With all the comforts of Spanish rule, arriving in Tennerife is arriving in Afrtica. The volcanic island is 125 miles from the African Coast at the same latitude as the Sahara Desert. It´s warm and mostly sunny year-round, this November being constantly in the mid 20s.
My base in Las Americas is like a holiday frontier-town. A sprawling town of a resort where different people from across Europe holiday, work and live. All tastes seem catered for – from luxury hotels to $1 a pint ´pubs´ for young peoples´ piss up holidays. There´s an ultra-laid-back surfing scene, with numerous surf schools and sun-brazen locals, beach-lovers and even a highly public dutch-run swingers club. The place is a melting pot and I was lucky to play in the waves with young people from France, Poland, Italy, Spain and Venezuela. I realised that 70 years ago our grandparents would never have imagined this would be possible for their grandchildren, and it is testament to the EU that it is.
Our host at the surf camp – a chilled house with dormitory bedrooms overlooking the sea & surrounded by bannana plantations – told 2 Italian friends and I about a local beach where turtles swam. (Twin Fin Surfcamp)
We arrived early when the turtles, who swim here seasonally from their true home, are fed. I swam out 100m or so, in a quiet, calm bay to where I saw a scuba-diver near the surface. She was holding a large professional camera and a big turtle was poking its head right into the lens. I swam with her for 20 minutes or so, with the turtle often swimming right up to my face and touching me with its fins. Later a baby turtle arrived and did the same, and another large adult with a GPS tracker on its back. Being this close to a animal clearly comfortable around humans was fantastic – even if I suspected it was only approaching me expecting to be fed!
Between Tennerife and the neighbouring island of La Gomera there is a 125km wide channel which, because of the volcanic nature of the islands, goes 2000m deep. This makes it ideal for whales and dolphins who live here year-round. The former diving down into the depths – 800m or so to hunt giant squid – a creature man has rarely seen alive. 2 tagged Great White Sharks have been located passing through this channel on a migration but thankfully there has never been a fatal shark attack in the Canaries and non-fatal attacks are so rare as to be statistically insignificant.
So after a few enjoyable snorkels in the local bays, seeing new fish like trumpet fish, an octopus and the blue brightly colored emperor fish – I was keen to go for a scuba dive.
I met Santiago, a Spanish dive instructor the same age as me, by chance at the turtles beach. Based on my 27 dives to date with the Cheltenam CSAC club he was able to offer me a good price for some one-to-one dives which he would lead.
Santiago works for a Russian-owned diving centre called Ola Diving. It´s a brand-new centre with brand-new equipment and boat, and lots of experience. We joined the boat for our first dive, accompanied by the the Russian owner and a Russian woman who were going to explore a cave-system they hope to take clients into at a later date.
Mistaking the woman (Alla) for a recreational diver I was told she is an ´instructor of instructors´ (in her own words) who is to be the tech (deep) diving instructor for the company.
We sped out of the harbour and along a stretch of coast for 10 minutes or so. As we approached the Palma Wall, our dive site – next to a fish farm – we spotted a pod of 7 or so common dolphins ahead of us. It was so exhilerating to see them – cruising effortlessly through the water.
Santiago and I geared up and rolled off the boat. The sea was warm and clear – with visability around 10 meters. We looked down to the sea-floor and saw a huge sting-ray below us and a shole of sardines. It quickly swam away but was a thrill to see nonetheless.
I followed Santiago on a beautiful tour of his ocean for around 40 minutes. Green, colourful fish seemed to want to swim near us and follow us. When I looked around it was comforting to see them and the nature all around me – a sense of familiarity – that they were what I expected to see and what made sense, unlike all the human activity above the water. This, I believe, is the healing power of nature.
We found cuttlefish and an octopus. Many large trumpet-fish which approached us with curiosity, crabs and a worm with a jelly-fish-like sting I was warned to avoid. The dive was relaxed and very pleasant. We stayed between 22 and 9 or so meters and had ample time to explore rocks, nooks, and crannies, looking for life. At one point we both handled a daddy-long legs crab, only to see it eaten by a fish when I returned it to its rock. It´s a fish-eat-crab world down there!