shopify traffic stats
Letters from the Atlantic Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

Stacks Image 5

​The Korean Factor

The Korean Factor

It was a pleasant surprise this week to read that the Mayor of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is visiting South Korea to exchange ideas and experiences about policies on public transport, and a range of other issues. It makes a pleasant change to read positive news about South Korea, rather than depressing and unpleasant rhetoric, sabre rattling and threats between their neighbour, North Korea, and the United States.

Transport has been a major challenge to authorities in Seoul for the last 40 years, because of the rapid increase in its population. Bus and subway systems have required massive investment and improvements, which are some of the issues also being faced in Las Palmas. The sharing of information, including the new Metro Guagua transport system in La Palmas, could also be of significant help to Seoul. Representatives from Seoul have been invited to visit Las Palmas when the Metro Guagua is in operation.

The possibility of Canarian and South Korean Municipalities working together on a number of strategic projects has also been discussed, as well as investment from South Korea for projects in Gran Canaria. Cooperation and sharing of ideas between countries should always be welcomed.

Links between South Korea and the Canary Islands are not accidental. Many residents and tourists are simply unaware that there is a significant Korean population living in the Canary Islands, and particularly in Gran Canaria. This has developed since the collapse of the Korean whaling industry that took place off the Canary Islands in the 1960s and 1970s. Hundreds of Korean workers and their families became stranded on the island, which quickly became their home. In the 1970s, statistics show that there were around 7000 Koreans living in Las Palmas, which became a significant proportion of the total population. As delighted as I am that the whaling industry has ended off the Canary Islands, the Korean community has thrived and become interwoven with the multi-cultural, multinational and religious mix that Gran Canaria has represented so successfully for many years.

Korean families have also maintained their strong religious and cultural identity. I recall being invited and welcomed to a service held at the spectacular Full Gospel Korean Church in Las Palmas several years ago, where the service was simultaneously broadcast in several languages. Rarely have I witnessed such enthusiasm and fervour within a church.

As well as representation through the Korean Consulate in Las Palmas, which is one of several in Spain, many Koreans run successful businesses on the island. Taking into account the close links that the island has had with Korea over the years, and the significant positive contribution that Koreans have upon both the city of Las Palmas, as well as Gran Canaria, it is entirely appropriate that these links both support and extend the current transportation projects for the benefit of both communities

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

© Barrie Mahoney Protection Status

© Barrie Mahoney

Who Loves a Party?

Who Loves a Party?

Newly arrived expats living in Spain and the Canary Islands will quickly learn that expat lives are punctuated with fiestas to celebrate the life of a particular saint or a special period in Spanish and Canarian history. Despite the irritation that fiestas can creep up on the unsuspecting expat, ruining plans to go shopping or to visit the bank, they are an intrinsic part of Spanish life and the wise expat soon learns to join in with the moment.

Initially, many expats think that the day of the fiesta is when it all happens. This is a big mistake and new expats quickly learn that fiestas actually begin during the late afternoon and evening on the day before. This is sensible, because it leaves plenty of time to dress up, do the cooking and to gather family and friends together before the actual event. In reality of course, for many people the actual day of the fiesta is spent recovering from the night before. Fiestas are fun and add to the rich fabric and pattern of life in Spain, as well as creating a pause from the usual frenetic pace of life. After all, in Spain and the Canary Islands, life is for living.

There has been a special fiesta for the whole island of Gran Canaria this week, but it is particularly special for the residents of a pretty town in the north of the island called Teror (not to be confused with terror!). The Virgin of the Pine is the patron saint of Gran Canaria and this fiesta is based upon the story of the Virgin Mary, who made an appearance many years ago.

It was on 8 September 1492 that an image of the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in a pine tree to Juan Frias, who was the first Bishop of Gran Canaria. Later, a large church was built near to where this pine tree grew, and it is still there today. The original pine tree died a long time ago, but there are more pine trees in the town near to the church. The Lady of the Pine, or Nuestra Señora del Pino, is said to possess healing qualities, and in true Catholic fund-raising tradition, it is possible to buy wax models of every part of the human body that can be offered for healing.

Visitors to the church will find a beautiful statue of the Virgin, which is taken out of the church in a religious procession every year on 8 September. On this day, people from all across the island come to this small town for a very big fiesta celebration. Religious or not, many visitors discover that when they are facing the statue of the Virgin it has a powerful and moving effect upon them. It is also rather extraordinary, since one side of the face is smiling and the other side is sad. The statue has many jewels, but in 1975 there was a robbery at the church and some jewels were stolen from the statue and never recovered.

Thousands of pilgrims joined the procession this week, and many arrived for celebrations on the eve of the fiesta. One of the customs are parrandas or groups of people who move between different places singing traditional songs; others join them to make the singing group larger. This tradition comes from the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, where many people from the Canary Islands moved to many years ago for work. They later returned home and brought with them some of these Caribbean islands’ cultures and traditions.

This year’s parrandas started with traditional music, but then went on to more modern reggaetron. The singing leads to people dancing until they are ready for refreshment in the local bars. These pilgrims often arrive in Teror by car or bus, but many make the journey on foot, and some this year have been seen dancing in the middle of the GC21 road. Sensibly, for the safety of pilgrims, the main road to Teror was closed to traffic for the evening.

It is noticeable that the traditional grip of the Catholic Church upon people in Spain and the Canary Islands is fast diminishing, and it is rare to see many people attending church on Sundays as used to be the case, particularly during the Franco years. Despite this, it is clear that many Canarians maintain a strong spiritual basis in their lives and continue to be moved and inspired by stories of the saints and religious events, which they celebrate with vigour and enthusiasm. Above all, they enjoy a good party!

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

© Barrie Mahoney Protection Status © Barrie Mahoney 

​The Stinky Tree

The Stinky Tree

It is often fascinating to discover some of the remedies and answers to problems that can be found by looking at the past. If we look carefully, we often find answers to many present day problems, and how our ancestors dealt with the inconveniences of life. I discovered this recently when looking at a tree on the small island of El Hierro.

A visit to the enchanting island of El Hierro is not complete without a visit to see the Stinkwood or Smelly tree (Ocotea foetus), which is native to the island. The tree is evergreen, a member of the laurel family, and is threatened due to the loss of habitat in the areas where it thrives and, I suspect, its pungent aroma. Yes, it can be smelly, hence the name, because the tree is rich in essentials oils. These oils give off an unpleasant odour to the wood when cut, but don’t let this part of the story put you off. After all, stinky or not, this tree does have an interesting story to tell…

The Stinkwood tree was sacred to the ancient inhabitants of the small Canary Island of El Hierro, the Bimbaches, who called it the Garoe. Legend states that the Garoe assured the life of the Bimbaches, because it provided them with sufficient water to ensure their survival. Remember, this was not a time when the locals could pop into the local shop and buy a large bottle. The Canary Islands are visited by the trade winds and, since water was so scarce, the little water that was available to these ancient islanders were from the clouds that condensed on the branches of the tree. It is said that water that dripped from this tree was led to a hole from which the Bimbaches took their water supply.

The original Garoe tree was destroyed by a storm on the island, but in 1957 a replacement tree was planted in the same location as the original tree. Legend or not, the same principles as deployed by these ancient people are still just as relevant to fulfilling islanders need for water today.

Let us now move to another Canary Island, Fuerteventura, where similar principles for catching water are still used. The Fuerteventura Government has been collecting mist for the last year or two, and this new technology has already collected over 33,000 litres of water. Mist collectors use humidity from the trade winds that blow across Fuerteventura, and extract water from mist and fog to create a sustainable water supply. Meters fitted to the mist collectors show around 6,500 litres of water are collected each month during the trade winds season.

So, how is this done in Fuerteventura without the assistance of the Garoe tree? This simple technology uses mesh placed on vertical structures in high mountain areas that intercept mist and humidity that blows across them, and water droplets fall into storage tanks. These mist collectors use water from sea mist or clouds to support the reforestation of endemic or specific species of plants and trees, which will help plant habitats to recover by providing moisture for the soil and improve the quality of the environment and landscape.

It is both a humbling and fascinating thought that technology and processes used by the ancient people in the Canary Islands are being brought back into use today in an effort to rectify damage caused to the environment over many centuries.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions. Protection Status

© Barrie Mahoney

Show more posts

Stacks Image 8