Illas Cies

Thursday 12th June 2014

Somewhere else in the world, The World Cup begins. Countless fans herald the start of football’s finest tournament (until Qatar, perhaps). Beer will be spilled on the pub floors, as Rio shakes its feathers and welcomes the world. And here we are, so far away from it all. Our island sanctuary – along with a couple of hundred other people, seemingly fewer kids today!

It is just wonderful first thing, before the trip boats bring the masses. This morning there were only five of us at anchor, gently bobbing on our anchor chains. There was not a breath of wind, and the water was so clear you could easily see the bottom. Sandy. We were on our first mission today, to hike one of the trails on the island, to the Island Lighthouse, Faro Cies, which was a walk to take a couple of hours. Copying everyone else, we rowed ashore (Pete did, again) and hauled the dingy up to the high tide maker (not that we would be in danger of the dingy floating away, as we had no intention of being out until high tide, some point mid-afternoon… too hot.). We took the path out towards the ‘village’ at the back of the beach, stopping to scrape the sand from our feet before donning walking sandals.

We picked our way up the side of the hill, and through the shade of the trees. I was teasing Pete about not having his camera with him – it’s come back from Canon, fault repaired, I carried it out on the plane, and it’s still not been used…!! All very convivial. We reach a way-marker that has an observatory signed one way, and the Faro the other. We decide for a detour to the observatory. By now we have reached the edge of the tree-line, and the landscape is more open, with rocky outcrops and tufts of bracken. We have climbed up the side of a smooth rocky slope, like a peeled-back onion, on to a narrow path. Here we meet what will be the first of many sea gulls, yellow-legged gulls. She has chicks, and is yelling at us to stay away. It is a horrible sound. I freeze completely in my tracks. Pete is saying it will be OK. We edge a little closer. She yells, almost groans, some more. I really don’t want to go past her. Pete adopts a quiet coaching voice, telling me it will be OK. I am frightened of birds – a phobia that ebbs and flows. Friends will know that I can’t “do” pigeons. Seagulls scare me; they are aggressive, large and…. scary. So to have one yelling at you…. My heart was in my mouth, I could feel it beating loudly (as could Pete), my breath had gone and I was about as scared as scared is. And yet, this quiet coaching voice got me past, although you wouldn’t have known where Pete ended and I began. I was clinging on to him as if my life depended on it. At one level, it did. Not a very rational level, granted, but I would have turned back had I been alone. I would have missed the hide, where you could peer down over onto the cliff face, and see more gulls nesting. It was better in there.

Step away from my babies!
Step away from my babies!

I’d thought that we were on a circuit, but soon realised that it couldn’t be – there was just this cliff face, so it meant we had to turn back. She was still there, with her babies. I didn’t see them, I had my eyes firmly on the floor. Perhaps part of a child-like response – if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. She clearly did, as she resumed her yelling. Pete wanted to stop and take a photo! The mere thought of that made my head spin, and I couldn’t speak. I kept going, and only when back at the onion-peeled rock did I stop, and hand Pete the camera. He went back for the photo shoot, still incurring the wrath of a protective mother. That sound. Most gull noise is that sound almost like laughter. They throw their heads back, open their throats, and chuck out an immense noise for such a relatively small thing (they are not small, like the size of a cat up close), a coarse, throaty laugh. When they are defending their young, it is like they are being murdered. A mournful groan, somewhere on the verge of being a wail. They keep on and on, until danger (me, really?) passes.
This sound would echo us along our walk, as we made our way to the lighthouse. Each time, Pete pressing me away from the birds. At one point, I had to stop to recover myself. I’d had enough, but Pete, again, in his gentle way, persuaded me that I could carry on. These stupid birds were even nesting on the path up to the lighthouse!! All those lovely rocks to nest in, and they choose the path. I can’t tell you much about the walking, as it was eyes down.

Looking south over the little island
Looking south over the little island

Finally we reached our destination. It seemed to take forever to get there. In a gull-free zone, I was able to raise my eyes and take in the view. It was spectacular. The lighthouse sits on the western side of the island, so ‘looks out’ over the Atlantic. There is no land for hundreds of miles. Today it looked so benign, a stunning, shining azure blue. In a storm, what a sight it might be! We looked over the little island to the south of Cies, and the photograph I took could have been an aerial shot, and yet we were only at 175m. The walk back down was as traumatic as the last bit of up. It was only when we got back to the sanctuary of the trees that I could relax. “Did you enjoy that at all?” Pete asked. Too soon to answer that, so I chose “I liked the view from the top.” My husband isn’t scared by many things, so there’s no real comparison. He did say that I was brave – it just strikes me as fairly pathetic.

Heart rate now back to normal levels, we decided to walk across the lagoon. There Pete spotted an octopus in the rocks, and we watched it for ages, changing colour, moving on, changing colour. Such odd looking creatures. It’s a good job ‘pulpo’ isn’t served whole, as I’m not sure I could fancy eating one at all if it was all there on a plate! We stopped for a cold drink at the bar (quieter music today) before walking back along the most beautiful sandy beach (voted so by The Guardian readers too, according to Pete,) and back to the dinghy. This time we both sat on the action seat and took an oar each. I am still no loss to the rowing teams, as Pete had to set my hands going the right way. He has to do it every time. At least with one oar I don’t just end up going in circles, and it was good to both row us back to Whinchat.

The afternoon was spent hiding from the sun, in the Bedouin tent arrangement. Pete finished reading about Enron, and I’m reading about a book, a Haggadah, that has a history to tell over several hundreds of years – beautifully written (Geradline Brooks, People of The Book). We watched as people slowly packed up and left. We had a visit from three helmeted customs officials, who wanted to board, but when we showed them the papers from Muros, they went away quite happy. They were so polite. They’d come in a fast rib (black version of Kevin) from a very sleek mother ship that I’d seen earlier. I thought they just fancied a day out, and Pete reckons they had a target number of forms to do, so they picked a popular spot… Perhaps we are both right.

It was another very quiet evening on the anchorage – it is so peaceful when the last trip boat back to the mainland has left.

Today’s haiku:

head thrown back, she wails,
my babies, another step –
I’ll peck out your eyes

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