Isora’s spring

The footpath down to the spring at Isora, El Hierro, Canary IslandsThe footpath down to the spring at Isora

Water is an important resource on El Hierro, like all the other Canary Islands. It’s not so long ago that everyone had to go to the spring to fetch water.

In Isora, the old spring is northeast of the village centre. You can follow the signs from the main road through the village (NB “main” is relative: we are not talking about a six lane highway here) down to a car park. That’s a nice view in itself, but if you take the steep footpath that meanders down from the car park, things get better.

The water tank at the spring at Isora, El Hierro, Canary IslandsThe water tank at the spring

After perhaps two kilometres, you reach the spring. In 1943 they built a modern, concrete water tank here, presumably to store the water and keep it cleaner. If you go there, watch your step as there’s a hole in the top. If you fell in, I think it would be impossible to get out again without help. (In fact I may use this for one of my stories some time).

The bit that fascinated me was the old laundry. You see, if you don’t have running water at home, your clothes weigh a lot less than the water you need to wash them. So you take the laundry to the water rather than vice versa. So here are six tubs for hand washing.

the spring at Isora, El Hierro, Canary IslandsThe old laundry

One of the concrete panels between the tubs has a series of initials scratched in while the concrete was still wet, and the date “1963″. This puzzles me. That’s about the time when my husband’s family on La Palma had to pump water into a tank on the roof by hand once a week, but once you’d done that, there was running water in the house. So 1963 seems very late to be carry the clothes to the spring, but rather early for restoration work. I’d have thought it would be just old enough to be boring. Of course, La Palma is a much richer island than El Hierro, so maybe people were still carrying their clothes to the spring then – and all the way back up. It certainly makes me appreciate my washing machine!

But they certainly had a fantastic view while they lathered away.

The view from the spring at Isora, El Hierro, Canary IslandsThe view from the spring

Sea Mount

Sea Mount off El Hierro

Sea Mount off El Hierro © OCEANA Carlos Minguell

This is a sea mount – an underwater volcanic vent – at Roques de la Hoya, near El Hierro.

Aeoniums (bejeques)

aeonium

Lots of Canarian plants look seriously exotic to visitors from northern Europe. Some of my favourites are the Aeonium genus (which now includes what used to be the separate genus of Greenovia). They like dry places: cliff walls, lava flows and old roofs. This one was growing in a lava flow near Tiñor, with several hundred friends and relatives. I think it’s Greenovia aurea, but I’m no expert and my book lists 35 different species, some of them very similar.

Roque La Bonanza

Roque la Bonanza, Las Playas, El Hierro

This unusual rock is called Roque La Bonanza. It’s on the road from the port to the Parador (Paradors are posh, state-run hotels, and very nice too). We promptly christened it the teddy-bear rock, because to us it looks like a teddy bear pushing something along.

The rock is just on the Parador side of the long tunnel.

The Parador

Dawn at Las Playas, Valverde, El Hierro

Dawn at the Parador, Las Playas

Arguably the poshest place to stay on El Hierro is the Parador. (Paradors are a national chain of posh hotels, and very nice they are too.) The one in El Hierro is less posh than some, but still very nice. The general atmosphere is rather like a British National Trust property. Imagine staying at Tatton Park or Chartwell, and you’ll get the idea.

Reception area at the Parador, El Hierro

Reception area at the Parador

The hotel has a pool, small gym, and crazy golf course, plus a lovely garden.

The pool area at the Parador, El Hierro

The pool area at the Parador

The bar area has WiFi. Usually non-residents can use the WiFi provided they eat or drink while they’re there. (The smoked salmon and egg sandwiches are delicious, by the way.)

If you want to stay there, the website is here.

The bar and WiFi area at the Parador, Valverde, El Hierro

The bar and WiFi area at the Parador

One of the nicest things about the Parador on El Hierro is the situation, down at Las Playas, which means “The beaches”. El Hierro doesn’t have many beaches, although it does have what my son calls “unbeaches” with everything except the sand. The few beaches that it does have are almost all at Las Playas. Even better, the area is a conservation zone, so there are no street lights, and the stars are amazing.

The beach just south of the Parador, Valverde, El Hierro

The beach just south of the Parador

El Hierro Goes Green

One of the big windmills, Valverde

One of the big windmills

El Hierro is now the first island in the world to be self-sufficient in electricity from renewable sources. There are be six modern windmills on the ridge where the wind generally tries to blow your hair off, and most of the time, they’ll provide the electricity direct to the island’s power grid.

It’s not too hard to see the catch. “Generally” isn’t enough. Nobody wants to wait for a windy day to switch the kettle on. They want their cup of tea now.

So when the windmills generate more electricity than the demand, the excess will be used to pump water uphill to a reservoir in a natural volcanic crater. Then when the windmills can’t keep up with the demand, the water will be released to run downhill through turbines into another lake near the port of Estaca to generate the extra energy. This should smooth out the bumps nicely.

Up until now, most of the island’s electricity came from a diesel-fired power station. That will be on standby for the first year, while they make sure that everything really does work reliably, and then moth-balled. After that, the whole island will run on clean energy.

Of course it helps that the population is only about 10,500, and the winters are fairly mild. But ti’s still impressive.

More details (in English) at http://www.goronadelviento.es/index.php?accion=articulo&IdArticulo=121&IdSeccion=104

The top reservoir under construction above Valverde

The top reservoir under construction above Valverde

Pineapples

Pineapples growing at La Maceta, El Hierro

They certainly aren’t a crop I associated with the Canary Islands, but El Hierro exports pineapples.

Most of the fields are in El Golfo, at low altitudes. This is the warmest and sunniest part of the island, but originally the ground was very stony. Most of the soil was brought in from the woods on the central ridge, and irrigation added.

The spectacular cliff in the background is the Tibataje nature reserve.

Homage to the Bajada

The 'Homage to the Bajada' statue, Valverde, El Hierro, Canary Islands.The “Homage to the Bajada” statue.

I love this statue.

It stands about a kilometre outside Valverde, on the road down to the port and airport, which means most people are going to see it fairly soon after they arrive on the island. As the name suggests, it celebrates the Bajada, the big once-every-five-years fiesta where they take the statue of the island’s patron saint to the capital for a month.

The back of the 'Homage to the Bajada' statue, Valverde, El Hierro, Canary Islands.The back of the statue

I wrote a post about this while it was being built, and I was fascinated to see the finished statue. It meant so much more, now that I’ve seen the bajada dancers.

The biggest archway in the Canaries, 'Homage to the Bajada' statue, Valverde, El Hierro, Canary Islands..The biggest archway in the Canaries.

The artist, Rubén Armiche, clearly has a good idea of what appeals to kids aged from 4 to 94. This archway is only one of the ways into the statue. He calls it the biggest archway in the Canary Islands, because on a clear day it frames Mt. Teide. (Shame about the haze when I took the photo.)

Holes for peeking through in the 'Homage to the Bajada' statue, Valverde, El Hierro, Canary Islands.Holes for peeking through.

There are actually two archways, side by side; one is adult size and the other kid-sized. Better yet, there are peek-holes between the two.

The scaffolding for the huge statue is made from things like old washing machines, which saves them going into landfill. And as you can see, some of the details on the outside are recycled too.

Detail of the 'Homage to the Bajada' statue, Valverde, El Hierro, Canary Islands.Detail of the statue. Yes, they’re bottle tops!

5.1 magnitude earthquake

Did the earth move for you?

Seismograph trace

Today’s seismograph from Valverde

We had an earthquake at 5:45 pm. The whole family felt it, which is unusual. (Normally I say, “What was that?” and the rest of the family reply, “What was what?” and nobody believes me until the evening news mentions it.) But this time was different. Most people on La Palma seem to have felt it, and my husband thinks it was bigger than any of the ones he remembers from the eruption of Teneguía.

Avcan, (Actualidad Volcánica de Canarias /Canarian Volcanic News) say it was magnitude 5.3 in El Hierro, the epicentre was west of the island, and it was just 12 km deep.

Clearly the magma under El Hierro is moving again. The centre of the island has risen 6 cm over the course of the year, and there are lots of little tremors – ten today. But this one was in a different league. My friend in La Frontera said she could see dust clouds from several small landslides.

Fortunately there are no reports of casualties.

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“A Breathtaking Window on the Universe” on sale in El Hierro!

'A Breathtaking Window on the Universe' on sale in Santa Cruz de la Palma

The book on sale in Santa Cruz de la Palma

My guide book to the observatory at the Roque de los Muchachos, “A Breathtaking Window on the Universe,” is now on sale at:
Libraria “Marga” Papelería
Licenciado Bueno No. 6
Valverde

There is a list of places on La Palma where you can buy the book here.

Or you can buy it direct from the publisher’s website for 12€ + P&P.

The cover for 'A Breathtaking Window on the Universe'

Click on the image to enlarge