‘The Palmeros are a bit like the Swiss’

This week in My Spain, we talk to Roger Frey — a Swiss-German who swapped a high-end office job in Bern for a paragliding career in the skies over the Canary Islands.

'The Palmeros are a bit like the Swiss'
Roger P. Frey is a qualified tandem pilot and paragliding instructor in La Palma in the Canary Islands

So Roger, how did you end up living in La Palma?

I’d been going on holiday to the Canary Islands for 20 years before I moved there. I was a general director for Abbot Laboratories in Bern when I decided to take a sabbatical in 2005 and spend some time paragliding in La Palma. But the gap year turned into a complete life swap.

Had you ever paraglided before?

I started paragliding with my brother in Switzerland in 1986. I remember seeing two paragliders flying through the Swiss mountains and thinking, “Wow! I’ve got to give this a go!”

So I did a theory course, then a practical one and ended up getting a Swiss paragliding licence.

And now you’re making a living from it?

I’m a qualified tandem pilot and paragliding instructor for Palmaclub alongside my colleague Javier López.

Most of our clients have paragliding experience either in Spain or abroad. I offer them a meteorological briefing and extensive training for several months to help them pass their Spanish paragliding exams.

Paragliding in La Palma can be quite challenging because the largely volcanic terrain means you have to plan your landing carefully and the wind can easily change direction.

We have many German and Swiss clients, quite a few French and Italians but very few Spaniards, surprisingly.

Tell us a bit about life in La Palma.

It’s a special place — you either love it or you hate it. There are only 85,000 people on the island so you don’t have much anonymity. It can also be very quiet and the nightlife isn’t up to much. Even the beaches aren’t that great, and in the winter the sea can be very choppy.

Sounds like you want to put people off.

No, as I said, it’s not to everyone’s liking. If you enjoy hiking, you’ll think La Palma is amazing. There are countless places to explore and so much diversity between the volcanic terrain in the south and the dense laurisilva forests of the north.

How about Canarian cuisine?

I recommend cocido canario (Canarian stew) and chicken with mojo rojo sauce (made from olive oil, cumin, garlic and paprika).

What place is a must for people visiting La Palma?

The capital, Santa Cruz, is a tourist hotspot because of the old colonial buildings and Los Llanos is the biggest city and the best place for shopping.

But I would recommend El Tablado, a small village in the north of the island. You get an idea of what life in the Canary Islands was like 80 years ago. There’s only one bar, so I’d suggest having a cervecita (beer) and just talking to the locals.

What are the Palmeros like?

They’re a bit like the Swiss. It takes them a while to warm to strangers but once they get to you know, you have them as friends for life.

I have a mixture of expat and Palmero friends but I try to steer clear of German and Swiss communities living on the island.

Who would you recommend La Palma to?

Anyone who likes nature and living outdoors will fall in love with this island. There’s so much diversity within such a small space. I personally love how in the winter the weather changes are so extreme.

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3,000 people in Spain’s La Palma forced indoors as lava reaches sea

Around 3,000 people were ordered to remain indoors on the Canary island of La Palma on Monday as lava from an erupting volcano reached the sea, risking the release of toxic gas.

3,000 people in Spain's La Palma forced indoors as lava reaches sea
The lava flow produced by the Cumbre Vieja volcano has reached the sea before. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca) “ordered the confinement” of residents of coastal towns and villages near where the lava cascaded into the sea, sending large plumes of white smoke into the air, local emergency services said on Twitter.

The order was given due to “the possible release of gases that are harmful to health,” it added.

The order affects “around 3,000” people on the island, Miguel Angel Morcuende, technical director of Pevolca, told a news conference.

This is the third time that a lava flow has reached the Atlantic Ocean since the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the south of the island erupted on September 19th, covering large areas with ash.

All flights to and from La Palma’s airport were cancelled on Monday because of the ash, the third straight day that air travel has been disrupted.

And for the first time since the eruption started, local authorities advised residents of La Palma’s capital, Santa Cruz de La Palma in the east, to use high-filtration FFP2 face masks to protect themselves from emissions of dioxide and sulphur.

Most of the island, which is home to around 85,000 people, is so far unaffected by the eruption.

But parts of the western side where lava flows have slowly made their way to the sea face an uncertain future.

The molten rock has covered 1,065 hectares (2,630 acres) and destroyed nearly 1,500 buildings, according to Copernicus, the European Union’s satellite monitoring service.

Lava has destroyed schools, churches, health centres and irrigation infrastructure for the island’s banana plantations — a key source of jobs — as well as hundreds of homes.

Provisional damage was estimated on Friday at nearly €900 million ($1 billion), according to the regional government.

The island of La Palma, part of the Canary Islands archipelago off northwestern Africa, is experiencing its third eruption in a century, with
previous ones in 1949 and 1971.