Lanzarote – Canary Islands
I was lucky to arrive to Lanzarote Island by boat. As we silently sailed passed the black beaches, villages, ports, cities and vacation communities backed by brownish – black volcanic mountains, the island seemed surprisingly large. We are sailing on the southern side of the island toward Puerto Calero, a marina south of Arrecife. The island of Lanzarote is 1 of 7 larger Canary Islands that lie 100+ miles off the coast of Morocco. The Islands are owned by Spain. As we scoot down the coast, Arrecife, Lanzarote’s largest city sits on the coast line halfway between its northern and southern points.
The Canary Islands are a popular sailing destination and often the final stop before sailors set sail for their Ocean crossings. Even Christopher Columbus stopped in Grand Canary Island before his final sail across the Atlantic to finalize repairs, pray in the local Cathedral and stock up on supplies. All the Large Canary Islands have airports that connect each island and Europe. It also has numerous ports for both large cargo ships and sailboats like ours. About 15 years ago there was an enormous push to improve marinas and ports throughout the islands and it has proved to be a good idea. As a result the Canary Islands enjoy a thriving boating and sailing industry year round in addition to its enormous cargo ship industry.
It is estimated that 5 million people visit the islands per year. The number has decreased a bit due to the global recession but none the less, a thriving tourist destination. Lanzarote is one of the larger islands in the chain… Canarians have different accents depending on the island they live and the traditional Spanish “TH” sound seems to be abandoned here. There are large distances between the islands and although there are high speed ferries and planes that connect the islands, if you are sailing like we are, it is a days sail between each.
On arrival to the Puerto Calero, a beautiful marina and port town on the southeast end of the island, we are relieved at the facilities. This is a full service marina with restaurants, showers, shops, grocery and a huge seawall surrounding the marina to the water is calm and the boat barely moves, a welcomed change from the rocking and rolling we experienced for the last 5 days.
We arrived and were greeted by deck hands as well as tourists. Jumping off the boat I felt like screaming “I have been on this boat for 5 whole days sailing the Atlantic Ocean!” I felt like a cast away come home and walking on land for the first time in days was strange and made me dizzy. There was a ton to do on the boat as far as clean up but all we were interested in was a hot shower and a glass of wine and a good nights rest.
The morning brings a ton of dew. I think it must be from the heat generated from the black mountains that turn lavender during the sunset. The morning calls for deck duties, cleaning up, organizing and fixing things that broke along the way here. I am told by the skipper that sailing is really moving from port to port buying parts for the boat. I have also heard that the best day of your life is buying the boat and the next best day is selling it. We joke about posting a “se vende” sign on the boat after this trip, but actually, seems like a terrible idea. Boats can become addicting, I can see it happening. After a day of chores we decide to check out Arrecife, the main city here. We were looking to rent a car or grab a taxi – neither of which were available at the marina so we hitched a ride, thanks to the skipper who will now be referred to as Manuel for the next few posts.
Manuel ask Eugenio for a ride and Eugenio is a Canarian that is happy to accommodate our 20 minute ride into the city. He suggests some restaurants and towns to see and is otherwise very personable. The Spanish here looses the “THE THE THE” sound that we heard in the south of Spain, and the Spaniards here seem more Latin American to me… Eugenio drops us off at the city center and after a quick jump in the water with the locals, Manuel spots a rent a car sign and walks over. For about 30 euros where we were offered a broken down Renault that I could swear was someone’s personal car that they slapped a rent a car sticker on as we were filling out the paper work! Still, it moved and had air-conditioning so off we went.
For dinner we decide to go inland to a local town called Yaiza. Driving here is surreal, there are no trees and as the sunsets behind the mountains it gets dark quickly – the car lights coming from the above hill look like they are coming in for a landing on the moon! Somehow the sky and the land blend into each other at dusk.
Arriving in Yaiza, we were happy to find an enormous town festival with rides and live music and asked around for a local restaurant. “La Era” was recommended and a bit of a tourist destination. Still the servers were kind, the local fare delicious and the atmosphere divine. We drank local wine and ate Canarian fish stew with Pappas con Mojo. “Mojo” is a sauce usually made with garlic, parsley and pepper and such. They have green “Mojo” and red “Mojo” it can come spicy or mild, it seems that each restaurant has its own “mojo” and served with potatoes is delicious and vegetarian! Check out my menu and the english translation it is hysterical!
The next day we took a drive around the entire island. Our first stop was Playa Blanca which lies on the southern tip of the island and is a German enclave. There are more street signs in German here than in Spanish! The port side of town is dotted with restaurants and shops and beaches dotted with sun worshipers… the air is cool and the sun is hot. It is september and tourism decreased for back to school. Still The Canary Islands enjoy a year round tourist industry… We found a restaurant that served us the most delicious squid ink paella!
After a delicious lunch we decide to drive north towards the interior of the island. We were struck by the geography here. This treeless volcanic land is hot and arid. It is like being on another planet! We enter the state park and it is literally feeling like you are in the middle of nowhere. There are tours you can take on camels through the mountainside, but we chose the New York version – just to cruise right through… Meandering through the towns and countryside we also see vineyards and small farms… the dirt here is black and the vegetation is usually surrounded by volcanic rock walls to either protect the plants from wind or trap the dew and the water at night. We stopped to by some local wines and found gorgeous local crafts which included lava jewelry…. Of course I bought a ton of stuff!
Moving north on the island we come to a small town on siesta named Tequise. They take siesta seriously here! The entire town shut down for a nap! This village reminds me of the Cycladic Islands in Greece. As a matter of fact – the whole island does… much like Santorini if fact! Every single building is white stucco with blue, green or dark wooden trim. A woman sees us walking around and approaches us asking us for a ride to the northern most point of the island. We agree to take her and out pops her daughter too (she was at the bus stop sleeping) and in addition to the child, they haul out a bunch of bags – so we made room in our little rent a car and headed north! As we cruised the countryside towards the port town of Orzola, the beaches are on our right. The same beaches we saw on our arrival here 2 days ago. this was our LAND AHOY!
After we dropped our new friends off at the port to catch the ferry to La Graciosa, a small island north of Lanzarote, we enjoy a delicious coffee. After that, we cruise back to towards to sunset to bring our first mate to the airport. This was his final destination. Manuel and I will continue on to the other islands on our own.
The city of Arrecife feels like a Latin American city not a European city. It is a port town with pedestrian streets and shops. The architecture is Spanish Colonial mixed with the 50’s and 60’s modern apartment buildings. After bumming around town and some shopping we return our little car, decide to have a Havana Club Rum at a local bar before we hitch a ride back to the Puerto Calero.
The sun is almost set, the lavendar mountains are in front of us and the ocean sits ahead. We will be sailing in that direction to the next island tomorrow. After battening down the hatches and a little organizing, we go to sleep. We have an early departure out of Puerto Calero tomorrow.