La Palma is nicknamed “Isla Bonita” (“beautiful island”).La Palma is the most north-westerly of the Canary Islands, Spain and is the fifth largest of the seven main Canary Islands. La Palma, like the other islands of the Canary Island archipelago, is a volcanic ocean island. The volcano rises almost 7 km (4 mi) above the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. There is road access from sea level to the summit at 2,426 m (7,959 ft), which is marked by an outcrop of rocks called Los Muchachos (“The Lads”). This is the site of the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, one of the world’s premier astronomical observatories.
The local economy is primarily based on agriculture and tourism. Platanos (or Bananas) are grown throughout the island with many banana farms on the western side of the island in the valley of Los Llanos de Aridane. Other crops include: Strelitzia (or ‘Bird of Paradise’) flowers, oranges, avocados and grapes (which grow well in the volcanic soil). The wine from the grapes is prized. Local ranchers herd cows, sheep and goats (from which they make goat cheese). Fisherman operating from Santa Cruz, Tazacorte and Puerto Naos catch fish for the local markets.
The island is predominately Catholic and since 1676, has been known for the festival of Fiestas Lustrales de la Bajada de la Virgen de las Nieves (The bringing down of the virgin of the snow, Candelaria), which has a rich history, from the time of the Bishop of the Canaries, Bartolomé García Ximénez. The festival features the dancing of “enanos” or midgets. The costumes that people wear have a hole at the top of the hat to allow them to see out, while giving the appearance of dancing midgets. People come from all over the world for the celebration which happens every five years. The image of the virgin is taken down from her sanctuary and paraded around the city with the festival lasting nearly two weeks before she is returned.
The most famous structures of La Palma are the minas galerias (water tunnels) which carry the water from sources in the mountains to cities, villages and farms (mainly banana plantations). The water condenses on the long needles of the trees and other vegetation, it then either drips onto the ground or runs down the trunk etc., into the ground. Eventually it collects inside the rock-strata, and is then drained via the galerias into aqueducts and pipes for distribution. The galerias have been cut into the rocks over centuries. To visit the galerias a permit is required. It is possible to walk alongside many of the aqueducts, a popular activity for tourists (similar to the levadas of Madeira). The tour to the Marcos y Corderos waterfall and springs is also popular. There is an extensive network of irrigation canals in the valley of Los Llanos de Aridane. These canals carry water from the mountains throughout the valley and allow for the cultivation of bananas, avocados, flowers, and other plants. Each farmer gets a scheduled “turn” to fill an irrigation tank with water 24 hours of the day. If a farmer’s turn is at 2 AM he will wake up and make sure to fill his tank when possible so as to have sufficient water for his farm.
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