Tag Archives: Lanzarote

Camels and Lost Manuscripts

Essaouira Camels

“I distrust camels, and anyone else who can go a week without a drink” – American comedian (if there is such a thing) Joe E. Lewis

The beach at Essaouira in Western Morocco stretches for a couple of miles or so and about half way along there are camels, lots of camels.  Once they used to carry trade goods from the Sahara to the port but now their job is to provide rides for visitors and tourists.

I have always thought that some things should only be done once in life and for me a camel ride is quite high on this list.

I took a camel ride in Lanzarote in 1984

Camel Train Timanfaya Lanzarote

Having very quickly forgotten my lesson in the boat yard about being easily hustled I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself negotiating with a camel owner for a one hour ride along the beach and before I could say Lawrence of Arabia I was sitting on a shaggy carpet on the back of a dromedary and being hoisted into the air!  It is a long way up on a camel so once on board there is no realistic opportunity of changing your mind that won’t involve a sprained ankle or a broken leg!

To be fair I was happy with the price – 150 dirham (£12) for one hour and one mile which compares very favourably with £2.50 for a five minute and two hundred yard donkey ride at home on Cleethorpes Beach, near where I live.

Cleethorpes Donkeys

And so we set off at a leisurely pace along the beach with the camel man persistently trying to persuade me to spend more and extend the ride to two hours.  I refused, I was certain that an hour was long enough and I held out.  I was proud of myself for that.

Essaouira Camel Ride

In my pocket I had brought with me some pages from a note book so that I could make a record of the day and at one point I thought of something so brilliant, so Bill Bryson, so Hemingway, so Laurie Lee, that I felt I needed to write it down immediately in case I forgot this potential literary gem and I reached inside my pocket for pen and paper.

Unfortunately it was quite windy and as I clung on firmly to the wooden saddle with one hand I was surprised by a strong gust that separated me from the paper and it went back-flipping across the sand like an Olympic gymnast and it was lost.  Now I would have to rely on memory.

As it happens, this was rather like Lawrence of Arabia himself.  Lawrence kept extensive notes throughout the course of his involvement in the First-World-War and he began work in 1919 on the manuscript of his book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.  By December it was almost complete but he lost it when he misplaced his briefcase while changing trains at Reading railway station sometime in the following year.  It was never recovered and he had to start all over again.

At least Lawrence still had his notes but he did have to rewrite four years of memoirs, I only needed to recall four days!

T E Lawrence

Another famous loss is the story of Thomas Carlyle and his book ‘The French Revolution: A History’.  In 1835 he finished volume 1 and gave it to his friend John Stuart Mill to read for his comments.

book-burning

Unfortunately it was the only copy of the work and Mill’s servant allegedly mistook the book for household rubbish and used it as a convenient source of material to get the kitchen fire going one morning!

Unlike Lawrence, Carlyle apparently kept no notes at all and had to completely rewrite the first volume entirely from memory.

Little wonder he looked so glum…

Picture_of_Thomas_Carlyle

Anyway, the camel ride continued until it reached a block of stone in the sand – a ruined red brick fortress, battered by the years into submission and collapse by the unrelenting waves.  At some point in the late 1960s Jimi Hendix visited Essaouira and stayed a while in a nearby hippy village and they like to tell you around here that it was during this sojourn that he was inspired by the ruin to write his song ‘Castles in The Sea’ but sadly the dates don’t quite correspond and it turns out that he actually wrote the song two years before ever setting foot in Morocco.

And so the camel ride had reached its turning point and then returned me as promised to the start where I was mugged for a second time today when the owner told me that we had been out for an hour and a quarter and that I owed him 200 dirham.  Another lesson learned!

Castles in the Sand Jimi Hendrix

Entrance Tickets – Jameos Del Agua, Lanzarote

Jameos Del Agua Lanzarote

“Wherever he saw a hole he always wanted to know the depth of it. To him this was important.”  –  Jules Verne –  ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’

After the drive to the west of the island to Timanfaya we had the knackered old jeep at our disposal for another day and this time travelled north along the eastern coast to visit the volcanic caves just north of Arrecife.

It is a rather odd thing but people seem to like to go below the surface of the earth and go down caves and caverns, grottoes and mines and I have to say that I am no exception.  I used to live near the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire (UK) and would go down the Blue John mines near Buxton pretty much every year.  Well, the guide book pointed out some caves in Lanzarote so that is where we made for today.

Jameos del Aqua Lanzarote Canary Islands

La Cueva de los Verdes is what is known as a lava tube and was created around three-thousand years ago by lava flows from the nearby volcano Monte Corona, flowing across the Malpaís de la Corona toward the sea. The lava streams cooled on top, developing a solid crust, before the lava drained away leaving the top part as the roof of a cave. In a number of places along the tube the roof of the cave collapsed, forming a cavern known locally as a jameo.

The cave system at Cueva de los Verdes is around six kilometres long and claimed to be the longest lava tube in the World but I am willing to wager that somewhere else in the World will be making exactly the same claim!

Visitors can take a tour along about a kilometre of illuminated path and so we handed over our money and prepared to leave the sunshine and like Otto Lidenbrock in ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ * descend below the surface.

We followed our guide through an intriguing maze of gigantic caves, carved by lava and gnawed by erosion, through a succession of caverns and galleries with lighting displays arranged to illuminate the colours of the rocks and the eerie shadows that they cast.  As usual in underground caves he kept pointing out natural sculptures that, with a lot of imagination, had a resemblance to familiar icons – the Madonna and Child (several times), Bulls, Matadors and famous Spanish Kings and Queens.

Lanzarote Postcard Multi Picture

After an hour or so we returned blinking to the surface and drove the short distance to nearby Jameos del Agua and prepared to go straight underground again.

This time we descended steeply down a flight of steps and arrived in a rather gloomy café area where we stopped for a drink and an overpriced bocadillo before continuing into the cave.  There was a walk now along a narrow path on one side of a flooded cavern where in the water the main attraction were hundreds of blind albino crabs, apparently the only ones like it in the World, which is another claim that I am unable to confirm.

Jameos del aqua Lanzarote Canary Islands

We didn’t spend nearly as much time underground at this cave because it opened out quite quickly into the collapsed cavern where the afternoon sunshine was pouring into a luxurious tropical garden with exotic plants and scarlet flowers, fish ponds with turtles posing obligingly for photographs and a brilliant turquoise swimming pool and recreational area.

At the end of the day we drove back to Puerto del Carmen and as we were running low on fuel we were forced to find a garage so we pulled into a filling station where the smiling attendant approached probably in expectation of filling the tank and a big sale:

‘Si Seňor?’ he beamed,

‘two hundred por favor’ , we said calculating that this would be enough to see us through until we returned the vehicle to the car hire office.

‘two hondred?’  ‘two hondred?’  the man pushed his black beret up over his forehead scratched his head in that puzzled sort of way, twisted his face into a squint, wrinkled his walnut sunburned face and looked thoroughly confused as he searched for clarification, finally he just said – ‘not enough room in tank!’

We looked confused and then we realised what he meant and were more specific, ‘no, not litres – pesetas!’

Now, this was the equivalent of about seventy-five pence so this required great precision on his part to deliver only just the required miniscule amount into the tank.  We handed him two one hundred peseta notes and he walked away shaking his head and repeating over and over to himself ‘two hondred, two hondred…’

This had been my first time visiting the Canary Islands and I liked Lanzarote even though I have never been back but for the next few years I did make it an annual event to visit some of the others.

Do you like going underground? Which is your favourite cave?

Puerto Del Carmen Lanzarote 1983 

* Rather interestingly in the book the Professor and his assistant search for the Centre of the Earth by entering a lava tube at Snæfellsjökull glacier in Iceland and eventually comes back to the surface through another one on the slopes of Mount Etna on the island of Sicily.

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Other Cave Stories:

Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia

Cueva del Aguila, Spain

Altimira Caves, Spain

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

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Entrance Tickets – Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote

Entrance Ticket - Timanfaya Lanzarote

“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.

Vesuvius Postcard

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.

Lanzarote Timanfaya National Park

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.

Timanfaya Lanzrote Fire Mountain Canary Islands

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!

Fire Mountain Lanzarote SpainLanzarote Steam Geyser Timanfaya National Park

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.

Lanzarote Fire Mountain

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?

Parque Nacional de Timanfaya

Morocco, Essaouira – Beaches, Camels and Lost Manuscripts

essaouira from beach

“The camel and his driver — each has his own plan.”
African Proverb

The day started badly and it was my own fault.  Entirely without question my own fault.  After an excellent breakfast in the Riad Chakaris the plan was to visit the beach.

This meant walking once again past the fishing port and this morning by chance straying into the boat building yard.  I was admiring the boats when a man appeared and beckoned me over.  I wasn’t sufficiently alert and wandered across and he invited me inside a wooden picket fence to take a closer look.

To be fair he gave me an informative ten minute tour of the yard but then at the furthest point from the fence he asked me in a rather threatening way for 200 dirham (about £15).  I said no way but he was big and smelly and blocked my way.  I stood my ground but even so eventually handed over 50 dirham which was still too much and money that I would have preferred to give to a street beggar rather than a thief.  Lesson learned!

Essaouira Boat Builder Con Man/Thief

A very good reason for visiting Essaouira is to take a walk along the beach at Tensift-El Haouz just a short stroll south of the town.  This is a magnificent beach, Blue Flag of course, curving like a crescent moon with lush caramel sound that is washed continuously clean by lashing waves as strong winds blow in from the Atlantic Ocean and bring in the foaming rollers.  I have always said that Cofete Beach in Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands is my favourite but this one will now always come a very close second and the only reason that it doesn’t get my top spot is because there are a lot more people on it.

The beach stretches for a couple of miles or so and about half way along there are camels, lots of camels.  Once they used to carry trade goods from the Sahara to the port but now their job is to provide rides for visitors and tourists.

I have always thought that some things should only be done once in life and for me a camel ride is quite high on this list.

I took a camel ride in Lanzarote in 1984

Camel Train Timanfaya Lanzarote

Having very quickly forgotten my lesson in the boat yard about being easily hustled I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself negotiating with a camel owner for a one hour ride along the beach and before I could say Lawrence of Arabia I was sitting on a shaggy carpet on the back of a dromedary and being hoisted into the air!  It is a long way up on a camel so once on board there is no realistic opportunity of changing your mind that won’t involve a sprained ankle or a broken leg!

To be fair I was happy with the price – 150 dirham (£12) for one hour and one mile which compares very favourably with £2.50 for a five minute and two hundred yard donkey ride at home on Cleethorpes Beach.

And so we set off at a leisurely pace along the beach with the camel man persistently trying to persuade me to spend more and extend the ride to two hours.  I refused and held out.  I was proud of myself for that.

“I distrust camels, and anyone else who can go a week without a drink” – American comedian (if there is such a thing) Joe E. Lewis

Essaouira Camel Ride

In my pocket I had brought with me some pages from a note book so that I could make a record of the day and at one point I thought of something so brilliant, so Brysonesque that I felt I needed to write it down immediately in case I forgot this potential literary gem and I reached inside my pocket for pen and paper.  Unfortunately it was quite windy and as I clung on firmly to the wooden saddle with one hand I was surprised by a strong gust that separated me from the paper and it went back-flipping across the sand like an Olympic gymnast and it was lost.  Now I would have to rely on memory.

As it happens, this was rather like Lawrence of Arabia himself.  Lawrence kept extensive notes throughout the course of his involvement in the First-World-War and he began work in 1919 on the manuscript of his book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.  By December it was almost complete but he lost it when he misplaced his briefcase while changing trains at Reading railway station sometime in the following year.  It was never recovered and he had to start all over again.

At least Lawrence still had his notes but he did have to rewrite four years of memoirs I only needed to recall four days!

T E Lawrence

Another famous loss is the story of Thomas Carlyle and his book ‘The French Revolution: A History’.  In 1835 he finished volume 1 and gave it to his friend John Stuart Mill to read for his comments.  Unfortunately it was the only copy of the work and Mill’s servant allegedly mistook the book for household rubbish and used it as a convenient source of material to get the kitchen fire going one morning!

Unlike Lawrence, Carlyle apparently kept no notes at all and had to completely rewrite the first volume entirely from memory.

Picture_of_Thomas_Carlyle

Anyway, the camel ride continued until it reached a block of stone in the sand – a ruined red brick fortress, battered by the years into submission and collapse by the unrelenting waves.  At some point in the late 1960s Jimi Hendix visited Essaouira and stayed a while in a nearby hippy village and they like to tell you around here that it was during this sojourn that he was inspired by the ruin to write his song ‘Castles in The Sea’ but sadly the dates don’t quite correspond and it turns out that he actually wrote the song two years before ever setting foot in Morocco.

And so the camel ride had reached its turning point and then returned me as promised to the start where I was mugged for a second time today when the owner told me that we had been out for an hour and a quarter and that I owed him 200 dirham.  Second lesson learned!

Castles in the Sand Jimi Hendrix

Car Hire Misadventures – Gran Canaria, 1986

Car Hire Gran Canaria 1986

Mid way through the holiday we did hire a car, a little blue Seat with an open top and on the first day set off into the mountains in the interior.

This turned out to be rather hard work as the road swept in extravagant loops around deep valleys and gorges and followed a precarious route to the top.  Actually, we didn’t get to the top because after an hour or so we got a puncture and I had to change the wheel at the roadside.  We were high up and close to the edge and part way through the process the car started to slide off the jack and I wondered how I was going to explain to the hire company just how the car had fallen off the road and disappeared into a ravine.

Read the full story…

Car Hire Misadventures – Lanzarote, 1983

Parque Nacional de Timanfaya

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.

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, even though she had probably never ever driven a vehicle in her life, she displayed great wisdom and  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.

Read the full story…

Lanzarote Car Hire

Entrance Tickets – Sioux City, Gran Canaria

Sioux City Gran Canaria

One day towards the end of the holiday I walked to Sioux City (not Sioux City in Iowa USA but Sioux City at Canon del Aquila in Gran Canaria) which is an old movie set from the days of the spaghetti westerns which had been transformed into a western theme park with cowboys and Indians, US cavalry and show girls in a succession of staged events and shows that were performed throughout the afternoon.

It was entertaining enough but seemed curiously out of place to me.

Read the full story…