Tag Archives: Volcanoes

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

More About Geysers – Timanfaya, Lanzarote

Timanfaya Lanzrote Fire Mountain Canary Islands

“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 over Timanfaya, Rodeo and part of Mancha Blanca.” –  Father Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo from Yaiza – eyewitness.

There are over one thousand known geysers in the World and as well as in Iceland the most famous are in Yellowstone Park in the U.S.A, the Taupau Volcanic Zone in New Zealand, El Tatio in Chile and the Valley of the Geysers in Russia.  I have been to Yellowstone but not to the others but I have been to Fire Mountain on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands where there is a sort of artificial or false geyser to amuse the tourists.

Fire Mountain is actually Timanfaya National Park, a desolate and lifeless place of barren landscape and volcanic rock laid down in the early eighteenth century when more than thirty volcanoes exploded, 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 there is still hardly any vegetation there.

Lanzarote Timanfaya National Park

Together with a group of friends we were 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 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 lined face that could 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 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 significance of the demon emblem of Lanzarote is because 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 knotted hands of ‘how hot‘ the area is because temperatures just a few metres below the surface here reach between up to 600° centigrade!

 

Lanzarote 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 superheated air at 400 degrees centigrade which comes from a broiling 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. 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.

Parque Nacional de Timanfaya

Iceland, More About Car Hire Volcano Insurance

Iceland Car Hire Sixt Volcano Damage Insurance

As we drove along a perfectly maintained asphalt road I congratulated myself on my earlier decision not to fall for the volcano damage insurance trick but very soon after that I was glad of the fact that I had agreed to pay the gravel damage insurance scam.

Eventually we came to a sign that told us that the tarmac road was about to end and we about to join an unpaved road full of lumps and bumps, potholes and significant gravel damage danger so I was glad that we had taken out the additional insurance especially when cars approaching from the other way inevitably sent a shower of stones towards us as though we under machine gun fire aimed at our little vehicle which, quite frankly, was totally unsuitable for this sort of journey which made me think again about car hire companies and their underhand tricks.

Earlier in the year I hired a car in Italy (again from Sixt) and despite signing up for comprehensive insurance I was then told that this didn’t cover the roof, the windscreen, the tyres, the floor or, most bizarrely of all, the clutch.  Comprehensive means comprehensive in my book and not one that is qualified with lots of exclusions and ‘get out’ clauses.

A few years ago I had another unpleasant extra charges experience with Sixt at the car hire desk in Karlsruhe-Baden in Germany.  There was a pleasant young man on duty called Herr Schmidberger and he examined my hire details and then sighed and furrowed his brow and adopted a concerned demeanour, “You have a booking for a vehicle without the winter tyres” he said, “are you sure you want a car without the winter tyres?”  I had no idea what he was talking about and must have given him my best blank expression because with that he rolled his eyes so far back into their sockets that if had laser vision he would have surely fried his brain.

The winter tyres were an extra €55 and I was beginning to detect a well rehearsed scam so we took a while to consult with each other on the proposal of paying the extra and this started to test his patience.

I enquired why I might consider going to the unnecessary additional expense and although this was his opportunity to inform me that since May 2006 German motorists have been required by law to use the most appropriate tyres for the weather conditions and that driving on snow covered roads is permitted only if a car is equipped with winter tyres, but instead he became even more theatrical and said “Look at the snow, you can see the snow, in just two minutes you can see the snow!”  

Sixt Winter Tyres

Obviously I could see the snow but I still failed to understand why he was so insistent (unless it was a scam and I was becoming more and more sure of that).  He could have told me that in Germany motorists are obliged to make sure they have correct tyres to suit the winter weather conditions and if a vehicle becomes stuck because the tyres are unsuitable drivers are liable to an on the spot police fine, and furthermore if the vehicle causes an obstruction or aggravation to other traffic, the fine may be doubled.  Instead he gave a look that suggested that I was the craziest customer that he had ever dealt with and that driving without winter tyres in snow was madder than wrestling with alligators, swimming in shark infested waters or sky-diving without a parachute.

I asked about the weather forecast and whether he thought it might be snowing in the Black Forest (which at over a thousand metres was an absolute certainty and a really dumb question) and then his eyes started to swivel from side to side like the symbols on a fruit machine and he was clearly losing his patience with me now.  He might have explained that winter tyres use a tread rubber compound that is softer and a tread block pattern which are specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures and give good braking and traction performance on snow and ice covered roads but instead he just keep shrieking “Look at the snow, you can see the snow, in just two minutes you can see the snow!”  

By now we were beginning to understand that he thought snow tyres were a very good idea so finally agreed to the additional charge and he immediately calmed down and set about allocating us an appropriate vehicle for the conditions.

We quickly found the bright blue Nissan Micra hidden under a blanket of snow, cleaned it down, examined the tyres which, at this time not understanding about the special rubber compound, looked quite normal to me and fairly soon after setting off I was certain we had been scammed.  And we had been of course because at €13.45 a day I calculate that if they are on the car for a third of the year that is an extra €1,600 or €400 a tyre and I could not believe that they can be that much more expensive than a regular tyre.  And of course they are not because when I got home I checked and they can be bought for as little as €40 each.

Iceland Car Hire Volcano Damage Insurance

But, I digress, so let’s get back to Iceland where Sixt seem to excel themselves at ripping people off and I found this from a victim on Tripadvisor (http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTopic-g189964-i4363-k5758239-Sixt_rent_a_car_Keflavik-Keflavik_Southern_Peninsula.html):

 “After a lovely week in May of this year we dropped our hired Chevrolet Spark off at this same office where it was thoroughly checked and deemed to be fine. Two days later we received an email saying that they were sorry but sand damage had been found and they had taken over £2500 from my credit card.”

A representative from Sixt responded with this rather lame excuse:

“I would like to assure all Sixt customers that Sixt Iceland tries to handle all damage cases with great care and do not charge customers for damage lightly. There are times when damage cannot be seen until after cleaning and in such cases we contact the customer to let them know about the damage found. We gather all information we can to prove all damage. By taking photos and with an estimated repair cost from an independent garage we are able to provide the renter with a good proof of damage.”

What is that funny smell?

Interestingly, even if you take out the volcano damage insurance this only limits liability to repair costs exceeding €1,500 and that is a staggeringly large excess liability!  I don’t think I will be hiring a car from Sixt again, especially in Iceland!

Thankfully the gravel road experience didn’t last very long and soon we were back to tarmac for the final ten kilometres or so of the journey towards Þingvellir.

Iceland Volcano

Iceland, Car Hire and Volcano Damage

Iceland Volcano

As a sort of postscript to my previous post I started to think about other dangerous volcano areas that I have visited and where it may not be a good idea to take a hire car if there is a genuine threat of paint stripping damage.

Firstly Mount Vesuvius near Naples in Italy:

Vesuvius the crater

Mind you, you would probably consider yourself spectacularly unlucky if the thing went off while you were on a tourist visit to the top of the crater.  But then don’t forget that it is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years and that was in 1944 when it destroyed a handful of communities and an entire United States bomber squadron, which makes you wonder why they didn’t just take off and go somewhere else!

Second, Timanfaya or Fire Mountain on the Spanish Island of Lanzarote:

Parque Nacional de Timanfaya Lanzarote

When I visited this volcanic site we arrived at the visitor’s car park and that was as far as you could drive into the park and there I tagged on to some coach party trips and watched several demonstrations by a sun gnarled old man with a face of weathered leather and  hands with knotted knuckles 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 doubled as a BBQ!

Also in the Spanish Canary Islands on nearby Tenerife there is the still active volcano Mount Teide  which I visited in 1989:

Mount Teide Tenerife

The summit of Mount Teide at just over three thousand, seven hundred metres is the highest point in Spain and the highest point above sea level in the islands of the Atlantic.  At 7,500 m from its base on the ocean floor, it is the third highest volcano in the world and its altitude makes Tenerife the tenth highest island in the world (although to be fair this is another of those biggest, largest, highest statistics to be wary of). It remains active: its most recent eruption occurred in 1909 from the El Chinyero vent on the north-western Santiago rift. The United Nations Committee for Disaster Mitigation designated Teide what they call a Decade Volcano because of its history of destructive eruptions and its proximity to several large towns.

Finally and probably the most dangerous of all, Yellowstone National Park in the USA:

Yellowstone is a super volcano called a caldera (which is Latin for cauldron) that are so explosive that they just burst open and blow everything away in one almighty blast of truly biblical proportions.  And this event would be so huge that it is the reason why previous eruptions have not left behind a classic volcanic mountain, like say Vesuvius or Mount Etna.

The Yellowstone caldera measures nine thousand square kilometers and the crater is almost sixty-five kilometers across, so as you can probably imagine that would have been one almighty explosion!  Luckily these super volcanoes don’t go off very often, the last time was six hundred and thirty thousand years ago, but if it did explode you would definitely want to stand well back because one thing to be sure is that nothing for thousands of miles around would survive and the paint stripping insurance for the hire car would be completely irrelevant and a total waste of money.