The Island of the Sleeping Volcanoes
Frank Ebbecke, photos by Gabriel Fueloepp
It’s grey outside. Impenetrable clouds lie like lead over everything. Including over my soul and mood. And it will stay like this more or less for quite a number of months. Time to say “Good bye”. Sheremetevo? Domodedovo? Vnukovo? There are many ways to escape from here. And to take off to there. With just one easy stopover in one of the Western air hubs. About seven flight hours later the warmth surrounds you like a light winter coat. Which you could get rid off. Forever. The sky is wide open. And this is how you feel the first second you step out of the plane.
Light simply is life. And here is plenty of light. In all colours of the rainbow. Just depending on the time of the day. Or the night. Even the moon often shines like a floodlight. In heavy competition with the thousands of stars.
This is still Europe. At least politically. It belongs to Spain. But mainland Spain is 1000 kilometres away. In fact, it’s much closer to Africa. A mere 100 sea miles off the West African coast. You may crunch a little of finest Sahara sand between your teeth. Sometimes. And over the horizon on the other side there’s the East coast of North America. Just a couple of sailing days away. This is a true island in the sun. One of the Canaries, the easternmost. And a very special one. The island of the sleeping volcanos. Lanzarote.
Earth wind & fire. Here is an epicentre of these basic elements of our planet. Earth. Lanzarote. Born through fiery eruptions. Solidified lava streams. Bizarre rock formations. Originally formed about 35 million years ago. But the most impressive moon-like landscapes have been sculptured through enormous eruptions between 1730 and 1736. Today’s Timanfaya National Park can be explored on the back of a camel. And you can listen to classic music concerts in the longest lava stream cave in the world, in the cave of Los Verdes. Lanzarote enjoys a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve protected side status. With merits.
Fire. Well, that’s exactly what the volcanos spit out. Subsequently one of the signature signs of Lanzarote is the “Fire Devil”. A unique figure created by the late Cesar Manrique. Probably the most prominent son of Lanzarote. In 1919 he was born in its little capital Arrecife. He became a respected sculptor, painter, architect, community planner. Influenced by compatriot artist like Joan Miro he worked hard and had exhibitions across Europe and in New York. In 1966 he came home to Lanzarote. His residence is in lava caves. Based on his own plans. It’s a must not to be missed. Much more than that Manrique had a major influence on Lanzarote’s planning regulations when tourism took off. One great success is the lack of high rise hotels and other buildings. There was only one built. The “Grand” in the capital. More a modern, singular landmark. But a visual irritation. Especially because it’s right next to a public sandy beach which has beautiful palm trees.
“Home is where the heart is.” As people say. And heart certainly means people. Lanzarote is believed to be the first of the Canary Islands to be settled, by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC. Then all the pirates came (predecessors of some sort of tourists nowadays). From Portugal, Greece, France, England, Turkey. From wherever. Today just 139,000 people inhabit the island, they are mostly Spaniards. But apart from them, there is a good mix of Africans, Latin Americans Northern Europeans and some other ethnics who all call Lanzarote their home. Lucky them.
Antonio is a Spanish local. Young. Healthy. Olive skin. Black hair. Warm, brown eyes. The hat gently pushed in his neck. Can make you jealous. You hardly notice him in the middle of all these women of all ages around him. Trying to get his attention, Antonio simply farms the best local fruit and vegetables with his own hands. With nothing else but nature, for a more than a fair price on the market in Teguise. The picturesque, ancient capital of Lanzarote. Each Sunday.
Bruno comes from Northern Italy. He might be in his fifties. He looks like a left over “flower power hippie” from Sausalito. With his long hair, muscular arms. Covered with tattoos. His soft, gentle body movements. In the back of his car a decal: “Get free. Start a Revolution.” Well, he apparently did, for himself. He left his homeland (even if also not that bad) and went further South. He and his wife run a tiny café with delicious coffees, pastries, homemade ice cream. A daily must for locals and tourists in Costa Teguise. Just for a short, indulging stop at “Bruno’s”. Provided he has opened. Sometimes he just closes for the rest of the day and goes surfing.
Stefan could be Bruno’s German brother. Judging from his outfit, hairstyle, tan. He came here almost two decades ago. He was fatted up with lots of things back home then. And then he suffered from a personal loss, he said. He changed his life to be a swimming pool specialist and a trustworthy housekeeper. For those international owners who only can afford to spend their vacations here, a couple of times a year. He’s the one who’s lucky to stay.
Melchior is another German. On the first encounter he carried a tiny bouquet of multi-coloured, beautiful flowers in his hands. He came because he was asked to advise about a new architectural project for a private garden. That’s not necessarily what he’d done before in his former home in the distant north of Germany. But now he seems to be happy.
Suzette spent two-thirds of her life in buzzing London. One day she had enough. She took the two youngest of her four children. And moved right here. She paints and writes books. From her terrace she can watch dolphins playing in the ocean. These animals also became the main subject of her work. She portrays them on driftwood she finds by the sea shore. “The ever changing light and energy on Lanzarote fulfilled my artistic dreams” … and changed her whole life. She claims. And happily smiles.
From a more touristic point of view, Brits and Krauts share the island. And the waterholes. More and more French have been coming for a few years. And the planes from MAD and BCN are full of mainland compatriots. Some sleepy fishermen’s villages have turned into tourist melting pots. With a buzzling nightlife. And lots of beer. Still kind of easy to avoid them. Large parts of Lanzarote are still reasonably untouched. Natural. Original. Never can imagine that the endless, mountain- framed Famara beach in the North will ever be really crowded. Other than probably once a year. When the windsurfer elite invades the place for one of their world champion competitions.
Here, life is slow. Life is low. Living is easy. And pleasantly cheap. Just catch your own sardine. Put it on the grill. Uncork a bottle of island-grown wine. That’s it. What else? Burn your tuxedo, sir. And your cocktail dress, madam. Shorts and T-shirts will do.
Sure, there are other islands in the sun. In the Caribbean. In the South Pacific. In the Indian Ocean. Elsewhere. Where you have a feeling of a little bit of paradise is a very personal thing. But Lanzarote is a true temptation. It’s so near. It’s so widely unspoiled. It’s so much caressing with a climate perfectly suitable for European bodies. All year round. No real sun burn. No wetty sweating. Always a good breeze coming in from the sea. From mild to mighty. “Living to work (yes, I’m German) or working to live.” With a place like this—there’s an easy answer.
Can’t wait to savor my next “Calajillo” there. With a view on some beach. Or some naturally sculptured rocks. And further over the big waters all the way to the Americas. Or to Africa. Maybe, one time I even shall recognize these other continents. Right from here. Probably after enough “Calajillos” … which is a very small, very strong espresso with a generous shot of Spanish brandy in it.