30 Kasım 2006 Perşembe

La Isla Bonita: Where nature meets history

La Isla Bonita: Where nature meets history

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Those who have the chance to travel overseas should not skip San Miguel de La Palma, a beautiful connection of nature, history, technology, sports and culture, a must-see paradise on earth

AYLİN YAVAS - TDN Guest Writer ANKARA - Turkish Daily News

Seven islands, six islets, four national parks, hundreds of volcanoes, nearly all of them inactive: This is a brief description of an archipelago that lies off the western coast of Morocco, near the Tropic of Cancer. Annexed to Spain between the 14th and 15th centuries when the earliest inhabitants, the Guanches, were still there, the islands were transformed into a flourishing trading center on the shipping routes to the American and African continents. The Canary Islands are nowadays two distinct Spanish provinces: the Western Islands (Tenerife, La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomela) and the Eastern Islands (Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura). These seven volcanic natural structures emerged from the bottom of the ocean and temptingly invite you to visit. Last summer I had the opportunity to spend six weeks on San Miguel de la Palma Island, also known as La Palma or "The Pretty Island" (La Isla Bonita).

La Palma:

La Palma is the most westerly island, located northwest of Tenerife and El Hierro islands. The geographic area is 708 square kilometers and there are 82,000 inhabitants, with Santa Cruz de La Palma as the capital.
The flight from Istanbul to Madrid lasts four hours, then three hours to La Palma due to trade winds. Then an island as pure as nature intended welcomes you.
Admire the spectacular and dense laurisilva forests in a protected section of the island. The majority of these forests are so valuable that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared them a Biosphere Worldwide Reserve under the name of “Los Tiles.” Presently, the entire island falls under the Biosphere Worldwide Reserve designation. The legendary dragon tree is worth mentioning. From it one extracts the dragon's blood, red liquid sap exported in the 16th century and used in medicine. This beautiful tree lives for thousands of years. La Palma has the most dragon trees among the Canary Islands.

Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory:

In the middle of unparalleled beauty at an altitude of 2,400 meters is the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory. This observatory on La Palma -- together with the Teide Observatory on Tenerife -- belongs to the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC). It is one of the most important viewing stations in the world due to its telescopes and instruments, as well as the unobstructed view of the skies above. It opened in 1985 to the delight of heads of state and royalty from countries that participated in its construction.
Important scientific discoveries have been made with these telescopes. Of particular significance were those made with the William Herschel telescope, such as the first discovery of light from a planet outside our solar system, the first black hole confirmed in our galaxy and the first optical image of a gamma-ray burster, confirming one of the most violent explosions of the universe. In order to minimize nocturnal light pollution that would diminish observations, the Canary Island government has passed the Law of the Sky regulating the installation of nocturnal lighting by ensuring the use of lamps that will not affect the telescopes' view. I was lucky to catch an open sky and spend the day in the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory. To enjoy a similar experience in Turkey, you can participate in observation festivals organized by the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) and visit the TUBITAK National Observatory (TUG) in Antalya (http://tug.tubitak.gov.tr).


What about visiting volcanoes? You can find a very active geological zone in the south of La Palma. The last volcanic eruptions that are well documented were the Tacante volcano (between 1470 and 1492) and the eruption of the Teneguia volcano (1971). Fortunately, I wasn't there for either. Besides the mountains, volcanoes and streams of lava, it is very important to stress the many volcanic tubes, some of them very accessible. Of course, there are others that are really long, underground and labyrinthine.


La Palma is not only nature but also history. In the 16th century the first sugar plantations were planted here. Since then, the island has become well known due to its wine industry. Fittingly, Malvasía wine (Malvasía is a very sweet and fragrant grape) is mentioned by universal playwrights such as William Shakespeare. In the last few centuries La Palma has gained business importance. Shipyards were built to construct vessels that would ply the arduous Americas route. The ships were made of wood from the rich forests. The port of Santa Cruz de La Palma was considered the third busiest of the Spanish empire.


The cuisine of La Palma is similar to that of the other islands and of Spain. Unfortunately, over the years, the typical dishes have been forgotten. In rural areas families eat the products cultivated in the field. Potatoes, gofio, pork beef, goat cheese, milk, fish, some vegetables, ripened fruit and mojo are the staples. On feasts and special days special dishes and desserts were made, such as honey soups, rice pudding, toasted chestnuts, milk ring-shaped rolls, alfajores, sponge cakes and others. The confectionery of La Palma is rightly very famous. The rapaduras, kernellies, meringue, marquesotes, alfajores and almond cheese are to die for.


As you travel around the island, you see banana plantations everywhere. At present, the economy revolves around the banana. In recent years the cultivation of the avocado pear has become important. Other economic factors are the goats and the cheese they yield, wine and a small amount of tobacco.

Sports and nature:

La Palma offers a large list of interesting and spectacular pastimes to those who come here. It is ideal for mountaineering and hiking, especially in La Caldera, the National Park. Potholing, geology, botany, biology, scuba diving, astrophysics, paragliding, vulcanology and photography are all done in La Palma. It is an ideal place to fly and see beautiful landscapes from the air any time of the year. La Palma is considered the highest island in the world in relation to its small area and good place to fly to in winter.
Hordes of spelunkers visit the island regularly. Villa de Mazo houses the most important group of caves, including volcanic tubes. Todoque is one of the more popular caves favored by amateurs and geologists.
You must have heard about the clean and temperate waters of the Canary Islands and the wide range of fauna. The coast of Fuencaliente, formed in 1972 as a result of the eruption of Teneguia, is the best place to scuba dive. Black coral and canyons can be found both on the north and the south coasts. Additionally, frequent encounters with countless fish will make your diving more enjoyable.
Last but not least, it is a must to go on a submarine-safari into the Atlantic Ocean and swim with dolphins, which remains one of the most unforgettable memories of my life.

La Bajada de la Virgen de Las Nieves:

Feasts abound. The main ones are the tourist-centered feasts of La Bajada de la Virgen de Las Nieves, the patron madonna of La Palma. Every five years since 1680 the patron saint is taken to the city for the celebrations. Particular events of note are: the pilgrimage of La Bajada del Trono de La Virgen (Virgin's throne descent), an 18th century festival called Minuet, El Carro Alegórico Triunfal (triumphal float), the traditional Loa a La Virgen (Praise to the Virgin) and La Danza de Los Enanos (the dance of the dwarfs) -- an act that surprises everybody due to its originality. Do not miss La Bajada de la Virgen de Las Nieves this summer.

http://www.tdn.com.tr/article .php?enewsid=10194

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