16/11/2011

Timanfaya



“Close your eyes” said the tour guide, his Spanish accent curling and snapping like a bullfighter’s cape.  “Then open again.  Now see you are on another planet, another world.”

I’m not sure how many tourists on the coach did so, but I followed his instructions willingly, submissively. I wanted to drink in this experience and taste it; swallow it whole.  I closed my eyes and swam in the foetal darkness behind my trembling eyelids.  The coach coughed to a stop in the gravel.

I opened my eyes slowly and allowed the harsh Canarian sunlight to flood back in.  A veil drew back revealing a ravaged, ashen, hematite grave. Angular, black scars carved the exposed landscape, assaulting my eyes like third-degree burns.  This was Hades.  Hell.  Or Mars. All the oxygen in this place had burned away, just as it took my breath now.  Charred wreckage. Carnage incarnate. The lava field spewed across 360 degrees, a violation of the earth.

“In places the broken lava is over three metres deep”.

The volcanoes had risen up and belched fire for almost six years, the ground opening as a deadly flower.  Its hot pollen flowed down the mountains embracing every living thing on this island in a searing kiss of black death. 

Where it touched the fertile plains, it brought sterility.  Where it caressed the sea it roiled and boiled the waves in a salty orgasm rising hundreds of feet in the air.  Where the ashes of this place rose up they extinguished the sun itself.

Our coach jittered along a narrow ribbon cut through this hell, rising precariously.  I felt crushed by the power and magnitude of nature pressing against the windows around me.  A wrong turn and we too would fall off the mountain, impaled on jagged lava the size of cars, like a writhing, upturned beetle. 

“Timanfaya – fire mountain,” said our guide as we exited the coach, witnessing a vista of more than one hundred volcanoes and gaping craters. 

A shovel of gravel was dug and these black pearls poured into our naked palms.  I instantly pulled my hand away, shocked by their heat.  Under your feet temperatures reach nearly 600 degrees, he told us, smiling - a few metres down. 

Welcome to Hell.  My name’s Lucifer, I’ll be your guide today.  I hope you like barbecue.

What were we doing here, I wondered, in this heart of darkness? To experience the unknown, to touch another world?  To run bloody and ragged in this waking nightmare? Fragile, mortal humans morbidly fascinated with death as much as life.

Here, on this island of Lanzarote, death at least has a name.

Timanfaya. 

Fire.  Sex.  Death.  Rock.  Lots and lots of rock.

And roll.  We got back on the coach and our wheels spun slowly, descending, returning us to the land of the living. Exorcising this demonic vision with a thankful prayer and crossing of the heart.  But still knowing, even as we blinked myopically in the fresh sunlight and went on with our lives, that each of us would return one day and lay down in the dirt.

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