Almeria turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Our crew, which has grown to nine or so as we've made friends aboard the ship, woke up dutifully at 8 in the morning in order to be the first off the ship. Back when I was in the land of plentiful internet, also known as the US, I had scribbled down a few notes for each port. All I had for Almeria was "Cabo de Gatas - World Heritage site. Beach."
And so our taxis headed towards Cabo de Gatas, thirty minutes east of the port, and dropped us off with promises to return at four thirty, just in time to take us back to our ship.
My recollection from reading a month before was that Cabo de Gatas was some sort of jungle that you hiked through until you finally arrived at a beach. I remembered incorrectly-- it was an unassuming beach with cactus-studded desert behind it, the beautiful blue Mediterranean in front of it, and a tall outcropping of volcanic rock to the side. Firsthand research indicates that beautiful locals go there to tan topless.
I get bored of beaches in record time, so two minutes after dropping our bags on the sand, I began lobbying people to come with me to climb the rocks. Our Azores adventure fresh in everyone's minds, the others were thinking the same thing. Barefoot, we hiked across the sloped sand towards the black rocks.
If you've ever climbed volcanic rocks (and remember it better than I did), you might know that volcanic rocks aren't very friendly on bare feet. Especially volcanic rocks that have been broiled by the sun all day. Every step singed and scraped, and every handhold was only slightly more likely to support your weight than it was to break free and crash on the rocks below.
Just as my patience with the seemingly still-molten lava rocks began to wane, we hit a crest and could see a secret beach on the other side, surrounded with another mass of lava rock on the other side and a steep cliff behind it. Hanna made it to the beach first, then Christophe, and then me. The others spotted a mountain somewhere back and hiked halfway up to hang out in a cave with a view of the sea.
The beach was a small stretch of sand, dotted with large smooth boulders. As I hopped from boulder to boulder I saw half of a paddle wedged between two of them.
My ex introduced me to a show called Man vs. Wild, featuring a guy named Bear Grylls surviving in insane situations. Besides making snakes seem like reasonable meals and urine seem like a decent beverage, the show makes you feel like you could probably survive in any situation. And so, when I saw the paddle, I knew my destiny: I would build a boat to avoid climbing the rocks again. My feet would hail me as the greatest hero of the twenty-first century, I would return to my friends as a champion, and I would prove to myself that I could indeed survive in any situation.
So as my friends took pictures of the gorgeous scenery, I scrambled around the rocks on the far side of the beach, looking for raw materials for my sweet vessel. I scooped up trash in my arms and howled in delight as I found empty bottles, long pieces of bamboo, and a huge water jug. Rope was harder to find, since it all seemed to be impossibly stuck between rocks, but I did manage to find a piece of plastic strapping normally used to hold big cardboard boxes closed. A few rogue pieces of foam and two mismatched foam sandals later, and my bounty was complete.
I originally wanted to build a catamaran (two hulled boat), so that I could keep my whole body out of the water, but three o'clock had come and gone, and my time to build the boat and paddle it back was slipping away, so I settled on a canoe-raft that I could straddle.
First I made the rear flotation bundle out of two empty one-liter water bottles, two chunks of foam, and a sandal. I had two loops of rope that I couldn't untie, which I encircled the bundle with. They were too loose, so I twisted a stick around inside each loop to cinch it tight. I was impressed with how well it held.
Next I bundled all of the sticks together and stripped the plastic strap into many thinner plastic straps, which I used to keep the bundle together. I forgot how to tie a good one-way cinching knot, so the bundle ended up being slightly rickety.
The empty water jug was big enough to serve as the front flotation unit by itself, so all that was left was to put the whole thing together with leftover plastic strapping. I was pleasantly surprised at how sturdy my little boat was, once fully assembled. My friends were even more surprised.
After a brief detour to save a beached squid (which I considered eating raw to complete the experience), I took off my pants and waded into the water. When we were back on the main beach it felt too cold to swim, but this time I was so excited to test my boat that I barely noticed the chill. As I sat on the boat it dipped into the water a little more than I had expected, but kept my rib cage and above out of the water. Good enough.
Paddling was strenuous, especially with half of the paddle-- and thus half of the mechanical advantage-- missing, but a tail current helped push me in the right direction. As I cut through the dark blue water, I thought three things. First, I thought that with a decent attitude and some ingenuity, surviving any situation could be possible. Second, I thought that if I ever was in such a situation, I hope not to have to paddle, because it's really tiring. And last, I thought about how we really only have ourselves to turn to for satisfaction and entertainment. I doubt anyone else from the ship enjoyed their day quite as much as I did, and it was all thanks to a pile of trash and following my whims.
All photos are by Christophe! You would have had to take my word for it if it weren't for him. Feel free to use the first picture as a wall-sized poster or in a Tynan Calendar.