Andrés Amegeiras is from Uruguay. He is 33 years old and has been traveling the world for a few months. The last leg of his tour took him to Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands. There it was on Sunday, the 19th, when the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted. “Since it exploded, I’ve been wondering if I should come or not. And in the end I made up my mind on Wednesday.” He didn’t hesitate to pay 500 euros (3,100 reais) for an air ticket between the two islands, a journey of 380 kilometers that usually costs less than 60 euros.
The impressive images of the volcanic cone and its explosions fill the highways of an usually peaceful island, which throughout 2019, before the pandemic, received just over 729,000 visitors who stayed in its 17,000 legal tourist beds, according to data from the Instituto Canario de Statistics (ISTAC). A modest figure compared to the 8.4 million tourists who opted for Tenerife in the same year, or the 6.5 million from Gran Canaria (the two islands considered the capitals of the Spanish archipelago on the African coast).
Now the volcano has led La Palma to hang the “crowded” sign. Onlookers and journalists joined the regular tourists who travel to the islands. Planes and ships arrive full of backpackers with their cameras. Juan Pablo González, manager of Ashotel (Hotel and Extra-Hotel Association of Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro), says: “Our members in La Palma told us that many tourists are arriving, especially from other islands”. “They come for the simple purpose of seeing the volcano, what we in the Canaries call the gorge [bisbilhotar]. Now is not the time for tourism in La Palma, it is time to help, and these people do not do that and occupy beds that could be used, for example, by the security forces”.
The pressure on the island’s housing network makes it difficult even for the homeless to find housing, even though they have the money to pay rent, he says. Marta Cantero.
Last Wednesday, several Guardia Civil agents complained to a group of journalists about to board a ship in the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife that they had to stay ashore, with no room on board, while the volcano tourists occupied everything. the ferry informs Javier Salas.
One of them is Mario Mesa, a 24-year-old motorcyclist from Tenerife, who paid 60 euros (370 reais) for the boat ticket. I just wanted to see the volcano. “I decided at the last minute. I work in a nursery, but I took a course in volcanology and geology, and I didn’t think twice,” he explains. I expected to have a place to stay, but the volcano prevented it. “I have friends with whom I was staying in Puerto Naos [município de Los Llanos de Aridane], but were evicted on Tuesday. Now I got a place in a hostel”, he says.
Traffic is intense in the once empty main arteries of the island. Rented cars pass those of the residents (many of them loaded with personal belongings, heading towards the house of relatives). There are occasional traffic jams in places that were unthinkable a week ago, such as the small town of Tajuya (in the municipality of El Paso), a popular spot for observing the eruption from a distance.
“We had some problems with traffic,” reports the Civil Guard agent who guards the access to the devastated El Paraíso neighborhood. “People are not aware of how dangerous this can be.”
The risks don’t seem to matter to Oliver and Susanne, a couple from Berlin who arrived on the island on Tuesday night and spent the entire Wednesday, from early morning until late afternoon, driving around in their car through every possible access. in El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane, the two municipalities most affected by lava. “We’ll go wherever the police leave us, we don’t want to get in the way,” says Oliver.
Joan and Laia, two tourists from Barcelona, arrived on the island on Tuesday. “All of this hallucinates me and makes me feel sorry for myself,” she says. They had the trip scheduled, but they hardly stepped into their hotel in Puntagorda, in the north of the island. “We find it more interesting what is happening down here [no sul da ilha]. We can not lose.”
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