Travel Day (Sunday, September 23, 2012)
We arose, groggily, at 5:00 am and caught a car service to Heathrow for a 7:25 am flight to Madrid. It was dark for the entire ride and then some. Everything went very smoothly – there was no traffic on a Sunday morning, and security and all that jazz was pretty much what you get in the US, too – no surprises.
We had breakfast in the airport – a place called Wagamama. How do you pronounce it and what does it mean? I asked the waitress. WAH-gah-mah-mah, and it means “Spoiled Chaa”. Spoiled chard? That’s not a name for a restaurant! I asked her to repeat it: “Spoiled Chaa.” I pretended I understood. When she was gone, I asked Gerry – What’s it called? “Spoiled Child”!
It was a Japanese take on western breakfast traditions. Very good, too.
Our two Iberia flights were less pleasant. Can you believe you even have to buy water and soft drinks? Couple that with the negative leg room between the rows of seats (3 seats on both sides of the aisle, even in first – which is not where we were.) On the London-Madrid leg, the fellow in front of me kept plopping himself down in his seat, smashing my knees each time. On the Madrid – Arecife leg, it was the guy behind me who kept using my seat back to lever himself up and out of his seat. I understood – I couldn’t even get my backpack out from under the seat in front of me when it was time to exit the plane.
At the Arecife airport we rented a car, and promptly got lost! What a good excuse to do some exploring on the way to the hotel!
Our hotel is the Melia Salinas in Costa Teguise. It nice, but old and a little less well cared for than we are used to with Melia. There are Cesar Manrique murals in the lobby though. (More about him later).
Our first dinner was in the hotel – an enormous buffet with everything you can imagine cooked before your very eyes…but it wasn’t very good. We did try a Lanzarotean white wine, from La Geria, which we liked.
Monday, September 24
We’ve completed our first 24 hours in Lanzarote. Has anyone ever heard of this place? I thought it was going to be deserted, forlorn and solitary, but like Tenerife it has lots of British and German tourists on holiday. The island is strange looking. It gives the impression of being unfinished. Think of a new sub-division: You have houses and perhaps a tree or two, but there really remains a lot of landscaping and infrastructure to add. Well, here – it is finished…It is just that the landscaping consists of black sand. Where we would think grass, here there is black sand. There are also lots of cacti used in the landscaping, and palm trees.
Almost all the houses are white. White buildings, black sand and stones, blue sky. It is pretty, sort of.
Today we did some sightseeing and the interesting parts of the island began to reveal themselves. Our first stop was the Cesar Manrique Foundation. Manrique was an artist originally from Lanzarote, and who returned here when he was in his 40s to spend the rest of his life. His paintings are inspired by the lava flows all around us – they mimic the colors and even the texture of the landscape. The textures are highly varied, the colors, not so much. Until you really start to look. By studying the rocks and sand around you, you begin to notice flowers, lichens and other organisms that may be small and insignificant at first.
Manrique was very hot on creating a sustainable society on the island, so he developed a number of tourism projects, too. We visited two more after the Foundation. The first was a Cactus Garden. Again, below the level of the ground, the garden is tiered in many layers and contains over 800 kinds of cacti from all over the world. (Dana, you would have been fascinated!) Some were very, very small – others very, very large. All shapes, all forms. Many with flowers, some with fruit. It was like nothing I had seen before.
We also visited the “Jameos del Agua“. A jameo is a place where the rock has caved in along a lava tunnel. A lava tunnel is formed when, during an eruption, the pressure causes the lava to seek another way out of the ground, especially if the cone is blocked already. They also occur within the lava flows, when molten rock is still streaming below rock that has cooled. There are many of these on Lanzarote – this being a volcanic island with the most recent eruption (on THIS island) less than 200 years ago. There have been eruptions in the last 100 years on other Canary Islands. So these places where the tunnels cave in reveal underground lakes and rivers, which also contain many strange and wonderful species of creatures that are found nowhere else and which have odd adaptations for living in dark caves. We saw the famous blind crabs of Lanzarote – tiny, all white crabs that eat diatoms off the rocks in the underground caves.
This natural phenomenon was complimented by a museum of volcanology, which proved to be very interesting!
By this time it was late afternoon, and with the temperature hovering in the 90s, the pool at the hotel was beckoning!
Tuesday, September 25
After breakfast we packed up for a day of hiking. Our first stop was, however, the Timanfaya National Park – also called the Fire Mountains (las Montañas de Fuego). The deal with this park is that you have to go on a guided tour by bus – you cannot explore on your own. The hotel told us to go early – but I will tell you – go late. (That was our experience yesterday, too. We went out in the morning and found crowds everywhere when we arrived. By the time we left, there was an empty parking lot! So, enjoy the sun and the pool in the morning and go touring after lunch!)
Still, we enjoyed it a lot! Our first stop was to watch the camel riders take off. What memories of Morocco! But, once is enough! There was a small exhibit at that stop about the camels(dromedaries!) and their history in Lanzarote: Basically brought here by the peoples of Morocco who came here to farm. They were beasts of burden and work for farmers. then became a mode of transportation, and finally a tourist adventure. Here in Lanzarote unlike Morocco, the saddle has two riders, one on each side of the animal – like sitting in a chair. It looked pretty comfortable – and gave you someone to talk to. It’s a great thing to do if you are here with children.
We watched the camels take off and then climbed back in the car to find the tour by bus, which was just a couple of miles ahead. There we waited in line to be allowed to drive up to the visitors center to board the bus. The big tour buses got to go ahead of everyone, as did some pretty rude tourists in rental cars. But the wait was only 10 minutes or so. This was at the entrance to the park. Once released from the waiting line, we drove for about 5 more minutes through the lava fields and up to the visitors center. There, we stood in line for a bus – maybe another 5 minutes, and then the tour.
I was imagining, and perhaps you are too, a mini bus with 20 or so passengers. Nope. The buses are these enormous tourist coaches – very scary on the narrow roads up in the park. We were very comfortable – and I imagine that if the day had been sunny, we would have been very thankful for the air conditioning in the bus. You can’t really take decent pictures though. Half the time the thing to be seen is on the other side of the bus, and even when it is on your side, there is the glare on the glass, fingerprints on the glass, and just plain glass that pose challenges to getting a decent photograph of a landscape like something you have never seen before!
The commentary, in Spanish, English and German, is really interesting if you haven’t already read it, and interesting for the additional details you’ll notice if you have. There were actually eyewitness accounts of the 1730-1736 eruptions – and they read some of those to you, so you can imagine what people were feeling as they lived through those 6 years (!!!!) of eruptions.
After the bus tour, there is a demonstration of the heat that still comes from the ground: You’re given hot (hot!) stones to handle; you watch dried plants spontaneously combust; you see water poured into fumaroles and watch the resulting geysers (and get wet if you’re too close.) You also get to see where the restaurant cooks the food it serves – right over a big hole in the ground with the heat pouring out. The heat comes from lava that is still cooling from the 1824 eruption. It is about 2 miles below the surface of the ground, but even at 11 yards below the surface the are temperatures in the range of 610 degrees Centigrade (someone help me with that conversion!). At ground level, the temperature of the ground is between 100 and 200 Fahrenheit. Amazing right? Two hundred years later – and way up, altitude-wise.
We decided to have lunch up there. I didn’t mention that it was raining for most of our trip today. Eating lunch meant that we’d have some time to see if the rain cleared and we could get some better pictures. Our food was abundant and well prepared (presumably over the natural grill we had seen earlier!). The view was wonderful, if a bit monotonous: Lichens and lava! And the rain didn’t stop while we were eating, so after lunch we headed to the real visitor’s center, which is actually outside the park. There we found a very professional exhibition on volcanism. There was a mesmerizing video of lava flows from eruptions all over the world – I couldn’t tear my eyes away. There were so many different manifestations of lava flows, all so different, all so powerful!
Besides the exhibit, we got a chance to talk with a very knowledgeable ranger who gave us advice on how to approach the opportunity to get on the thermo-geodesic walk – very restricted numbers allowed, and most reserved well in advance of arriving in Lanzarote. In essence, we sign up online for the waiting list and we show up at 9:00 in the morning. If someone on the regular list doesn’t show, they pick from the waiting list. Even if you don’t get on the hike itself, there are several other walks in the “Reserva Nacional” (versus the “Parque Nacional“) that allow hikers to get up close and personal with the lava, the ash, the volcanoes themselves. This is on our schedule for Friday (the walks are only conducted on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays).
Still raining, we gave up our plans to hike today, but we did check out the trail heads for the alternative walks the ranger told us about. We also drove down to Femés, the trail head for the walk we had planned to do today. A nice little town, Femés, and we found the trail head. What a relief (that it was marked at all)!
After Femés, we decided to check out the “old harbor” at Puerto del Carmen, something that was recommended in one of our pre-trip readings. Since we weren’t really sure where the “old” harbor was, we also visited Puerto Calero, which has a harbor, too. Nice little stop – and some day, it will be a bustling tourist center. Now it is just a small tourist center, albeit with very upscale shopping and a 68 meter yacht in the harbor!
This didn’t seem to be the “old harbor” we read about so we continued on to the very westernmost point of Puerto del Carmen (THE tourist area). We didn’t find what we were looking for (.e., a sleepy, little harbor used by local fishermen) but we did find a nice place to watch the ocean and eat dinner. We were looking south, so even though the view was interesting, the sunset was not within our range. We did catch it on the way back to Costa Teguise (where we are staying) with the volcanoes in the foreground.
By the way, on the way home, at one point I could count 18 volcano cones!