Juxtapozitions

 

“What’s life like abroad?” That’s the second most-frequently asked question I hear after returning from living in Barcelona for over three years.

The most frequently asked question? “Why did you come back?”

That’s the subject for another blog post.

What life is like abroad is what I will be writing about for now, and the answer is not so simple.

I thought to try to answer the question with words, but instead, I’ve chosen to answer it with pictures, beginning with one I captured during my first week in Barcelona:

IMG_5377
This old woman was sleeping inside an ATM booth…many homeless seek shelter in these during the winter

That photo was taken just a few weeks after this one:

IMG_5005
A common sight in Manila where every stoop, alcove, bench, over or underpass becomes a makeshift shelter. Or toilet.

And seeing the similarity in appearance, if not in circumstance, brought to mind Juxtapozitions, a photo project which will be the first (of four) creative projects I plan to launch this year.

juxtapozitions 3

juxtapozitions 1juxtapozitions 2

As the title suggests, Juxtapozitions visually juxtaposes life in the Philippines and Europe. (If you’re curious as to why I misspell the word, it’s merely for social media purposes. If you check the hashtag #juxtapozitions, majority of it will be my images. For whatever that’s worth.) Mostly from Barcelona, of course, because that’s where I lived most of the time, but also other Spanish cities including Granada, Girona, and La PalmaI also traveled to the Amsterdam, Venice, Paris, Prague, and Toulon a couple of times.

Taken over a period of around three years, most of these were photos weren’t taken with this photo project in mind. But after going over my visual memory bank, I repeatedly come across photos that had visual or contextual similarities–for example, female fishmongers in the La Boqueria and a wet market in Aurora, Baler:

IMG_5139

Or the waiting area in the Oficina de Extranjeria de Barcelona (foreigners’ office) and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila:

IMG_5139

or Catalan children sitting on a curb during an FC Barcelona victory parade, and some Filipino boys just hanging out outside a sari-sari store during a holiday:

IMG_5139

Incidentally, a week before I left Barcelona, the Spanish National Guard assaulted Catalans who were seeking independence from Spain, or at least the right to hold a referendum to do so. I found this ironic as around 150 years earlier, Spanish soldiers executed Filipinos fighting for independence from the Spanish empire :

IMG_5139
Photos taken from the Guardian and Wikipedia

In the photobook, I desaturate some of the photos to minimise the distinction between the two worlds.

 

So Juxtapozitions is one way I’ve chosen to answer the complex question, albeit to a very limited extent. By capturing parallels between life on opposite sides of the planet, a planet that seems to grow smaller with every leap forward in transport and information technology, I hope to provide some insight into what living in a culture and society that is so different–yet in some ways similar–to the one I grew up in, is like.

And if there’s any insight that I’ve gained during all those three years it would be these three: 

People are inherently good

Anne Frank said it first. Without people I never would have made it. Not just once, but many times over. This doesn’t mean there aren’t absolute shits out there, there are, and keep away from them by all means. But they most likely didn’t start out that way. I’ve met some amazing and generous people, who didn’t know me at all and didn’t have anything to gain, but went out of their way, who offered help when I needed it so badly.

It takes three to five years

It takes at least three to five years to feel at home in a new place. If you’re lucky. Barcelona is a melting pot, like New York, Paris, or any other major metropolis, and I’ve encountered people from literally all over, but all of them come to the city to live, drawn by its warm climate, endless beaches, and vibrant culture. Some come to study then tried to transition to work, as I did. And like myself, many don’t speak Spanish, or Catalan for that matter. And language is a huge badge that declares you as either a local or a tourist. And there’s the matter of employment. I’ve lived with people who’ve moved from other Spanish cities to find work, only to go back because the financial crisis meant that lucrative opportunities were scarce all around. And friendships need time to grow. It’s more difficult to make friends when you’re older, people are busy or already have their sets of friends, and in a transitory city like Barcelona, people are coming and going all the time.

People are basically the same

Finally, despite everything, people are basically the same. We have the same motivations, the same wants, the same fears. Being indoctrinated at an early age I carried the burden of colonial mentality. I believed that everything from abroad was better, that people from Europe were the epitome of culture, intelligence, and sophistication. That they lived perfect, worry-free lives where they had free quality education, health care, fast internet, no crime or hunger, and everyone’s fart smelled like roses. Needless to say, it was a rather rude awakening.

And in the end, I suppose that’s what I’m trying to point out with Juxtapozitions, that we are the same, you and I. And that no matter where you go, your experience of a place is defined by the people that live in it.


To see previews of the Juxtapozitions photobook, you may check my Instagram or twitter under the hashtag #juxtapozitions.

If you’d like to order a copy, send me an email at pinoyartista(at)gmail. I accept payments via Paypal.

Book details:

52 color & B&W pages
18 x 18 cm

Hardcover dustjacket:
USD 87 / PhP 4500 / 75€

Glossy Softcover:
USD 75 / PhP 3900 / 65€

Limited to 500 copies

Advertisements

Mi Último Adiós 

By what cannot be called anything other than a random series of events, I’ve just had my second solo exhibition in Jyväskylä, the 5th largest city in Finland.

Completed over the course of 17 days at the Ratamo Center for Printmaking and Photography–widely regarded as one of the top printmaking centers in Finland if not in the world, the exhibition, which was originally intended to be inaugurated in Barcelona, was held at Äkkigalleria–an award-winning nomadic gallery started by a Canadian-Finnish couple–from the 11th to 13th of September 2017.

Below is the press release:

“Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines. He was sentenced to death by firing squad by the Spanish empire for exposing the injustices of the Spanish in the Philippines during their colonization of the archipelago for nearly four hundred years. He wrote “Mi Ultimo Adios” (My Final Farewell) the night before his execution by firing squad. It was his farewell to his family, friends, his country, his life. The poem had to be smuggled out of prison in a lamp.

Nearly three years ago I said farewell to my loved ones and my country to try to make a life for myself in Barcelona, Spain. During that time I have experienced a little of what it is like to be an OFW (overseas foreign worker, who make up nearly 40% of the Philippines’ GDP, and Barcelona has 30,000 registered Filipino immigrants), a tourist (Barcelona is full of them), and at times, as an undocumented immigrant, without any security or address, without any chance of becoming part of the Europe that I had traveled so far, invested and given up so much for.

The exhibition consists of the lines from the poem “Mi Ultimo Adios” printed on posters I’ve collected from the streets of Barcelona over the course of 24 months. These were created at Ratamo during a 3-week artist residency.”

***

Jose Gamboa is a visual artist, comic & storybook illustrator, writer and teacher from Manila, Philippines. He is currently artist in residency at the Ratamo Centre for Printmaking”

The catalog for Mi Último Adiós is available upon request by sending an email to pinoyartista(at)gmail with the exhibition title for the subject line.

Barcelona August 17, 2017

 

I thought that I’d share my experience of last Thursday’s terrorist attack on Catalunya, the 2nd in the history of Barcelona.

 

August 17, 2017 17.42 CCCB

It was around 14.30 and I was seated at the Arxiu at the CCCB, the Center for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. Before that, I was at the library, another favourite hangout of mine, but I left as they close for the lunch hour. CCCB is in Raval, right next to Las Ramblas.

After doing some correspondence, I watched the Vice documentary Charlottesville: Race & Terror. Prior to this I had not read up much on what had happened, and needless to say, I was shocked.

Afterwards, I popped into fb and this was the first notification I saw:

Confused, I then opened the La Vanguardia website. And that’s when I realised what was going on. It was unreal, to first see video of a car ramming into the demonstrators in Charlottesville from a few days ago, to reading that a van had rammed into people, seeing the grotesque images that were taken not more than a few minutes ago, and not even a kilometre away.

Across from me, a girl who turned out to be an Italian architect doing her traineeship in Barcelona, asked me if I knew what was going on. I said I literally just read about it. She had gotten the news from her friends and family all the way in Italy. They were telling her so many details, and told her to stay put. She lived on a street perpendicular to Las Ramblas, not more than a minute away by foot, right on the street where the van struck some people and she was at a loss about what to do.

Being in the Arxiu, we were safe at least. Then security showed up and said that we all had evacuate, they were locking down the CCCB.

Considering she had nowhere to go, I said she was welcome to stay at my flat. She readily accepted, and we started walking, making sure to keep as far away from Ramblas as possible. All around, it was eerily quiet, and we could see people walking with their bags, like they were leaving the city.

 

IMG_6214
At Ronda Universitat, people were fixated on the television, and I saw one woman in tears on the phone.

19.30 Avinguda Diagonal

We walked past a crowd of people watching the news from the televisions in an appliance store window. I started to worry about the people I knew who were living and working in the area, which has a very large Filipino population.

We walked on for about 30 minutes until we reached Avinguda Diagonal, one of the main roads that cuts through Barcelona, and were met by this sight:

Cars were bumper to bumper. We wondered if they were all leaving the city. 

Then I saw something that made me stop. Four men who looked middle Eastern had their hands behind their heads, and in front of them was a man wearing what appeared to be a kevlar vest and holding a gun out and pointing it at them. My companion freaked out and said, let’s pass somewhere else. I wanted to snap a photo but they had led them away, I don’t know if they arrested them or saw that they were innocent bystanders.

We later learned that there was a second attack, and that the attackers had made it Sant Just, a neighbourhood just next to mine.

She looks happy but appearances can be deceiving.

We got to my flat as it was getting dark. A few hours later, my flatmates, who had been driving to Barcelona during the attack after spending a few days in France, arrived. We had been communicating and I had told them it would probably be best if they didn’t come back tonight. Fortunately, they were able to drive into the city, keeping to the outskirts, without incident.

I don’t think any of us slept well that night. I certainly didn’t.

August 18 11.00 Les Corts

The next morning, I woke up and took the dog for a walk. Around 13.00, the Italian said that her flatmates said that Ramblas was no longer locked down, and that they were able to get home. We took the bus to Plaza Universitat, and walked to her flat. We were both still shaken up from the day before, and it was surreal to be back in that area and to see people walking around like nothing had changed. We stopped at the corner, just to look out on the Ramblas. We saw police, media, signs and police cordons.

We bid each other goodbye, and I decided to walk on Las Ramblas.

20.30 Las Ramblas

There were crowds huddled here and there, candles had been placed, some flowers, stuffed toys, and someone had left some paper and pens for people to write notes. Some had written on post it notes. There was a young man with his head bowed, staring at the candles with tears in his eyes. Seeing the stuffed toys, I figured that this was a place where one of the casualties, perhaps a child, had lost his or her life. 

The tragedy, the injustice, of a life extinguished before its time, under such senseless circumstances began to hit me.

That’s when I started to feel the grief arise in me. I left a note, and decided to walk home.

August 19, 2017 16.00 Plaza Catalunya

The next morning, I began to make some signs. I had been thinking about the other attacks in Europe, such as the one in Paris, Belgium, Manchester, and I knew I wanted to make something to show solidarity with this tragedy.

I came up with the following design:

‘Amar’ means ‘to love’ in spanish. The letters form the towers of the Sagrada Familia and the flower pattern from the tiles of Barcelona’s streets have the letters ‘BCN’

I wrapped the signs in plastic, then biked down to Plaza Catalunya. This was what I saw:

Free hugs given on Plaza Catalunya. The next day there was a muslim man with a sign, giving out hugs as well on Las Ramblas

Free 🤗 🖤 #notengomiedo #abrazosgratis #amar #barcelona #freehugs

A post shared by Jose Gamboa (@pinoyartista) on

It was a beautiful sight and a wonderful feeling. In highly developed societies, one of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of physical contact, and in a touristic place like Plaza Catalunya and Las Ramblas, you would very rarely speak to a stranger unless it was to ask them to take a picture or refuse a “cervesa beer.” And here, men and women, young and old, of different racial backgrounds were hugging each other. The antidote to terror, to fear, is love.

Yesterday there were just a few candles, flowers, and notes. Two days later, here is what the shrines looked like:

The shrine at Liceu, where the van finally came to a stop

It showed how much love and solidarity people felt for the victims of this senseless tragedy. Indeed, it could have been any one of us. I left my signs in different shrines and biked home.

Managed to snap some Mossos (the special forces of Barcelona) stopping and searching a car on Ramblas. I tried to be discreet but they shooed me away.

I saw photos and videos from that morning where thousands upon thousands had descended upon Plaza Catalunya, clapping and chanting, ‘No tengo miedo!’ (We are not afraid), and the the mimes and other buskers who lined Las Ramblas everyd, also paid tribute to the victims by joining the procession as the crowd made its way down the most famous boulevard in Barcelona. The Mayor of Barce, Ada Colau, posted this.

20992994_1464194626991667_5283815469018246763_n

 

August 20, 2017 17.00 Las Ramblas

On the third day after the attack, Ramblas was seemingly back to normal. It was more crowded than usual, or so it seemed. People took photos of the shrines, selfies even, and there was a procession of Muslims, then later, Christians.

Free 🤗 🖤 #notengomiedo #abrazosgratis #amar #barcelona #freehugs

A post shared by Jose Gamboa (@pinoyartista) on

“We are Muslims! We are not terrorists!”

 

Las Ramblas: 3 days later

 

As I write this, it’s been five days since the multiple terrorist attacks in Catalunya. Things have seemingly gone back to normal. But there are still people in the hospitals, not all the perpetrators have been accounted for, and there are many more whose lives will never be the same again. And that includes the families of the attackers.

And the authorities are left with the question, how do we keep our cities safe from this type of extremism? This level of viciousness? Especially since the attackers were not foreign, they were young men who were part of Spanish society, who were integrated into Catalan culture, what makes people become this way? 

These questions need an answer. And soon.

Protected: Lola Isabel

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Scar

 

This is one of my earliest memories of my father. Even though it didn’t happen to me personally, my mind’s eye created the scene when I first heard the story, and seeing that scar all the time growing up, engraved this anecdote into my memory.

In anticipation of Father’s Day, I’d like to hear your most memorable story of your father. Share it in the comments and I’ll choose one (or two) to illustrate.

A Side Hustle Isn’t Only Nice, It’s Necessary

Since January this year I’ve been listening to Chris Gillebeau’s Side Hustle School on my daily commute, walk, bike, etc. It’s a daily podcast with bite-sized stories about people who start an income-generating business while working a day job.

The podcast’s tag line is: A side hustle isn’t just nice, it’s necessary.

Chris, by the way, is the author of the The Art of Non-Conformity, and is one of the reasons I decided to leave the Philippines and try living abroad.

From a japanese candy subscription to professional snuggling, the stories are entertaining and inspiring. I try to recommend it to everyone I know who’s looking to earn more income. As an illustrator/visual artist, income can be pretty erratic. So I’ve always had to do other things, be it swim instructor, courtroom sketch artist (more on that later), and antique dealer.

Based on the the stories I’ve listened to, I’ve tried:

  • Opening Getty/Shutterstock images account
  • Walking dogs for a fee using the DogBuddy app
  • Posting portrait and personalised comic book services here and on Etsy
  • Offering photograph, videography, and massage services on craigslist

None of these have panned out so far. After listening about a man from Florida who made $100,000 from selling t-shirts without any inventory, I thought I’d give the teespring a try. Several times I’ve tried and failed on Threadless, which works on a voting system, which shows that I need to get better at of promoting and designing. With teespring however, there is no voting system, but you do need to meet a minimum purchase order for the shirt to be printed.

So here’s my first design:

I set the limit at 50 orders, and as of this writing, I need 3 more to be able to print.

A friend helped me come up with this one, and I promised to split the profits with her. If you have a tshirt design and want me to create it, send me a message at pinoyartista(at)gmail. The plan is to release 3 designs and see if they move.

The great thing about teespring that sets it apart from all the other tshirt platforms I’ve tried is they give you the option of donating a portion of your sales to several charities. 10% of So Very Sorry sales will go to Reach Out WorldWide which is a network of professionals with first-responder skill sets who augment local efforts during natural disasters.

The challenge is to move quickly, to quickly test different business models and determine which works best in terms of enjoyment and profit.

To date, I’ve been playing the copycat, trying to see which are immediately applicable. Although the best thing would be to come up with an idea that a) is original and b) helps people by making their lives better.

After each episode, Chris signs off with, “Remember, inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action, is so much better.”

Star in Your Own Comic

Are you or anyone you know into the Golden Age of comic books?

Have you ever wanted to appear in one? Now you can make this fantasy a reality.

comic1
Or the guy on the right. It’s totally up to you!

Beginning February I will be available for personalised comic commissions. As this is a side hustle, I will only be doing up to three a month.

With personalised comics you–or the person of your choice–will star in a vintage, black and white, classic comic scene. It could be an action pin up (as pictured), a romance, or a panelled page with a storyline that you provide.

comic2
Ever dreamed of rescuing dogs in distress from a burning building? Now you can

You will receive the final product printed on a3 or a4 canvas, ready for display.

Order your Personalised Comic before the 29th of February and and get 15% off!

More details here.

If you would happen to know anyone who’d be interested, do share this with them before slots run out!

 

What Am I Doing Here?

It is with the appropriate amount of pleasure that I announce my first exhibition in Barcelona.

Spanning eighteen months and four countries, “What Am I Doing Here” is a retrospective of the works created over the past eighteen months since I arrived in Europe. It will include drawings, paintings, photographs, and screen and letterpress prints created in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, and Las Palmas.

The exhibition will be on the 15th of April, at l’Atelier, a small but cozy bakeshop in Carrer del Joncar 29, Poble Nou, at 19.00h.

RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1100828233308657/

Exhibition catalog available upon request.

Tengo el placer de invitarte a mi primera exposición en Barcelona.

“¿Por Qué Estoy Aquí?” es la primera exposición individual de José Gamboa en España. Una retrospectiva que abarca dieciocho meses y cuatro países, que incluye ilustraciones, impresiones de pantalla y tipografía, pinturas y fotografías.

Con concierto musical de Guillermo Ayora
(https://www.facebook.com/ayoramusica)

Catálogo de la exposición disponibles a petición.
La exposición tendrá una duración de un mes.

Looking forward to seeing you there / Espero verlos a todos allí,

Jose


 

Above is the invitation text I wrote for my exhibit which is happening next week.

Below is a preview of some of the works that will be on display:

Aside from recently completed #BowieForever series, “What Am I Doing Here” will include:

Illustrations

#saturdayshorts: Trololo #Timelapse #barcelonabarrios #architypography

A post shared by Jose Gamboa (@pinoyartista) on

 

Paintings

 

Photographs

#Windowshopping at #DeWallen #Amsterdam #PinoyArtista #travelink #tattoo

A post shared by Jose Gamboa (@pinoyartista) on

 

Mono Screenprints

 

Portraits

Can you imagine who I am? #doinglineskeepsmesane

A post shared by Jose Gamboa (@pinoyartista) on

 

Six days away, there is still a lot that needs to be done. And unlike other exhibitions I’ve organised before, this is my first solo show–literally: I have had to everything, from booking the venue, conceptualisation, curation, funding, promotion, framing, mounting, and more.

 

Let’s see how it goes.

 

 

#BowieForever

Back in December 2015, I had gotten it on (what I believed at the time to be) good authority that David Bowie was coming to Primavera Sound 2016. The prospect of seeing a creative genius of his calibre live so excited me that despite my source’s admonition not to spread the word, I could not help myself:

 

 

Getting into the whole Bowie vibe, I started learning how to play his songs on the guitar, and began researching which day he would perform in Barcelona. Even my sister who was half a world away seemed to be channeling the Thin White Duke:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 6.06.00 AM

 

Less than two weeks later, The Man Who Fell To Earth returned to the stars.

 

To be honest, I am not a hardcore Bowie fan, in fact, I was a new one. I didn’t realise it was his birthday or listened to Blackstar until after he had already died.

Then there was that series of highly-publicised deaths that first few days of 2016: Scott Weiland, Lemmy, Alan Rickman, Maurice White. Then Aaron Swartz and Dave Mirra.

But it was the building anticipation of seeing David Bowie live, that whole ‘you might not get another chance’ feeling, then to have it suddenly vanish, that made his death strike a chord. And to make things even more odd, here is where I spent the 1st of January (playing the guitar, to boot):

IMG_6351
Photo by Nicolas Riente

This inexplicable series of events compelled me to create what will be the #BowieForever series. The series will consist of six limited edition mono screeprints and shirts which will be released over the course of several weeks.

#BowieForever Screenprints

BowieForever

Each mono screenprint is numbered, printed on 300 gsm watercolour paper and signed by Jose Gamboa with a Certificate of Authenticity.

Order

We Could Be Heroes

31 x 49 cm Mono Screenprint
Edition of 7

Order

 

Bowie Forever

31 x 49 cm Mono Screenprint
Edition of 7

Order

 

Starman

31 x 49 cm Mono Screenprint

Edition of 7

Order

Spaceman

29.7 x 42 cm Mono Screenprint

Edition of 7

Order

Stardust

29.7 x 42 cm Mono Screenprint

Edition of 7

Order

#BowieForever Ultralimited Edition Tees

 

Available sizes are M and L and XL (depending on availability) and printed on 100% cotton tees. Each tee is signed by Jose Gamboa. Edition of Fifteen.

Order

As I created each design (while listening to the mournfully brilliant Blackstar) I could not help but contemplate the power and influence and creativity that could come from just one man, a man who will live forever through his work.

 

It has only been a few weeks since his spirit rose and stepped aside, and for now, it will be difficult to imagine anyone replacing David Bowie.

 


 

One more thing: Before I left the Philippines for Barcelona over a year ago, I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Although inspiring, the film was too cheesy and unrealistic for my taste (How can Walter Mitty’s phone never run out of battery? And downhill long boarding is no easy thing). Nonetheless, it was a good film. Anyway, I didn’t realise or remember (until recently) that David Bowie’s Space Oddity featured largely in that film, and I wanted to share Kristen Wiig’s more than decent rendition of it:

 

Paradise Found

 

Have you ever fallen in love with a place?

Like falling in love with another person, it is intoxicating, you want to breath them in, you can’t bear to be apart, and then you can’t help but start to imagine what it would be like to live together, to plant roots and grow old together.

That can be part of the reason why travel is so gratifying. Each time you step foot in a place you’ve never been before, the possibility is there.

But there is a distinction between Love and its often-confused doppelgänger, Infatuation.

Infatuation is a volcanic eruption: loud, intense, all-consuming. It can feel like the real thing, and sometimes, it could be.

Love, on the other hand, is a garden. It takes time, a lot of effort, quiet, and without fanfare, it blooms, and an entire field that once had nothing but dirt, is filled with life and beauty.

During some of my travels, certain places have aroused this feeling in me; places that have taken my breath away, places that feel like home.

My earliest memory of such a place would probably be Baguio, a city in the mountains in the north of the Philippines. I had spent almost every summer there as a child, and bathed in its cool air that smelt of pine. I rode horses, learned to bike and roller-skate (had quite a few injuries), and met a lot of interesting people. Unfortunately, rampant and uncontrolled development has destroyed the Baguio I once knew, and living there no longer appeals to me as it once did.

Another place I felt at home in was in Basco, Batanes, the northernmost island of the Philippines.

Batanes
Photo by Maria Ong

Closer to Taiwan than the rest of the Philippines, Batanes looks completely different from the rest of the archipelago.

1918240_1470357557828_2159905_n
Fundacion Pacita. Photo by Victor Gamboa

Then there is Baler, Aurora, a city on the Pacific coast, six hours from Manila. Over the course of well over thirty trips, I grew to love surfing, the people, and the place.

24859_392587858704_4208262_n
Photo by JR Teehankee

When I went to Bali, Indonesia in 2013, the perfect waves, friendly people, and cheap yet delicious food made me feel that I needed to–if not relocate–return here at least once a year.

1149584_655044154505597_1530863842_o

And then in January 2015 I experienced La Palma.

20150107_181205
Rainbows are gay. Unless they’re on La Palma.

All the places that have captured my heart have similar characteristics in that they have a lot of nature, are close to the ocean, the people living there are warm and hospitable, and economically are quite undeveloped, and certainly none are likely to be listed in the GOOD cities index anytime soon.

IMG_4746
The view from my flat.

It could have something to do with my having grown up in notoriously congested and polluted Manila.

IMG_3023
Although Manila will always be my home. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Like Thoreau, I longed to escape the concrete jungle, and time and again, had considered packing up and living on some seaside town where the pace was easy, and life was as it should be: Enjoyed everyday.

20150109_183211_Richtone(HDR)
I have always contended that sunsets were overrated…until I experienced the daily programming on La Palma.

But La Palma was on a whole another level. Its natural beauty was stunning, with its sunsets, mountains, flora, seaside, and climate being optimal for human existence.

20150107_175003_Richtone(HDR)
Caldera de Taburiente National Park

The entire island is a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

20150107_162558

Compared to Barcelona, the Spanish people I met here were so relaxed, friendly, and their features were likewise very different. Also, I was surprised at how many Germans were on the island. Hiking, apparently, is something Germans (and other Scandinavians) are totally crazy about. I met that rare breed–retired hippie Germans–who have made la Isla Bonita their home.

20150107_175320_Richtone(HDR)
If only I had a wing suit.

Even if hiking isn’t your thing–although if you are walking through trails like these–how could you not be, La Palma offers so many opportunities for cyclists, climbers, downhill bikers and long boarders, para and hang gliders, sailors, surfers, and so on.

P1070942
You need to register in the visitor centre before visiting Caldera de Taburiente National Park, and slots are limited.
20150109_170607
Fuencaliente

The island was formed and reformed by volcanic activity, and the most recent eruption was less forty years ago, and its raw beauty made me imagine that this is what the earth must have looked like when it was very young.

20150108_164529 Although I have never been there, I imagine that this is what Hawaii–one of my dream destinations–looks like.

20150108_160604
Los Guirres

Although Hawaii has much better waves, I was pleasantly surprised to see beautiful right handers and A-frames at Los Guirres, one of the surf breaks on La Palma and the one of the stops for the Gran Canaria surf circuit.

P1070952
If only I had a surfboard and wetsuit.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to paddle out because I didn’t have any gear and wasn’t able to find the board and wetsuit rental. Instead, I was able to watch a bit of the surf, bodyboard and drop knee competition that just happened to take place that weekend.

20150109_180701

At the competition I saw the most number of people I had ever seen in one place on the island. La Palma doesn’t have its own university and its industry mainly revolves around bananas and salt, which are its main exports. As a result, young people leave to study and find work, leaving an ageing population and not much economic activity.

20150107_183317_Richtone(HDR)

But this is what draws me to this place even more. Bali and Baler have started to become crowded as tourism has developed the area. In La Palma, with a population of less than 18,000, you can go to many places and not encounter another human being.

DSCN3345
Reventon trail

Before I came, I considered hiking to be a boring past time, devoid of any thrill or challenge. I’ve gone mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, and caving, and all the hikes I’ve been on had been unenjoyable. But La Palma showed me that I had not experienced extreme hiking. Every year, hikers die and sometimes disappear in these mountains. Towards the end of my stay we went on hikes that lasted for five hours, that rose and descended a thousand meters, and where nothing, not even the wind, could be heard.

Absolute silence.

FullSizeRender 2

IMG_6490
Los Llanos
20150107_123034
This park is designed by the island’s resident artist, the Gaudi of La Palma, if you will, renaissance man Luis Morera

Of course, it could simply be the people that have drawn me to this place. As I wrote in Terminal Illness, I went to La Palma to visit my aunt whom I had not seen in over twenty five years. She and my cousin made my stay absolutely wonderful, especially since it was such an ordeal to get there, and I will forever be grateful for their hospitality. My aunt rises up with the sun, which peeks over the mountain at around 9, she makes an impressive cup of tea, then goes to work in the garden. She has a macadamia tree. She and her husband are still gradually moving books and things over from Germany, and the house still needs constant work. Occasionally, she visits with other residents of the island (her neighbour, another German, spends seven days a week tending to his garden–which is beautiful) or drives into town to do shopping.

20150110_152825
Warm enough to sit outside, but at 20 degrees, the water was too cold to swim in. Summertime in La Palma is very warm, I am told.

My aunt had only moved to La Palma less than two years ago, before this she had devoted her life to running a bookshop which she owned for fifteen years, then sold when on their third trip to the island, her husband said, ‘Sell the bookshop, let’s get a place here.’ Just like that.

It sounds so simple, although of course, it never is. But at its core, life and love are simple.

It is for all these reasons that La Palma has captured my heart.

So we shall meet again someday, La Isla Bonita.

P1070987
This is how around how much I need.

During these seven days, the island also captured my imagination:

20150118_135111_Richtone(HDR)
Fuencaliente, 21.59 x 33cm, watercolour and graphite

 

FullSizeRender
Tihuya, dimensions variable, wood, volcanic rock.
“Tihuya” was the name of the island before the Spanish invaded, renaming it and wiping out all traces of the indigenous people.

 

DSCN3364
Carcosa. Digital photograph.

 


If you would like to read more about everyday life on La Isla Bonita, here is the most popular blog on La Palma (in German).