This corner of the Island, located to the north-east, extends from the shoreline to the mountain ridge on a 43-square-kilometre area. The boundaries with the neighbouring boroughs -San Andrés y Sauces (on which it was dependent until 1678), and Garafía- are set by the ravines known as La Herradura (to the south) and Gallegos (to the north).Its location favours the abundance of clouds, the humidity of which feed the laurisilva woodland and also enrich the aquifer.
This territory used to be known under the name of Tagarabre before the peninsular conquerors colonized it. The stockfarming activity of the Island’s aborigines preceeded the fragmentation of the land, carried out by the newcomers, that led to the development of the agricultural resources of this fertile land. Crops such as sugar-cane, vines and cereals were introduced throughout the centuries. But the recurrent water shortage caused periods of crisis that forced many a man and woman to search for new prospects either in Cuba or in Venezuela. The important migrant exodus decreased the Island’s population, but the returned successful islanders invested their fortunes in the purchase of lands that until the previous century had belonged to a minority of rich landowners.
These enterprising-spirited people changed the economic scene: new roads broke the isolation of numerous villages and galleries were excavated in order to find the necessary water to make agriculture a prosperous activity. Today, Banana plantations, potatoes, avocados, citrics… constitute the base of the local economy notwithstanding the tourist sector, which is increasingly feeling more and more attracted towards the Region’s natural beauty.
Old baladeros (bleatyards) and legendary witch-like bailaderos (or dance floors)
The pre-Hispanic shepherds of the Island led their herds to the so-called bleatyards (or baladeros), plain and high places where they prayed their gods when droughts where specially severe. Sucklings were separated from their mothers and deprived of all food for several days; thus, their desperate bleats could be mistaken for the wails and yells of a people that claimed for the life-giving rain.
Barlovento is the only borough that has two baladeros, once upon a time called bailaderos. Those most superstitious believed that witches’ sabbathes were celebrated within these magic sky-facing open spaces, thereby their pun.
OLD TRADES tradition immersed in humid woods
The exploitation of the humid northern forests is part of the history of the Borough; people have always been able to make a living on this natural resource which centuries ago suffered from the harass of the axes owned by those who were seeking to survive. As it was illegal, this task was carried out furtively; the heavy trunks were dragged, taking advantage of the steepness of the slopes, down to the very coast, were they were loaded on vessels and sent to faraway lands.
Woodcutters and charcoal-burners are still present in these rough landscape as the old legends of what once were very traditional trades, but the smoky kilns long ago meticulously made by charcoal-burners are becoming increasingly rare. After felling the trees, they covered the lumber with earth and manure and then burnt it for several days till it turned into the appraised charcoal. On the other hand, heaps of various kinds of sticks and pitchforks meant for different purposes huddle by the roads as though they were just another element of this eminently rural land. Above the village of Gallegos old tar kilns are still to be seen; there, pine resine was boiled and then used to caulk ships and seam their boards.
Paradoxically, the biggest pine of the Island grows here; as years go by, new rings encircle the centennial trunk of the well-known Pino Machín.
FESTIVITIES – historical memories
The festivity concept has changed throughout the years; salt collecting, or cooperating in the farming tasks in exchange for a copious meal (gallofa), were considered to be a celebrating motive. On such occasions people sang old songs while others danced to the music: Serinoque, cho Juan Perenal or the Caringa -the latter stemming from Cuba- are some of the folk samples still deeply-rooted in La Palma’s traditional feasts.
On May 5th, the Cross’ Day is specially celebrated, when, in Gallegos, women are the ones to take the Cross in a procession. In Las Cabezadas, crosses are bedecked and a big luncheon is organized near La Laguna de Barlovento: Long ago the image of San Isidro was taken in a procession through the countryside so as to invoke rains that would render dry lands into fertile cereal fields.
On August 23rd, Virgen de La Caridad del Cobre, Cuba’s Patron Saint, is also much celebrated since 1959.
But the most important festivity of all is that celebrated to honour the Virgen del Rosario, also in August. Every two years the Battle of Lepanto (Italian name of the Greek port of Naupaktos) is reenacted amidst an uproar of cannons and a strong smell of gunpowder. This image was the protector of the Spanish expedition in such naval battle. This, so to speak, staging commemorates the victory of the Chistians over the Ottoman Turks. The dialogues between the contenders give us a singular view of that historical event.
A multicoloured world is to be discovered in Barlovento. Under the thick green coat that covers its mountains, hillocks and ravines there exists a net of paths which was already used in pre-Hispanic times. The dampness brought by the ever blowing and cool trade winds turns into water which filters down the earth and then springs up here and there, within the depth of a thousand ravines which seem to have been chiselled on the ground by the persistent hand of erosion thus fashioning an orography wherefrom man has not wanted to escape.
No doubt the beauty of the Region’s landscape is its greatest charm, which those who are fond of trekking will be able to enjoy more thoroughly, in which case we propose a walk that starts in town and goes through different hereabouts -La Tosca, Topaciegas, La Palmita- as far as Gallegos (Barlovento’s most populated village settlement in ancient times).
An alternative stroll to take into account is that which covers the distance that stretches between Barranco de La Herradura and La Laguna de Barlovento -running along a narrow highroad that goes through Las Cabezadas.
Last but not least, we suggest those who like challenges that they walk from the mountain ridge, starting in Lomo de Las Cebollas, and then wind down a steep track as far as Los Llanos de Gallegos; this route can also be covered by riding a mountainbike.
SITES OF INTEREST
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario
It is said that the town, once a small village settlement, emerged, on this wet and windy side of the Island, at a crossroads where peasants carrying their farming product to the different hamlets rested, chatted and exchanged goods. Nuestra Señora del Rosario’s church marks today’s town. The building ; which was begun in 1581 and enlarged during the XVIIth century, has an only big-sized nave whose upper end is marked out by a red tuff arch; a fine reredos shelters the Flemish carving of the Virgen del Rosario.
Other artistic treasures, such as the mexican XVIth-century crucifix or the baroque charving of La Virgen del Carmen, enrich the Temple’s patrimony. Its glazed clay font stands under the choir, and from its belfry the bells, brought from a Cuban sugar mill and which playfully strike the hours, hang.
Mirador de La Tosca
Very near the town the visitor will find the excellent viewpoint known under the name of La Tosca and which overlooks the region’s cliffs hurling themselves into the Ocean.
Hereabouts such as Gallegos, La Palmita, Topaciegas and La Tosca are scattered on a landscape whose wild orography has rendered them isolated and lonely spots still under the influence of their strong traditions.
From this vantage point, one’s gaze will spot, a little farther down, a small dragos forest by a group of stone dwellings. The trees sap was much covetted in olden times due to its therapeutic proprieties; their green treetops were used as fodder or in the making of handicraft. The size of this emblematic trees pleasantly stuns those who visit this picturesque spot.
La fuente de Las Mimbreras
The Fuente de Las Mimbreras, or the Mimbreras spring, can be found on the road that stretches between Garafía and Barlovento. Its pure and fresh water flows within the dusk of the thick laurisilva forest. Big specimens of laurel trees, viñátigos, palos blancos and osiers grow amidst moss-covered stones.
A small recreational site provided with tables and grills lies by the spring. This is a handsome spot where to halt and enjoy a luxuriant natural environment.
El Faro de Punta Cumplida
On La Palma’s northernmost end the Punta Cumplida lighthouse has lit countless pitch-dark nights since 1867. Its stone tower and optics have been remodeled, though. The lighthouse keeper climbed its winding staircase to the very top of the tower; from there, he attentively watched the skyline while the sea dashed against the rocks below him with a deafening uproar.
A great many stories have been told throughout the years: it is said that the old lighthouse witnessed the presence of German and American submarines during World War II. At a time, it even worked using olive oil and paraffin as fuel. Today, on the brink of entering the XXIst century, it still guides navigation as promptly as ever.
La costa y piscinas de La Fajana
As if swept by the saltpetre laden breeze that lashes the cliffs the visitor will be able to admire Barlovento’s beachless coast, full as it is of a contrast-filled physiognomy. The more often than not rough sea has created, between Oropesa and Gallegos, impressive cliffs which raise up some two-hundred metres from the sea level; however, the coastline softens between Punta Cumplida and La Caleta de Talavera: old natural inlet wherefrom loaded ships sailed for America up until this very century. Both la Caleta de Talavera and the Porís de Gallegos (Gallegos’ jetty) have traditionally been the Region’s only sea communications.
On Punta Cumplida -or Punta del Engaño- the lighthouse stands out; not far from it, the traveller will find the Fajana’s seawater swimming-pools. Long ago the Borough’s inhabitants used to soak flax in the natural pools there existed here; at present, though, they have been turned into a leasure area. Visitors will also be able to camp.
La Laguna de Barlovento
In the upper area of the Island’s windiest borough there lies the biggest dam to be found on it. A modern waterproof system permits to store 5 million cubic metres of water. The clayey ground of a millennial crater used to get flooded in rainy winters, thereby its name.
A big recreational site, provided with the necessary infrastructure to make the visitor feel comfortable, lies nearby: roofed grills, tables and benches, children’s playground, toilets… render it a handsome spot where to spend the day or camp amidst its walks and plains -which have been reforested with laurisilva specimens. From its viewpoint the visitor will be able to enjoy the beautiful scenes of the Borough’s coast and green mountains.
Centro de Artesanía Las Mimbreras
The soul and memory of a people find their best manifestation among craftsmen of different guilds, whose wisdom and skills have always let them know how to take advantage of what nature provided them with. Thus, place-names such as Las Mimbreras, or osiers, testify to the presence of certain raw materials which have traditionally been used. Osier grows in humid areas amidst Monteverde, or greenwood; its long and thin twigs, once cut, are patiently entwined and turned into a range of wickerworks, from sewing « cases » to baskets of burden into which manure will be loaded. Osier, drago leaves and rye always were the main raw materials used in basketworks which would then be employed in farming tasks.
Looms were also commonplace, for they constituted just another piece of furniture. Women wove wool and linen as well as the traditional colourful traperas (fabric woven out of old worn-out garments which is then used as, for example, bed covers).
Also, delicate embroidery, crochet and macramé, pottery, woodworks, works made with waste paper -traditional in Venezuela-, and a full array of other handicraft products are exhibited and sold at Centro de Artesanía de Las Mimbreras, where skill and artistic insight are a must.
Copyright. Asociación para el Desarrollo Rural de la Isla de La Palma (ADER-La Palma).