Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote
After a couple of fine sunny days the weather had turned rather sour and unwelcome thick clouds kept racing in from the Atlantic Ocean, mostly steely grey but sometimes black and ominous and overloaded 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.
Timanfaya National Park has the popular tag of Fire Mountain and is a lonely, desolate and lifeless place of barren landscape and volcanic rock laid down in the early eighteenth century when more than thirty volcanoes exploded more or less at the same time, spilling fire, smoke and huge deposits of magma onto the surrounding landscape, engulfing entire villages and destroying once fertile agricultural land. The eruptions transformed almost a quarter of the island into a sea of solidified lava, multicoloured volcanic rocks, copper coloured sand and a thick layer of course grey ash and nearly three hundred years later little has changed and there is still hardly any vegetation there.
As we had a four wheel drive we thought we might test its capabilities to the full so rather than follow the tarmac highway we went off road and tried to plot our own course.
Lost on Fire Mountain, Lanzarote
We got hopelessly lost of course and at one point came across a surprised islander, a whiskered, toothless old lady in rusty black clothes and with a wrinkled face that could easily be mistaken for a road map so we stopped and asked for directions to the park.
I can’t be sure but I think she said that the really 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 National Park marked by a sign carrying the mischievous El Diablo (The Devil) logo.
The significance of the demon emblem of Lanzarote is that the early settlers interpreted their first experience of a volcanic eruption as the work of Satan himself. It was so cold today that we would have welcomed some sort of volcanic activity I can tell you!
Volcano Tours at Fire Mountain, Lanzarote
We arrived at the visitor 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 with a face of leather and knotted hands of ‘how hot‘ the area is because temperatures just a few metres below the surface here reach between up to 600° centigrade!
First of all he threw dry brush into a harmless looking hole in the ground and it immediately burst into flames and then he demonstrated the geyser which he made perform by pouring cold water into a bore hole and then retreating swiftly as it erupted seconds later in the form of steam and a brief but satisfying ‘whoosh’.
They probably need to be cautious about this approach because forcing a natural event can sometimes only yield temporary results. In Iceland for example there is an original Great Geyser that used to be frustratingly irregular so apparently people used to encourage it to blow by pouring soap powder into the borehole as this seemed to be a generally reliable way of encouraging it to perform. Eventually this stopped working however because the residue of the soap clogged up the underground vents rather like an automatic washing machine that hasn’t been rinsed through.
Due to the fragility of the rocks and the possible danger of collapsing lava tubes and gullies it isn’t advisable to go wandering about by yourself and quite sensibly unescorted walking is not permitted. The really prudent way to proceed further was to use a coach tour into the National Park and around the volcanic craters but instead of the restful seat option in a heated bus we choose an alternative camel ride which involved a twenty 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.
Santa Bárbara castle on Lanzarote
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.
Arrecife doesn’t tend to feature very prominently in any of the island guide books and even without stopping the jeep we could well understand why. It might be different now of course but in 1983 it was an unattractive and workmanlike place with a working harbour and a street of rather unattractive buildings so finding no good reason to stop the car we rather rudely drove straight through.
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.