I don’t usually watch the news, so the first time I heard about the volcano at La Palma was two or three weeks after the eruption started, due to the news referring to “volcano negacionists”. At the beginning of October I went to visit my friend José in Zaragoza and he, indeed, always watches the news, so suddenly, and specially being in Spain, I was flooded with images of a natural wonder, an explosive eruption, which was happening not far away! I decided I had to go to La Palma, see Cumbre Vieja with my own eyes, feel the power of nature in its purest and most creative form! In Lisbon, I was looking for livecams on YouTube and falling asleep watching those images!

But I already had a trip scheduled to Luxembourg and France, so the visit to La Palma would only take place a month after I returned from my trip with José, who also visited Tarazona, Teruel and Cuenca.

On November 11th I flew with Ryanair to Tenerife South, where I arrived already after sunset. I slept one night in a sneaky hostel in Los Cristianos and the next morning I took the ferry to Santa Cruz de La Palma. The ferry is completely closed, so the views leaving Tenerife, passing by the island of La Gomera, and finally arriving in La Palma were not the easiest to photograph.

Arrived in Santa Cruz, I took the bus to Los Llanos de Aridane, where I had rented a room. Many people don’t know that you can visit La Palma, but the government even promotes tourism, to lessen the economic impact that the island is suffering. In Santa Cruz we couldn’t realize that there was a volcano erupting on the island. There were some volcanic ashes in the harbor parking lot, but that could easily be mistaken for some black sand left by chance there (the prevailing winds are to the opposite side of the capital, so the ash doesn’t usually get there).
When I finally saw the crater of Cumbre Vieja, almost reaching El Paso, I realized that that day the volcano was very calm, not being able to compare with the images I had seen on television. Still, it was quite impressive to see the streets full of ashes and especially the border of what had been hit by lava, with houses half “eaten”.

I left my backpack at the Airbnb, a colonial house right in the center of Los Llanos, took a short walk through this beautiful town, while several locals cleaned the ashes on the streets and houses and I was making time for the bus (which only ran every 30/ 60min). So I went to the Church of Tajuya, one of the best places to see the volcano and where the media is usually located. From there you could see some lava coming down the slope, smoke and gases coming out of the crater, but really nothing special, there wasn’t even ash in the air, so I was a little disappointed. The news of the day was that a second lava river reached the sea (which later joined the first), but that it was not possible to see it from any side of the island, accessible by civilians. So as not to feel so disappointed, I was photographing the streets full of ashes.

But I had a plan and a mission! Preparing for the trip, I got in touch with several photographers who had incredible images of the volcano and it was through them that I learned that it might be possible to fly the drone, if I asked for authorization from the PMA (Puesto de Mando Avanzado), the authority that managed everything that is the police, firefighters, militaries, etc. But I arrived in La Palma without knowing where to find them.
One of the pages I had spoken to, @dron_services_canarias, who was working directly with the government, had told me that I could eventually fly with them, but then they stopped answering for several days… I went up on foot to another point where the road was closed and was supposedly the closest reacheable place to the crater, but even there the guards couldn’t tell me where to find the PMA… I was losing hope! I went to El Paso and, during lunch, I sent a message to another guy I had already contacted with, @daviddelrosariophoto, who then told me where I could find them: in El Paso, perfect!
I entered through the gate where “Only authorized personal” stood, full of confidence, I arrived at the building and said I was there to get the authorization for a drone flight! The security guy even got a little disoriented but suddenly another guy passes by and he asks him to call someone. When this guy enters the building I see that he is wearing a vest from @dron_services_canarias! A girl comes down, explains to me that I need to send her I don’t know how many documents (and I start becoming stressed out, because I didn’t have those documents with me, I didn’t even know where I had them, so it wouldn’t be easy to ask Jorge, at home, to look for them on the computer), and that there’s a waiting list, then I tell her that I’d only be on the island until the next day, which made things even more complicated… She left, and in that moment I get a message from @dron_services_canarias saying that they already have the whole “crew” and that unfortunately they weren’t going to be able to include me. I head to the door at a slow pace, already looking for the documents in the e-mail, and receive another message on Instagram: “Wait! Don’t leave”. They had realized that I, @images_from_my_world, was the girl at the door trying to get a flight permit!
After a few minutes, Eduardo comes down, always wearing the @dron_services_canarias vest, and tells me that they are going to leave for a flight in half an hour and that they need my details so I can go with them. I couldn’t believe it!!! Not only would I be able to fly the drone, I would also be able to enter the exclusion zone, as part of the team that collects images for government volcanologists! He also told me that they weren’t actually going to give civilians any more flight permits, that the girl felt sorry for me and that was when the click happened and he realized who I was! He offered me a cap with their logo on it, lent me a vest and explained the rules: I couldn’t behave like a journalist. I had to ask him what that meant, as I’m not a journalist – I couldn’t get too far away from them, I couldn’t look like I was there to photograph the authorities at work and I had to follow all the directions they gave me. Oh yeah, let’s go!
A few minutes later Jonathan (@crazy.gravity), Samuel (@samu_bali) and another guy arrived and we went to the exclusion zone, precisely through the closed road where I had asked where the PMA was. More and more volcanic ashes on the road, until we reached lava, already petrified. I couldn’t believe my luck, that I could be there!
It was drizzling, we had to wait to lift the drone, but I could take pictures from the ground, the lava, the houses that were only a few meters away from being swallowed, but covered in ash, of them working, listening to the stories of those accompanying the volcano since the 19th of September, when all this started! It was very windy, the gases expelled by the volcano barely rose, being immediately dragged west, I was afraid to fly but I couldn’t not.

The rain calmed down and I flew! And what a flight! From the air, lava rivers could be seen, which grew brighter and brighter as the sun neared the horizon. It was also possible to see some houses trying to emerge from the lava, on the last breath. Surviving trees, a military boat in the background, accompanying the creation of the new area of the island. Unfortunately, as it was very windy, I couldn’t venture far, at the risk of losing the drone, which had to come upwind “back home”, but it was still one of the flights, of the images, of the things more incredible of my life!

Meanwhile, the sun went down and another show began! The lava on the floor painted the clouds orange and red and it was finally possible to see that throughout the day, although it didn’t seem like it, pyroclasts were coming out of the crater and that the lava was right there, bubbling.

I was also talking to Samuel, one of the many thousands who lost his home to the volcano. He told me about the injustice of insurance and banks, he told me he was in a family home, living with 12 other people, he also told me how the situation was poorly managed, that the authorities always said it would never reach his village (La Laguna) and suddenly they were only given an hour to leave the house. Still, he didn’t stop looking at the volcano as a spectacle of enormous beauty! And that he felt lucky to be able to experience this eruption, as volcanic activity is present in the typical tales and songs of the archipelago, but it is not up to all generations to actually witness one!

Some workers appeared distributing food to whoever was there on duty, so I even got a free dinner! We all ate together and then they dropped me off at the Tajuya viewpoint, from where, for a little while longer, now back in the world of civilians, I could admire the rivers of lava flowing down the slope and painting the sky red!

The next day the volcano was equally calm, so I opted to visit the island a little, as it is known as Isla Bonita (Beautiful Island), going up to the viewpoint of La Cumbrecita and visiting the city of Santa Cruz de La Palma, reasons for a future post.