“What are your plans?” everyone asks everyone at the jetty in Tazacorte. “Grenada” it answers, or “Gambia”, or “Greece”. Country names like bubbles. They glitter, reflect something of the travellers self and often burst with clichés. What are you looking for, in Grenada, Gambia or Greece? would perhaps be a better question. Why are you sailing? What an invasive question. No one has ever asked me “Why?” on the jetty.
Retired, so I thought, I will do what I never dared to do in my family and professional life. I will visit places I want to see again – or have always wanted to see. Read books that are so far-fetched that I wouldn’t have taken the time before. Dreaming daydreams instead of being instrumentalised by alarm clocks and chore charts. Live out the career aspirations of the little boy: A captain behind the wheel. In short: as an old man, I will make up for everything that has been missing from my life up to now.
Surprisingly, some such circles of life could be closed. I bought the sandals my mother always forbade me to wear. I took my own boat up the Elbe to my home town, where as a child I only stood at the landing pier. I read St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians under a cypress tree among the ruins of Philippi. And let my remaining hair grow so long that it became embarrassing even for me.
This kind of finding meaning is absolutely satisfying. I take death seriously as my future horizon of life – and at the same time I cheat it. There is still meaning before the darkness strikes. All it takes is, say, a permanent inflammation of my elbow – and that would be the end of this kind of journey.
All the more surprising is when suddenly meaning emerges that has nothing at all to do with the horizon of my death. “Emerges” is wrongly said – La Palma erupted into my life.
Eruption into life
La Palma is a Canary Island, a volcanic eruption from three thousand metres below sea level. A magma chamber lives beneath the island, reliably filled by a hotspot. It has been erupting for three million years. And it created a world I have never seen before.
Abyss-deep, rutted ravines in the Caldera de Taburiente, like in a dinosaur movie. Old pines with metre-thick trunks, blackened by bush fires. Pale green needles in front of black lava ash in the volcanic landscape of Cumbre Vieja. Ferns, laurel trees, rainforest in the barrancos of the north. Everything is steep, wild, immense.
When the sun shines from a blue sky in Tazacorte, the fog billows on the islands north side and it rains in the east. Three seasons at once on a small island of a few dozen kilometres. And – compared to the thoughtlessly littered landscape in Greece: this world is so reassuringly intact.
What it does to me? It shakes me with unleashed beauty. The earth does its thing. It stirs, creates life, destroys it, creates new life. Rolling lava over houses and banana plantations of traumatised people last year. And I am a fleeting visitor. The earth thinks in other time dimensions and power categories.
The sun sets
In the evening, I stand on the beach of Tazacorte and watch the sun set in the west. Next stop America. I am drawn to the west, even if that is the place where the sun sets and darkness lingers.
I am drawn to places that are like La Palma: Wild, real, untamable. What if I can’t travel that far – to the Marquesas, to the Australs, to the Gambiera Islands of this world? If the Tamar River in Tasmania will never rush under Reykja’s wake? Then at least I will have seen La Palma.
And felt: It is not all in vain.