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      October 2012 > Finding Liquid Gold on La Palma

Finding Liquid Gold on La Palma

Walking holidays in the Canary IslandsGuest blogger, Andy Montgomery of Buzz Trips, talks about the often surprising nature of walking on La Palma in the Canary Islands:

There’s something about the sight of water in nature that is compelling: a glacial lake whose crystal surface reflects serrated, snow-topped mountains beneath an ice blue sky; a lazy stream meandering through soft meadows of wildflowers; foaming rapids hurtling across boulders, filling the air with clouds of moisture and refracting the sunlight into a thousand rainbows. The presence of water in the landscape brings life, movement and an ever-changing perspective as it mirrors the light and the seasons.

Walking holidays in the Canary IslandsSummer 2012 has seen the worst drought and highest temperatures in the Canary Islands for over 70 years. Verdant valleys have become scorched and brown, wild spring flowers failed to appear and dust cloaks everything in its bland likeness. So it was with reduced expectations of its beauty that I took to the walking trails of La Palma at the beginning of September while the heat still raged and the clouds remained obstinately absent.

Known as La Isla Bonita ('the beautiful island'), La Palma enjoys some of the most spectacular of all the Canary Islands' landscapes. Beneath the swathes of pine and laurel forests, her slopes are seasonally veiled in wildflowers, tropical fruit trees and vines.

Walking holidays in the Canary Islands

But even as the plane came in to land, I could see the same stark landscapes that I had left behind on Tenerife, the irrigated bananas and vines a stark contrast against their arid canvas. Setting off from 1000 metres above sea level, deep into the Caldera de Taburiente, the dense pine forest provides delicious shade as the late morning heat begins to intensify. Raising clouds of red dust with my feet, I follow the wide pista as it gradually descends through the forest, the air thick with the scent of hot pine and oddly silent, as if the birds are too hot to speak. Around the crater rim, the rows of volcanic peaks quiver in the heat haze beneath a sky so intensely blue that it hurts your retinas to look for too long.

As I leave the forest behind I can hear the unmistakeable sound of running water and I emerge around a rocky outcrop to see a wide stream hurrying along the crater floor, skipping over rocks and eddying into gaps in the pebble shore. Along the banks of the stream spurges cluster by the water’s edge forming a green hem to the river’s progress, and the silence of the forest air is replaced with the happy chatter of birds. Blue and red dragonflies skim the water's surface while Monarch butterflies the size of a fist flit lightly from leggy geranium to rock rose.

Walking holidays in the Canary IslandsAfter the long and dusty walk through the dappled forest, the river makes the perfect spot to peel off the hiking socks and dip hot feet into icy water while unwrapping sandwiches and revelling in the long-forgotten pleasure of a riverside picnic. It’s also nature’s gift to the walker and making my way upstream to avoid swimming pools of the campers from the site on the other side of the river, I refill bottles with sweet, cold spring water. I cross the river a dozen times or more along the course of my walk, following its progress through dramatic gorges, alongside still ponds of emerald green secreted in grottos beneath solidified lava rocks and to an iron-rich waterfall that has painted the rock face in myriad hues of ochre.

Walking holidays in the Canary IslandsIt seems incredible that there can be this much water on the surface of an island that has seen little or no rainfall for over a year. The ‘miracle’ of La Palma’s water comes from the highly porous nature of the volcanic rocks that surround the caldera.

Taking moisture from the clouds and from rainfall, the water can take two years or more to travel through the labyrinth of veins in the rocks, escaping in impromptu waterfalls to freefall down the glistening rock face to the valley floor.

Privately owned, the water is mainly deployed to irrigate the insatiable appetite of the banana plantations that carpet the island’s coasts, and walking through the springs of Marcos y Cordero the following day reveals torrents of fresh spring-water channelled through tunnels and destined for agricultural use.

Negotiating the tunnels and climbing stone steps alongside waterfalls, I find a Canary Island hitherto unknown to me, one whose walking trails reveal landscapes of intense contrast and beauty and whose heart contains seemingly endless supplies of liquid gold.

La Isla Bonita, indeed.

Walking holidays in the Canary Islands

Posted: 26/10/2012 09:54:08 by Andy Montgomery | with 0 comments
Filed under: Canary islands, nature, Spain

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