10th November 2021
Santa Cruz, La Palma
According to Greek philosophers every visible thing is made up of a combination of earth, fire, air and water. This makes sense when looking at the natural world as the earth rises out of water into the air and above everything sits the fire of the sun. La Palma doesn’t seem to obey these natural laws, instead fire rises out of the earth, new earth displaces water, and water, that normally sits on land, sprays into the air.
The town of Santa Cruz lulled us into a false sense of security as it seemed to obey all the usual rules. The charming cobble lined streets were fringed with bars and throbbing with people, chocolate box houses were fringed by grand architecture while the sounds of churches echoed through the air. Wanting to absorb this authenticity, surrounded by Spanish voices and without a clue what was on the menu we nodded politely at a waiter and gestured to a special’s menu.
What came out of the kitchen was 100% Spanish peasant authentic. Unwittingly we’d ordered peasant soup, the smell of overboiled cabbage oozed from a thin gruel and sweet corn drifted around like something toxic. All that was missing to complete the look was a sheep’s eye eerily bobbing to the surface.
Thinking the spoon might dissolve as we scooped the gruel up a taste sensation exploded in our mouths. This was nothing like any peasant soup we’d ever tasted before and things only got better as the bill arrived. As peasants we would afford the €2 price tag.
Heading away from town all those rules were about to be broken. The clues were everywhere as we climbed through the mountainous ridge that splits La Palma it half. Ash drifted across the roads like a menacing black snow and when it stopped drifting it blanketed everything removing any colour and absorbing all sound. Losing height, the volcano suddenly came into view and the sight was as startling as it was unsettling.
The whole world looked like it was on fire. Lava rolled down the hillside lighting up the clouds of toxic smoke that had been blown high into the atmosphere and as it moved it consumed everything in its path. Houses that were half consumed sat like burnt corpses and those spared by the flow looked like deadly oasis in the middle of a ravaged sea.
Scaling a deserted hill in the darkness we could see red hot rocks the size of houses being ejected from the bowels of the earth and exploding on impact like grenades thrown by a giant. The earth was complaining as a constant rumble shook our insides and the occasional earthquake shook the ground under our feet. The natural laws didn’t apply to what we were seeing.
Needing to find some form of normality we donned our hiking boots headed for the hills to the north. Instead of hiking through a barren volcanic landscape we found deep valleys covered in ferns and trees that were weighed heavy by moss. The earth wasn’t rising from the water, the water was simply enveloping the land.
This reversal attracted birds by the dozen as the flitted through the undergrowth and sung in the trees. Birds of prey with huge talons circled high above calling to their friends and occasionally swooping down to catch their lunchtime quarry.
The earth ejecting water was soon about to be taken to extremes. Walking through a gorge that was littered with smooth rocks the size of cars the air became moister and moister (or more moist depending upon your use of English). Rounding a corner water cascaded over a precipitous edge, fell for what looked like forever and exploded on, literally, a rock hard ledge. Once again, the natural laws were being broken.
Time and time again we were drawn back to the sight of the volcano. In daylight we could see lava fizzing as it entered the sea, turning the sea to steam and making new land. Looking inland the scale of this disaster was clear. Sulphurous smoke rose as far as the eye could see and wherever we looked we were presented the destructive force of the lava.
Once again heading for the hills La Palma, was about to break more rules; the rules of modern urbanised selfish man.
We walked ancient paths that had been worn down by eons of travellers and with every created hill were given views that went on forever. After hours of being away from any sign of modern man we popped out onto a road where the occasional car gave a friendly wave and zipped by.
After a particularly friendly wave, sometime later, we were surprised to see the same car again approach us from behind. With a huge grin the driver presented Fiona with a hat that looked suspiciously like hers. Without us even realising Fiona had dropped her hat, walked on and then the goodness of mankind returned it.
The goodness of man was still not at an end as we waited by what we thought was the bus stop. The last bus of the day flew by us in a blur and disappeared into the distance. We were now stranded miles from home, with aching legs, no charge in our phones and no money.
Putting out our best thumbs we hoped beyond hope that someone would not only have space in their car but wouldn’t worry about Covid or indeed the smell of 2 sweaty hikers. As the first car peeled off the main road past us, its brakes were liberally applied, it skidded to a halt and within seconds we were whisked down the hill, along the highway and dropped off just yards from Ruffian.
The rules of selfish urbanised man had been broken and replaced by the special rules of La Palma and La Palma has broken all the natural laws giving us something unforgettable.
If you see this after your page is loaded completely, leafletJS files are missing.