6 Aug 2017

501 VOLCANOES

It looks like something solid emerging but really it is
lumps of floating Restingolitos and bubbling water.
Photo de C. Axelsson.
It seems the Canary Islands are a sort of trail of breadcrumbs left by a rogue tongue of weakness in the Earth’s crust. Over millions of years the weakness has been advancing from east to west leaving, first and nearest Africa, the island of Lanzarote, then Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and finally El Hierro, the westernmost and youngest of the archipelago. Logically, then, if an addition to the family is going to emerge from the bed of the Atlantic, the best place to look for it is near us. And that is exactly what appeared to be about to happen between October 2011 and March 2012.

Cockerels in the Canaries crow at any time during the day or night, supposedly because they are very sensitive to seismic tremors. Just before October that year they began to have nightly concerts and even we insensitive human beings began to feel the movements (of the earth not the concerts) some of which were quite strong. Then the sea to the south of La Restinga began to look dirtier. Next, it seemed to boil and to spew up precooked fish and a sort of black and white pumice that floated to the coast and was eagerly collected by the population until the activity was finally forbidden. These floating rocks were dubbed 'Restingolitos', a pun on the name of the village and the suffix meaning 'stone' or the diminutive. Eventually La Restinga was temporarily evacuated because of the danger of poisonous gasses. And that was it. We didn’t get a new island. 

Whenever something out of the ordinary happens it is normal to get a succession of politicians jousting for a photo in the press. Of course, they are all experts in the field in question. In November 2011 there was a General Election, a coincidence which greatly exacerbated the phenomenon. So, every day from different institutions and national candidates, as well as regional and local 'authorities', we had contradictory analyses, propositions and forecasts. Ill-prepared meetings were held, the army was called in, ferries to evacuate the whole island were to be requisitioned ... At best all this helped put El Hierro on the map even if the reports in the international tabloids were inclined to catastrophic sensationalism. Of course, there was a funny side. It was said that one enterprising fellow had registered in his name the new island, if ever it should emerge, and that the oceanographic research vessel had recovered a German beach towel and parasol pegged to its surface 100 metres below the waves.

El Hierro has long been known as the 'island of five hundred volcanoes' – all dead, of course – so now it is the 'island of 501 volcanoes', this last one still huffing but invisible to all except the divers at La Restinga.

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