Y dime como encontrar
para llegar a ella
qué está en la oscuridad.
☼, te pido qué me ayudes,
a encontrar la claridad.
☼, ahora ya es de día
y veo un alba celestial,
y dime, no ves como sonríe
la niña de ojos tiernos,
qué fuimos a buscar.
The most north-easterly of the ‘Fortunate Isles’, as the Canaries were originally named, only 125 kilometres from the African Continent and 795 km2 in size, Lanzarote with over 300 volcanoes is quite unique. Sculpted by the great volcanic eruptions of the 18th Century, from 1730 to 1736, the earth spat fire almost continuously, the lava buried a third of the entire island, whole villages disappeared and what had once been fertile land was covered by lava. This was the birth of the ‘Montañas de Fuego’ (Fire Mountains) – in six years of eruptions more than 100 volcanoes rose up.
Amazed to wake up to rain on our first morning in Lanzarote, the only downpour they’d had in a couple of years apparently, we decided to spend the day lazily exploring Puerto Del Carmen, one of the three main resorts on the island. It is a lively spot, with its many restaurants stretched out along the promenade. The marvellous, quieter, long, golden sandy beaches of Las Pocillas and Matagorda are lovely for strolling along, which I did most mornings, rounding the headland to the busier main beaches and coves, down to the little harbour with its seafood restaurants.
The second day saw us heading for Fire Mountains in a hired car; the island has good roads and is easy to drive around. Timanfaya, declared a National Park in 1968, is quite an experience. Winding our way to the summit the view over the lunar landscape is awesome, with dusty-red volcano cones disappearing into the horizon.
‘El Diablo’, (The Devil) is a restaurant at the very top where meats are grilled on a barbecue, over a shaft, with the heat rising from the volcano burning deep below. Intrigued by a group of people watching a man pouring water down a tube protruding from the earth, I sauntered nearer, after a few seconds water vapour spurted up at great pressure showering us all. He then proceeded to throw some brush into a crevice where it burst into flames immediately; the temperature at a depth of only 60 cm is over 400 degrees Centigrade. Gravel from the surface was handed round but it was too hot to handle. Descending by a different route, a train of dromedaries came into sight so, deciding to do the full tourist thing for once, my partner and I had a camel ride over the volcanoes, which turned out to be hilarious.
Charco Verde was our next destination. Below towering cliffs an emerald green lake lies in a volcanic crater, a black sandbank separating it from the ocean, its colour deriving from the reflection of tiny olivine stones, a semi precious gem popular in Lanzarote jewellery.
Further along the coast ‘Los Hervideros’ is a fascinating sight, pathways weave across cliff tops. Centuries of waves have eroded ebony lava into fantastically shaped arches and underwater cave, the sea seething, hissing and bubbling away just like a cauldron.
Continuing south, Salinas de Janubio, a lagoon worked as salt lakes, dotted with windmills, is so unlike the ones seen on the mainland, the black shingle beach contrasting with the white mounds of salt.
Playa Blanca is a growing resort on the southern tip of Lanzarote with the neighbouring island of Fuerteventura plain to see just a short ferry trip away. The whitewashed hotels are only two storeys high, as are all the constructions on Lanzarote and appear quite luxurious, while the seafront and quay still maintain charm and atmosphere. Close by and accessible by dirt track is the ecologically protected Papagaya Bay. A series of seven fine, white, sandy bays, surrounded by rolling sand dunes; the calm, crystal clear waters are made for bathing in. My partner tried very hard, without success, to make me believe there was smoke coming from the distant volcanoes! Lanzarote has a beauty of its own.
The villages scattered over the island have low, whitewashed dwellings where the folk traditionally make a living from the land. Incredible to see the way volcanic ashes are used to cultivate crops such as the small Canary potatoes, large juicy melons and grapes to name just a few. Each vine has a circle of black rock for protection against the wind. The humidity from the morning dew is retained, as there is very little rain and no natural water source for irrigation. The resulting wine is excellent, the local goats’ cheese is also delicious – my favourite being a semi-cured one with a paprika coating.
On the western side of the island, where the seas have stronger currents, lies the hamlet of Famara. Its unpaved streets, lost in time, minute harbour and immense windswept beach is a favourite of surfers. Driving past a ridge of low mountains that line the wide, barren valley, dozens of hang gliders came into sight.
To the north, the higher part of the island becomes somewhat greener. Mirador del Rio deserves a visit, a building designed by the sculptor Cesar Manrique, it has panoramic views of the islands of La Graciosa and Alegranza.
On the eastern coast, not far from our holiday base in Puerto Del Carmen, is Arrecife, the capital city. It has a large port, castle, fort and loads of history of invading pirates. Further north passing Costa Teguise, where the King of Spain has a family home, the volcanic rock takes on a greenish hue.
Next stop was Cueva de los Verdes, a volcanic tunnel connecting numerous caves, mostly unexplored. A guide showed a group of us around, and we finally discovered the secret, a ‘vision’ I’d heard about but that none tell… By the sea, an extension of the same volcanic tunnel, are the caves of Jameos Del Agua. An underground lake here is the habitat of diminutive, white, blind crab. It has a natural auditorium with perfect acoustics where musical concerts are held, designed and recreated once again more by Manrique. The volcano museum housed here is also fascinating.
So, back to Puerto Del Carmen and another evening out, strolling along the seafront, watching the chefs flambéing their specialties, making the difficult decision of which restaurant to enter tonight. A personal choice between a juicy steak in an appetising sauce, an awesome Lanzarote pizza with goats’ cheese and dates, and a hundred other tempting dishes… flambéed strawberries or bananas? Then on to a cocktail bar to sample another exotic drink and watch the world go by. What a hard life this is!
There are direct flights from Madrid to Lanzarote daily; check local flights from Tenerife if you’re island hopping!
Don’t Give Up…
Don’t give up… Don’t give up on anything.
Don’t give up loving yourself, if this love is nothing more than someone loving you.
Don’t give up the right to be yourself, nothing is gained if you are not, as you truly are in your soul.
Don’t give up your dreams as there is no one more powerful than he who keeps hope in his soul.
Don’t give up anything… Love, the truth, dignity… Justice, your views…
Nothing that makes you master of your Freedom.
Translation by Kalizamar
Long before history was actually recorded, legends of the Canary Islands existed. Stories were told of these mythical lands to be found beyond the Pillars of Hercules in the Straits of Gibraltar, on the way to the Dark Sea. Many classical authors sited ‘Paradise’ here, ‘Los Campos Eliseos’ (Elysian Fields) or ‘Garden of Hesperides’. One of the first credible testimonies of the islands we owe to Pliny the Elder, who in the first century spoke about an expedition sent out by King Juba of Mauritius. The adventurers brought back an enormous dog as a gift. This native breed still exists today, called Verdinos or Bardinos, they are an impressive, fierce hunting dog, from which the Canaries derives its name – ‘can’ or ‘canine’. These early tales, not surprisingly, nearly always mentioned Tenerife. Known as Nivaria, due to its majestic snow-capped mountain emerging from the clouds and visible from many kilometres around, it was awe-inspiring to those ancient mariners.
The Canary Archipelago consists of the seven major island (Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma, El Hierro, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura) and six minor ones. Of these Alegranza, Graciosa, Montaña Clara, Roque de Este and Roque del Oeste, can be found to the north of Lanzarote. Grouped together they are known as the Chinijo Archipelago and are separated from the cliff of Famara by the Strait of El Rio. Encompassed within a protected natural park and marine reserve, the landscape is remarkable with volcanic cones, craters, dunes, beaches, cliffs and caves. They are rich in wildlife, especially migratory birds that nest there, including endangered species and marine life with great number of turtles, fish (particularly the tuna family) and whales.
I spent a day on La Graciosa, the larger of these isles, 27 kilometres in size and the smallest inhabited island of the Canaries. After a short trip over from Lanzarote, the boat docked at the quay in Caleta de Sebo, a whitewashed village with unpaved, sandy streets. The 500 or so villagers that live here year-round mainly make their living from fishing. We hired bikes and spent a leisurely few hours cycling around the unspoilt countryside and lazing on the beautiful, deserted, fine, white, sandy beaches.
La Isla de Lobos lies to the north-east of Fuerteventura and can be reached by boat from there or by daily excursions from Lanzarote. Sand dunes, brought by the Alisio winds, have covered the volcanic lava fields and unusual salt-water lagoons have formed. Also a protected nature reserve, with similar wildlife to the Chinijo Isles, Lobos is also visited by the almost extinct Monk Seal. The ocean is a paradise for divers with clear, warm waters. The seabed is fascinating with caves and tunnels alive with fish. The Canaries have 107 protected areas, more than any other Spanish region, and is fourth in the world for endemic flora – 600 species.
The ancient inhabitants of the Canary Islands were the Guanches. Dressed in animal skins they were apparently of enormous stature, hence tales of giants. Living isolated from the rest of the world they were not a seafaring people. This was once believed to be the remains of the sunken continent of Atlantis and the Guanches descendants of Atlantians.
Until the Spanish conquest in the 15th century little was known about these islands. In 1402 Juan Bethencourt and his men set sail from Cadiz, first landing on Alegranza as a base from which to launch an attack on Lanzarote. Much to their surprise they had a peaceful reception. The people of Lanzarote, who were tired of pirate raids, saw the Spaniards as a means of protection. Bethancourt had conquered Fuerteventura by 1408, after fierce fighting with the natives there but it was to take almost a century before resistance to the Spanish conquest was quelled on the rest of the islands. Tenerife was the last to be conquered after much bloodshed in 1496.
Exploring the Canary Islands it’s easy to become fascinated with volcanoes. Their existence is due to the movement of the continental and oceanic upper crust of the Earth and the very slow movement of the African plate – about one centimetre per year for the last 60 million years. Lanzarote for example is a shield volcano, 20 million years old, while La Palma is a stratovolcano and Pico del Teide on Tenerife is the third largest volcano on Earth. I’ve also discovered that the planet Venus has more volcanoes than any other planet in the Solar System, but that’s digressing.
Hiking over volcanoes, walking through cool Laurisilva forests, enjoying the warm winter sun on a stretch of deserted sandy beach or sitting on the ebony, rocky shoreline contemplating the sunset over the ocean, these are just a few things that make the Canary Islands so magical.
Poem a duo by Hasty girl + Kalizamar
The canopy hides me
From the burning rays
The wind finds me
As it comes to play
The breeze drifts through my hair
Sunlight sparkles on the waves
Seawater scents the hazy air
As lost-summer memories flow
A happy smile creases my face
As thoughts of you frolic and play
Across landscapes in my mind
Chasing daydreams in this lazy day
I remember when you held my hand
As we tumbled through the waves
Or ran across the sun-baked sand
To seek starfish among the rockpools
I stood by your side
Watching each new day’s sun
Dissolve beautifully content
Into each setting horizon
You were always there for me
With your smiling optimism
As noone else would ever be
So cherished in my heart
As the sands of time
Shift inexorably on…
Your hands held mine
As you drifted away…
2013 @kalizamar + @MommaCheese
I was feeling excited as the low cost flight came in to land at Ménara airport, I’d always dreamed of seeing Marrakesh, imagining the legendary red-walled city that I’d only read about in novels or seen in those old-fashioned romantic movies.
I’d borrowed a paperback guide book on Morocco, clued up on the local info and booked everything directly online…including accommodation at a Riad in the medina. They’d arranged for a taxi to meet us because it’s complicated to drive through the labyrinth of narrow streets in the old fortified city. The manager was waiting as we were dropped off and he led the way through a maze of alleyways to a little guesthouse-style hotel hidden away behind high red sandstone walls. Our Riad, a genuine traditional Marrakesh house, with a dozen rooms on three floors, windows overlooking a shady interior courtyard and splash pool, was beautifully renovated and decorated in Moroccan style. The rooftop terrace had incredible views over the old city quarters to the unmistakable Koutoubia Mosque. Everyone was so friendly and we were given some sight seeing tips and a map of the Medina as we sat sipping mint tea.
Once a crossroads for caravans coming out of the Sahara Desert and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Marrakesh is an ancient walled city dating back to 1062. Lying at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, the red city was originally built on an oasis and is still surrounded by date palm groves.
The impressive orangey-red ramparts which encircle the old city have 20 gateways; we were staying in the southern part of the medina near Bab Agnaou, or Gate of the Blacks, the entrance to Marrakech kasbah. Map in hand, we stepped out into a vibrant world, a colourful mixture of traditions and culture.
We headed for Jemaa el-Fnaa, one of the most famous squares in Africa and the focal point of Marrakesh life. The huge market place is an authentic open air show bustling with European and Moroccan tourists attracted by the snake charmers, musicians, storytellers and food stalls. We had lunch on the first floor terrace at one of the restaurants overlooking the square and watched on in fascination. We ordered tajine, typical Marrakesh dish made with local spices – there’s a variety of delicious recipes, including chicken with lemon and olives or lamb and couscous, and the ingredients are cooked slowly over hot coals in a coned shaped earthenware tajine in which it is then served.
We strolled over to the souks on the far side of el-Fnaa, a traditional Berber market where you can buy almost anything if you have the patience to bargain hard enough. It’s like stepping into Aladdin’s Cave; an endless maze of walkways lined with stalls selling bejewelled slippers, colourful kaftans, silk scarves, intricately wrought lanterns and magic carpets!
I’d planned a route but it was impossible to follow so we just wandered through the main souk avoiding the mopeds, push bikes and carts, and found ourselves in what was obviously the wool souk with artisans at work by the doorways of tiny shops, jars of natural bright dyes on display. We watch as a man took natural wool and dipped it into a boiling cauldron of dye, another hanging the skeins out to dry and a boy weaving woollen slippers and hats. Walking on we browsed art shops with beautiful, over-priced, local paintings – my haggling skills weren’t appreciated here – and passed by the legendary carpet souk.
I was determined to find the Café Arabe, it was challenging but worth the perseverance! A European’s idea of heaven, this classy Italian restaurant has an exclusive roof terrace lounge bar. A respite from the heaving, hot streets, this was sheer luxury – cooled by a fine mist spraying from the canopy above, we laid back on soft cushions contemplating the view over the medina and enjoyed an ice cold lager!
You’ll get fairly disorientated in the souks but not hopelessly lost! You do eventually stumble across what you’re looking for, by chance when you least expect it, such as the famous sheep’s head stalls – I’ll try almost anything but I just posed for the photo this time! And invariably you end back at the main square.
In the evening dozens of popular food stalls are set up in Djemaa el-Fna and the atmosphere is even livelier. There’s an inviting display of cooked meats and vegetables on display although hygiene looks a bit risky. Moroccan tourists were crowed at the most popular places but the dishes were mainly offal, I was told.
I couldn’t leave with out sitting with the snake charmers. I had a smooth slim snake – non-poisonous I was assured – draped around my neck. My partner was horrified although, to be honest, I was more worried about the disheveled old man that had his arm round my shoulders. I watched in fascination as a cobra evilly darting back and forth at the young snake charmer crouched next to me, and I wondered if it was actually dangerous…
The Koutoubia Mosque can be seen from el-Fna at the end of a wide avenue which is lined with horse-drawn carriages. At sunset the minaret is spectacular, awesomely beautiful. Unlike other cities I’ve visited, such as Cairo or Istanbul, in Marrakesh non-Muslim visitors aren’t allowed into the mosques. I realize that a mosque isn’t a tourist attraction but I’d have loved the chance to take a respectful look inside to see the architecture and feel the atmosphere.
We were staying in a really authentic part of the Medina, away from the main tourist stretch. Going back to our Riad that evening we passed the men playing cards out on the street in front of their local “bar”, “café” or “teashop”? Not quite sure what they call them!
Next morning the narrow streets were busy with kids going to school and mums food shopping at tiny kiosks. We decided to see the nearby Saadian Tombs which were built in the 16th century as a mausoleum to bury the Sultans. It’s worth a visit to see the Islamic architecture, the mosaic tiles with floral motifs, finely worked cedar wood and stucco decoration.
Not following any set plan, we found ourselves in the Mellah (old Jewish Quarter). The unmistakable Star of David was above the entrance to the food market, so being inquisitive as usual I just had to look around. It came as rather a “cultural” shock to see live chickens being sacrificed on the floor in the aisles while nonchalant storekeepers sat back and offered to share their mint tea with us.
Back to the square we stopped for a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice at one of the colourful stalls, bought some and dried fruits, and then wound our way through the souks to Marrakech Museum. Housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace, it holds exhibitions of Moroccan art. The architecture is Andalucian with fountains in the central courtyard, traditional seating areas and a hamman, the intricate tile work and wood carvings are interesting to see.
The Ben Youssef Madrasa, located to the north of the Medina, once an Islamic college, and more recently a youth hostel, is now open to the public as an historical site. Its 130 dormitory cells cluster around the central patio and pool, where we saw a TV crew filming the ornately carved cedar decoration and the beautiful Moroccan tile work.
Walking through the back streets in what seemed like the poorer part of the Medina we stopped to have lunch, a kind of minced meat tajine. Sitting by a first floor window I watched the real world passing along the red-walled alleyways, through crumbling Moorish archways, old men pulling laden carts, youths on dilapidated push bikes and women in colourful traditional attire… Vendors selling pitiful fruit and veg on a cloth on the ground and someone who stopped to buy one pathetic carrot… real life…
We stumbled across the Ensemble Artisanal which, according to the guide book, is a complex where youngsters can learn a trade… it was ramshackle, filthy, inhumane… polite, weary looking, young men were working in tiny hovel rooms, handcrafting souvenirs, metal tea sets, overlaid trays, lamps… the other face of the Medina.
Marrakesh is renowned for its mediaeval Arab baths, traditional hammams in centuries old buildings where it only costs a few coins to enter. Women and men are traditionally kept apart in the hot baths and steamy saunas, and usually there are separate opening hours for them. There are also several exclusive hammams, spas where European couples are allowed in together and you can enjoy essential oil massages, but the prices are European too!
For all the wonder of the souks, Marrakesh is not a place for bargains. I took home some bright fine silk scarves as gifts, and went to a “government authorized” health shop where I bought essential oil perfumes, local spices and natural makeup – charcoal eyeliner, reddish-brown mud blusher and an amazing green lipstick that actually stains your lips pink! I also bought some beautifully coloured decorative tajines at a larger fixed price shop off el-Fna square – on a side- street running parallel to the main pedestrian precinct where the banks, ice-cream parlours, patisseries and donar kebab cafes are located.
Returning to our tranquil retreat for the last evening, we bought bottled water and soft drinks from a local kiosk where we were greeted politely. Not once had we been made to feel uncomfortable as westerners, even though we weren’t probably clothed adequately in our sleeveless tops and Bermuda shorts. We sat our rooftop terrace haven in the cool evening air gazing over the palms to the moonlit Koutoubia.
Although on our first night, I’d been startled awake by the mosques’ calls to prayer in the early hours, but now I had succumbed to the magic of Marrakesh I found it quite comforting.
Marrakesh has much more to offer, it’s renowned for it’s beautiful gardens, centuries old mosques, and several palaces – the Badi Palace, Royal Palace and Bahia Palace are the main ones. There is also the new zone where modern hotels, commerce and trendy restaurants are located.
It’s a base for exploring the traditional villages, to see the countryside and waterfalls of the Atlas Mountains, and for day trips including a visit to Berber markets and the “Gate” to the Sahara Desert.
We’ll go back one day, maybe for a stopover during a jeep trip through the Sahara, one of my dreams, but that’s another story…