La Isla Bonita

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This past weekend I went to La Palma of the Canary Islands. Going to the Canary Islands is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Since it’s not the easiest to get to, I’m not sure I would have followed through if it wasn’t for meeting Richie’s cousin Nicole, who’s from there, this past summer. When you know somebody in a place you’d like to visit, it gives you more of an incentive to go; she was also going back the same time I had thought about going (which at the time I didn’t realize it was carnival because last year it was three weeks earlier), so it came together perfectly. Also, Richie’s brother Thomas was going to be on spring break and bought a last minute flight, which then caused Richie and his other brother Andrew to follow suit.  I was going to be spending a few days with one of my best friends and his brothers in Spain, with his cousin in La Palma during Carnival.

La Isla Bonita
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La Palma, called the beautiful island because of…..its beauty is the 2nd smallest island out of the 7 Canary Islands; yet you’d think it was a lot bigger. There’s so much to see I could have easily spent another week there. It has a population of 88,000, with most living along the slope of the extinct volcano; there’s hardly a flat spot to be found. As you can see, the volcano is what shapes the island, it literally is this island. Climatically it stays the same all years round and I wasn’t prepared for the wind or cold at night as I figured it to be like a Caribbean Island. but it wasn’t. It is also ecological diverse, it has various ecosystems:tropical-arid plant life along the lower slopes closer to the water, as you climb higher along the volcano you find the woodland zone with its famous Canary pine trees until eventually those give away leaving only volcanic soil and rock; if you go inward it’s like a rain/cloud forest where everything is green and mossy. Never have I experienced such a change from one to the other so rapidly, it’s like we were traversing through different worlds in a matter of minutes, or as Richie said many times, like we were in King Kong. 
 
Driving around the Island
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Driving around the island in its own right was an experience as much as visiting some of the places; the whole roadway is a scenic route, providing unbelievable views of the rest of the island. To get around, you pretty much follow one road that snakes it’s way endlessly around curves and through tunnels precariously close to cliff faces on inclines that a car with too much weight might struggle to make it up. Single handedly the worst possible place to be is in the back seat of car when you’ve been out all night drinking, which is where I found myself on Tuesday.
Nicole and Marisa
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Without Nicole, Richie’s cousin and Marisa, her mom the experience would have been nothing. Nicole was the best guide, driving us around the island and answering all the questions I had (which were a lot); she picked me up from the airport , she introduced us to her friends and countless others (I’m sure she got tired of it, I would have) and showed us an amazing time at Los Indianos. Marisa was an absolute angel and did everything she could to make us feel welcomed. She made us breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday, she made sure we had everything we needed, she dropped off alcohol when we ran out at night and picked us up in the morning the times we needed to be picked up. I felt as if I was with my own mom and never felt more at home as a guest in somebody else’s house as I did there. We were also invited to have lunch at Nicole’s grandpa’s house where we ate an amazing typical meal of La Palma. Like Nicole and Marisa, her grandpa and his partner are two of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. As beautiful as the island is, it is their hospitality which made the trip great.
Star light star bright 
I saw the most stars I’ve ever seen at night.  On Sunday night we took a break from drinking (the night before we had been out until 5am and the next day we were going to be celebrating los Indianos) and went to Roque de los Muchachos, one of the best places in the world to see stars. The observatory located there is considered one of the three best in the world. Roque de los Muchachos sits at 2426m (7959 ft) above the clouds allowing for an unobstructed viewing of space. However, before getting there you need to take a zig-zagging-continuously-bending road that prevents you from going in any gear higher than two for about an hour or more.  Nicole drove it like a champion in a van of eight people while her two co passengers, Richie and Thomas dozed off.  Since the way up is covered in pine trees until you get toward the top and since I was sitting in the middle, I could only see darkness outside. Until we got to the top and I stepped out. I was surrounded by  a 270° of the night sky and more stars than I have ever seen in my life, thousands of little lights dotting the night sky. It’s as if I was a child again, going down the stairs on Christmas day and seeing for the first time all the presents Santa had brought. I experienced a profound awe that’s almost too difficult to put into words and impossible to capture with any photos. I have never realized such a profound sense of peacefulness and if it weren’t for the almost freezing temperature and wind, I would have asked to be left up there for the night.  Sitting here thinking back on it, my mind can’t recreate or comprehend an accurate portrayal of what it looked like.
(I attempted to take some pictures, however I have not figured out yet how to properly edit them)
Los Indianos
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A celebration only found in La Palma during carnival, Los Indianos celebrates the Spanish who left the island between the 16th and 20th century for the Americas in search for a better life and who then returned with wealth and prosperity. Cuba was one of the main and principal destinations (it was a Spanish colony from 1492-1893).  During the celebration everybody wears white, traditional linen suits or shirts for the men and dresses accompanied with umbrellas for the women. As a compliment to their outfit, some people carry around 19th century suitcases filled with fake money to represent the wealth that was brought back. A mixture of Cuban and Palma/Cuban music is played throughout the day while everybody drinks mojitos. It was the first time in a long time I’ve had a mojito and I probably drank at least 3 liters of them. The strangest part of the whole celebration is the throwing of baby powder. Everybody carries around bottles of baby powder throwing them into the air and onto to people. It’s great for your skin, but bad for your lungs. The day after my skin was the softest it’s ever been.
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Another curious thing about the festival is their guest of honor and main symbol Negra Thomasa, the female black version of Thomas. I’m not sure why and how it came about (since I can’t find anything on it), but it’s the same as how Santa Claus represents Christmas. Mostly guys will paint their face black, wear big red lips and dress up as a girl in 19th century Cuban style clothes and apparently it’s not racist. From what I’m told it’s not racist because there’s no malintent. I’ll leave that to everyone’s own opinion. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for the tourist who had no idea about the celebration walking around in a colored t-shirt amongst thousands of people dressed in white throwing baby powder on each other. Someone told me they read in the paper that the number of visitors to the island equaled the total population of the island. I wouldn’t doubt it because the streets were packed. Like many of the Spain’s celebrations, Los Idianos transcends all age groups, you find little children, young children, teenagers, adults and grandparents all out celebrating and enjoying the day. One of the many reasons why I love Spain.
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Los Indianos, one of the most unique celebrations I’ve taken part in and one that I’ll never forget.   An example of what it looks like
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6 thoughts on “La Isla Bonita

  1. About “La Negra Tomasa”:

    http://www.losindianos.es/la-negra-tomasa

    English (own translation) :
    The character of La Negra Tomasa was devised by the neighbour of the capital Victor Lorenzo Diaz, more known as Sosó.

    La Negra Tomasa’s few characters, not to mention the only one, which has license to put a discordant note between the pristine white of the Indians. It is a drop of color in a white tide. La Negra Tomasa illustrates and represents the Afro-Cuban fusion. With the Guaguancó running through his veins, its bulky curves are outlined to the sound of the Caribbean rhythms.

    Every Monday of Carnival thousands of Latin Americans await the arrival of la Negra Tomasa in the Plaza of Spain that that day is renamed Plaza de La Habana. After this reception of the Carnival of Indianos begins officially.

    LONG LIFE TO THE BLACK TOMASA AND LONG LIFE TO THE INDIANOS!!!

    Spanish (original):
    El personaje de La Negra Tomasa fue ideado por el vecino de la capital Víctor Lorenzo Díaz, más conocido como Sosó.

    La Negra Tomasa es de los pocos personajes, por no decir el único, que posee licencia para poner una nota discordante entre el blanco impoluto de Los Indianos. Ella es una gota de color en una marea blanca. La Negra Tomasa ilustra y representa el mestizaje afro-cubano. Con el Guaguancó corriendo por su venas, sus voluminosas curvas se contornean al son de los ritmos caribeños.

    Cada lunes de Carnaval miles de indianos esperan la llegada de la Negra Tomasa en la Plaza de España que durante ese día es renombrada como Plaza de La Habana. Tras este recibimiento da comienzo oficialmente el carnaval de Los Indianos.

    ¡¡VIVA LA NEGRA TOMASA Y VIVAN LOS INDIANOS!!

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  2. This sounds amazing!!!! So jealous! This comment had me laughing out loud, “Single handily the worst possible place to be is in the back seat of car when you’ve been out all night drinking, which is where I found myself on Tuesday.” Also- MOJITO, JOJO, MOJITOS…not mohito.

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