On one of my visits to La Graciosa, in the Chinijo Archipelago, to the North of Lanzarote, I had the opportunity to visit the islet of Alegranza. Overnight stays are not allowed there, so a one-day trip was programmed. We set off in a boat captained by Federico Romero of Romero Marine Lines. The 10 or 12 kilometre crossing took us approximately an hour and a quarter. We set sail from La Graciosa at about nine in the morning and headed towards Alegranza accompanied by the happy squawking of seagulls and the endangered Canarianpardelas. It was a lovely day. A slight breeze carried the clouds southwards, their whiteness contrasting with the bright blue sky. The boat plied the blue sea, creating fans of white foam which turned into colourful drops in the light of the generous sunshine.
We arrived safely at the islet. We were so pleased to see that there wasn’t a quay or a breakwater; I hope it stays this way forever. We dropped anchor near the coast and climbed down into a smaller boat which took us to a rocky ledge in the form of a small platform. The waves were breaking gently, allowing us to disembark without difficulty. One by one and helped by friendly hands, we all jumped out of the small boat and made it safely onto the rocks. Once we were on dry land, I suggested we take a hike. Everybody agreed. We decided to walk up the crater, the highest point on the islet at 269 metres, and explore the surrounding area. This small, inactive volcano has a diameter of over one kilometre and is approximately 50 metres deep. From our vantage point, beneath our feet we had the opportunity to enjoy a stunning view, a sight impossible to take in at just one glance. We climbed down the outer slope and came to a small flat area where there was a half-ruined building. The islet’s lighthouse was built at Punta Delgada in the second half of the 19th century and this brought about the first permanent settlement by the lighthouse-keeper and his family, with some flat land being made fertile in order to grow barley and corn. Currently, the islet is uninhabited like Montaña Clara and Los Roques, other islets in the Canary Islands. Today, the vegetation is poor and is mostly composed by endemic species.
We walked north until we could make out the other side of the islet and then we set off on the return trip. Oh! I almost forgot to tell you an anecdote about what happened to us while hiking up the hill. It won’t take a moment. During the walk our friend, Paco Reyes, an opera enthusiast and amateur tenor, started singing an aria at the top of his voice. I am certain that Paco now forms part of some angel choir and I resist writing “rest in peace”; there are people with whom we have shared so many experiences I believe they will always be with us. Don’t you think so, Paco? All right Wiso? Let’s continue. The happy squawking of some pardelas and the whisper of the wind accompanied his singing. Out of the blue, behind some reverberating rocks and dry bushes we heard voices ordering us to be silent. Who dared to interrupt such a tuneful and cultured expression of joy? None less than staff of the Guincho Environmental Group, one of whose members was Ginés. They were responsible for keeping an eye on visitors. They explained to us that it was time for the pardelas or hawks to nest and that with such loud singing, we would frighten them away. From then on, we kept quiet as we were supposed to and continued walking. It was hard to console our frustrated singer who later took revenge at full volume inside a volcanic cave!
We invited Ginés to some of our paella so that he knew we did not bear a grudge. Later in the day we visited a rocky sea cave (jameo) by boat. A jameo, as you may know, is the part of a volcanic underground tunnel in which the ceiling has fallen in because of the weight. What remains is a circular cavity through which light pours in. These cavities and the underground channel have been created by red hot lava that ends up at the coast and is cooled by the sea. You can go into the jameo either by swimming or in a boat, depending on its size. This time the small boat left us at the entrance to the cave. Guided by Federico Romero, an expert on tides in the area, we jumped into the water and started our adventure. We swam into the tunnel which was approximately 18 or 20 metres long and 3 metres wide, with the roof about 2 metres above our heads. As we swam, we could see the daylight entering through the mouth of the tunnel and more light coming from a crater above us, open to the sky, and lighting up the end of the jameo.
The sides and the roof of the jameo were brown, dark-green and black. The journey took us 10 long minutes. I still remember the sensation I had as I was swimming. It felt like being in the arms of a giant animal, whose peaceful breathing gently lifted us up and down, bringing the walls and ceiling of the narrow tunnel suddenly closer and then retreating to give us more room. I think that in a subtle way this Chinijo sea wanted us to realize its strength and that, just for this day, it had given us permission to enter its dominions. It was an eerie sensation; we were out of our depth and the bottom was pitch-black. We kept on swimming until we got to the end of the jameo where we came to an almost circular cave about 35 or 40 metres wide; a huge crater under the open sky with us splashing around at the bottom. It was a stunningly beautiful place. You can be sure that when Nature wants to amaze us, there’s no architect capable of matching her work.
Coming into such blinding sunlight after being inside the dark cave caused a lasting impact on us. Unlike in the jameo, here we could touch the bottom, although we had to be careful because there were a lot of sea urchins. I think we had all been a little bit tense during the journey. This became apparent as we all started singing at the top of our voices just as we arrived at a sandy-based ledge that formed a kind of stage, about ten meters long and three or four meters wide. I suppose we did it to unwind and relax a bit after the tense swim in the dark. Our friend Paco really got his own back on Ginés, singing at the top of his voice. Good heavens! What an uproar we had! I’m sure that the sea urchins’ hair stood on end and that the big crabs on the rocks were petrified and unable to take a step backwards or sideways as they listened to us.
After about half an hour we went back by the same route and we laughed and enjoyed ourselves a lot in the small boat. We returned to the quay, where we hungrily ate a tasty paella. In the afternoon we returned to La Graciosa. The islet of Alegranza gradually receded from view, becoming enveloped in the light sea mist. I think a part of us stayed there. As we came nearer to civilization, I recalled an incident I had heard about that happened in the same place we had just visited. Not long before, a group of people had gone into the jameo on an apparently sunny day, but they ended up having to spend the whole night inside, sitting on the small ledge I have just described. The sea had become unexpectedly rough and it was impossible to get out because of the size of the waves. They had to wait until dawn, when the weather had improved, to return. Imagine that moment. Endless night in wet swimwear, their teeth chattering and all squashed together to fight off the cold, listening to the sound of the sea around them in the dark night.
I have been in close contact with the ocean for a very long time and I have come to respect it more and more. I have even drawn some conclusions from my experience with it. Sometimes, the sea might be like a little child: sweet, loving, quiet and charming, when it is in the mood. Suddenly, and for no reason at all, it can become violent, unbearable and exhausting. I think this blessed ocean which surrounds us has a female side too. Sometimes she welcomes us gently and carries us in the bosom of her blue-green waves. We can swim, dive, and play with her. But sometimes, without warning, she gets angry and shakes us with a violent swell. She becomes untameable and terrifies us with forceful waves that keep on coming, one after another. Enjoy her and her dominion, but always stay attentive to her behaviour. Keep quiet when you feel there is an undercurrent. Be careful with the lady, she will arrive gently and undulating and then suddenly swell up, thrust her chest out in the form of a wave which, if it catches you on a nearby rock or on the shore, will go straight for you and sweep you out to sea. She can be a little bit vain too. She knows how beautiful she is and how much we need her. When she is in a good mood, she lays on the beaches and whispers to the dark golden sand. Sometimes she joins the Sun, the Sky and the Clouds, and gives us sunsets so spectacular that no photographer or painter can capture them.
Our boat, indifferent to my thoughts, carried on its own course, plying the seas and leaving a foamy wake which fused with the green and blue of the Chinijo Sea. We arrived at Caleta del Sebo with the Sun setting in a farewell gesture. ‘See you tomorrow, see you sometime’.
Text and drawing by Vicente García Rodríguez
Translation: Students from the 2nd Year 2008 at the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.