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The palm trees claim a life next to the volcano: “We know the price of being in paradise”

Talking to Lope in the middle of the street is a show. The neighbors greet him with a smile, a little boy hugs him and says: “Hello, captain!”. A man comes out of the building across the street, drawing a kind of triangle with his hands and making a questioning gesture. Lope doesn’t understand what he means and crosses the street to find out. When he returns, he clarifies with a smile:

– He’s the town hall psychologist. I was wondering what happened to my house.

Lope, who is a local El Paso police officer, has not yet lost the home he shared with his wife and two young children, but he no longer lives there . His house, like so many others in the Aridane valley, has become an island in the middle of the lava thrown by the volcano. The walls apparently hold, but there is no road, no electricity, no water, no landscape. “A neighbor who is in the same circumstances and who knows that as a policeman I can have access to the area,” explains Lope, “he always tells me when he sees me: tell me that my house has fallen. He prefers that to having to return to a house in the middle of nowhere. Maybe I prefer it too. The day before the eruption, some friends went to eat there. You could see the Cumbre Vieja caldera, there was no noise, you could breathe an incredible peace. They told me: Lope, this is paradise. Now that is a gigantic, volcanic cone, an ugly, terrible place, a hell. I have a house in the middle of nowhere. ”

The volcano is still very active three weeks later. The lava rivers continue to make their way towards the sea, gradually erasing a landscape that is also a way of life that the residents of La Palma, including those who have lost everything, are not willing to give up. Nobody complains about the volcano, but they do feel hurt by the criticism of its way of building. Fran Leal, who is an agronomist and councilor for the Los Llanos city council, explains it bluntly: “The truth is that we were very annoyed by a television program in which it was said that how we could build on top of the volcano. Well, here no one is born deceived. My great-grandfather built in the volcano, my grandfather lost everything in the volcano, my father built again in the volcano and we just lost everything in the volcano. And you will ask me: why? Very easy. Because we live on top of a volcano. We say that we are made of sun, lava and saltpeter, and it is that way from generation to generation. We know that we live in paradise and we also know the price that must be paid sometimes. When this volcano goes out, I will look for a piece of land and start over. ”

The wind direction has changed and it has not rained ash in the La Laguna neighborhood for a long time. Pedro Miguel Pérez, aged 71, leaves mass and goes to the pharmacy, which is located a few meters inside the perimeter security shielded by the Civil Guard. A few meters away is the health center, and the gas station, and the small supermarket that has replaced the old grocery stores. It is the island system, scattered neighborhoods where no one is too close or too far.

The architect Iñaki Ábalos, who for more than 20 years is linked to La Palma, he explains: “The organization system of the entire hillside that goes from Los Llanos de Aridane to Fuencaliente is a bit chaotic and reflects the way of life of the palm trees. Scattered plots, although close to each other, with a certain autonomy, because they are half-agricultural, half-livestock, although there are also other larger ones such as banana trees that are next to the sea. It is a form of suburbanization that is very beautiful and works very well. It is pleasant to live in and has the advantages of a somewhat lax organism. We tend to believe that everything has to be planned, and super-orthodox planning has led us in many cities to absolutely lamentable constructions. A certain urban liberalism does not hurt. ”

The architect adds that in La Palma there are“ no large conglomerates of tourists, almost ghettos, which there are in other places ”, and that the relationship between locals and tourists is very enjoyable. “And that”, he concludes, “is neither easy nor are there many cases that I know of.”

What should be done then when the volcano goes out? How to face reconstruction? Iñaki Ábalos is committed to continuity. He says that it is preferable to help the palm trees economically so that they are the ones to build their houses – “They know what they cost and how to do it” – than to build emergency housing that is later abandoned. “Maybe”, he adds, “what I’m going to say is a bit anarchic, although I don’t care if it is, because the island has always been, but on La Palma there are many small builders who know well how to build houses that are adapt to the climate, houses that can violate the technical code that we have now, a code that makes everything more expensive and fills it with insulation, when here you don’t have to isolate yourself, but have a lot of air in the houses so that it is regulated between night and day . In any case, one should avoid making horrible ghettos urgently. ”

Policías canarios hacen ronda en una zona desalojada de Puerto Naos, en La Palma.
Canarian policemen patrol an evicted area of ​​Puerto Naos, on La Palma. PACO PUENTES

Councilor Fran Leal, who is in charge of the works in Los Llanos, although now his main task is to remove the ashes from the roofs of the houses so that they do not collapse, he also agrees that, with respect to reconstruction, the most urgent thing is to wait: “The volcano continues to burn, so it seems absurd to me that we want to put the cart in front of the oxen. You cannot talk about aid before the catastrophe ends, because, God forbid, if tomorrow the mouth of the volcano comes out of another place and destroys others 300 houses, what are we going to do? . Perera, who is an architect and Urban Planning councilor for Los Llanos, says that now he has finally understood the obsession with noise in grandfather’s stories, that constant roar from which it is impossible to escape. “I also suppose”, he reflects, “that at that time the noise pollution was much lower and the noise of the volcano could be clearly perceived throughout the island.” The architect explains that his family, like many others on La Palma, emigrated first to Cuba and then to Venezuela: “That’s where the figure of the Indian comes from, who has remained in the island’s folklore. They went away, they worked, they made money and then they invested here. They bought land, built a main house and over the years they divided the plots so that the children could build their own … That was recorded in a document called hijuela, prior to the property registration. It was written that such a plot is between the almond tree, the big stone and the ravine … ”.

The land of the grandfather or father was being divided and hence now the tragedy has multiplied for many families on La Palma. The lava from the volcano has not only buried the house of the grandfather, but also that of the father and that of all the brothers. “They have lost their houses,” adds Manuel Perera, “and also everything that has surrounded them in life. It is difficult to get used to the idea, but the Todoque neighborhood disappeared completely, a place where more than 2 could live. 000 people and that it has been completely buried by the lava, there has not been any reference of any kind. ”

Leal, the councilor for works, warns that for many families the biggest shock has not yet has arrived:

– People already know that they lost their houses and so many days have passed that they have assumed it, but it will be terrible when the volcano goes out, the security perimeter opens and realize that where you have lived all your life there is no reference to your previous life. Lava has changed the landscape. It is as if they caught us now, put us in the plain of Ávila and told us: this is your house.

The architect Ábalos had once said that the island of La Palma is a model of the world, a mixture of climates, landscapes and cultures gathered in a few kilometers. Now the fury of nature, pain and uprooting also have their place.

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