jueves, 6 de febrero de 2014

What you won't see on a standard coach tour...

North coast from NW corner towards NE tip
With a title like the present one, the scope is almost unlimited. That is because standard island coach tours are precisely what their name implies: standard. Whether you are staying at a resort, or are here briefly on a cruise ship, you will be taken to the same well-known locations: the San Antonio volcano in the south, the Cumbrecita viewpoint on the west side, or the Tilos laurel forest up in the northeast, plus a few other minor attractions along the way. Fair enough, if all you ask for is a brief sample of the scenery, and a basic impression of the island...

Caldera National Park from the ravine bed
But the island of La Palma has far more to offer than it's standard coach-tour exhibits. Some of the most spectacular landscapes, and all those unique, off-the-beaten-track corners are only reachable by private car, or on foot. If you are fit enough, you might consider booking an organised hike in a guided group. Such hiking tours are highly recommendable; however, bear in mind that these hiking routes are not geared towards nature observation. There's very limited time available en route for identifying birds or photographing plants, and certainly no patient waiting, or searching for target species. Hiking is a "keep-moving" sport.

Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
Nature observation is a different matter altogether, and La Palma offers a number of surprises...

 'Ever seen Red-billed Choughs perching in pine trees before? Neither had the experts at the 3rd International Workshop on the Conservation of the Chough, held on La Palma in October 2010. Everyone was impressed. With an estimated 2,800 resident choughs,  La Palma has one of the highest population densities of this species in Europe, boasting about 4 birds per square kilometre! Flocks of 50-100 individuals are by no means uncommon.

On an average coach tour, you might even get a distant glimpse of a flock through your window, as you cruise along the road at 60km per hour...if you happen to be sitting on the right side of the bus. But surely it would be more rewarding to spend time leisurely observing the birds as they forage on the ground, or peck at the fruits of the prickly-pear (Opuntia) cacti, or home in towards one of their communal roosts at sunset? If you enjoy wildlife photography, you'll need time to try different angles and camera settings. Standard coach tours and hikes, by definition, do nor cater for special interests.

Coastal vegetation on the southern tip of the island
La Palma's flora is particularly rich, with many striking endemic species, such as the white flowering Bugloss (Echium brevirame) and fleshy-leafed "Sea Lettuce" (Astydamia latifolia) shown above. Plants are notoriously tricky to identify from speeding coaches...they just look, well, you know, nice and colourful. The island's butterflies won't be on your itinerary either...

Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus)
In a nutshell, what you won't see on a standard coach tour or organized hike, could well be fairly high on your wish list. If that is the case, your alternatives include:

1. Booking a holiday with a reputable wildlife/birding company. Choice of dates will be limited, prices will be relatively high.
2. Doing things independently, in your own hired car. Feasible, but requires research beforehand, reliable information, and, ideally, a smattering of Spanish.
3. Coming to the island on a conventional cruise or package holiday and booking the services of a local English-speaking guide on a flexible, day-by-day basis. A resident guide who is similarly motivated by nature observation and can take you to the key spots for Laurel Pigeon, Bolle's Pigeon and Barbary Falcon, or to the most spectacular, natural landscapes, or to virtually untouched areas of native vegetation...

La Palma lizard (Gallotia galloti palmae)
I offer both full- and half-day island tours, tailored to suit individual requirements. For further details, please write to: grajaland@gmail.com