“The dwarves are philosophical,” The little birdlike woman pointed to her forehead and then launched into a rapid fire tirade of Spanish that made me feel as though she was machine gunning me with words, the majority of which were flying past my ears.
Why oh why did I have to ask about the dwarves?
Luckily a shot of pure amphetamine in Havana (the café not the city) had heightened my senses and I was more tuned in than I deserved to be given that I’d been up since 5am. The waitress in Havana had insisted the amphetamine was black coffee, but I knew differently.
Anyway, by reaching out and grabbing some of the words that were spiralling around my head I learned that I was standing in the oldest shop in Santa Cruz de la Palma; the British and La Palma enjoyed a good relationship that stretched back centuries and that the husband of the woman standing next to me, who was nodding her head at everything being said, was the most famous singer on La Palma.
What I didn’t learn, apart from it being philosophical, was why, every five years during the Bajada de la Virgen celebrations (the last was 2010), there are dancing dwarves in Napoleonic headgear. I know when it was introduced (1905) and by whom, but not why. She might have told me but if so it was amongst the many words that got past me.
I got the impression the little woman would have spent the day bombarding me with stories of La Palma and entertaining though she was, the translator function in my head had long since entered the red danger zone and was about to explode. At the first opportunity I bade her hasta luego and left the shop to stand in the warm sunshine in front of what must be the prettiest row of houses in the Canary Islands; the casas de los balcones.
I’d forgotten how much I liked Santa Cruz de la Palma, it’s a quirky place with a unique character and the sort of colonial architecture found in La Orotava and La Laguna on Tenerife mixed with a slice of downtown Havana and Bourbon Street, New Orleans to add a soupcon of spice.
Restaurants are attractively inviting, bars are intriguing, some featuring artwork that reinforces its Cuban connections and old men smoke home grown hand rolled cigars that they claim are almost as good as the real Havana’s. Its main street is populated by stylish Palmeros dressed to kill from one of the individualistic fashion shops that share street space with barbers and newsagents that look as though they’ve time travelled from the 50s. There are few visitors on the streets and you can spot them instantly; they appear drab compared to the sophisticated locals.
With another four years before the dwarves dance again, the only chance of seeing one was beside the naval museum at one end of the main street. A statue of a dancing dwarf who looks as though he needs the loo might sound surreal…and he is… but the naval museum is equally bizarre as it’s housed inside a full-sized replica of the Santa Maria parked on the street. Whilst the exhibits inside are interesting its real draw for me was the opportunity to come over all Jack Sparrow on its prow.
My encounter with S/C de la Palma’s unofficial tourist guide and a stint on the high seas left me feeling peckish and the Encuentro arepera on the little plaza offered the perfect antidote. Okay, not exactly Cuban as the little deep fried filled cornmeal pancakes dished up in areperas are Venezuelan. But it did add more weight to the feeling that I was sitting in a plaza in South America rather than the Canary Islands.
Like I said La Palma is quirky. Where else could you eat South American street food under the gaze of a dancing dwarf who’s…err dwarfed by the hull of one of Chris Columbus’ ships that just happens to be moored on a main road?
What exactly did that waitress put in my coffee?