The repeated volcanic eruptions have shaped the landscape in the southern end of the Island, where no cliffs or ravines are found. What once was the Abenguareme territory is today bordered by Mazo, El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane.
Hereabouts are villages such as Los Indios (place-name which refers to the piece of land where a great many natives were exiled after the Conquista -the Conquest- as there was not a poorer area where to drive them away once the Island had been parceled up), Las Caletas, Los Quemados, Las Indias, la Fajana and El Charco.
There was a time when the municipality’s inhabitants main occupation was that of shepherding as well as goatherding. The lack of water and the poor quality of the soil did not allow crops to spread; nevertheless, vineyards, once adapted to droughts, started to dot the black fields with the seasonal sparkle of their leaves: now green, now golden. Today, however, irrigated banana plantations stretch along the coastline, and agriculture has become the main source of income together with that rendered by tourists, who visit Fuencaliente attracted by its rare geological beauty.
This borough, which was linked to Mazo until 1832, also suffered from the migration of its people; Las Indias was the last inhabited place people stepped on before boarding the ships that sailed for America.
FUENTE SANTA and its legend
As long ago as the XVIIIth century people already told the legendary story of the spring, in the area known as Punta Malpique -by the coastline-, from which hot water sprang up. This precious hot spring was rich in sulphur and several other minerals. People from every corner of the Island enjoyed drinking it and taking its waters, for this was capable of curing all sorts of skin deseases, including leprosy.
It was the heat of the springing water that lent its name to the borough, Fuencaliente; and the spring itself, Fuente Santa, named after its healing, miraculous proprieties. Fuente Santa was buried under the lava which poured out from the San Antonio volcano back in 1677. The eagerness to find it has lasted up until our very days, when the most sofisticated technologies have been used and, finally, given result.
BELIEFS arisen between obscurity and superstition
Superstition and fear of the unknown always surrounded the lives of Fuencaliente’s people at a time when the lack of material things in a way pushed them into believing in immaterial phenomena. The local lore went that on the last day of December, on St Silvestre’s day, witches and demonds went through the threshold which separated the old from the new year. Men and women invoked protection by spelling warding-off words and praying to San Silvestre: “San Silvestre, San Silvestre, protect my land and my home from evil witches and those who do wrong.”
The volcanic tube of La Cueva de Los Palmeros also encouraged stories. It was said that its darkness hid evil creatures who were lost in the roughness of its depth, and the cultural tradition has mantained the pastoral saying that “in -the tube- it went a kid which came out as a grown-up billy goat”, thus referring to the enormous length the tube had.
TRADITIONS with a scent of sulphur and a taste of wine
The natives lives have turned on the growing of vines, the virtues of which were already praised by merchants, sailors and adventurers as far back as the XVI century.
In this land so punished by fire the vines dig the soil with their roots. The old bare stems are pruned in February in order to strengthen the plant, which will sprout before long. The young buds are preserved from possible deseases with sulphur powder. Then they are either made to creep along the ground -in areas very much swept by the wind- or they are lifted up with the help of pitchforks -in the so-called arenales, or sandyspots-, the purpose of which being the underpinning of the stems where the grapes will slowly grow and get ripe under the bright sunshine until harvest time, when peasants work side by side, first picking the fruit, then carrying basketfuls of grapes to the winepress.
The end of the harvest turns into a celebration, a gathering of young and old people, men and women who rejoice over traditional dishes.
The must is then put to ferment in casks located in cool winecellars. After a number a months the most demanding connoisseurs will test the new vintage through its colour, its scent, its taste. Nowadays, Fuencaliente’s cellars have an excellent and neatly selected variety of wines on offer within which the malvasía stands out in its own right and is considered a real world-wide enological treasure. From its vines, which can only survive in Llano Negro, some 450 meters over the sea level, flow the sweet wine best tasted as an appetizer or as the delicious finishing touch of a good meal.
FESTIVITIES and gay pilgrimages
On January 17th Fuencaliente celebrates San Antonio Abad’s feast day, but this is only the first of a series of festivities, some of which certainly of greater splendour. At the end of August the Fiesta de la Vendimia (the Harvest Festivity), is offered in the Patron Saint’s honour and is the borough’s most carismatic celebration, one pervaded by a pagan spirit within which tradition and superstition walk hand in hand in this hostile environment.
The grateful peasant worships the Saint and thanks Him for the abundance of the harvest, without which the forthcoming year would be harder to face. Amongst the events that take place there are several that must be pointed out: Danza de Las Viejas Solteras (the Old Spinsters Dance), and Baile de Los Caballos Fuscos (the Dark Horses Dance), the latter dancing with an air of polka and giving life to the magic transformation of men into biped centaurs made out of paper, fabric and cane. This traditional festivity offers the visitors various foods and excellent wines. It is also worth mentioning the festivity of Punta Larga, in which the Virgen del Carmen is taken out in a sailing procession on July 16th; and the pilgrimage of Pino de La Virgen, in August.
On Christmas Eve the ever exceptional midnight mass pleasantly stuns the attendants: Christmas carols are sung, shepherds dance and present the Holy Child with their gifts to the rhythm of flutes, drums and castanets.
Fresh local fish, papas (boiled potatoes dried in a saucepan), mojo (garlic and herbs sauce), gofio (roasted grain flour) and goat cheese together with a local wine may turn out to be a stimulating menu.
Confectionary mainly made out of almonds, rapaduras de gofio (gofio and honey moulded as a pyramid), praline, raisins and the traditional rye roll also enjoy a well-deserved fame.
One of the most emblematic excursions of the Island is “La Ruta de Los Volcanes”, which starts from Refugio del Pilar and makes its way up to the Birigoyo, at a height of 1,800 meters over the sea level. From it one can nearly make out the whole island except for the north, which hides away behind the steep rocks of La Caldera.
The path takes one all along the ridge of the mountain to Los Canarios among craters, through stone rivers and volcanic sandyspots which the fragile existing ecosystems cling to in their fight for survival. A magic world the visitor will discover as he or she walks along. Then the way heads down to Volcán de San Antonio, Los Quemados, Vocán de Teneguía, to end up in El Faro.
As a counterpoint to the former trip we propose one that will let the walker tread his or her way along the coastline, though the distance of which may also be covered by mountainbike. If this is his/her choice, he/she will set off from town and go down to Las Caletas, then pass through the black lava of El Búcaro down to el puertito (little harbour), where long ago lupins or chochos were macerated and put to dry by the mareteros (those who earned their living by doing so).
Nautical sports -such as sailing, diving…- and parapent, camelriding and so forth, are some other suggestions to take into account.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Roque de Teneguía
The Roque de Teneguía, which witnessed the landscape that once shaped the area that is today buried under the solidified lava streams, raises itself with pride dauntlessly enduring the ever blowing trade winds.
The aborigine population used this whitish rock as a means to approach their gods. Its surface is embellished by the curvilinear engravings typical of the old people of awara.
The boroughs of El Paso, Mazo and Fuencaliente raise up to the mountain ridge known as Cumbre Vieja -old ridge-. The sequence of volcanic eruptions that have taken place throughout hundreds of years has shaped the landscape into a rough sample of geographical features. Volcanoes such as San Martín (1646), San Antonio (1677), El Charco (1712), San Juan (1949) and Teneguía (1971) have created huge extensions of lava through which seasons go past hardly leaving a sign whatsoever.
Oddly enough, this stunning part of the Island is, despite its name, the youngest of all the territories that make it up. Plant colonies slowly spread far and wide adding a living note to the seemingly sterile terrain, which is also inhabited by grasshoppers, beetles and lizards.
The earthquakes announced the formation of this impressive and beautiful natural monument. Back in 1971, the Volcán de Teneguía spat the bowels of the earth through its cones, from which the lava ran downhill to the very seawater enlarging in this way the area of the Island. It created a landscape born out of fire. The innermost heat of the earth finds its way out through vents hidden among the rocks that dot the ground thus pervading the air with a sulphur smell. The experience of having witnessed the last Spanish volcanic eruption of the millennium will go down in history.
Volcán de San Antonio
The visitor will find the Volcán de San Antonio, which erupted in the XVIIth century, within walking distance from town. Smooth curves draw the silhoutte of one of the most beautiful cones of the Island, one that has a great natural value and is a must to visit.
A walk bordering the crater offers the visitor the opportunity to enjoy some of the borough’s sights, including the Roque and Volcán de Teneguía. In bright days La Gomera, Tenerife and El Hierro can be seen pretending to be drifting away in the blue vastness of the ocean.
The town’s inhabitants, as though it were a tale, live fearlessly together with this dormant red-hearted, black-faced giant.
Mirador de Las Indias
This viewpoint is located by the main road more than 750 meters over the sea level. From this tree-shaded natural veranda the visitor will be able to gaze at the faraway cliff of El Time, so very different from Fuencaliente’s low and rocky coastline.
Further down, Los Quemados and Las Indias live facing the sea, always turning their backs on the pinewoods -an ever green coat that covers the steep mountain except for its ridge.
El Hierro, once again, shows us the way into twilight.
The old lighthouse stands out in the southerner headland of La Palma. Its basaltic masonry tower was built at the end of the past century, and it is considered to be an architectural milestone of the Local Heritage. Not far from it there exists a jetty where fishing boats look for shelter whenever there is a spell of rough weather. Its flashing light does not guide navigation anymore; nevertheless, it will soon become Museo del Mar (sea museum) as well as Centro de Información Comarcal (regional information centre).
Where the ground runs away from the steep slopes, the sea unceasingly dashes against the dark shoreline and the wind blows with rage: there lie the saltworks. Tens of salt heaps grow by the day surrounded by the diminishing sea water the sun evaporates in the, so to say, tanning pools till the salt crystals emerge.
This craft industry does not pollute, nor does it make use of machinery; far from it, it is one among other links of an ecological chain, and it is protected by the UNESCO.
Playa La Zamora
Several are the beaches that stretch along Fuencaliente’s coastline. La Zamora, west of El Faro, is the most popular. It hides below a shallow cliff and is protected by a number of rocks that show from under the sea.
Its warm and clean water beats on the volcanic deeply black sand. On diving, the visitor will be able to appreciate the charms of the sunk lava and the ecosystems which exist below the surface of the sea waters.
Iglesia de San Antonio Abad
The church of San Antonio Abad can be found in the rough land of Los Canarios, just below the pinewood. This architectural landmark made of a single nave, dates from the XVIth century. Its stone belfry embellishes the façade which was built in the purest mudejar style. A beautiful pictoric sample can be seen on the presbytery walls, where frescos dating from 1904 finely enrich the cultural heritage of Fuencaliente.
Pino de La Virgen
The legendary pine tree stands proudly in the woods, five kilometers from Los Canarios. Its resinous heart, wherein the image of the Virging is zealously kept, oozes out the blood that gives it life. The branches protect, as though they were arms, the small image which is feasted in a pilgrimage that takes place on the second Sunday of August.
The visitor will be able to find this site by following the sand track that penetrates this resine scented forest.
Fuente de Los Roques
Not only are the pine trees capable of surviving in the arid volcanic ground which characterizes Fuencaliente, but they can also regrow after the devastating forest fires that ravage the ever green coat which covers the local mountains. Beautiful and powerful trees generously lavish their shade over the recreational site -equipped with the basic infraestructure- where a modest spring named after the high rocks that surround it, though not embellished by romantic legends, quenches the thirst of the many visitors who decide to spend a pleasant day by it.
Centro de Artesanía
The Handicraft Centre or, better put it, Centro de Artesanía, exhibits a wide range of local products. It is placed on Los Canarios’ main road -full of businesses that give life to the town-, and is wherefore very accessible to the visitor.
This handicraft selling point exhibits the traditional hand-made works keenly undertaken throughout the years, a diversity of local products that range from crochet work, knitted woolen fabric or traperas (woven material made out of remainders of a number of other fabrics) to the delicate braided thread found in macramé works, not to forget baskets, hampers and a huge number of other articles. Embroidery deserves a separate treatment, for its fine flowers, leaves, initials… fade up daintily after hundreds of meticulous stitches put in the loops, festoons, embossings and openworks which gracefully adorn the traditional trousseaus.
Nowadays, few are those who cultivate the art of coopery; but there was a time when it was closely linked to the growing of vines, and of great significance during the XVIth century due to the high production of malvasía -so much praised by Shakespeare and equally appreciated by his countrymen.
Copyright. Asociación para el Desarrollo Rural de la Isla de La Palma (ADER-La Palma).