“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?

  1. colleen keyes says:

    Thanks for starting my Monday for me, smiling! Love this report from La Palma, and good to see that they have repainted the Casas de los Balcones. They were looking a bit sorry for themselves back in 1997 the only time I was there. This is one of my favorite Canary Islands and wears the crown of Isla Bonita well. I was especially in awe of just how laid back and sleepy a capital city can be!

    Yet again, lovely photos Jack – do you have connections up there for the lighting you create? – and thanks for keeping us both informed AND entertained with your writings!

    • dragojac says:

      Thanks Colleen. A lot of the buildings have clearly been spruced up recently and are looking fab. You don’t know how lucky I was with the light. The weather had been so shocking the night before that our flight had turned back just 5 minutes from landing on La Palma. When we tried again the following morning it was chucking it down at Los Rodeos…but when we arrived in Santa Cruz de la Palma the sun was shining. So, whilst the others ordered coffee, I made sure I snapped some shots of the casas de los balcones just in case it weas short lived. It was only about 8.30 so the sun was at a perfect angle as well. As it happened, the sun remained for pretty much the whole of the trip.

  2. islandmomma Life on a Small Island and Beyond says:

    LOVE this, all of it, content, style and photos!!! NEED to get me over there!

  3. […] Finding Dwarves and Little Havana in Santa Cruz de La Palma … 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 . […]

  4. Richard says:

    “There are few visitors on the streets and you can spot them instantly; they appear drab compared to the sophisticated locals” … yep, they’re the ones with 5 euro sandals from Decathlon rebajas 🙂

    Sounds like a fun place … ‘Havana-lite’ – patent leather and cigars, but without the 50’s yank cars and benevolent dictator (oh yeah, nearly forgot our Mr Bean).

    • dragojac says:

      Andy was compelled to make some purchases so she could blend in whilst I remained a drab visitor in…not 5 euro sandals but 12 euro walking shoes from Decathlon. Comfort before style.

      It is a fun place. BTW Those paintings on the wall of the bar in the pic were on sale at €250 a throw.

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jack Montgomery and secrettenerife, Annie Bennett. Annie Bennett said: RT @RealTenerife: The dancing dwarves of little Havana in Santa Cruz de la Palma #travel http://bit.ly/dSOyBF […]

  6. Richard says:

    “compelled to make some purchases” … yep, know that condition well … it strikes whenever I find myself in a shop selling surf-ware, hardware (just love all the widgets) or beer-worse-for-wear 🙂 …

    or in N’s case … shoes (although she’ll deny it and say cameras etc).

    ps talking of shoes … 12 euros takes some beating ! what did Andy buy ?

  7. zephyrliving says:

    Those photograph are marvelous! Wow! It makes me want to zip on over there! Want is the operational word here… :/

    Jack, Jack, Jack…what am I going to do with you? How can you mention the statue of the dancing dwarf and not include a photograph? Or one of you playing pirate on the prow?

    Sigh. Love your post anyway.

    Peace, T.

    • dragojac says:

      Thanks T…and it is definitely a place worth zipping to. You’re right about the dancing dwarf – it shall be rectified. As for the less well known Cap’n Jack – pretty much always behind the camera, so more difficult – but I can do the prow 🙂

  8. […] Finding Dwarves and Little Havana in Santa Cruz de La Palma […]

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