La Palma - Potato Island
Locals call this volcanic rock 'la isla bonita' and it is indeed a beautiful island. But a more apt description of our experience there would be 'la isla potato.' For a vegan bonanza we did not have. My travel agent, aka husband, tried to warn me before our arrival that dining might be ‘rustic’. But the trouble was, when he does all the extensive research that he does before any holiday, books the flights and accommodation and rental car and all the admin that goes into making a holiday a success, I pay zero attention. My passport is probably up to date, let me know when we’re off.
And so it was that once we arrived, I was dismayed that instead of staying in a fancy pants hotel within walking distance of THREE vegan restaurants, as we did last year in veritable vegan paradise Fuerteventura, we were self-catering in accommodation so far up a mountain that it would always, always be cold. I don’t like cold. I love going away at Christmas specifically to chase some sunshine while Britain shivers.
I was cold. I was hungry. Dangerous combo. As we were to find out, dining out on this volcanic rock was not too vegan-friendly an experience.
‘I did try and warn you this island was more modest,’ my travel agent said as my eyes gave away my disappointment. Luckily the gorgeous scenery sufficiently averted my attention from my hunger. Clouds tumbled over mountain peaks. It was cold but it was pretty.
Because we're basically elite athletes, we decided to start as we could not go on - with a 20km hike down the Caldera de Taburiente, the island’s central, huge volcanic crater. As any athlete knows, it’s important to pack no snacks and run out of water. Also, make sure you don’t really know where you are going and have no way back to your car except the 20km ahead because you parked at the bottom and took a one-way taxi to the summit. The views were exquisite, the calf muscles awoken, the morons famished and thirsty.
A few million years ago, a submarine volcano blew its lid, creating the mountainous island. Our rented little Peugeot whizzed round a thousand hairpin bends because wherever you want to go is a volcano away and the only way there is to zigzag. Fortunately my travel agent didn’t put me on the insurance so he had to do all the driving himself. But it was tiring for me too okay, because I kept visualising that we were going to career off a cliff edge and somersault to our deaths.
We ached so much from the first hike that the next few days were spent hobbling like John Wayne, but we recovered in time for Christmas Day. We hiked Volcan de San Antonio, this time mostly hiking up instead of down, so a whole new set of aching muscles ensued. Worth it though, how’s this for a Christmas view:
Throughout our daily adventures we continued to hunt for plant based food, with diminishing returns. Happy Cow told us of some restaurants offering vegan options but even the island’s only vegan cafe was disappointing. We took to ordering a lot of papas arrugadas (literal translation: wrinkly potatoes) because when in doubt, potatoes.
One restaurant served ‘sopa de garbanzo’ - chickpea soup - which Gaz assured me was definitely vegan. Not sure what the giant lump of meat was that came swimming in the chickpeas, but it was hastily cast to one side.
Gaz had to remind me that we’re not allergic to eating animal products and we can’t expect a London level of options on a tiny and remote island. Which is true, we’re not allergic, it just goes against all our morals and principles. So we started eating in a lot and I even made us sandwiches to take on our hikes, like what proper hikers do.
When I wasn’t moaning about restaurants like the wonderfully endearing person that I am, we got up to some damn good escapades. Here I am trekking through the fern jungle of Cubo de la Galga:
Twice we wound our way up the mountain which has made La Palma famous in the astronomy world - Roque de los Muchachos. It is so high, to climb it is to reach above the clouds and enjoy the spectacular views afforded up there. We had to get up really early to get the best light and I didn’t complain at all.
It was breathtaking. Clouds stretched to the horizon like waves on an ocean, kissed by the sun from above, rolling over the peaks of mountains. By night, the gigantic telescopes built here help an international team of astronomers figure out all kinds of crazy shit about the universe. By day, we got some cracking photos of little fluffy clouds.
As the holiday neared an end, Gaz had two black toenails from all the hiking and was in terrible pain every time he walked. So, we decided to attempt one last hike. Seemed sensible.
It was a short hike, just a few kilometres and it led to a vegetarian cafe called Finca Aloe (‘Aloe Farm’) nestled in the hills. We got rambling, poor old Gaz wincing with every step.
We passed 250 year old dragon trees, known as Dracaena Draco, which must be said as if you are announcing your name in Game of Thrones. According to Wikipedia, they bleed a reddish resin, known as ‘dragon’s blood’.
We weaved our way down the hill side (down being the most painful of all angles for Gaz, who was pretty sure he could feel blood in his sock. A strong possibility that his nail had fallen off - but still, gotta support the vegan cause, right?) and soon we arrived at the best restaurant on the island. It was like Bilbo Baggins had opened up his hobbit-hole for lunch. We sat in an idyllic open-air yurt structure, the winding branches of a vine shielding us from too much sun, but just enough of a beam found its way through the leaves to keep us warm. I love a sun dappled leaf. I love saying ‘sun dappled’. I got to say it a lot on this trip for the sun so often dappled its way through the trees.
Finca Aloe was an enchanted, quiet treasure. The vibe reminded me of the ambiance of Vale de Moses in Portugal. There are some corners of the world so peaceful they are poetry in motion.
For bonus points, our smoothies and fancy pants avo on toast, arriving on a bed of nasturtium leaf and flower, was hands down the best food these hungry vegans had enjoyed on this isla bonita.
This gem of a restaurant was worth losing a toenail for. Toe-tally worth it. BOOM! Here all night!
Come to La Palma for the volcanic scenery, the hikes, the waterfalls, the sunsets, the sunrises. Don’t come for the food. Don’t come for the hairpin bends (unless you’ve got a car that corners like it’s on rails, which we did not.) I’m glad I don’t listen when my husband talks to me. If I had we might not have come here at all. We’d have missed out on all this gloriousness just because I’m a vegan food snob.