In December 1983 together with some friends I had a holiday on the Spanish island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and on a day trip out visited the volcanic National Park called Fire Mountain.
After a couple of days of visiting the beach and sitting around in bars we decided to do some sightseeing around the island so we walked into the commercial area of Puerto Del Carmen where we were staying and found a car hire office with the sort of prices that suited our budget – cheap – and you only get what you pay for of course because being at the lower end of the scale we were allocated a clapped out old grey/blue Daihatsu Jeep which despite being worn out seemed perfect for what we had in mind. First things first though and after taking possession of the rattling bone shaker we had to quickly find a fuel station because the fuel indicator was hovering somewhere just below empty!
The weather was poor that day and thick clouds kept racing in from the Atlantic Ocean, mostly steely grey but sometimes black and ominous and bulging with moisture which promptly fell as heavy rain as soon as they crossed the coast and raced inland. After breakfast we pulled on what we thought might be suitably warm clothing and headed off in a northerly direction to the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya.
The temperature was comfortable by the coast but it soon began to plummet as we drove into the interior of the island and started to climb and we weren’t prepared for that and it wasn’t long before we began to regret not bringing even more clothes along (or even the blankets from the beds in the apartment) because it was soon very, very cold indeed with frequent rain squalls and a stinging wind that lashed our legs and faces.
As we had a four wheel drive we thought we might test its capabilities so rather than follow the tarmac highway we went off road and tried to plot our own course. We got hopelessly lost of course and at one point came across a surprised islander, a whiskered old lady in rusty black clothes, and asked for directions to the park. I can’t be sure but I think she said that the sensible thing was to go back to the main road because this was safer and even though she was quite insistent about this we ignored her advice and carried on along a boulder strewn track that tipped and lurched the vehicle for the next few kilometres until eventually we came to the boundary to the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya marked by a sign carrying the mischievous El Diablo (The Devil) logo. The emblem of Lanzarote is a demon because the early settlers interpreted their first experience of a volcanic eruption as the work of the devil. It was so cold today that we would have welcomed some sort of volcanic activity I can tell you!
We arrived at the visitor’s car park and that was as far as we could drive into the park and there we tagged on to some coach party trips and watched several demonstrations by a sun gnarled old man of ‘how hot‘ the area is because temperatures just a few metres below the surface here reach between 400°C and 600°C! First of all he threw dry brush into a harmless looking hole in the ground and it immediately caught fire, while water poured into a bore hole erupted seconds later in the form of steam – like a mini-geyser and he finished this off by demonstrating a natural gas vent that doubles as a BBQ!
There was a coach tour into the National Park and around the volcanic craters but instead of the comfortable seat option we choose an alternative camel ride which involved a thirty minute circuit of the craters on a form of transport that even made the Jeep seem comfortable!
To be honest we were glad when the camel excursion was over, it might have been the preferred transport option of Lawrence of Arabia but we were just pleased to get back to the Daihatsu and drive away in a westerly direction. We were making our way now towards the old capital of the island called Teguise where islanders used to take refuge from the coastal storms and from pirate raids and had built themselves an impressive fortress at the highest point with commanding views over most of the island.
This was the Santa Bárbara castle and it turned out that only that year there had been a complete restoration by the Fine Arts Association and on account of being some of the first visitors to the restored attraction it had a most non–medieval feel about it but having paid the entrance fee we visited the museum and wandered around the castle walls until we collectively agreed that it was time to leave and make our way back through the island capital, Arrecife and back to the relative warmth of the coastal strip. It was still quite early and I innocently asked what we were going to do for the rest of the day? Richard gave me a withering look, rolled his eyes skywards and said ‘have you got no imagination?’ and we spent the remainder of the day in the comfort of the bars of Puerto Del Carmen.
F is for Fire Mountain but it could well have been:
Other posts about Volcanoes: