October 19 brought us to our first new port on this trip: Arrecife, capital of Lanzarote, a Spanish island in the Canary Islands. It was a beautiful sunny day as we docked in a spot with a nice view of Arrecife’s mostly white skyline. One landmark we could see from the ship was (we think) the Castillo de San Jose, built in the late 1770’s for protection from pirate attacks.
First populated by the Majo people who arrived from Africa around 1,000 AD, Lanzarote became the first Canary island captured by Europeans in 1402. The Majos were mostly sold into slavery and the island was battered by pirates from North Africa and Europe over the next few centuries. Massive volcanic eruptions devastated the island in the 1730’s, destroying at least 11 villages but without a single death. This left almost a fourth of the island covered in lava, which cooled in many places into very fertile soil particularly good for growing wine grapes. But the central area of the eruptions, now called the malpais, or badlands, continues to be largely free of flora and fauna because the temperature reaches well over 200 degrees just a few feet under the surface.
In 1852 Arrecife became the capital of Lanzarote. Today the island has a population of about 150,000, of which about a third live in Arrecife. We didn’t visit Arrecife, however, opting instead for a three hour hike through the badlands in Timanfaya National Park. While the city residents appeared to be living mostly in multi-unit dwellings, the area through which we drove was characterized by very bare looking hills and mostly white houses.
Lanzarote fields are divided into small pieces of land dug into the ground and surrounded by walls of lava rock. These serve the dual purposes of concentrating waterfall into the pit where the plants (often grapes) are grown and protecting the plants from high winds. We saw a variety of ways these fields are laid out; mostly devoid of plants either because of the time of year or because many of these fields now lie within the national park. While there is a flourishing wine industry here, we were told that Lanzarote wine is rarely exported because this intensive growing method makes it too expensive to compete with wine from other countries.
We were dropped off along a roadside in the park and began our walk. This turned out to be a challenging hike for those of us who are of a certain age, since it was quite warm, the paths were very irregular and often strewn with rocks that required care to remain upright, and the guide was not disposed to slow her pace to accommodate the older group members. At least one fellow dropped out well before the end and the van came by to pick him up. You will see a lot of pictures today of very bleak and craggy landscapes.
The mountains in this area are known as the Montanas del Fuego (Fire Mountains), probably because they were formed from burning lava. They appear to be lifeless, but some have very nice colors, particularly red.
While most of the terrain is barren there is some life here and there. You have already seen cactus and palm trees. We saw orange and white lichen as well, along with several kinds of succulents. At an old well that was inside a small stone building we saw a lizard and even some flowers.
Beyond this we mostly just hiked through very rough territory. Mary fell down twice despite being very careful and using a walking stick. A lot of it was very beautiful, but it seemed somehow to get less beautiful as the walk dragged on and we got more tired. One interesting feature was some rocks at the top of a valley in which you could actually see what appears to be the flow of the lava.
We were glad to get back in the bus (pretty unusual because we don’t like bus rides) and rest our feet. We drove back to the port and after we left the dock we watched the pilot jump from the ship to a boat to take him back to the port. Then we sailed away during a nice sunset to complete an interesting if tiring day on the island of Lanzarote.