A hole appears in the ground before us. The huge white lighthouse to our left stares south and to our right is a field of quivering brambles and loose stones that lead to a cliff edge and the orange, western sky.
It’s a barren, desolate scene at Formentera’s southern tip, Cap de Barbaria. We’re alone except for about two hundred other sunset-seekers.
“Let’s go down the hole,”says my wife.
“I’m not going down there,” I say peering down the almost perfectly circular, 3 metre wide hole. There’s a flakey 5 rung ladder that looks like it’s been nailed together as part of a DIY beginners’ course, and wouldn’t take the weight of anyone bigger than a child.
Our different attitudes to the hole come from our childhoods. My wife was born in Cornwall, a beautiful county in England that juts out into the Atlantic, filled with cliffs, pretty beaches and where holes can lead to Enid Blyton adventures. Holes there can get you to Narnia, the Hobbit Shire or, more likely, down a disused tin mine.
In contrast, my childhood was in London where a hole in the ground is either a pothole or usually an entrance to a sewer. Our first reaction to seeing a hole is therefore not “let’s go down it.” Holes in the urban fabric, serve no purpose to the untrained, unless it’s a hole-in-the-wall or a watering-hole.
We’re at the southern point to catch the 9.15pm sunset and have just taken the chocolate scooter down a straight, white-lined road, past farm-fields’ of crops, goats and sometimes a hovering plastic kite in the form of an eagle to keep the crows away. My helmet had no visor so the occasional whiff of rosemary entered my nostrils; the occasional fly entered my mouth. Flies, for the record, taste minty.
We descend down a short ladder in to the hole. I’m surprised my foot doesn’t go through a rung.
The wind in my ears stops; instead there’s a haunting tune from a distant harp; it’s strangely hypnotic and soothing; it’s spa music but this is no spa. We’re in a cave.
We crouch to get through a gap at one side of the hole – my eyes adjust to see a cave filled with boulders and rocky overhangs and at the end is a a patch of light.
We walk across the loose rocks and as we near, the patch of light fills with the horizon of the blue sea and silhouettes of people, some sitting some standing.
The music gets louder; it’s a beguiling undulating series of repeating notes, gentle arpeggios that coax one in to in to dreamy contemplation. We make our way across and join the harpist and the five people around her, looking out of a hole in the cliff with their thousand yard stares on the horizon.
We sit on a part of the cliff lit up by a patch of sunlight. We sit there looking across the Mediterranean, the waves blue and dark in patches, the cliffs dropping to rocks far below us.
People talk in whispers. A man on the cliff top above us, who can’t see the little harp concert in our cave in the cliff, looks across to the sea speaking loudly in to his mobile phone. “Shhhh,” shouts the harpist up at him. A couple of her listeners do the same. He’s not sure where the shhh has come from. He looks around and walks away puzzled as if he’s heard voices.
I’ve never been a big fan of cliffs. Again this assessment is possibly fashioned by the dearth of cliffs in London. I feel a weak tingle in my Achilles’ tendons when I’m standing on them. They are both dangerous and invitingly seductive, like Sirens, and incite a desire to peer over the edge, despite knowing the price of a trip or of a windy gust could be high.
The sun lowers and the patch of sunlight disappears.
“To get to the sunny side?”
“I’m not sure about that.”
We sit listening to the harp music. Then she adds:
“Do you want to be adventurous or safe?”
Now for a man beyond his prime, this is an easy answer. It’s better to be safe than sorry said Aha before wanting someone to take on them. Besides, there comes a time in your life (like now) when being adventurous is trying a new dessert, or painting the front door a new colour – not walking across a cliff ledge.
So in the cave I cave in; I take up the challenge and we crouch and walk like apes around the cliff ledge making slow and steady steps. The ledge is slightly sloping towards the sea, and it narrows to a metre; it would be an easy walk if it was on ground level, but it’s the drop to the left down to the rocks below, the scent of danger, that makes it tricky or rather, to coin a phrase, mind-tricky.
I find myself unable to admire the view across the cliffs, anxious about having to go back across the ledge. My wife appears quite happy at the prospect of sitting on a ledge sloping towards the sea and makes comments about the sea, the waves, the horizon, flat-earth theorists and seagulls.
The sunlight also disappears from the little ledge around the corner from the harp concert and we return to walk back through the cave to surface through the hole.
People are in groups in the field of brambles facing the sunset as if it’s a close encounter of the third kind. They haven’t noticed the hole and look at us as if we’re meerkats coming out of a burrow.
The sun sets and the groups applaud in claps. “Ciao sula,” someone shouts.
We pass a woman sitting in a chair under an inflatable palm tree, either selling drinks or inflatable palm trees, at the end of the cliff. The inflatable palm tree shakes in the wind. Adventurous. Now you’re talking.
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