Flamingos walk stately across a spit of sand, paying no attention to a fat aeroplane a few hundred feet above them coming down to land.
This is Las Salinas airport, Ibiza, transformed from the short and narrow airstrip I flew into in 1961 to almost 3,000m of runway where eight million passengers, mainly holidaymakers, touched down last summer.
My plane, on short-hop from Barcelona, was a Focke-Wulf with webbing seats. It was the first time I’d ever flown. The interior wasn’t panelled but had the bare metal of the fuselage interior showing. It wasn’t a big plane; there were, perhaps, 20 of us aboard, plus our suitcases. Las Salinas was very different but, just as now, the glittering salt mountains at the periphery caught the eye.
Salt production at Salinas, developed by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, was recorded by the Carthaginians who conquered the island in 540 BC.
They make strange bedfellows, the international airport, the Ses Salins National Park, the glittering, white-edged chessboard of salt pans stalked by flamingos, tall-but-petite red-legged stilts, snow-white egrets and avocets, bizarre-looking spoonbills, and herons.
It was a sun-blessed day when I was out there at the weekend but today, as I write, there isn’t sun and the temperature is two degrees higher in West Cork which, my son tells me, is bathed in sun.
Apparently, snow is not entirely unknown on this Mediterranean island, and my wife was briefly peppered with hailstones the other day. However, hand on heart, I can’t complain about the weather. It’s not like our regular haunt of La Gomera in the Canary Islands — there’s no sunbathing or swimming from October to May — but, so far, the days have been bright, if surprisingly chilly in the shade. And the town and countryside is beautiful, and the flora and fauna are a delight.
The flamingos I once saw at Walvis Bay in Namibia were pinker (perhaps the brine shrimp they fed on were redder) and a doddle to photograph; here, they are far off and out-of-bounds, close to runways. However, through my binoculars I see them, like their African cousins, march the pond margins in serried ranks in stately grace, as if on parade, as if ceremonially.
I’ve set about exploring the fauna of the island. Species are few compared to Ireland but, as always with wild things, be they plants by the wayside, birds in the sky, fish in the sea, or
bugs in the bushes, there’s a wealth of interest and what has first fascinated me are the native island dogs.
They are beauties. Slim as prime greyhounds, they stand on long, thin legs, their coats hazel-nut brown and white, short haired, naturally groomed, and their pointed, wide-awake ears stand 12cm tall on their elegant heads. They are called Ibiza hounds.
I called them pudencos when I knew less about them, but I discover that “pudenco” simply means that generic type of dog.
There are pudenco Canarias in the Canaries and podengos in Portugal. The other Balearics, Mallorca and Menorca, also have pudencos. They may be indigenous to southern Europe but the original strain, the descendants of the hunting dogs carved on ancient Egyptian tombs and brought to the island by the Phoenicians, are confined, endemic, to Evissa (as the native Catalan people call it). They are the pure bloodline, the largest and internationally acknowledged finest of the breed.
They stand 56cm to 74cm tall.
They are fast and can hunt over any terrain, working by scent, sight and sound, the female being the better hunter. Remarkably, they can jump more than 1m vertically from a standstill.
I once wrote in a book set on this island the story of an impoverished artist friend who, fortuitously, found a litter of pure-bred Evissa pudenco pups in a cave birthed by a runaway female and, when they grew, was able to sell them, paying his way for another few months on the magic isle.
I now read that, according to the distinguished journalist Norman Lewis, it is considered very bad luck to kill one of these dogs and when an owner no longer wants to keep his dog, instead of putting it down, he will release it on the other side of the island so that someone else may ‘adopt’ it and give it a home.
Perhaps the pups’ mother was a reluctant adoptee.
As I finish, I see that the sun has come out. I’ll go to the country where the meadows are painted lemon with cape buttercups, and almond blossom is starting to bloom.