Lanzarote - A whistle-stop tour
'Lanzarote' was named after a Genoese navigator Lanzarotus Marcelus but I prefer my own version "Lands are (h)ot (h)e(re)".
We left the Graciosa anchorage on 8 October and motored through the sound between Graciosa and Lanzarote until we rounded the Farión de Tierra, we then set the sails so as to head south down the east coast. As there was a fair amount of swell and very little wind, we settled down to what might turn into a long day's sail to Arrecife. After lunch the wind picked up and we made a good four knots under main and genoa. We were surprised to see other yachts motoring down wind, some were going slower than we were yet still they didn't hoist sail. We tucked Caramor into the brand new shiny (still to be officially opened) Marina de Lanzarote in the capital Arrecife. The staff were very welcoming and working extremely hard to get the marina finished in time for the inauguration the following Saturday. The route into town is along walkways both sides of a pretty tidal lagoon where small fishing boats are moored, the icecream parlour is along the seafront promenade but we only discovered it on our last day.
Lanzarote has been on my 'must visit before I die' list for sometime, the photos in the tourist brochures (mostly of Cesar Manrique installations) appealed to my sense of aesthetic, so our plan was for four days of sightseeing using the local buses to get around. Canary Spanish is Castilian Spanish though some words do differ, potatoes 'patatas' become 'papas' and bus 'bus' becomes 'guagua' pronounced 'wawa'. The guagua bus company on Lanzarote is called 'Intercity' which on an island only slightly larger than Anglesey made us laugh. The network covers the whole island and the buses are cheap, relatively frequent and very well used.
Our first attempt to catch a guagua was a bit of a disaster; we set off a little late so peddled furiously up-town to the bus station. I stopped to ask for directions, Franco was no longer with me! A lady passing by shouted to me "he's fallen off his bike, you'd better go and look after him". She'd seen him come off and was concerned. When I got back to Franco, he was dusting himself down, he had been 'pot-holing'. Pot-holes 'Arrecife style' are more like caving; the whole of Franco's front wheel had disappeared as he flew over the handlebars, luckily no harm was sustained.
We still made the bus station in time and as we waited patiently at the bus stop in front of the building, our guagua deviously sneaked out the back! Disgusted, we headed home and got on with chores for the rest of the day.
The following day we found the correct bus stop with time to spare. The driver shook his head "no bikes", I explained that they weren't really bikes. "No wheels" he emphasised. I smiled sweetly "por favor, Señor?" "Oh, go on then, you can get on at the back".
We jumped off the bus in Punta Mujeres and cycled the few miles to the Cueva de los Verdes, a lava tube. The name ‘Los Verdes' comes from the family which owned the land. The cave was created around 3,000 years ago by lava flows from the nearby volcano Monte Corona. The lava streams cooled, developing a solid crust, while the warmer lava below drained away leaving a large cavity below the roof crust. In places the roof collapsed, forming a cavern known locally as a jameo. The lava tube extends for 3.7 miles above sea level and for another one mile below the sea. In earlier centuries, inhabitants hid in this cave to protect themselves from European pirates and Muslim slave raiders.
We then visited the Jameo de Agua. This is a section of the same lava tube which has been landscaped by Cesar Manrique to symbolise the harmony between nature and art and is open as a tourist attraction. We had heard about the underground pool which is home to blind crabs, endemic to this particular lava tube. We stared into the water for a good ten minutes before realising that the white blotches on the rocks were not bird poo but thousands of small white crabs.
The blind crabs
Cesar Manrique’s pool
There is also a stunning white swimming pool ... which no one is allowed to swim in! We should have just gone for it - how old age makes you rule abiding!
Cesar Manrique was born in Arrecife, Lanzarote. He fought in the Spanish Civil War as a volunteer on Franco's side. He briefly studied architecture before training as an arts teacher. Manrique has had a major influence on the planning regulations in Lanzarote, he recognised the island's tourism potential and lobbied successfully to prevent the development of high rise hotels, instead encouraging development in keeping with the colourful vernacular.
Franco was feeling fit (or was concerned my sweet smile would not work on the return bus driver) and suggested we cycle all the way back to Arrecife, 24 kilometres along the top of the ridge but you have to get up to it first. Cycling is without doubt the best way to experience a landscape but I didn't get much chance to admire the view as I was kept busy peddling after him. We were concerned about the last few kilometres into Arrecife as all the roads into town are either motorway or dual carriageway so were delighted to find a brand new cycle path on the road we were on. This promptly turned into a storm drain as we arrived at the most dangerous section - the junction with the ring-road. All I will say is that Lanzarote drivers do not tolerate cyclists. The cycle path started again on the other side of the junction.
On our third day we took the bus to Haria, this time without the bikes. Haria wins our vote for being the nicest town in Lanzarote, nestled up in the hills in the north of the island, renowned for its numerous palm trees, it offers cool leafy streets lined with cafés and fabulous walking, a pleasant sandy beach is a short bus ride away. Not surprisingly, Cesar Manrique chose to make his home here.
The outskirts of Haria
Once a year, on a hot saturday in October, fell-running nutters from all over Europe and beyond flock to Haria to compete in 'Haria Extreme', a 56 kilometres mountain race over some of the harshest desert terrain in the world with a hot African sun beating down.
We arrived in Haria the day after the race and were surprised not to find any bodies. We set off out of town, up through a barranco (ravine, usually dry) to the ridge which runs down the centre of the island. We heard gun shots and eventually realised we were surrounded by men with guns. They were hunting rabbits and were 'helped' by special Canarian dogs, the 'Podenco' breed, greyhound body, Rottweiler head and orange eyes.
Canarian hunting dog
Dogs and men had a great day out, many shots were fired but no bunnies were harmed.
The views from the top of the ridge were spectacular.
View from the ridge
Our walk followed the ridge and was mostly downhill. We passed a military dome, a convent and agricultural terraces. There is no soil, the crops are grown directly in black volcanic ash which looks like tarmac gravel.
Terrace with volcanic ash for soil
Yasha, Stephan and Duncan had arrived in Freebird and we invited them round for lasagne followed by rum and raisin cheese cake. They left determined to install an oven on their boat. On a different night we invited Roberto our Italian friend we met at the Graciosa anchorage. We decided not to cook him the Welsh national dish of lasagne, garlic bread and chips.
The following day Franco decided he would like to work, so I set off with Pumpkin the bike, disguised as an ordinary suitcase on the bus to La Mancha, on the edge of the Timanfaya Mountains of Fire National Park. The park covers the area which was affected by the 1730 volcanic eruption. I cycled six kilometres to the excellent and free visitor centre where I spent a happy three hours learning about volcanism and the ecology of lava fields. The display also includes a couple of good films and a simulation of the eruption, although lava flowed, the main nuisance for the inhabitants was the constant loud rumbling which lasted six years. I continued on through the National Park surrounded by miles and miles of lava fields. Sometimes the lava looks like the soil of a finely tilled field, elsewhere it has solidified into grotesque shapes and the terrain is completely inaccessible on foot or by vehicle. Timanfaya is a study area for biological colonisation and ecological succession. Because there is so little water, erosion is slow to take place, colonisation takes longer and many of the species have been isolated and become endemic.
Different lava textures
I didn't bother going up to the top of the volcano cone because the road was grid-locked with tourist coaches. From the top of the pass I free-wheeled down to Yaiza, stopping on route to admire the camels which take tourists up the back of the cone.
Back at the boat, we decided to go out for dinner as it was our last night in Arrecife. We chose a nice pizzeria/restaurant and the food was very good. The coffee was particularly tasty with a sprinkling of chocolate on top. I took a swig and more than coffee filled my mouth, my first (greedy) thought was "maybe it is a delicious piece of chocolate? or a clump of flaked almonds?" I decided to investigate before chewing, it was a cockroach. The staff were just as mortified as I was.
On 14 October we set off at the crack of noon. We sailed under spinnaker in light airs down to the southern tip of the island where the wind died completely, we started the engine but within ten minutes we were hit by a 18 knot squall. This is a phenomenon known as a 'wind acceleration zone' and is often found on the downwind side of islands, the wind streams flowing down each side of the island combine and accelerate as the sea offers less resistance to the flow. We anchored round the corner off a pretty beach, the Playa Mujeres. Free Bird arrived a little later.
We weighed anchor early the next morning and sailed off towards Santa Cruz de Tenerife dodging high speed ferries on the way. At night the wind died completely and we 'hoisted' the iron sail. Our first sight of Tenerife was of the Anaga mountains on the north-eastern tip and we arrived in Marina Santa Cruz by mid afternoon on 16 October.