El Paso, the largest municipality of La Palma, is located in the west of the island extending 135 sq. km over the upper region of the Valle de Aridane valley and the Caldera de Taburiente crater. It borders all other municipalities of the island with the exception of Tazacorte and is the only municipality which does not touch the coast.
Surrounded by the great masses that are Bejenado, Cumbre Nueva and part of Cumbre Vieja, the relief is a great expanse of rocky ground and lava fields of more or less recent formation that have traditionally been dedicated to dry farming, pasture and forestry.
The upper district of the Valle de Aridane valley is the highest point of the island that the aborigine people were known to inhabit. This indicates the importance to these people of the use of vegetation for pasture grazing when choosing a place to settle.
From the XVI century onwards, the new European colonists settled in the lower regions of the valley, exploiting forestry resources of the woodland and ploughing more and more land especially the lava fields. To make use of arable land they patiently gathered all the stones from their land, forming the spectacular majanos (piles of stone in a pyramid shape) and walls that are so characteristic of Llano de Las Cuevas plain. The majority of this ploughing of the land took place in the first quarter of the XIX century.
The city of El Paso is situated on the mountain road connecting Los Llanos and Tazacorte with the capital and it is from this that it gets its name (El Paso or the pass). It belonged to the jurisdiction of Valle de Aridane until 1837 when it got its independence. El Paso was given the official title of villa in 1878 and of city in 1910.
Today, with a growing population and a strong cultural tradition, the municipality of El Paso is at the forefront of economic, agrarian and industrial development.
The two most important events in El Paso’s festive calendar are that of the Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) and El Pino (the Pine). Although these celebrations are closely linked to their protagonists, they are open to all.
Fifteen days after Corpus Christi, the streets of the city are adorned with carpets, tapestries and arches covered in elaborate decorations, flowers and seeds to greet the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the procession.
On the first Sunday of September everyone gathers at the chapel of the Virgen del Pino to pay homage to the mother of God, amid religious celebrations, traditional festivities and picnics under the pine trees.
Every three years in the months of August and September, the virgin descends in a pilgrimage to the church of Nuestra Señora de Bonanza, accompanied by decorated carts and pilgrims in traditional dress.
The silk tradition
Silk has had a long history in the distant land of China, where it was considered a symbol of power and prestige by those using this fine fabric to make garments, kites or as a support for beautiful works of art. In the past these were transported by camel from the capital Chang-ngan itself to the Mediterranean. Sea transport made trade possible with the Old Continent where all the secrets of silk raising were sought after.
Emperors and aristocrats wore this silk which was soon to become fashionable with silk production spreading worldwide. It arrived to the Canaries after the Conquest as the Spanish, Andalusians and Portuguese brought with them the textile techniques of that time. Between the XVI and XVIII centuries, La Palma became an important centre for silk production. Later this totally hand-worked craft began to decline and the craft was kept alive only in the municipality of El Paso. In the XX century, official bodies supported and revitalised this craft, which is included by UNESCO and the Council of Europe in the worldwide Silk Route programme.
The caterpillar takes between four and five weeks to produce the cocoon for the pupas, which live there until they change into butterflies. The natural cycle is interrupted by introducing the cocoons into hot water to soften the filament and to stop the butterfly biting through the cocoon to get out and thus breaking the fine threads.
The thread is then spun slowly on the old spinning wheel in the traditional manner producing the soft and delicate skeins which are dyed with natural colours of almond shells, nuts, cochineal, eucalyptus… Finally the loom turns this product into handkerchiefs, cravats and headscarves that come into our hands thanks to this attempt at maintaining such an ancestral tradition.
The Legend of the Two Tree Heaths
Many centuries ago twin brothers lived near the wood in Barranco de Hermosilla. Orphans since they were children, they were brought up by a sad man, honourable but shy, who was later to become a priest. He constantly tormented the twins saying, « the sins of our parents are passed on to the children… ».
The children, dedicated to their livestock, slowly grew into men and one night they heard cries amidst the whispering wind. One of the twins went outside to investigate and returned with a beautiful young woman who had fainted in her attempts to find the path by night. The girl captivated the hearts of both brothers with her charm and in the morning left to return home…
The priest, realising how the brothers felt, told them of the true tragedy that had befallen them. He told of how two brothers fell in love with the same woman. The woman chose one of the brothers throwing the other into a vicious rage. He then killed his own brother on his wedding night and took the young woman who fell pregnant with twins who were « you boys… ».
History repeated itself. The boy who was not chosen became increasingly jealous and after the wedding ceremony the brothers began to fight, both losing their lives. So lost, the woman cried inconsolably at the old priest’s side and two blooming tree heaths grew on the spot where the battle had taken place. These trees, known as « the two brothers », lived for centuries until they were burnt down by a fire in 1860.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Caldera de Taburiente crater
Extending over 4,690 hectares, the Caldera de Taburiente National Park is an enormous crater 8 km in diameter which was carved out over thousands of years by a process of erosion.
The steep slopes mark landscapes colonised by Canary Islands pine and fed by the constant flow of water from its springs and galleries, which give rise to numerous waterfalls.
The steep cliffs are the keepsafe of geological secrets such as the pillow lava which form part of the ancient basal rock strata, basalt dykes, outcrops and ancient shafts.
When you visit the interior of this protected area, the sky is high above and you feel as though consumed by this place where time passes slowly.
Descending from the mountaintops towards El Paso, you come across a modern building which houses the Caldera de Taburiente visitors’ centre. It is a reference centre for visitors who want to find out all kinds of information about the National Park. This is where camping permits are issued and information is available on different trips around the park.
Information on geology, flora and fauna is provided with pictures which explain, in a practical and educational manner, how the island was formed and which species form part of the ecosystems in this protected area. There is a charming little library and souvenir shop in the centre.
La Cumbrecita scenic viewpoint
Beside the visitors’ centre is the turn off for the scenic lookout of Mirador de La Cumbrecita. This lookout with its excellent views of the Caldera Park receives many visitors as you can get there by car.
From there a trail leads up to Lomo de Las Chozas, a natural balcony with panoramic views of the bluish cliffs at the bottom of Barranco de Las Angustias. Magnificent basalt needles jut up into the sky and in the distance in the middle of the pine the outline of Roque Idafe is visible. This was a sacred place for the ancient Awaras where the entrails of animals were offered up to the rock in order that it would not fall and destroy their culture.
The Pine of the Virgin
Between the mountaintops that protect El Paso from the north winds and the summit of Pico Bejenado, the local people see the silhouette of a great sleeping giant. At his feet lie broad expanses of landscape with forgotten cultivated areas, old livestock tracks and heaps of stone between the almond and chestnut trees.
It often happens in this place that a huge wave of humid clouds spills out over the relief of this warmer slope which dries them causing them to disappear.
El Paso is described as a place with impossible mountains where one day Our Lady is said to have appeared in a large pine tree. The conifer served as a sanctuary for her and gave the virgin her name. The modest chapel was built in 1876 and it is said that during the construction a branch of the great tree was cut and spilled blood. The greatness of this tree was much revered and today it stands as one of the oldest trees of its kind in the island.
La Fajana Rock-carvings
Descending by Hermosilla along a narrow roadway which runs between El Paso and Los Llanos, we come across the turn off to La Fajana. A sacred space for the Awaras who, with great dedication and difficulty, carved the hard basalt. Solar forms can be seen in the carvings; the sun was known as Abora that lit up the sky each day. The cave paintings are situated at the edge of the cliff, their original forms display the sunset and the rituals carried out by these native people to the gods of nature.
San Juan Volcano
Over a period of thousands of years the volcanoes have carved out the profile of the island of La Palma. The rugged and wild beauty of the volcanic landscape has left a deep impression on the municipality of El Paso. Here there were eruptions such as those of Tacande, Tajuya, El Charco and San Juan. All of them form part of the Cumbre Vieja Nature Park which extends over 7,500 hectares.
The molten materials hurled out from the craters spilled out over the countryside where earth tremors, clouds of smoke, forest fires, ash rain, intense smells of sulphur, and collective panic are symptoms that a volcano is active. This is how the people who trembled with fear remember the eruption of San Juan in 1949. Its black lava spilled down the mountainside increasing the size of the island by a few hectares in Las Hoyas and Puerto Naos.
Chapel of Nuestra Señora de Bonanza
The Bejenado massif majestically overlooks the town of El Paso, with its country houses and gardens preserved in the traditional style. Like a great needle jutting up into the sky is the tower of the recently built church which is close to the chapel of Nuestra Señora de Bonanza.
This unique and beautiful sanctuary deserves a special mention for the very detailed work in the geometric designs on the walls. The architectural style is repeated in the façade of the small open balcony above the doorway. Three bells are housed in the belfry high up on the top of this unique building.
Inside, rafters reinforce the roofs that give shelter to the Virgin of Bonanza. The plaza which surrounds the chapel is decorated with colourful flowers during the festival of the Sagrado Corazón in June.
El Pilar Refuge
Located between pine woods and laurel forests, this place is popular as a large recreation area where the island people come to spend the weekend with their families. There is a recreation park here where you can light a fire and cook, there is also drinking water and toilets and camping is allowed.
Many visitors park their cars in the area and go hiking. The Pico Birigoyo summit at 1,808 m is located beside the refuge and is the first cone of the large chain of volcanoes that emerge in the form of a ridge in the inappropriately named Cumbre Vieja or old summit. From the summit, Tenerife’s Mount Teide can be seen far off in the distance and the eye loses itself in the lava landscapes of the volcano trail below.
Copyright. Asociación para el Desarrollo Rural de la Isla de La Palma (ADER-La Palma).