Situated in the north-west of the island, Puntagorda covers a surface area of 28 sq. km. Barranco de Izcagua separates it from Garafía to the north and, to the south, Barranco de Garome separates it from Tijarafe. These two spectacular ravines frame a mountainside that descends from 2,200 m to sea level in a little more than 12 km. The most outstanding feature of the area is the pyroclast cones that dot the landscape.
The climate is influenced by lying in the lee of the trade winds. It is a sunny and dry spot with abundant rainfall, particularly when storms arrive from the Atlantic.
The first settlers left important traces of their existence with remains of buildings, materials used in their occupations, and other structures (rock carvings, piles of stone, channels and vessels).
The first historical settlement was established in the XVI century in the area around San Amaro, where one of the island’s first churches, the sixth, was built. The majority of the population being of Portuguese descent took Saint Amaro as their Patron. Their houses were low, covered in straw and spread across a large area – thus showing the marginal existence of these people who cultivated the pinewoods to grow their crops. Their other main employment was livestock. Shortage of springs and wells made it necessary for the inhabitants to build tanks to collect rainwater.
The land was owned by the Cabildo or Island Council who leased it out to the workers in units. These units were called quintos as the workers had to hand over one fifth of the produce after one tenth had been deducted for Church fees.
Traditionally, industry in Puntagorda was directly related to the production of pitch (burning pine in special ovens to extract the resin), trade of wood, and cultivation of cereals and fruits. At one stage a granary was built in the area to store cereal grains.
The original settlement was eventually abandoned as people moved higher up the mountain settling around Cuatro Caminos, El Pinar, Fagundo and El Roque.
Adverse political and economic conditions at the end of the XIX century and throughout a large part of the XX century took their toll on the people of Puntagorda who were forced either to abandon the island or to move to other municipalities. Today, the standard of living in Puntagorda is acceptable, growth is moderate, and many foreigners have settled there in recent times.
HONEY , a food with a history
Much revered throughout history and a present from nature herself, bee honey has important energetic and therapeutic properties. While it is true that this delicacy was eaten in greater quantities in the past, it is also true that there was a much smaller range of sweet products available at that time.
The art of apiculture did not begin in any one place but the quality honey collected in the island of La Palma is deemed to be amongst the best in Spain.
The bee produces honey from the delicious nectar of the flowers which are abundant in Puntagorda. Houses in the locality are surrounded by flowers and white almond trees are scattered around the fields.
Bee-keeping requires specific skill as a mutual agreement is reached between the beekeeper, who becomes accustomed to the bees, and the bees themselves, which allow the beekeeper to manipulate them. The so-called black bee, which inhabits the island, is a native species that does not fall victim to many of the foreign diseases. In their own hierarchical world, the worker bees and drones serve the queen bee, as they busily buzz around the perfect six-sided cells.
The rustic beehives made from hollowed-out palm and dragon trees now belong to the past. Today’s beehives are placed in sheltered spots away from human traffic.
The colour and scent of the honey depends on the flower used in its production. Honey made from the bugloss family is white and delicately flavoured. Coastal flowers produce a soft and crystal-like substance, and heather or chestnut flowers produce a dark and strongly flavoured honey. The art of harvesting the honey is a little complicated but it is a part of our heritage which is important to keep alive and pass on.
As well as the festivals celebrated elsewhere, such as Christmas and Easter week, locals also celebrate the feast day of their Patron Saint, Maurus the Abbott, which takes place in the second fortnight of August. A statue of the saint is carried in a procession to the ancient temple.
In the past this feast day was marked in the calendar as January 15th. However, in 1916 the parish priest, Bienvenido Serra, transferred it to September, and now it is celebrated in the month of August.
The most important event takes place between January and February – depending on when the almond comes into flower – and this is called Fiesta del Almendro en Flor. With the cold winter air and the countryside blanketed in white, the people of Puntagorda welcome visitors who come to enjoy the event. There are many different types of activities to enjoy and, with a good glass of vino de tea and a few almonds, the people of La Palma come into contact with nature once again.
The charming village of Puntagorda is set in open countryside and has a myriad of paths for the hillwalker to explore. Ancient paths take us past modest traditional buildings, enhanced by the presence of flowers. An ageing population, learned in tradition and history, is eager to convey its knowledge in these magical yet natural surroundings.
One of the routes we suggest begins at El Pino de La Virgen, and continues along the track to San Amaro church. From there the path continues to the scenic lookout point at Matos, a rounded mountain, and then up towards the windmill, arriving eventually at El Fayal.
Another more difficult route begins at the village, and takes the La Rosa route all the way up to the mountaintop. On the lower slopes the route passes vineyards and pine trees, eventually reaching the higher ground where sticky broom is found growing.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Centenary dragon trees
Between the steep cliffs carved out of the pyroclast landscape runs the sinuous road from Los Llanos to Puntagorda, the town of the red clay. In the neighbourhood of El Roque, on the roadside, dragon trees can be seen growing. From this little enclave there are excellent views of the mountain slopes and clear bright landscapes.
Admiring these slow growing, sturdy centenary trees one imagines the similarity between them and the great turtle, their animal counterparts, whose big heart beats slowly under its great grey shell which protects its soul. These legendary trees are the giants of the plant species that inhabit the Canary Islands archipelago.
The dragon trees of Puntagorda were considerably larger until a few decades ago when a storm split one of the trunks and it was weighed down by its heavy canopy.
The ancient Church of San Amaro
The first church to be built in this locality is found at the lower end of the town. Now silent and remote, this building dates back to the XVI century and became parish church in 1617.
The oldest paths in the area pass through San Amaro. Thus the Calvary pilgrimage which leads right up to the mountaintop was walked by thousands of pilgrims from all over the island who were devotees of this Portuguese saint.
Its heavy doors were open for worship until 1951, but its location and poor economic conditions resulted in it falling into neglect and eventually into ruins. Surrounded by fertile land irrigated with water from the reservoir of Montaña El Palomar, this church is currently being restored and has been declared a monument of cultural interest. A few metres away is the old parish house, a relic of times gone by.
Houses are dotted along the soft slopes of the area. These simple small white houses are clustered together along the quiet winding paths.
El Pinar is the centre of the village, with the new church housing the Patron, Saint Maurus the Abbott, also known as Saint Amaro, which was transferred from the old sanctuary. In the outskirts, a sturdy Canarian pine anchors its roots deep into the soil, a relic of the old forest that once covered the red earth of Puntagorda. The Pino de La Virgen (Virgin’s pine) has its ancient trunk carved out and a small statue of Mary has been placed inside. Nearby is the town hall of the municipality.
Another neighbourhood, Los Cuatro Caminos, the point where four paths meet, is another living example of rural life in the area. The elders of the village sit in the porches of their houses talking about times long past, about Cuba and Venezuela, about family members who emigrated and stories of their return.
Not far from Pino de La Virgen is the scenic viewpoint of Miraflores. From this point, there are impressive views over the village below, the distant little red-roofed houses, potato fields, vines, orchards and thousands of almond trees. In the distance you can see high mountains, gorges and plains and the huge expanse of the ocean itself.
Nearer the violent-sea coast, mount Matos stands proudly overlooking the Atlantic, a timeless place where the wind fills your lungs. Local people say that in the past sailing ships from America sometimes used to appear over the horizon only to stop off at the small port of Garafía, an exciting event by all accounts.
Mountains and coast
The stretch of mountain is quite short in this municipality and it reaches its highest point at Roque Chico (2,372 m). Ridges and gorges form a crater-like structure between Tinizara and El Roque where the surrounding landscape is carpeted with pine woods.
The slopes become less steep below 1,500 m, and there is an abundance of abandoned land where dry farming was once practised, and where cereals, vegetables and grapes once grew on the units of land called quintos, land which the government leased out to tenants who had to hand over one fifth of their produce. The mountain was felled to improve productivity of the soil, as it is blessed by rainfall when clouds accumulate on this side of the island.
Along the coast the land juts out to the ocean, and the cliffs of Costa de Hiscaguán are truly breathtaking, and have been declared a natural monument. These low-lying coasts, where it rarely rains and where there are long hours of daylight, provide a habitat for plants such as the Canary Island cactus-spurge, sweet spurge, kleinia, milkweed, and Canary Island sorrel and, also, along the shoreline, the most daring of plants that have adapted to saline conditions can be found.
Along the cliffs run narrow paths moulded by the footprints of the people of Puntagorda as they have walked down to the port. Although the wild waves put fear in the faces of the most experienced fishermen, they do not frighten the shearwaters, seagulls and ospreys that nest in these cliffs.
The pine grove stretches from the highest mountains down to the centre of the village. El Fayal is a stronghold of forests with magnificent examples of hundred-year old pine trees and undergrowth of tree heaths and fayas, or Canary Island wax myrtle, which give the area its name. There is a quiet peaceful recreational area with barbecue facilities, tables, drinking water and a small childrens’ park.
Its accessibility and proximity to the village make it a popular spot. Below the beautiful conifers the depth of the Barranco de Izcagua ravine can be seen. In times of drought when water tanks ran dry people used to dig holes in the sandy river bed until the miracle water appeared, hence the name « the flowing pool ». In the opposite direction you can see Las Tricias, the first district of the neighbouring Garafía, and as the eye travels further down the mountainside one gets lost in the landscape of a distant land with dragon trees, choughs, pines, the old windmill and the quiet horizon with its spectacular and colourful sunset.