5 Nov - A Look at Lanzarote
Isla La Graciosa is unlike anywhere either of us have been before: a mix of the Sahara, the Moon and the set of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. After a day ‘just chillin’ on the boat we stepped ashore on Wednesday and trekked through the dunes towards the small fishing port about a mile and a half from the anchorage. Apparently, the sand all comes by air from the Sahara; further up the hillside the sand gives way to shale and volcanic rock and the only vegetation is in the sand dunes themselves. November is the end of a long dry summer and whilst much of the scrub is tinder dry, there are small signs of colour here and there. I suspect that a day of rain would bring the whole landscape to life, just as it does in other desert-like environments.
The view from our cabin at anchor off La Graciosa
The little town has a busy port area for the ferries and fishermen with a small marina serving mostly local boats and the large tourist catamarans. The whitewashed buildings are mainly single storey and the streets are paved with… sand. It has a strong Saharan feel to it, except that the Spanish are quite finickity about rubbish. My sad recollection of much of Arabia and north Africa is of side streets strewn with plastic, building waste and raw sewerage. Here, on the other hand, despite the ever-present dust, the place feels ‘scrubbed’. If you ever wondered where old Landrovers come to die, it’s here: they are used as taxis for locals and tourists to get around the island. We eschewed the internal combustion engine and hired a couple of bikes instead, setting off for a recommended beach on the north west side of the island. The dirt road was badly rutted, making progress slow, but the volcanic scenery gave us plenty to look at. There were some walled ‘allotments’ where people were obviously trying to grow something, but it was not very clear what – apart from several strains of cactus. The beach, Playa de Conchas, is superb. Worth the pedal. Worth walking across the island for, actually. Crystal clear water, magical views, pure golden sand. We swam and ate a small packed lunch, wishing we’d brought something to sit on and could easily have spent the whole day there. Instead, we pedalled back, took a cleansing ale at a bar in the port and walked back to the boat.
Bone dry vegetation
High Street, La Graciosa. Where’s Clint?
The port, La Graciosa. He’s in the bar!
Best Beach 2017?
On Friday we were back in Arrecife and hired a car to explore Lanzarote. Constrained by time, we picked three things to do: a visit to the home of the artist and architect Cesar Manrique (the Canarian equivalent of Barcelona’s Gaudi), a viewpoint at the top of the island overlooking La Graciosa, and a visit to the volcanic National Park in the south west.
Manrique is a bit of a cult figure here. Wandering around his house we got a sense of why: really stylish without being in any way outlandish and totally in keeping with the natural landscape around it. If I could, I’d like to live in a house just like that. Not sure I’d want to swap my lovely Crescent Road garden for his though: black grit everywhere and whilst the sheer variety of cacti is wondrous, I think I prefer the English rose and a lawn full of weeds! The lack of water here is clearly a dominant factor in the whole culture. That, and the volcanic landscape. As a result, the people here are world leaders in growing stuff in arid, difficult conditions. The black grit retains moisture; small dry stone walls provide some shade, shelter from the relentless wind and capture what moisture there is. You see little semi-circular walls everywhere and they have made such a success of this technique that they are making wine (amongst other things) on a commercial scale. The vines lie on the ground though, rather than being supported as they are elsewhere. Small black fields dot the landscape: painstakingly cleared of volcanic debris which is then used to make the retaining walls, the soil looks unpromising in November but it would be interesting to come back at other times of the year and see how the process evolves – clearly they have not gone to all this effort for nothing!
Farming on Lanzarote
Not quite the Douro, then…
The lookout at the northern end of the island was designed by Cesar Manrique. It’s a fantastic spot and the views are magnificent. I rather baulked at paying €5 to go into a café and buy a stale KitKat, but the building is great and you could never tire of the view…
The anchorage at La Graciosa from the Mirador del Rio
But the best thing of the day was undoubtedly the visit to Timanfaya National Park. The island was dominated by a series of huge volcanic eruptions in the 1730s and everything we see today is a direct consequence of that. The Timanfaya area is an absolutely extraordinary place. It covers a huge area and is a mix of volcanos with the lids blown off, huge lava flows like massive slag heaps thrown up and solidified into angry shapes that reminded me of the Southern Ocean in a storm, areas of black sand dunes where the ash has covered the lava… and dotted about everywhere, the hardiest shrubs on the planet. The inhabitants at the time must have thought this was the end of the world. It looks like the end of the world: an utterly impassable, violent terrain now ostensibly asleep…
There is a really good visitor facility in the middle: you pay your €5 to enter the park and for that you get a 40 minute bus tour and a couple of demonstrations of the continued power of the volcano. The bus tour is terrific, but not for the faint-hearted as the roads have no safety barriers and you do feel as if the next bend might be your last… The multilingual commentary is enhanced by extracts from Mozart’s Requiem and Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’, just to get you in the mood – and it certainly did! Back at the car park, you see holes in the ground where extraordinary heat emanates – just a couple of metres underfoot the temperatures reach 250oC. This is one of the best €5 I ever spent. Not to be missed!
Note the defiant green bush bottom right
On Saturday, it was time to leave Lanzarote. We would like to have stayed longer, but our programme has been curtailed a bit by the two week delay in Gibraltar trying to fix the Satcom. We took the opportunity to visit a couple of decent supermarkets and stock up the freezer ready for the Transatlantic passage later this month. But after a farewell visit to the splendid ‘Duty Watch Patisserie’ we slipped out of Arrecife and picked up a favourable north easterly breeze to take us around the southern tip of the island and then west towards Tenerife. We called in at Puerto de Carmen for half an hour to take on diesel – with luck, we should not need to refuel again until the other side of the Atlantic. We bowled along at over eight knots, revelling in the first decent breeze since the west of Portugal until we were halfway between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, where the wind died. We sat in a ‘hole’ for half an hour, inching forward in a choppy sea. Eventually I relented and decided to use some of that precious diesel – five hundred yards later the wind filled in from the north at over twenty knots and we were off! The boat barely dropped below eight knots all night, with a couple of ‘downhill’ bits at 10 knots. Great sailing, but not that much sleep – we need to spend a day or two restowing jars and bottles to stop them clinking every time the ship rolls. Right now, my collection of ‘orphan socks’ has been put to good use, but this is an ongoing project!
We passed north of Gran Canaria during the Middle Watch and I wondered about the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) boats setting off today for Cape Verde and the Caribbean. At dawn, we were some 20 miles from the mountainous island of Tenerife and arrived here soon after breakfast – a fast overnight passage. Heads down for a few hours, then a walk into town (closed on Sunday). It reminds us a bit of Vigo but not quite as stylish…
Tomorrow we are hiring a car!