La Palma Expedition May 2019 – ATHOS Star Camp

So Bob, Alan and I (Dave Shave-Wall) have set off on our next expedition, this time back to La Palma but to a different resort, this time ATHOS Star Camp near on the North West side of the island and some 2,000 ft further down the mountain than when we stayed last November at Tobias’s Finca, Hacienda. I made sure to look out of the window and glimpse our other island we travel to in Tenerife on the way.

I arrived 1 day after Alan and Bob due to a work trip to New York so I flew from there to Madrid, waited 5 hours for my connection and then flew direct to the island landing at 1:30pm local time.

I set off to ATHOS star camp after collecting my hire car, the most direct route would be through the tunnel on the island cutting across East to West, however I was super keen to see the Observatories and MAGIC telescopes and see how the Visitor Centre was coming on since our previous visit. So instead I headed up the mountain to the Roque de la Muchachos to see the sights and then head down the other side to ATHOS.

The MAGIC telescopes and various observatories of course looked wonderful as always. The visitors centre had not change, still being unfinished in only the way the Spanish manage with unfinished projects at scale.

I then headed down to ATHOS where Bob and Alan were already settled in. Alan had warned me about the accommodation before I arrived so I set my expectations low. The accommodation on arrival was what the British would think more akin to a Bournemouth Beach hut, ok slightly bigger but not by much, but the biggest problem were the ants!!!!!

In fact the problem was further compounded by ants also being in the Orangery,  a beautiful building where would be astronomers sit and eat and prepare food. Unfortunately the ants were all over the sides in the kitchen and thus any food you put down! It was a further surprise that nothing had been done to solve the problem. The accommodation Alan and I were to share was so small that the 2 single beds pushed up against the wall had really a narrow gap between them meaning sharing with a friend was very close. Once we had our luggage in there was really no room to move.

By the following morning, after a night of cloud at the this low vantage point on the island at around 2,000 ft and below the inversion layer (we all went up the mountain some 40mins drive to perform our viewing), I woke to find ants in my pyjamas, in my bed too of course, in the wardrobe in my clothes, in the bathroom on washbag and toothbrush. Whilst Alan and Bob are less bothered, I refused to pay good money for this accommodation both in terms of size and quality. So I called our previous host Tobias who owns Hacienda and between him and Christian on site, they found me alternative accommodation that day, which is perfect for me, no ants and at around 4,000 ft so 2,000 ft higher and only 25 minutes drive from the visitors centre rather than 45 minutes up the mountain.

To be fair we should have realised there were going to be problems with ATHOS since the whole booking and confirming the trip had been a nightmare due to poor communication. Not only did we have to call the owner of ATHOS several times, months went past with little or no communication at all to confirm the trip, which to be honest makes you worried about turning up with nowhere to stay if it is not confirmed. Compare that to Tobias at Hacienda and they respond within the hour.

ATHOS star camp is a nice idea, but to be fair to the owner Kai, he needs to improve his communication, booking process and the quality and cleanliness of the accommodation. The site itself is ok from a viewing perspective and the observing pads are a nice touch, also the equipment hire, albeit expensive is there and useful, but that said I would not go again.

So a costly start to the expedition, but by the second day I was delighted to be in comfortable accommodation and to have started some observing up the mountain the previous night.

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