Sunday, 16 February 2020

An Island of Deserts and Volcanoes

We’ve just returned from Lanzarote. It was our first visit there and it won’t be the last. You can, of course, rely on winter sunshine of 18-24 degrees C. But the island has so much more; the interior holds white-walled villages amidst a starkly beautiful volcanic landscape. We stayed in a small hotel in Costa Teguise, made up of three dozen apartments that surrounded a kidney-shaped pool. When we looked out from our balcony each morning we could see the hotel staff cleaning the pool. We stayed half-board and were delighted with the range of local dishes available for dinner. We also became quite addicted to the Spanish practice of cake (almond, apple or lemon) at breakfast.

I brought my bike with me and explored much of the island on two wheels. The main resorts are on the coast, but traditionally people lived inland to escape attacks from pirates. The centre of the island is a plateau at around a thousand feet, dotted with small white-walled villages that host traditional markets. They are surrounded by a range of volcanoes that rise to about two thousand feet. The landscape is desertified and exposed to the wind, which is constant and can be very strong. Succulents and cacti are common; trees are rare, although you do find palm trees and the odd eucalyptus and acacia tree in the villages.

The last big volcanic eruption was in 1824 and great swathes of the island are covered in lava. Strangely enough, when this lava is broken up into very small pieces it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere and supports the cultivation of vines on the hillsides. However, the vines need to grow behind little walls or in pits to protect them from the ever-present wind.

I did some great rides through the lava fields and vineyards, explored sleepy villages and managed the long climb to the Mirador del Rio, a fantastic viewpoint at 1600 feet above sea level. Not bad for an old geezer. The island is much favoured by triathletes for winter training. On the ascents I was regularly overtaken by groups of riders from the Netherlands and Germany. But the descents were fast and I would often be able to catch them up at a cafe stop in the next village (menta poleo tea being my favoured drink).

T preferred reading and writing at the pool or visiting the markets. We spent a good part of each day beside the pool, either me joining T after a ride (which I did on alternate days) or both of us taking it easy in the afternoon following one of our trips out. I would lie on my back in the water and look up at the blue sky with hardly a cloud and the fronds of the palm trees swirling in the wind. On the sun lounger I read ‘Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither’ by Sara Baume, a very well written but sad Irish novel, and an entertaining Jo Nesbo thriller.

It was my birthday whilst we were away. When we came down to dinner we found that the maitre-d had prepared a special table for us, with flowers, candles and a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket. It was a very nice touch from an extremely friendly and hospitable hotel. We met several people who were staying there for months on end. On the plane we talked about returning for longer next year. And after I had to walk across the tarmac at Belfast International Airport in my shorts in a howling gale with sleet at just 1 degree C, I was convinced that it was a great plan.  

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