Day 3 |
Apr 20, 2010

Canary Islands, Lanzarote, Arrecife

By Olga Staveakis, Historian

Co-ordinates: 28º58.172 N; 13º31.162W

Weather: sunny

Under blue skies we docked at the small volcanic island of Lanzarote in the perfect cool of the morning. The first excursion of the day took us south to the spectacular lava fields of Timanfaya National Park, a series of lava fields, cinder cones, and flows of basalt, which looked as if frozen in time. The last eruption was in 1824, so the landscape from the pier south, into the main area of volcanic activity had a lunar feel to it.

We drove first through gently rolling hills barren except for little villages of white cubic houses with black volcanic gardens totally devoid of trees. The island gets very little rain but the ingenious local inhabitants have managed to make the gardens productive by planting food crops for household use on a black bed of granular porous lava, called lapili.

The lava grains absorb the moisture from the Portuguese Trade winds and deliver it to plants such as corn, wheat, eggplant, lentils and other crops, which are now planted only for household use. Larger plants, such as the shrub-like wine grapes are also grown commercially. These are planted into recessed depressions protected from the strong trade winds by low stone walls. The houses are all white and square with doors and windows trimmed in brown, green or blue, depending upon where the village is located: either inland or by the sea. This color scheme was dictated by the late Cesar Manrique, local hero artist of international renown, who turned the whole island into a coordinated motif of lava, sea and sky accented with bright white painted irregular surfaces.

Upon arrival at the park we were treated to camel rides sitting on chair-like seats suspended on both sides of the camels. The camels are well taken care of, and quite social, slobbering generously on the guests sitting in the seats in front, and braying cheerfully at their friends.

The tricky thing about the camel ride is staying on while the camel is rising and sitting because he (or she) uses one leg at a time, tilting us forward and then back at a rather precarious angle.

On the way back we visited the Bodega Geria, which is a vineyard totally grown in lava with bush like grapes all protected by stone windscreens. Quite a spectacular site and a form of cultivation I had never seen before.

After a lovely lunch on board ship, we headed north, into much greener country (well, a little greener…), but still dry and stark. Our first stop was at the spectacular Jameos de Agua, a series of connected magnificent natural caverns that were redesigned by Manrique to serve as a spiritual earth garden with a brilliant blue water pool, performance auditorium, fascinating footpaths, comfortable seating areas, and manicured tropical plants, all sculpted to marry nature and art into a “harmonic synthesis.”

From there we went to a cactus garden that the prolific Manrique had designed out of a trash dump, and then on to visit his last home, now converted to an art museum. The home exhibited the same sort of relationship between nature and the human spirit, marrying the stark beauty of the dark lava with brilliant white, cavernous passageways, and comfortable seating areas. An intriguing collection of his own paintings and those of other modern artists are displayed throughout.

Just before boarding ship again, we stopped for a glass of white wine and superb goat cheese at the little fort of San Jose where more of Manrique’s art is on display in the very elegant and modern restaurant.

The day was one of extreme contrasts. From the reality of violent volcanoes, contorted lava flows, to camels and stark villages, to the syncretism of the man who seized the real and altered it with his personal genius, creating a work of art out of the whole island.