Category Archives: Islands

History Is Happening All The Time

Pont Romá Mallorca

It would feel safe to say that the island of Mallorca was inhabited well before the Romans came to settle. In prehistoric times, in the Neolithic period, there was life on the island, mostly in caves, it is said. At around 2500 B. C. and up to about 1400 B. C., one speaks of the pre-Talaiotic period, coinciding with the bronze and iron ages, when people settled in caves and man-made Navetes. The Talaiotic period covers the time between 1400 B. C. and the arrival of the Romans, at around 123 B. C., when Talaiotic settlements were built with impressive towers and robust fortifications.

The Romans changed all that. It seems that they first arrived on the Northern shore of the island. Settlements were made in Bocchoris near what today is Port de Pollença, and Pollentia, near today’s Alcúdia. The Pont Roma (Roman bridge, shown here) in Pollença dates from approximately 400 A. D.

The North of the island must have had its attraction for the early settlers just as it has today, what with Port d’Alcúdia, Port de Pollença, Formentor, s’Albufera and the scenery between the Badia de Pollença and the Badia de Alcúdia, embracing the Peninsula de la Victoria. One might assume that the Romans did not play golf nor practiced kite surfing nor cycling, but they may have done some bird watching, mountaineering or rock climbing, just as you can do today in this popular part of Mallorca.

If you should be looking for accommodation in the rural area of Alcúdia, there is plenty of accommodation for rent, such as can be found at Alcúdia villas. Enjoy an encounter with the past when you savour your holiday.

Biodiversity in the Cabo Verde Islands

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May I suggest a trip to the Cabo Verde Islands, one day?

The Cabo Verde Islands (approx. 16 00 N 24 00 W) are situated about 600 km off the coast of Cap Vert, in Senegal, West Africa. If you are tired of the well trodden destinations of Greece, Thailand, the Caribbean islands, et al., why not pop down to São Vicente, for instance, for the discovery of an intriguing mixture of the African with the Portuguese and the Brazilian?

Many of us know Cabo Verde only through the haunting ‘mornas’ of Cesaria Evora, the ‘barefoot diva’. A visit to her homeland – a volcanic archipelago – helps us to understand the strange, bittersweet chemistry of West African rhythms and mournful Portuguese melodies that shape Evora’s music.

The Cabo Verde Islands (also often called Cape Verde) were discovered and colonized by the Portuguese in the middle of the 15th century; the islands belonged to Portugal until 1975 when the Republica de Cabo Verde gained independence. There are ten islands and five islets, but their total area is not much greater than the size of Mallorca, Spain, let’s say, or Rhode Island, USA, for instance. The islands are of volcanic origin, most of them being made up of high mountains covered with lava. Some of the islands are all rock; others have patches of rice, corn, and tobacco; cotton and indigo grow wild in the woods.

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The Cabo Verde Islands were turned into a major hub for the transatlantic slave trade during the 16th to 18th centuries. Most Cabo Verdeans have both African and Portuguese antecedents as a consequence of this ominous historic period.

 

The islands fall into two main groups – the Barlavento, or Windward, islands in the north, which include Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Boa Vista, and Sal, and the Sotavento, or Leeward, islands in the south, which include São Tiago (approx. 1,550 sq km, the largest island), Fogo, Maio, and Brava.

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The climate is generally temperate and comparable to the weather conditions of the Canary Islands, with warm, dry summers; any precipitation is meager and very erratic.

The archipelago’s beaches increasingly attract the package-tour crowd, but still, Cabo Verde seems to remain a destination for the connoisseur: the intrepid hiker, the die-hard windsurfer, the deep-sea angler and the ‘morna’ devotee.

 

Cabo Verde’s biodiversity is of global importance as it includes many endemic species of plants, birds, insects, as well as marine species. Its beaches provide important nesting sites and feeding grounds for endangered marine turtles, and breeding humpback whales that are frequently seen around Boa Vista and Sal, Boa Vista’s northern neighbour. Approximately 3,000 loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) nest in Boa Vista and Sal annually making these areas the second most important nesting site in the entire Atlantic Ocean.

 

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Although the islands are mountainous and of volcanic origin, the only active volcano is at the archipelago’s highest point, Cano (ca. 2,830 m), which is located on Fogo island. Cano was regularly active until the 18th century, and the volcano’s most recent eruptions were in 1951 and 1995. The area is sometimes subject to severe droughts and the fierce Harmattan, a dry and dusty West African trade wind.

Most Cabo Verdeans are of Roman Catholic faith; their religion is often mixed with the indigenous beliefs of their African ancestors.

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Portuguese and Crioulo, a blend of Portuguese and West African languages, are widely spoken. English and Spanish help if you speak neither.

 

Enjoy your trip if you do go, one day.

 

Have You Seen the Pyramids of … Spain?

guimar_pyramids.jpgOn the whole, people go to Egypt if they want to see some pyramides. Or Mexico. Or Peru.

Well, they could try Spain as well. The Canary Isles, actually.

Sitting around 100 kms off Morocco on the North West coast of Africa, eleven volcanic Islands make up the archipelago of the Canary Isles.

Tenerife, the largest of the Canaries, proudly sports the Black Pyramids, one of the Canary Islands’ many mysteries, resembling similar structures in both Mexico and Peru, with six angular stone steps.

 

Offering some insight into the ancient civilizations that once inhabited the area, the Parque Etnografico ‘Pirámides de Güímar’ is situated in the Tenerifan town of Güímar, with a museum, café and souvenir shop nearby. The Black Pyramids are an attraction for anyone on holiday on the island of Tenerife.

Archaeologists still know surprisingly little about the pyramids that form the complex, although excavations indicate that there was a community based around them. The complex comprises of six-steps pyramids which are aligned to the East, suggesting that they were used to worship the sun. During the sun solstice, they are said to line up with the sunset in a distinctive spot on the mountainous horizon.

 

The Canaries’ unique geographical location has made the Islands an important point in maritime routes for hundreds of years; Columbus, for example, used La Gomera as his last port of call before he made the long trip across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

 

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For years there has been dispute as to whether Leif Eriksson, the Norse, or Christopher Columbus actually discovered America first, but there seems to be a distinct possibility that both of them were a few centuries too late and that the people of Meso-America and the Islanders of Tenerife established expeditions or even trade routes between their respective civilizations, actually much earlier.

Norwegian explorer, anthropologist and author, the late Thor Heyerdahl spent the last few years of his life in Güímar, supervising the archaeological mission there to survey and preserve the pyramids and the complex they were part of. Thor Heyerdahl was convinced that South Americans had crossed the Pacific to reach Polynesia and in 1947, he undertook a successful ocean crossing in a primitive raft, the Kon Tiki, to prove his theory. He then expanded his theory further, claiming that if Peruvian explorers first travelled across the Pacific and settled in Polynesia, it was possible that Tenerife was settled in a similar way. In that case the Peruvian pioneers would have built their temples and pyramids along similar lines to the ones they had left back home. If Dr. Heyerdahl’s theories are correct, then it is clear that those Peruvian seafarers might have been responsible for the construction of the pyramid complex discovered at Güímar.

Only few scholars endorse the idea, however, that American Indigenous Indians navigated the oceans in the way Thor Heyerdahl suggested, and discount this hypothesis largely on linguistic, genetic and cultural grounds, all of which point to the settlers having come from the east, not the west. However, none of the scholars have come up with a convincing explanation as to how the Canary Islands ended up with their own step pyramids.

At the same time, no one can deny that there are undoubtedly parallels between the Meso-American cultures and the Canary Island cultures. Artefacts have been found on the islands that are almost identical to ones found in South America.

If you fancy a bit of theorizing yourself, even a bit of Kon Tiki rafting, you better make your way to the Canaries one of these days and see for yourself.

 

Have You Heard of Gran Gimnesia?

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The beauty of the Balearic Islands is that it is an archipelago. There are so many islands, and each one is so very different from the next one.

 

I haven’t counted them all yet, but there are at least a hundred islands and islets in all. There are the four principle ones that are of any considerable size and these are inhabited: Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The islets surrounding the four big isles are protected and mainly uninhabited; one of them (Cabrera, the biggest of the little ones) is declared as a Spanish National Park. Cabrera itself is again surrounded by several other islets.

 

Of course, it was not always that way. Some 100,000 years ago, perhaps 200,000 years, one presumes that all these islands were connected into two large land masses, one, combining Menorca, Mallorca and Cabrera and spanning some 8,000 square kilometres, resulting in an island called Gran Balear, or Gran Gimnesia. The other island was Gran Pitiusa, combining Ibiza and Formentera. Both islands were separated by a marine canal of a span of 70 to 80 kilometres. We can’t go back in time, but we now have the means to travel across water.

 

Today, it is Cabrera where I suggest you go to one day, if you have not already been. The Parque Nacional del Archipiélago de Cabrera used to be under military rule for defense purposes for the last sixty years, but a few years ago, was returned  to the auspices of the Civil authorities. Cabrera is now uninhibited, save for a small contingent of keepers of no more than ten or twenty souls. Nature is amazingly well preserved on the islands that form the archipelago of Cabrera, for the simple reason that the long time tutelage of the Ministry of Defense has prevented tourism from coming and spoiling it.

 

Cabrera is now home to a great number of animals, ranging from eagles to falcons, cuckoos to owls, swans to seagulls. Over 120 species in all, just birds. Birds migrate from as far as Madagascar, India, the Red Sea, and Africa. Apart from birds, there are untold numbers of maritime animals from turtles to seals, dolfins to morrenas, whales to tuna. On land you find hedgehogs, ferrets, rabbits and lizards. Of the podarcis lilfordi you will find 80 % of what is left in the whole world, here in Cabrera. That’s a large size lizard (see photo below).

 

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You can go to Cabrera by private boat. Only 50 boats are allowed on any one day. You have to make reservations well in advance. Or else you can make a boat trip from Colònia de Sant Jordi, near Santanyi. Trips leave daily at 09h30 and return at 16h30. Fares are 35 € for adults, or 18 € for children up to 10 years old. You have to bring your own food, as there are no facilities on the island such as bars or chiringuitos, thank God. Or you can book your comida from the ferry boat people at 10 € per person, which is likely to be paella and a soft drink. The boat trip stops at the Blue Grotto, called Sa Cova Blava, on the way back. Don’t forget your camera. Telephone 971.649.034 for a reservation.

 

Have fun chasing those speedy lizards, but don’t touch them. No, they are not poisonous, but they are very fragile. To save their skin, they surrender their extreme body parts rather than being caught. And you would not want a lizard to have its tail amputated, do you?

 

And let me offer my thanks to the G. O. B. More about them, soon. And more about the other Nature Reserve close to Mallorcan shores, Sa Dragonera, also soon, in a blog near you.

 

Let’s Visit the Canary Islands

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Spain is big, and Spain is beautiful. It is too big in extension for me to know it all, yet, being more than twice the size of Great Britain, for instance. Perhaps you may have taken one or the other opportunity already to explore some parts of Spain: Barcelona, Madrid, parts of Catalunya and the Pyrenees, Andalucía perhaps with Toledo, Cordoba and Sevilla, as well as Marbella and Malaga.

Perhaps you might even have visited the Duero region on a wine tasting expedition, or the Rioja area, and, maybe on a culinary outing, Donostia (San Sebastián to non-Basques) and Bilbao as well. There are so many places of such great appeal.

And you may have explored some of the Balearic islands. Well done if you have. Sad really if you have not.

Some of you may be fortunate enough to also have explored some of the Canary islands. Surely you will be happy to confirm that Spain is also beautiful and full of surprises outside of its European mainland territory. If you haven’t visited yet, I urge you to do so any time soon.

In the meantime, I invite you today to join me on a virtual outing, visiting some of the ‘Happy Islands’ as the Canary islands are often called.

This paradisiacal group of islands, with an ideal climate and a constant temperature throughout the year, consists of seven larger main islands (Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera, El Hierro) and a few smaller ones (Alegranza, Graciosa, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este, Roque del Oeste, and Lobos).

Surprisingly, the landscape of each island is quite radically different from one another.

Greeks and Romans reported on this archipelago of volcanic origins, and called it the Garden of the Hesperides, as well as Atlantida. Some historians suppose that the legendary continent of Atlantis was located here.

The islands’ original population was called Guanches, a people related to the Imazighen (Berbers) of North Africa. The principal activities of the Guanches were shepherding, agriculture, gathering fruits and fishing.

People from Mallorca established a mission on the islands with a bishop, that lasted from 1350 to 1400 A. D., and from which various paintings and statues of the Virgin Mary remain that are venerated today, just as they were in the past by the converted Guanches.

In 1492 the ships of Christopher Columbus’ fleet stopped in Tenerifa on their travels to discover the New World, stocking up on food and water supplies. A few years later, 1496, the islands were claimed permanently for the Spanish crown. The Islas Canarias have been Spanish ever since.

The islands are the remaining cones of long-extinct volcanoes, some of them very steep. The highest point (the highest in all of Spain’s territories) is the Pico de Teide mountain, located on Tenerifa. It stands at 3,718 m.

If you have not been before, the Pico de Teide, now a UNESCO world heritage site, may be a good starting point for a first visit to the Canaries, as would be the Anaga mountain range in the north of the island. Tenerifa has two airports, one in the south where you find most of the tourist areas, and one in the north, connecting with Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the island capital. In fact, it is also one of two capitals of the Canary archipelago, the other one being Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Tenerifa is lush in the north with ample banana plantations and rampant palm tree groves. Puerto de la Cruz in the north hosts a major international festival, El Carnaval. If ever you fancy some Rio style carnival at a third of the distance, make your way to Tenerifa in February. You will not be disappointed.

A great bonus for a visit to Tenerifa, apart from its brand new, modern style concert hall, is also its ferry boat connection, from the south, to the unspoilt island of La Gomera. This island is so beautiful that words fail me (see photo above). The upper reaches of this densely wooded island are almost permanently shrouded in clouds and swirling mist, a fact which has created lush and diverse vegetation. This is the Garajonay National Park which enjoys UNESCO recognition and environmental protection. La Gomera is the second smallest of the main islands of the Canaries and for that reason has only the smallest airport.

El Hierro is the smallest and furthest south and west of the Canary Islands, with a tinsy airport only, plus a boat harbour connecting with Tenerifa. El Hierro is an absolute gem.

Lanzarote prides itself of a live volcano. Due to the recent eruptions during the 18th and 19th centuries, many parts of Lanzarote appear as if from another world, often described as lunar. It is for this reason that a number of big budget film locations are to be found on this island.

The summer Trade Winds and winter swells of the Atlantic make Fuerteventura a year-round surfers’ paradise. Much of the interior, with its large plains, lava scapes and volcanic mountains, consists of protected areas which can be best explored in a four wheel drive.

La Palma is probably the least visited of the Canary islands, and for its natural beauty one would wish that this would remain so. But if you must visit, you better go now.

Gran Canaria is the most touristy of all of the Canary islands and for this reason, it is not my favourite. I would recommend a visit there only after you have been to all the others.