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The Canaries: Spain’s Hawaii

For a combination of a birthday treat and to escape the winter in Ankara, I spent some time in Lanzarote, a part of the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa.  Like Hawaii, this is a volcanic island chain that still has a few active volcanos, a volcano national park, and a wide variety of beaches.

I stayed at an airbnb house just outside of Arrecife, the current capital.  If you contorted yourself while looking south, you could see the ocean from the house.  Unfortunately stormy weather prevented beach days when I first arrived, but this was actually a good thing, as I had to finish one last paper for school. Once the paper was done, the sun came out, at least for part of every day, so I combined beach time with visiting some of the island’s sights.

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All the different cloud patterns signalled crazy weather

My first site was the Mirador al Rio, a northern viewpoint overlooking the islet between Lanzarote and Graciosa, a small island holding a fishing community of 500.  Like most vista points at the corners of land, this one was extremely windy!  I could only stay outside for a few minutes before I was shivering and my lips were chapped.  Luckily, all of the tourist sites on the island have cafes built in, so I was able to sit and warm up with some cafe con leche and still admire the view. The cliff is a tall 450 m curve into the ocean – much more impressive in person than the photograph below.

On the way back I stopped at Lagomar, which was the cliffside home of Omar Sharif. After filming on the island, he fell in love with the place and built a home here and then, according to rumor, he lost it in a poker game.  With balconies, pools, and sitting areas built into all of the nooks and crannies of the cliffs, this place must have seen some amazing parties.  Now it’s a museum, bar, and restaurant.  Although I didn’t get there in time to see the interior, I wandered through the yards and then enjoyed a few local beers in the bar, which is set back in a cliff chasm.  I had a lot of fun listening to electronica, which usually isn’t my favorite kind of music, and watching the lights from a disco ball dance around the cliff walls.  Is this what tripping out is like? I wondered while ordering another beer.  The whole place also has lots of cool metal art scattered around.  I always want to buy these things from the metalworkers at county fairs back in the States, but am usually short on funds or a means of getting them to my place.  So far, my collection only includes a clock made from used parts.

I was really excited to browse the market in Teguise, which is the island’s old capital.  Unfortunately, it was mostly stalls full of junk and knock-off purses.  There are tons of Irish and British expats who live on the island, so a whole part of the market was dedicated to real UK food shipped weekly.  I had no idea chips were so important!

The volcanic nature of Lanzarote provides lots of interesting features in the landscape.  Along with all of the rocky beaches, I really liked Jameos del Agua, which is a long lava tube that actually goes into the ocean.  You can visit different parts.  Cesar Manrique, the island’s native son architect, designed the tourist attraction to blend with the volcanic rock and make the most of the site.

The sun came out while I was relaxing by the pool at Jameos, so I headed down to the coastline.  The waves were really incredible and a couple of surfers were having a ball riding them in.

Although I wasn’t surfing, sitting on the beach and watching the waves while was mesmerizing for me.  The sunshine didn’t hurt either!

While waiting for the sun another day, I visited Timanfaya National Park, the volcanic area in the western part of the island.  Once you get to the park, you have to take a park tour bus to explore the landscape.  I had read that they let you out for pictures, but unfortunately these days they only stop, so you can’t help the glare on your pictures.  The twisty turny mountain road is narrow and looked pretty dangerous, so I guess it makes sense to forbid tourists to use it.  The last eruptions were in the 1730s, but you can still feel the heat of the volcano today.  The restaurant even offers food cooked over the volcano!

My favorite town on the island was Golfo, a two road village on the West Coast.  Along with beautiful coastline, its main industry seems to be fishing, as aside from a village store, the whole place is lined with seafood restaurants.  I snagged a table right on the water’s edge, and ordered my favorite Spanish tapas: gambas al ajillo, or shrimp in garlic.  I don’t usually mindlessly eat bread dipped in oil, but this is the kind of meal that you’ve got to lick up!  After stuffing myself with the shrimp, and the island’s mojo, red and green sauces, I tried to finish a whole fish as well – it didn’t happen, but was well worth the effort.  One of the island’s specialties is wrinkled potato.  I had these my first night, and couldn’t quite appreciate their difference from boiled potatoes.  But the potatoes served alongside my fish were an amazing combination of roasted and boiled textures and tastes finished with a salted crust.  I recommend trying them, but probably only at a more authentic place (i.e. in Golfo and not in Playa Carmen).

While I was eating this guy came down to the ocean to clean a fish:

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So then of course these birds all came to see what was going on:

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My new friend visited me a few times – he was the only cat I saw on the island!

And finally, here are some of the views of the west coast of Lanzarote.

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