2nd January 2019
Divers: Jeff Parker, Sarah Parker, Jo Parker Dive Sites: The Cathedral, The Blue Hole, The Museo Atlántico
Camera: Go-Pro 5 with available light. Report & Photography: Jeff Parker
Christmas passed and we were determined to avoid another tedious, post-blowout crimbo-limbo week between Boxing Day and New Year and so took ourselves (myself, Sue, our daughters and mum, Angela 'AP' Parker) off to the Canaries for a few days R&R - rest for those in the family whose idea of a holiday is to lie on a sun-lounger all day and recreation for the rest of us (actually, that's just me).
Our resort - Costa Teguise on the eastern coast of the volcanic island - is ideal for both pleasures at this time of year, offering an almost perfect climate - warming from cool to hot (25+degrees C) back to cool in the evenings, it's a keep-fit paradise with apparently the entire population obsessed with the Outdoor Life. Walkers, joggers, cyclists, runners and exercise fanatics of all ages crowd the 5km long sea-front paths and open-air gyms from dawn til dusk in an impressive display of rude-health and sports brand day-glo fashion. I was happy to join in.
Googling the dive-potential from back home, The Underwater Museum or Museo Atlántico, immediately jumped out as a must-do bucket-list type thing. A dive with a difference, definitely. An opportunity not be missed.
It is the work of artist Jason deCaires Taylor, a British sculptor, conservationist and diver who has been working in Lanzarote since 2016. More about that later.
The site also looked suitable, in terms of depth & difficulty, for my teenage daughters Jo (16) and Sarah (17), who qualified Open Water only a few months back in the summer and had done very little diving since. As it happened, both came down with colds in the first half of the week and couldn't dive.
On the plus side, this left me free to do some deeper stuff to kick off our Lanzarote dive adventures. I contacted Native Diving a few hundred metres north of where we were staying, a PADI/SSI outfit with a beautiful seafront location.
I chose them purely for local convenience but as it turned out, I can highly recommend these guys to any divers visiting the area as they proved to be not only super-friendly, accommodating and most important, good, competent divers but they also run a slick and efficient operation in which most of the heavy work is done for you. I arrived at the agreed time to meet our dive guides only to find the mini-bus was already loaded and ready-to-go. No lifting and shifting to be done at all (or faff of any kind, not even payment which was all done at the end of the week). We headed south 30 minutes to Playa Chica in Puerto del Carmen to tackle our first two dives: The Cathedral and The Blue Hole.
What followed was a perfect day's diving. Both dives were extremely relaxed, almost zen-like experiences, full of colourful sea-life with crystal clear water and interesting rock and cave formations to swim through, in and around.
The fun started when Victor our genial Uruguayan guide saw that the harbour steps were diver-congested and whispered “Ok to go off the wall?”. I looked over the side. It was a long, long, drop. “No problem” I confidently replied, turning pale. It must be over 35 years since I did something like it off Bovisand but what the hell…
Looking back up from the water a few seconds later I felt a bit sorry for newbie Mark from Ireland (on his final training day) looking visibly shocked and not quite believing what they were asking him to do. Happy to report, he did it in style and swam off with instructor Frankie to complete his qualifying dive.
Myself, Victor and a couple from Italy, Virginia & Andreas, headed off southeast on the long swim down the reef and over the drop-off to about 35m to our goal, The Cathedral, an impressively large cave which turned out, surprise, surprise, to be full of divers. It was at this point that I remembered that the brand spanking new dive torch I got for Christmas was still in my dive bag, on the bus.
“La Catedral” was guarded comically by two Groupers – doing their best to look intimidating and stern - positioned at entrance and exit like stoney-faced sentinels, ready to ‘bounce’ us out of the area if we were to give any bother.
On the sandy plateau directly above The Cathedral we came across a forest of air streams bubbling out of the sand like volcanic activity. It is caused by the exhausts of the many visiting divers filtering up through the rocks and sand. Just like us, the Cathedral is off-gassing.
We decompressed, slowly making our way up the gentle slope of Playa Chica while Victor perfected the art of diving backwards, keeping a beady-eye on his flock.
The Blue Hole
Next up, after the surface interval, drink, snack and change of camera battery, came Agujero Azul - The Blue Hole.
Swimming southwest this time from the harbour we eventually came to the entrance, an initially uninspiring hole in the ground, which opened up into an impressive cave with a slight dogleg to the south to daylight beyond.
Victor signalled me to go first so I went down and in and waited in the gloom, looking back up to get the ubiquitous diver-in-cave entrance shot.
Out of the Hole and right along the rocky wall, in and out for about 30m or so and then back up over it heading home. The journey back was packed full of life: octopus, barracuda, multi-coloured whatnots of all size and shape. At some points it was like swimming engulfed in a tropical fish-tank, the critters so used to divers that they swim closer than usual, completely ignoring us and going about their business unperturbed. It reminded me of Kew Gardens and how tame the squirrels are there. Foolishly maybe, the wild animals of Playa Chica see humans as no threat at all. Just a perfect day.
The Museo Atlántico
Fast-forward 4 days to Wednesday January 2ndand the girls, now recovered from the sniffles, were keen to go diving. Gale force storms on New Years Eve and Day had prevented us from doing the planned 6m orientation dive but we figured the Museum, advertised as a 12m-15m dive, was safe enough. I made sure they knew their theory well. They were confident - good to go.
Our guide for the day was the experienced diver (and office-manager) Gerard, making a welcome return to dive guiding after a period manning the desk due to his multi-lingual talents.
The drive to Playa Blanca was much longer, over an hour, picking up divers as we went. Travelling south I began to feel slightly anxious about the dives ahead, in complete contrast to a few days before when I only had myself to look after. The extra responsibility of two teenage novices plus the sheer strangeness of what we were about to do was sobering.
Kitting up went reasonably smoothly and we, together with 5 more divers, a father and son from Germany, another German woman and a young diver called Jack from England – 8 divers in all - were soon heading out on the RHIB with cylinders already on our backs. Gerard had a quiet word, letting me know that the storms had stirred up the site and visibility was poor. He suggested I go in last, bringing up the rear. Fine by me.
The Museum site loomed after a 10-15 minute ride and the RHIB moored up alongside a hardboat with Museo Atlántico printed on the side. We sat, bobbed about and sweated into our wetsuits (25 degrees, mid-day on the hottest day of the week) for what seemed like an age, waiting for the previous boatload of divers to exit the area. While we waited I stared at the huge yellow buoys that mark out the 2,500 square metre site, presumably as a no-go zone for other boats.
I know it is probably necessary to organise things in this way but I did begin to feel a little bit like a tourist (exactly what we were) being processed along a conveyor-belt, from one step to the next. Spontaneity or variety is eliminated - a similar feel to the experience we had visiting “Fire Mountain” a few days before.
Eventually, blessed relief, we flopped over the side into the cooling water. So began the Magical Mystery Tour.
We swam past the “Entrada”, sign into the museum with no idea what to expect having made a point to not study a map of the route beforehand. We wanted surprises and were not disappointed.
The first set of sculptures - Los Jolateros - a group of children paddling brass boats loomed up suddenly on our left and all anxieties and irritations about the dive vanished as we became mesmerised by this arresting spectacle.
Why did they have books for paddles? Where were they from and where are they going... and in such precarious craft?
A comment on our children's future? We swam on.
Apparently the artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, used Lanzarote residents to make his sculptures. This haunting piece - Immortal - was modelled on a local fisherman.
We found ourselves in a unique and wonderful art gallery made special by virtue of being hidden from the rest of the world - for fish and divers' eyes only. The images that follow are in the same order that we saw them.
Challenging, profound but also disturbingly beautiful, I found his work confusing in a way that I often feel when wandering around art - entertained yet mildly annoyed by the enigma or more to the point, by my inability to fully understand it. I guess if the meanings were obvious the work would be less interesting. The fact that it provokes me to think at all means that it has worked on some level. Job done.
The Raft of Lampedusa was impressive and moving - a stark monument to the tens of thousands of people who have drowned and continue to die worldwide in their flight from failed states, poverty and war. Who would have thought a few years ago that the Mediterranean would become such a killing field?
Disconnected - the clue is in the name. A faceless couple take a selfie - she is pregnant - but the key is the setting with the boat-people raft in the background. A disaster is unfolding yet the couple's first reaction is to turn it into a self-absorbed photo-op. A selfish selfie... a trivial virtual reality response to a seriously tragic actual reality.
Again, I think the artist is inviting questions about the future of the unborn child if that's the way we are going to carry on.
This piece manages to be both serious and funny. It was one of my favourites. We chugged on.
The work is dynamic, constantly changing as the local flora and fauna take up residence.
I labelled this photo - Lost in a Crowd - another hauntingly beautiful and poignant sight.
We became part of that crowd as we swam in three dimensions - in, around and above the figures, being careful not to touch - it suddenly made sense to set this work underwater. We were viewing it in a unique way not possible on land.
Actually called Crossing The Rubicon - this major work is a group of 35 figures walking towards a 30m long, 4m high wall structure with a single gateway in the centre.
Surely another comment about people on the move migrating towards almost impenetrable barriers. In this setting we see the folly of static 'walls' in a fluid world.
On the other side of the portal it all got a bit surreal.
Like Buddy the Elf we... passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly-twirly gum drops... not to the Lincoln Tunnel but to a cactus garden full of weird statues, half-cacti half-human. Go figure.
On to a twisted version of a children's playground called Deregulated.
Instead of children, businessmen enjoy the rides, unfettered by government rules perhaps?
A heavy-set Trump-like character dominates a see-saw which is also a nodding-donkey pump.
Deregulated Oil versus Nature?
The character on the other end appears to turn his head towards Sarah. Spooky!
To be honest the experience overall was sometimes a bit creepy and disturbing. But I guess that's the point, it should provoke a reaction.
At the same time, in this underwater setting - it was dream-like and unforgettable. A top-notch dive adventure.
On to the finale - The Human Gyre.
The Human Gyre is a wreath - made up of 200 bodies. Devastating.
For me, all of the failure and tragedy of the last 100 years was represented here.
It will mean many different things to different people. But again, the work manages to be at once provocative, disturbing, poignant and impressive. I think you can see it in Sarah's eyes.
Certainly a dive to remember. Lanzarote dreaming.
With thanks to the guys from Native Diving, especially Victor and Gerard for their patience and skill.
Please Note: As an employee of AP Diving this Dive Adventure is not eligible for entry into the competition. I present it here as a sample dive report. Please feel free to write your own reports either longer or much shorter - it's entirely up to you. I will create a web page for each one. Please send text and images to me: firstname.lastname@example.org