Away from it all

May 29, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

The Canary Islands are located 400 kilometres off the coast of Morocco, Africa, in the sweetest spot of the Atlantic Ocean, which keeps the eight islands of the archipelago at spring time, with temperatures ranging from 17 degrees Celsius to 23 degrees, by and large.

When I lived in the U.K., lots of years ago, I started going to Tenerife, the largest island of the Canaries, for Christmas and the New Year with my pal, John Higgs, (aka ‘Iggs).

The Canary Islands are an “autonomous community of Spain.” That is, part of Spain but primarily self ruling. 

The name of the islands came from, as Pliny the Elder, wrote: the island Canaria, was inhabited by “vast multitudes of dogs of very large size.” So, the name, Canary Islands comes from the ancient history of the indigenous population’s worship of dogs. The canary bird was named after the islands. 

There was a restaurant on the beach where we stayed, in Los Cristianos, situated on the opposite end of the island from its busier capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. In fact, over the many times, we went to the Canary Islands, we never did visit Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

The kitchen of that restaurant was a building adjacent to the open and sheltered dining area. It would be hard to explain how wonderful that was, to sit by the ocean, usually kindly and patient while we had our lunch. The best paella you could imagine was the specialty of the house – the fish and seafood brought in from the ocean, in the morning, for the day’s feasting.

Okay, well, lots of lovely places provide those luxuries but Tenerife was where I learned to scuba dive and it is precious to me for that too. The real impetus for my learning to dive was because ‘Iggs was a deep sea diver as his profession and it only made sense for us enjoy that as a sport together. 

The dive club at Los Cristianos was run by a German couple, Henry and Monika, whose philosophy was that a dive should be celebrated by sharing a couple of bottles of champagne (sparkling) wine, cooled by hanging off the boat in the ocean while the divers were cruising below.

Lessons began in the swimming pool with flippers, mask and snorkel. In that first year of going to Tenerife, we travelled with another couple, Andrew and Janet, who watched me, doing the lengths, occasionally blowing water out of my snorkel and, every time I swam past them, Andrew declared: “Thar she blows!” Secretly, he wanted to know how often he could say, “Thar she blows!” before someone went crazy.

Then, some turns with a tank, learn to clear my mask and be calm.

The thing was, you see, that I was diving with ‘Iggs too and there was a genuine confidence that all would be well with his acting as my underwater mentor. Henry was thorough and competent, as all diving instructors absolutely have to be but he was a stranger and ‘Iggs was family.

When I tell experienced divers of my first dive, they are astonished or appalled, for we went much further than the standard 30 feet. We dove more than a 100 feet.

Do you have flying dreams? I used to, often. They all come true under water. We wore weights around our waists, gauged to our own body size, to help us descend and to still be able resist them on the way back up.

As much as what there was to see, was the experience itself of weightlessness, to soar over the bottom, to leave the heavy land behind and engage in near fantasy while the wonders of the sea watch you pass or join in the swim.

While we descended, we had to blow our ears clear, as we climbed down through three or so levels of pressure. It’s a marvel really how our bodies deal with the weight and pressure of diving. 

There was a cliff with several holes dug into it. In each of these, lived a Moray eel. Henry, ever the humorous, had brought goodies for them in the way small fish and they were accustomed to his visits and came out once they realized our arrival.

Picture this: the group of us, say six divers, 100 feet down, poised before a cliff of moray eel shelters, ready to offer them little fishes and they so pleased to accept.

Henry indicated to me to scratch one under under its chin – you know, like a cat – and the stupid thing responded just like that, holding its chin up and – was that a purr?

Heading back to the surface was a procession of halts to decompress because it is dangerous to hurry back. Up the rope, then, pause for three minutes, continue and pause again a couple of times, with ‘Iggs as my guide.

Back on the boat, pass the wine bottles and know another moment in life that really made sense.

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