Sunday, 4 December 2011

Life on Lanzarote - or is it the Moon? ….. Nov 2011

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Exploring the volcanic island of Lanzarote

It was time to move on from the small island of Graciosa, we needed to find somewhere much more protected as a 3 – 4 metre swell was forecast to roll in.  We had a good sail around the top then down the east coast of the island of Lanzarote and headed for the protected harbour anchorage of Puerto de Naos at Arrecife.  We squeezed into the upper harbour, certainly flat and protected but it was bumper to bumper, or more appropriately bow to stern and gunnel to gunnel.  It was like being back in the med, find a spot that might just be big enough, drop and set the anchor then put out all the fenders. We were all cruisers, all waiting to cross to the Caribbean and there was always room for one more – just!!!PB090025

We stayed for days, the anchorage was handy to town, there was a beach down the other end of the harbour where a couple of happy hour beach parties were held, cruiser drinks were organised in a nearby tapas bar and the days slipped away. 

The swell had finally dropped and the winds were favourable so we enjoyed another downwind sail - the sun was shining, the seas were flat and the winds were light so the cruising chute came out to play again.  It was a lovely day, and we ended it anchoring in a sandy bay on the southern most point of Lanzarote, Papagayo.  We sat onboard Tactical Directions watching Balvenie silhouetted as the sun set in the west turning the sky from all shades of pink and gold to a deep red – just magic.

We moved into Rubicon Marina on the Southern Coast of Lanzarote. We had a VIP guest arriving, Mark’s mother Jackie was flying in from London to stay for a few days so it was a great reason for us to have a minibreak too, into the marina we went, a car was hired,  and Jackie was collected from the airport.  It was lovely to have her onboard again for her second holiday on Balvenie and to have the chance to join us again before we headed across the Atlantic – so the holiday began.

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The amazing lunar landscape within the Timanfaya National Park, Montanas del Fuego (Fire Mountains)

Lanzarote is an interesting island, a perfect destination for a weeks holiday, reasonably small, great roads, excellent natural attractions, a winter climate in the high teens/low twenties, extremely clean and well presented - what more could you want. 2011 Canary Isles-7

So the exploring began, first day we headed for the Timanfaya National Park.  The park covers 51 sq kms with dozens of volcanic cones within it.  You can drive through a good portion of it by car and then there are special coaches that travel along a private one way road, gauged out of the lava.  You traverse around the rims of some volcanoes, into the bellies of others, and through the lava flow of many more, what a harsh environment.  It was an excellent trip through this barren lunar landscape.  The eruptions that formed the current landscape struck between 1730 and 1736 with more as recently as 1824, it must have been one hell of a bang when they all started blowing their tops! 

There are fire pits, seemingly harmless and dormant until a park ranger shoves a few twigs down them and they spring to life with a snap, crackle and flames.  Likewise are a few steam blowholes, lying quietly until water gets poured down them, first releasing a big burst of steam – a crowd pleaser, but then followed by an almighty bang – which sure gets every ones attention!  In another area there is a large circular pit, filled with red hot charcoals that actually live there permanently, makes a great charcoal grill with chicken and fish being cooked on top for the adjoining restaurant.  It all sure makes you wonder what is bubbling away down there, only just below the surface.

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Grape vines in this dry volcanic gravel, sunken in pits

Another day we explored the interior of the island, passing miles of vineyards, but not as we know them.  Early settlers here obviously could not do without their “vino” so developed a method of nurturing their grapes so they could survive in this dry environment and grow in volcanic gravel.  Guess if you want something badly enough you will think of a way!    There really is no soil, its just a volcanic gravel, and they dig out circles into the gravel, enclose most of it at ground level with a rock wall and plant one vine in the bottom of each.  The rock walls trap the condensation created by the huge temperature change here between the heat of the day magnified by the black landscape and then the rapid cooling once the sun sets. The water drips down into the dug out bowl and gathers around the base of the vine, all very clever but it produces a very low yield, albeit an excellent product.  We went to the El Grifo Museo del Vino, a working vineyard founded in 1775, it houses an excellent display of 19th and 20th century machinery and wine making tools.  We even enjoyed a little wine tasting before we moved on.

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Just a few of the amazing cacti at the Jardin de Cactus 

Now to many of you a trip to a cactus garden may not be high on the list of “must do’s”, but the Jardin de Cactus had come highly recommended and Jackie is a very keen gardener so off we went to see for ourselves. PB130075  Well what an incredible display, I never could have imagined so many different varieties of cacti were in existence.  It is very well laid out, compact and interesting and every cactus is labelled with its name and country of origin.  There were teeny weeny ones just a few inches long, to towering prickly ones with solid trunks and amazing flowers.  

Many of the natural attractions on Lanzarote are showcased in surroundings created by designer César Manrique, he had a huge input into ensuring Lanzarote maintained its stark natural beauty and integrated  the attractions into the natural environment.  This garden is one of his designs as is housed in a disused quarry, the steep walls providing a hot house bowl for the cacti to grow. 

PB130083 We were making our way around all the sights but there was more to see. There are two natural caves areas on the island, both have been formed by lava tunnelling through the earths core.  We visited the Jameos del Agua  which has a natural lake within it and is home to blind albino crabs that only grow to one centimetre, unique to this cave.  The geology of the cave area was very interesting, the surrounding setting and entrance blends so well.  There is an adjoining cavern  that is a natural theatre, with amazing acoustics. Many operas and other performances are held here.

On the northern coast of Lanzarote there is the Mirador del Rio, another area created by César Manrique.  It is a lookout area with an amazing panorama over the straits between Lanzarote and Graciosa Islands, and a wonderful vista from high above over our previous anchorage at Playa Francesca at Graciosa.  The lookout is so well blended into the landscape that we had been unaware the whole time at anchor that hundreds of tourists were spying down on us each day!   2011 Canary Isles-8

The days passed, but each day there was somewhere else to go, another of natures marvels to discover.  On our last afternoon we headed across to the west coast late afternoon and visited Los Hervideros, an excellent walkway along the rugged coast that takes in some natural blowholes and caves dug out deep by the crashing surf.  It was quite a calm day when we were there and there was still plenty of water action, I expect it gets quite lively and wet there when a 30 knot westerly is blowing. 

Then we found the Green Lagoon, yep, its the pond in the photo and it certainly was green.  The colours of the cliff faces around it were glowing in the late afternoon sun, terracottas, burnt reds, yellows and olive, the geology and scenery on this small island did not not cease to amaze us.

PB160193It was time for our farewell dinner and we could not have found a more perfect spot.  We carried on to the small village of El Golfo and settled into a beach side table at a local cafe, ordered a selection of tapas and some excellent local wine and  watched as the sun dipped lazily into the ocean setting on fire the clouds and sky above us.

We had a wonderful time with Jackie staying, the weather was kind to us – most of the time, Rubicon Marina had been a great spot to base ourselves and Lanzarote was the perfect island for easy day trips of touring. 

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