The Forgotten Four


15 Jul The Forgotten Four


“The Forgotten Four” was written by Ithaka, and published in Water magazine for his column “Fishdaddy Chronicles”.


There are no waves there…

there are no beaches.

Not exactly encouraging,

but in this case considered a lead.

My L.A. neighbor Cristina Casmiro,

telling me this now,

had said exactly the same thing

about her native island Pinheiro

three years ago.

I’d ignored her warning,

gone looking for surf anyway

and ended up SCORING.

This time the inquiry

was not about Pinheiro,

(the main island in the chain of five),

but of the much smaller

“forgotten four”

located a hundred miles to the south.

Two of the islands

were strangely absent

from one of the three world-class atlases

I’d purchased.

And although each

over five miles long,

none of the four

were even individually named,

appearing only as Ilhas Abandonadas.

Cristina was the only person

I’d ever met

who had even seen these islands.

As a teenager,

she’d been there a few times

on her Dad’s fishing boat

and had described them to me as:

Narrow, very mountainous,

with steep, near vertical cliffs

falling directly in the sea…

with NO waves.

But I wasn’t convinced the place

was a complete write-off.

Fourteen hours out of California

and three hours off

the European continent,

I landed on the mother island,

and was now heading

toward the docks

to meet Gustavo,

a forty-something year old fisherman

Cristina had put me in touch

with by internet.


he’d already agreed

to take me to The Forgotten Four

and I’d already agreed to the fee,

but first impressions were not solid.

The guy looked liked a junky…

and his boat even junkier;

an open 15-foot wooden skiff

with a small outboard motor attached.

No cushions. No lifejackets.

Hardly an ocean-worthy vessel.

But hell, the guy had lived this long, right ?

Gustavo wanted to leave at sunset,

but it was still only about 5pm,

Vamos jantar ? (let’s eat ?), he suggested.

We entered a small,

whitewashed restaurant

where he obviously had history

with the toothless girl

behind the counter.

And judging from the way

they goo-goo eyed each other,

that was probably

his basketball in her tummy.

He introduced me

to the girl me as,


(fucking bastard had already

forgotten my name).

She brought us a huge

ceramic pitcher of red wine

and a cheap three-gallon,

plastic fishing bucket

full of about a hundred rock-barnacle,

snail-type creatures.

Tiny sea-fleas jumped out of the bucket

and on to the table

as my honorable captain

showed me the proper way

to eat live “lapas”

……scrape them out of their shell

using another shell

and throw them down your throat

before they have a chance

to crawl away.

Two strangers playing a kind

of gastronomical version

of Russian Roulette,

competing who could eat the most.

It was pretty sick

to tell you the truth,

the endless supply of wine

making it only slightly more bearable.

But in Pinheiro…do as the Pinheirenses.

As we approached

the bottom of the bucket,

I looked around the small dining room.

Most of the other clients

were eating Lapas too,

except theirs were cooked

and served on blue and white plates

and covered in melted butter,

lime juice and salt.

Gustavo started giggling like a sissy,

with the girl right by his side,

about to have an asthma attack.

Some of the other eaters

were cracking up too.

It wasn’t the first time

they’d played this joke.

Of the four isles,

three had never

even been inhabited.

The fourth (the southernmost)

had supported a fishing village

of about three hundred

and fifty people until 1989

when an earthquake

and following mudslide

killed thirty residents

and buried most of the town.

Most of the survivors left.

Some went north to Pinheiro.

Most migrated to the Americas.

But a core crew of about twenty stayed,

shoveling mud for months,

Surviving on subsistence farming and fishing.

Clear calm night

with about a zillion stars.

For the first couple of hours

we stayed in the swell shadow

of the main island,

then crossed behind

the Abandonadas

where it was even calmer.

Sheet glass.

In the half-moon light

we could see their silhouettes,

all continuing segments

of the same submerged mountain chain,

each separated by

only a couple of hundred yards

mirroring off of the oceans surface.

One of those rare visuals that are

so beautifully real ,

they appear to be false

like a soundstage at a

Hollywood movie studio.

At dawn we chugged

into a small transparent inlet.

Two tiny boats were dry-docked

on the rocks.

Behind them,

a red dirt trail zigzagged

up the mountain,

disappearing into

almost fluorescent green growth.

After ten hours at sea,

Gustavo didn’t even get

out of the boat to rest

or eventake a leak.

The place is cursed

he’d said repititivley .

We’d agreed to meet here

at the cove seven days from today.

What was left of the village

was located on the opposite side

of the island,

a thirty-minute walk.

But thirty-minutes in Gustavo-time

was really two and a half hours

of steep traversing

just to reach the summit.

From the perch off the island,

it felt like standing on the hump

of a colossal sea monster.

Surveying from north to the south,

it was easy to see

both west and east sides

at the same time.

On the east, lake-like calmness.

But on the west…lines.

Not big, but consistent.

Traveling all the way

from the northernmost Atlantic

to be wasted along the base

of a thousand-foot cliff.

But about a third of the way

down the island

was a flat low-lying peninsula

extending out from the cliffs

for five-hundred yards,

(the result of thousands years

of seismic dismantling).

The wind was onshore

and the tide a little too high,

but rolling down opposites sides

of the flat were surfable right

and left point waves.

On the peninsula itself were

the carcasses of about fifty

black, lava-rock houses

that had laid abandoned since 1989.

And about ten other homes

painted in white.

The black ones had no roofs a

nd were all at least half- strangled

by the overgrowth.

But the white houses,

those closest to shore,

had red clay shingles

and were surrounded

by immaculate gardens.

Olaaa! cheered a baritone voice

scaring the shit out of me.

The smiling brown man

with ridiculously large ears

introduced himself as

Antonio, a resident farmer.

I identified myself as

Pappas, a traveling….student.

BEM-VINDO, he greeted

as if I’d been an expected guest,

Vamos almocar ! (let’s lunch!)

he proclaimed.

We arrived at Antonio’s

two-room home

where his wife Luisa

was preparing a communal meal

for all fifteen residents of Atalaia Island,

(the place had a name after all).

Potato soup mixed with red wine

and LIVE lapas !!!


and his prego-bellied accomplice’s joke

hadn’t gone to waste,

it had been training.

Luisa was complaining

that ants that had gotten

into the bread dough.

Are there ants on the mainland,

young man ?, she asked me.

Believe it or not, s

he’d never been to the mainland,

or even up to Pinheiro.

With my new friends

looking on in approval,

I casually downed about twenty

of the biggest lapas on the table

(bridging both the language barrier

and generation gap in a single sitting).

Hadn’t slept in days

and was about to drop.

Prepared to camp,

but they weren’t haven’t it,

insisting that I stay in the large stone shed

that had once housed the island’s padre.


In the nocturnal depths of delusion,

the lapas were breeding

in my stomach,

Trying to take over my body

from the inside out…

Whack !!!

The first shot rang.

Whack !!!

I was on my feet.

WhackK !!!

What the….???

WHACK !!!!!!!

Sounded like a Texas-style hail storm.

I inched the door open.

The storm was coming

in from the East.

WHACKK !!!!!

Whizzing by in a vacoom,

fist sized raindrops were

exploding like small water balloons.

In addition, the wind was carrying

small stones off the top of the cliff

and a quarter of a mile down to my roof top.

When it rains here, it rains rocks too.

But by daybreak

both wind and rain had stopped.

And by lunchtime,

the right was doing

a pretty decent impersonation

of overhead Swami’s…..

(with no other surfer or surfboard

around for a hundred miles).

It’s always freaky surfing

somewhere where no one surfs.

No one’s around to tell you

where to get in and out of the water,

which tides will kill you

or warn you of any antagonistic sea life.

I tried paddling out at the micro- cove

just south of the village

and was violently swept farther south

toward the cliffs.

From there the only way

too get out would’ve been

paddling down the entire length

of the island,

around the tip and back up

to the boat cove on the other side.

Six miles with current.

Fuck that.

I took the foam straight back to the rocks,

walked up a quarter of a mile

to the beginning of the left,

paddled through an assault of white water

and found myself being pulled

into good position for the right.

A few ceiling high waves

came through.

I snagged one thinking

it would be an easy down- the line run

and got slammed.

A LOT faster than it looked.

Makeable, but not

from the absolute outside.

Paddled down a-ways,

found my groove and started gettin’ busy.

A year’s worth of quality waves

in a single afternoon.

The next morning,

I rode the middle left

in front of the salt pond.


but connecting all the way to the inside.

Unfortunately, the wind

kept shifting directions.

Offshore. Onshore. Side shore.

Offshore. Onshore. Side shore.

I’d be ready to get out of the water

and then it’d switch offshore again

or go glass.

I’d been ignorantly assuming

That the primary swell direction

this time of year was always from the North,

but this swell filling in definitely

had southern orgins.

And the following,

the right revealed it’s hidden personality.

Meaty and bowling hard.

The waves now launched you

down the point like a catapult.

Felt myself going faster than I had

in a long, long time

with little effort of my own.

For this reason, it was difficult

to stay deep enough

to get really barreled.

A couple of nice slots though,

got slaughtered on a few too.

Saturday: small

(the swell window

is really small here).

Up on Pinheiro,

these 24-hour swells were actually three-dayers and

probably twice the size.

New arrivals today

from the main island;

a family that had left after the

earthquake-now back

for their annual vacation along with their kids

(the daughter, an exotic twenty year old).

Because the shore

was too steep and jagged

for beach-going,

the spot to hang

was a fifty-foot strip

of black sand

on the village side of the salt pond.

One of the most euphoric days

in my life…eating fish

and gulping down wine

and firewater

with nineteen kindred souls

in the Garden of Eden.

I never return to places

I’ve experienced real magic.

And after only a couple of days

on Atalaia,

I already knew I’d never

be going back there.

You never know if it’s the place itself

that’s incredibly special,

or that small envelope in time

you spend there.

You walk around through life

with these amazing Technicolor memories

(it’s all we really have in the end)

and if you go back

and it’s not the same,

it’s destroys everything preceding.

The sun disappeared

and a big fire was lit.

Expecting someone to fetch a guitar,

I was amazed

when four large African jimbaes

appeared out of old Mr. Campos’ hut.

The men drummed.

And Luisa, Mrs. Campos,

the newcomer wife

and her babe daughter

hauntingly sang to all

who had been lost at sea.

Looking like voodoo goddesses

under a silver moon,

these were Ulysses’s sirens reincarnated.

Being in old dialect,

I didn’t understand

many of the words,

but it was enough

to get my spine tingling.


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