After almost two full years of diving in waters with temperatures ranging only between 12-2°C we were really longing for some warm waters and sunshine. Thats why this year we decided to go somewhere off beaten waves in the southwardly direction. Pantelleria, the Black Pearl of the Mediterranean, is actually not so much off beaten track for us, as Giulia has spent a lot of her summers there in her parent's holiday home and that is even where she learned scuba diving. We have also visited the island some 3 years ago for my first warm water dives.
However, this small island that is actually closer to the African continent than to Italy (Sicily), is definitely off beaten waves for most tourists, Italians and foreigners alike, for several reasons. People say that when you visit Pantelleria, you are going to either love it or hate it. It is a volcanic island in the middle of the sea with a very harsh landscape and no sandy beaches. The coast is mostly steep and rocky with sharp lava stones, where you will be lucky to find a spot to spread your towel to sunbathe on. The island is frequently whipped by legendary strong winds from all possible directions (each with a specific name) that prevent any trees apart from small crouching olives trees growing as well as can stop the planes from landing for several days. The infrastructure on the island is also far from what 5 star resorts holidays tourists might be expecting. The Southern part of the island has no phone signal, there are no sources of fresh water apart from rain and desalted sea and the roads are narrow and lets say quite adventurous. However, in exchange Pantelleria offers crystal clear waters, raw beauty and a sense of adventure far from the tourist crowds.
This year we have decided to spent 2 full weeks here to have plenty of time to explore different areas around the island. We were staying in one of the typical pantellerian houses (dammuso) made of stone with round shaped white roofs reflecting heat and collecting any rain water to reservoirs. We rented an old Fiat Panda as our dive mobile. These small but powerful cars are actually very useful on the narrow, steep and sometimes rocky dirt roads. On the island no one bothers locking their cars, as there is no where to run away with a stolen car, which is very easy habit to acquire but more difficult to get rid of once you go back home.
We rented tanks from the local dive shop Dive-X in Gadir and decided to do mostly shore diving to have the flexibility and explore some areas that boats don't visit so often. Shore diving in Pantelleria is not a common hobby as access to sea often requires different levels of scrambling over rocks and maybe multiple journeys to bring all your stuff, so we got a decent work out and curious looks from other beach-goers as a bonus.
As one of the most unspoiled marine areas in the Mediterranean, waters around Pantelleria are really crystal clear and in the shallows appear as beautifully turquoise blue. Looking from above you can clearly see the underwater features, rocks, cliffs and valleys made of lava rock. The waters are so clear that on my first trip here I was suffering from vertigo pretty much on every ascent not being used to such great visibility (30-40m) and seeing the bottom clearly 20m or more below me. Underwater landscape varies from lava formations and walls, massive boulders, to lush seagrass meadows and sandy slopes. Life is also very varied with schools of small and big fish including groupers, amberjacks, sculpins, moray eels and even barracudas. Under rocks we could find lots of hermit crabs, snails, sea urchins and sea cucumbers as well as different species of colourful nudibranchs. Occasionally we spotted octopus or once when we were very lucky even a turtle (you can read about that encounter here). In the bigger depths (~40m) we saw beautiful red Gorgonia corals.
Another specialty of diving in Pantelleria is possibility to do archeological dives near Gadir and see remnants from wrecks dating back between III century BC and II century AC, including anchors, pieces of wooden hull and ceramic amphoras in a sort of underwater museum. Even though I am not great in history it is quite impressive to think that the some of these artefacts have been lying in the sea on the sandy bottom or the past 2-3000 years.
We did also a fair amount of night diving as multiple spots have relatively easy access to sea and sheltered shallow areas. With clear waters and full moon outside it was quite easy to navigate even without a torch. Our main objective on these dives was to practice night photography using fluorescence filters and although there were not that many easy objects to practice on, we did manage to get some pretty cool shots.
We were lucky with the weather the first week of our stay, but later we got blown out for three days by the famous african southerly winds. We drove around the whole circumference of the island in hope to find some sheltered area where we could at least snorkel, but the winds were so strong that all we could see were angry white waves crashing into the black rocks with impressive force.
Although we stayed almost two weeks, we did not manage to explore all the dive sites that we have planed. Time somehow flows very differently in this place, both very slow and relaxed without any sense of hurry, on the other hand it disappears like in a black hole. Within couple of days we got into a sort of zen mode of repeated diving, eating, watching the magical starry skies at night and sleeping. On our last day it was really hard to get on our return plane and return to our daily lives. We will definitely be going back soon.