El Hierro – Paradise Island of Nature

A little while ago, I met a wonderful girl in a coffee place in little town close to Ulm, South-West Germany. We had a great time, telling each other about our passions. To her, it was no secret, that I am this full blooded artist, enjoying nothing more than sitting behind a canvas. To me, it was surprising, that she is a passionate diver, who could not go deep enough to discover all those secrets of the ocean. I felt almost like a boring painter, when she told me her fascinating stories of wreck diving tours, bizarre creature- and close shark encounters. Gladly, she still felt in love with me. One day, I was sitting at my new girlfriends the white wooden kitchen table, looking at some spectacular under- and above water photographs in one of her high gloss diving magazines. There it was! The place! A place way beyond imagination.

El Hierro!

Some months later, On one of those rainy days, gray clouds almost touching my flat roof top, we were dreaming about hot tropical islands. This is usually the moment, where my fingers magically move over the keyboard of my computer, typing keywords into Google like: “vacation”, “hot and sunny”, “art”, “nature” and “diving paradise”. Guess what popped up next to Hawaii and the Caribics? “El Hierro!”

El Hierro is the smallest, most south west island in the Canaries. But not only this, it is also the most south west peace of land of Europe. This little island was known in European history as the prime meridian in common use outside of the future British Empire. Before Christopher Columbus’s great journey, he first sailed to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, which were ruled by the Crown of Castile, where he restocked provisions and made repairs. While securing provisions from the island of La Gomera, Columbus received word that three Portuguese caravels had been seen hovering near the island of El Hierro with the supposed intention of capturing him. However, on September 6, 1492 the westward voyage began without incident. On his second transatlantic voyage, Columbus stopped in El Hierro for 17 days in 1493, before setting out.

As more as I was reading online about the mystic Bimbache, Volcano eruptions and the spirits of nature above- and below the surface of the ocean, the more I got intrigued. Wikipedia tells: “Each island of the Canaries had its own gods, distinct to each island, though the islands shared common concepts in their mythology, such as divine power represented by Nature. The two benign deities in El Hierro were the god, Eraorahan, and the goddess Moneiba, with a third malevolent god, Aranfaybo who was prayed to in times of desperation...” Native religion's symbols of nature still can be found all over the island. The people of El Hierro today believe in being one with nature. This most remote of Spain's Canary Islands, is now billing itself as the world's first energy self-sufficient island that has never been hooked up to a power grid.

“Lets go there” I said, and immediately looked for flights. But there were no Flights. The Airport of El Hierro is that small, that only a local airline called Binter, serves as a regional carrier operating inter-island services within the Canary Islands. The closest International Airport is located in Tenerife. There are two ferry connections from Los Christianos, Tenerife to Valverde, El Hierro. So the probably most convenient way to travel to El Hierro is to book a flight to Tenerife and book a rental car to pick up at the Airport to take on one of the car-ferries. Thats exactly what I did, while my Girlfriend was e-Mailing with a El Hierro diving center she found in one of her online diving forums. Günther and Jutta, the owners of “Fan Diving Hierro” e-mailed back immediately with the offer of a nice vacation apartment, directly at the ocean. Wow, this was easy.

The exciting journey began at a little beer garden outside the waiting area of Airport Memmingen, Bavaria, South Germany. A couple of hours later, we were picking up the little Hyundai car at the Tenerife Airport. I attached my Tom-Tom Navi-Device I brought with me, to the front window and followed the given direction to Los Christianos. After a short stop at a Spanish Grocery store to pick up a bottle of good Spanish wine, we arrived in front of a huge ship at the harbor. A guide in a orange veste was welcoming us with the question: “El Hierro?” and directed us to lane 4. After a short walk to the nearby office to buy the ticket, we parked the car inside the big stomach of the futuristic looking Fred Olsen ferry. Wow, this was easy again.

When we left the ship, it was already night. A very steep and tiny street with many steep and tiny curves greeted us for our arrival. El Hierro is a 1500 Meter rock in the Atlantic Ocean. And to get from one side of the island to the other, you always have to climb that rock. So if a village is 15 km (10 Miles) away, It takes you an hour to get there. La Restinga has about 500 inhabitants and mainly lives from fishing and diving. Like on most of my artistic journeys, it ends up at somewhere in nowhere, in the middle of some dark street at midnight, no sign of any hotel or friendly apartment nowhere. We called Jutta and Günther. Gladly the didn’t sleep yet, or maybe the did, and woke up. “Don’t move” Jutta said. We are coming…

Next morning we woke up in an apartment, which couldn’t be more nice. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a little living area and the most spectacular panorama window I have ever seen. The Building was on top of a lava rock, overlooking the entire harbor with all the yachts, sailors and fishing boats while the village nestled beautifully between the volcanic formations, floating all the way down to the water. The first thought that came to my mind: I am in paradise.

The following days we spend walking in the foggy forests, hiking on top of old volcano craters and rock formations. Every second day, my Girlfriend was diving while I used the time for creating sketches with pencil on paper. Sometimes, I use those sketches as prerenderings for acrylic paintings. Many of those sketches got framed and sold.

Close to the ocean beach of El Hierro, it feels like being in a desert, surrounded by black and red lava stones of a living volcano, frozen in time. A few meters up hill, a beautiful pine forest emerges out of nothing. Later, it feels like being beamed into some foggy cold forest near London by Scotty of the Enterprise. Everything is wet and old trees, covered with moss plants appear in the mist until surrealistic ashes fields and lava stones appear above the clouds below a deep blue horizon.

The origins of the island date back some 100 million years when the ocean floor shifted with the movement of the earth's mantle. The crust consequently cracked into a three pointed star releasing flows of magma. After three successive eruptions, and consequent accumulations, the island emerged from the ocean as an imposing triangular pyramid crowned by a volcano more than 2,000 metres high. The initial crevices became channels for further lava flows which grew into three mountain ridges topped by numerous volcanic cones. While the magma cooled in these channels, it solidified into gigantic vertical basalt dykes, typical of the geological architecture of El Hierro. Even today, El Hierro volcanic activity is not all distinguished. In October 2011, after some dramatic seismic rumbles, a ocean water fountain shot up close to the coast of La Restinga. People were evacuated and diving was prohibited. It was dramatic, Günther said. He was worried that this was the end of his diving business. Most sea animals and ocean flora died. The underwater eruptions lasted until March 2012. But a year later, all new life developed on the dead ocean ground, and some creatures appeared, which had not been seen before. For Günthers diving center, it turned out to be a good thing after all.

On January 22, 2000, UNESCO declared the island of El Hierro Biosphere Reserve, which identifies the island as a model of how we should live with nature.

To be Continued in the July Issue

Martin Heine
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