‘I was going to sell the boat, and now it has suddenly become our home’

Luis, 90, is living with his wife on a boat in La Palma after being evacuated because of the volcano. Jacqueline, on a yacht nearby, doesn’t know if her home is still standing


Don Luis the Doctor - as he is known in Todoque on La Palma in the Canaries - is 90 years old and still dares to tackle 300-kilo tunas. He has an old six-metre motorboat called Hammurabi; it has a cabin and a couple of bunks which Luis Rodríguez has hardly ever used, until now. In fact, he had been planning to sell her. “Not now, though. When we came here after the eruption, Luis said we should restore her instead,” says his Dutch wife, Margarethe. The boat has now become their temporary home.

Luis was on the phone, speaking to a relative who lives in South America, when the Cumbre Vieja erupted. He rushed home, and he and Margarethe barely had time to pack their bags when the Guardia Civil came to evacuate them because their house was threatened by the lava. So far, it is still standing.

First they and their neighbours were taken to Los Llanos de Aridane football ground, and then told they were going to be put up in the old military barracks in Santa Cruz de La Palma. They have no children or other relatives on the island, unlike the other evacuees. “We didn’t want to leave here, but we didn’t have anywhere to go, either. There were some apartments available but they cost 100 euros a night. Who could afford that?” says Margaretha. That’s when they decided to go to their boat.

On board, they sleep on two mattresses which are three fingers thick - “it’s a bit cramped here” - and they have bought a small air- conditioning unit. They have a few basic supplies. They were only able to bring one of their three cats with them, but they know the other two are fine because the Guardia Civil accompanied them to see them the other day.

Their days begin very early now, especially for Margaretha, who finds it hard to sleep with the sound of the explosions from the volcano. From the deck, the column of smoke can be seen. “Just as well that we’re both a bit deaf,” she jokes. “I get up around six. When Luis gets up we go for breakfast in Tazacorte, and do a bit of shopping,” she says. Fresh water has become a precious commodity because they use so much of it. For the rest of the day, they get by on sandwiches.

When they get back to the port, they freshen up as best they can. “That’s the worst part of it,” she confides. “My hair is full of sand and ash all day, it feels as if I have nits”. What is it like to find yourself sleeping on an old boat, with your home threatened by lava, at this age?

“Well, you don’t think about that. If you did, it would affect you psychologically and you would get depressed. You have to deal with things as they come, and cope as best you can,” says Luis.

Three pontoons along, Jacqueline Rehm approaches, with a bag of shopping. She and her partner arrived on the island in 2019. They rented a house and spent part of their savings on furnishing it. With the rest, they bought the Stella Maris, a 7.6 metre sailing yacht which they repaired.

They also moved onto their boat because of the volcano, but on Tuesday night, when the lava reached the sea, the Guardia Civil evacuated the port. “Finally, we were allowed back onto the boat because we literally had nowhere else to go,” says Jacqueline. “We don’t know what has happened to our house, whether it is still standing or not. Thank goodness we have the boat, because on the Sunday morning, when the volcano exploded, we had been talking about selling her,” she says.

She doesn’t rule out going back to Germany, although moving to La Palma was always her dream. “We love it here as normally there is no stress, but we know that after the volcano, nothing is going to be the same,” she says.