“The camel and his driver — each has his own plan.” – African Proverb
“On the first day of September, 1730, the earth suddenly opened near Timanfaya. An enormous mountain emerged from the ground with flames coming from its summit. It continued burning for 19 days. Some days later, a new abyss developed and an avalanche of lava rushed down …” – Father Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo from Yaiza – an eyewitness.
In the early eighteenth century more than thirty volcanoes exploded on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, spilling fire, smoke and huge deposits of magma onto the surrounding landscape, engulfing entire villages and destroying once fertile agricultural land. Today this is Timanfaya National Park, a desolate and lifeless place of barren landscape and arid volcanic rock.
The eruptions transformed as much as 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 there is still hardly any vegetation in this place. Black lava ribs of the mountain spill from the top and in the occasional sunshine the colours were ever changing, the rocks were black, brown, purple and umber with a sulphurous yellow crust like fine filigree lace and all over there was vivid green copper oxide and some hardy mosses ferociously clinging on to life in a highly improbable location.
Together with a group of friends I was staying near the coast where the December temperature was comfortable 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 more clothes along 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 to the full so rather than sensibly 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, toothless old lady in rusty black clothes and with a lined face that could easily be mistaken for a road map so we stopped and asked for directions to the park.
I can’t be absolutely certain but I think she said that the really sensible thing to do 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 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!
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 with a face of leather and twisted knotted hands of ‘how hot‘ the area is because temperatures just a few metres below the surface here reach between up to 600° centigrade!
Happily the volcanic craters are dormant now but vents by the vantage point at the Islote de Hilario give out super-heated air at 400° centigrade which comes from a boiling chamber of magma – estimated to be safely four kilometres beneath the surface at this point.
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’ and he finished this incendiary display by demonstrating a natural gas vent that doubled as a natural BBQ for the nearby restaurant.
Due to the fragility of the rocks and the possible danger of collapsing lava tubes and gullies it isn’t especially advisable to go wandering about by yourself or poking the surface with a sharp stick and quite sensibly unescorted walking is not permitted.
“I distrust camels, and anyone else who can go a week without a drink” – American comedian, Joe E. Lewis
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 and we were jolly grateful when it was all over and we could make our way back to Puerto del Carmen in the beat up old hire car.
Have you ever taken a camel ride? Did you enjoy it?