.”
Many would like to believe this island really exists; some even claim to have seen it during one of its occasional reappearances… for it’s in the habit of emerging from time to time. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, at least eight naval expeditions set sail from the Canaries to try and find it. A local photographer went as far as claiming he had captured it on black and white film in 1958. To this day, one of the residential districts of Tazacorte is known as San Borondón, Spanish for Saint Brendan.
The subject really captures people’s imagination, and the artist has cleverly latched on to this theme. And there was still more imagination lying ahead, just across the street…
Highlight number 2: the Antonio Gómez Felipe park
On the other side of the road, I found highlight number two, the new park which was completely redesigned in 2010. “Park” is perhaps too simple a designation. The versatile Palmeran artist Luis Morera was the creator of this little Gaudi-esque haven.
I entered a sort of fairy-tale world, as I went through the wrought iron gate and stepped onto the mosaic tiling inside. The busy road suddenly seemed miles away. The intricate network of spaces had something of the stylized atmosphere of a Chinese garden: this is definitely not the kind of park you go jogging in, but more of an outdoor art exhibition, where you are constantly prompted to stop and look at the clever details, such as the abundant botanical motifs:
The entrance steps were flanked by two very photogenic sculptures of Palmeran lizards. On one side was a blackish male, with its turquoise throat patch, on the other a brownish, striped female. Tiny, multi-coloured mosaic tiles replaced the glinting scales of the real animals, and captured the fixed stare of those reptilian eyes to perfection:
Elsewhere, I was intrigued by curious architectural forms built from selected blocks of natural lava; there was a rock-face for an artificial waterfall, with a small pond at its foot, a bridge, and a grotto made of the same material.
Alongside the walkways, water channels created miniature cascades, and served to replenish the shallow pools visited by various species of birds. I spotted Canaries, Collared Doves, and Chiffchaffs enjoying their morning bath, and then perching to preen themselves on nearby shrubs. Plants were everywhere, both native and exotic: on one of them, a white bugloss, I managed to photograph a Monarch butterfly:
I lost track of time in the park, and probably went round the same paths several times, without realizing it. The Monarch was partly to blame. Actually, there were two of them, playing a butterfly version of musical chairs, fluttering around and then unexpectedly landing on unpredictable flowers. Their erratic movements made me wonder if butterflies have a sense of humour, or if they are just not systematic by nature. Eventually, my patience was rewarded with the photo above.
There are plenty of other sights in Los Llanos, but not visiting them all on the same day gives you the perfect excuse to return… if you really need an excuse to return to the sunny side of the island.