Friday, 12 December 2014

In splendid desolation

There are places you mark as a destination, and others where you end up for a while. They're not always weighted in the way you'd imagine.

We came into the port of Arrecife on Lanzarote on the first day of November not knowing how long we'd stay. Long enough to re-coup some strength, we thought, and then we'd move on down through the Canary Island chain. We expected to take delivery of our new sails in Las Palmas once the ARC had gone. But the ARC is half way to the Caribbean and we have yet to leave Lanzarote. If we don't watch it, we'll be disrupting the volcanic ash when we leave this island. We're putting down shallow roots here.

Lichen on lava fields - life on Lanzarote

Each planting in the ash is protected by a windbreak

What happened? A bit of everything really. The marina offered a discount for advance payment - minimum stay of 15 days. We took that. Then we cooked up a trip to London. No point in taking the boat somewhere else before then. All the marinas on Gran Canaria were still full, we'd heard. So we put down another 15 days payment. Then a gale swept through the Canaries and by the time the weather had cleared, we'd decided we would have our new sails sent to Marina Lanzarote.  Bringing stuff into the Canaries can be complicated. The islands used to be tax-free, but recently they've introduced a 7% Canaries tax. To import goods, you need a tax number - the marina gave us theirs (called a C.I.F.) to put on our packages. That would smooth their progress through customs, we were assured by several people.

Love the shape of that new genoa

Perhaps it did. The new sails were delivered today, a week after they were picked up from Hallberg Rassy in Sweden. I wonder where we'll be at the end of next week? Our upgraded insurance policy, which covers us for crossing the Atlantic, cruising in the Caribbean and a one-way transit through the Panama canal, kicks in from Monday. Our Lanzarote chapter is nearly over.

It's not as if we've spent the weeks just watching cactus grow (though we've done that too). The freezer, which I barely opened over the summer, is packed tight with plastic containers of pre-cooked meaty meals, the lockers likewise are full of foodstuffs which bore me rigid to think about, but are going to keep us alive when "fresh, local and seasonal" is a cruel and meaningless refrain. Enki has, as expected, received massive amounts of pampering - she's had her varnish touched up, her rig has been checked over and certified sound, her sat phone and SSB radio and associated moving parts all function as they should (what an effort that was), and she is sporting a few new trinkets, including fishing gear and and a smart gauge to more accurately measure the state of charge in the battery.

Everybody has a boat job
It's not been all work, because that makes for a dull crew. Our friends on Neptune II finally arrived in Arrecife a few days ago, after a boisterous passage down from Gibraltar. Boats are coming and going all the time. Some, like Marietta (pictured below), are showstoppers, the glamour girls of the ocean. There are quite a few old beautifies here waiting for the start of a classic yachts transatlantic race in January. Other boats catch our eye because of their pretty lines, or their port of origin. We're keeping an eye on the small boat from west Istanbul. That lone sailor been here longer than we have.

Marietta born 1915

There's lots of high tech under the low tech

Definitely low tech....and arrrgh the varnishing!!

These beautiful timber yachts need lots of TLC and arrrgh....varnish!!

It seemed at first as though the island might be good for only a day or so of sight-seeing. That was to grossly underestimate the magnetism of its landscapes. We found ourselves returning for a second session of car rental.

Mother Earth's new version of Lanzarote, circa 1730

Harvesting salt was once big business, now it's a boutique industry

Fine ash covers the cones

Volcanic blowhole

Earth's sulphurous skin

The coast near El Golfo, in the south of the island

Lanzarote has two things to sell - clear skies (it hardly ever rains on the island) and splendid desolation. The people who fly in from northern Europe generally come for the sunshine. They stay in "villas" strung out along the coast. They're all the same, those little white boxes, but after seeing what Spain has done to its coastline, you have to admire the restraint of the Lanzarote planning authorities. All development on the island is restricted to three storeys (or maybe four - not many anyway) - there's one high-rise hotel on the island which sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb, and there's a story about that which I'll come to it in a minute.

Beach development at Famara

Watching life go by in Haria

Palmy days in Yaiza

Traditional Lanzarote architecture

The port at Arrecife - with "that" hotel on the horizon

The tourists who arrive by ship - and there's generally at least one cruise ship in port every day, if not more, so the population experiences daily surges of two to eight thousand extra bodies - are taken to see the desolation. Lanzarote erupted twice in recent history - in the 1730s, and then about a century later. A quarter of the island is covered in lava and people often describe it as a moonscape. But who among us knows the moon? This is our earth, turned violently and furiously inside out, its raw seams burst, its guts spilled, vomited out in great jagged rivers, strewing rocks twisted into shapes like giant candy chews, dollops of mud caught and frozen in mid-spoonful, and vast sweeps of ash.

We've looked at volcanoes from all sides now...(and below)

Hanging rock - could be gut flora

Rock messed around like modelling clay

The earth still burns close to the surface at Timanfaya - twigs on the end of a pitchfork catch fire

Timanfaya is the demonic-sounding name of the national park on the south-western corner of the island. A devilish totem guards its periphery. The totem is the work of Cesar Manrique, a painter, sculptor and architect who stamped his signature all over Lanzarote and who in death has been accorded the status of a secular saint.

Manrique built Mirador del Rio into the rock at the northern tip of the island

Looking north to Graciosa from Mirador del Rio

I doubt that Manrique lived a saintly life. He knew how to party, judging from the fabulous house he built in 1970 just outside Arrecife. You can smell the lingering scent of the jet set there.

Manrique's house atop the lava........

.....and in the lava......

.....and underneath in the volcanic "bubbles"

The restaurant at Castillo San Jose, in Arrecife,  designed by Manrique - reservation essential

He was a local boy made good, who left to study art in Madrid in the 1940s, built a solid career - and presumably made some money - in the 50s and 60s, moved to New York and then, in the mid 1960s, when package tourism was getting a foothold in the Canaries, decided to move back to Lanzarote. He was obviously a persuasive man. He talked the planning authorities into keeping the profile of the island's buildings low (the hotel was built, apparently, when he was away from the island for a period), and he used the island as a stage for his architectural fantasies and ecological projects. Hence the cactus garden, for example. "Can't imagine anything more boring," said Alex, but he did as he was asked and drove north. He was entranced, as his photos show.

The cactus garden Manrique built...

Manrique-designed "cactus" pendant light in stairwell

Manrique died in a car crash on the island in 1992. Probably the roads weren't as good as they are now. We've criss-crossed the island several times, weaving between towns, villages, volcanoes and cultivated fields of... ash. It's incredible what they grow on this island! Asparagus, tomatoes, leeks, mangoes and nugget-sized potatoes. There is no natural source of water on the island - all drinking and irrigation water is desalinated. Apparently the ash has special properties and absorbs dew and retains humidity. Just think of it. Ash and seawater. It takes some guts for Canarians to even imagine a life, let alone make it out of those materials, a mere two centuries after the earth belched fire and destroyed all living things on the island.

Haria valley - and its fields of ash

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