Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Lanzarote 3

The very dry character of the Lanzarote weather means that it not teeming with wildlife so any sighting is a special pleasure. We've spotted Hoopoes in the distance a few times but have never got so close as last week on the island of Graciosa off the north west coast of Lanzarote. It was a surprise to find an example of this exotic species rooting around on some waste ground in the back streets of the main village, Caleta del Sebo. There is no mistaking the thrush sized bird with a strong crest and black and white barred wings. Apart from gulls, which bear a strong resemblance to the herring gulls in the North of Scotland, the bird we noticed most was the Eastern Canary  Kestrel, which is very similar to our own native Kestrel except that its diet consists mainly of lizards, of which there are plenty on Lanzarote. We also saw Ravens and a large unidentified raptor that may have been a Vulture, the latter soaring in the Timfanaya National Park.
Walking round the cone of Caldera Blanca we were astonished to come across a small flock of sheep, apparently wandering at will, although hemmed in by lava fields they didn't have many escape options. They were effectively trapped in a tiny strip of cultivable land, between the cone and the fresh lava from the nineteenth century eruption. There was ample evidence of this eroded ancient volcanic soil having been cultivated in the past.  
By far the cutest animals that we encountered were the three cats that we came across in the back streets of Haria at the end of our walk there. This was definitely our Ahhhh.. moment of the trip.
Last report tomorrow on the Island of Graciosa

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder published by Willow Moon. E-book at and Paperback at

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


The Canary Islands began emerging from the sea in volcanic eruptions about 25 million years ago. On Lanzarote, this left a landscape dominated by extinct volcanoes and lava fields that have gradually eroded to rich volcanic soils that required only water to create abundance. Sadly though, the island is effectively a desert, its mountains not high enough to induce rain, so agriculture is very constrained. Features such as long lava tubes that connected volcanoes to the sea have left the basis for the amazing sites at Jameos del Agua with its famous underground lake and blind albino crabs (Munidopsis polimorpha).
At Cueva de Los Verdes further inland,  visitors can walk through the underground lava  tunnels. Both these sites were opened up and developed under the guiding influence of the artist, Cesar Manrique. Underground bubbles in the lava also provided a convenient starting point for private dwellings as exemplified by  Manrique’s eclectic house at Tahiche.
Into this settled picture, two intense periods of volcanic activity occurred in the recent past. The first between 1730 and 1736 produced a lava field covering almost 200 sq kms in the centre and south of the island. The second occurred in 1824 and saw the emergence of three new volcanic cones. The population suffered greatly during these periods and at times the island was almost completely evacuated.
These new lava fields have an awesome power and stark beauty in the endless variety of flows and shapes adopted by the cooling lava. Lacking rain and frost to accelerate erosion, the lava looks much the same as the day it cooled, with lichens only now beginning to get a foothold. In the Timanfaya National Park, temperatures of 600C are recorded only 13m below the surface. Tourists are entertained by artificial geysers and burning bushes. More tomorrow.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder published by Willow Moon. E- book at and Paperback at 

Monday, 27 February 2012

Lanzarote 1

Mention of Lanzarote can draw mixed responses. It still has a slightly seedy image in some quarters based on the bars that occupy the seaside strip in Puerto del Carmen, the main tourist centre. Round the many hundreds of swimming pools in the area, retired Brits, Irish and Germans soak up the sun, often overwintering for several months, but not straying far from their pool towels. Ryanair has made it easier and cheaper to get there. Despite the bossy boots business style, I’m a grudging admirer of Europe’s largest airline.

 The true face of Lanzarote is  to be found outside the main centres; in the lava fields and volcanoes that created them, in the picon covered gardens and vineyards that somehow defy the desert conditions, and in anything to do with Cesar Manrique, the artist whose guiding hand influenced the development of the island. His legacy is to be found in the low rise architecture, white walls and green windows that define the properties. In the design of many of the tourist centres and public monuments and in his own art which draws heavily on the life of the Island.    This photo shows the south end of La geria looking towards Uga. Amazingly, each vine has its own microclimate protected from the wind by low walls of volcanic rocks.The smoke is from the burning of the vine prunings. Of the many Bodegas along this road, perhaps El Grifo is the best. It has a wonderful range of wines based mainly on the Malvasia grape, the workhorse for Lanzarote white wines as well as being one of the classic varieties in Madeira. 
This year on our visit, the weather was unusually cool, catching the tail end of the extreme cold in Western Europe. This made for even better walking conditions than normal and the the photo above was taken on the walk round Haria from the path near the goat farm, showing the village in the middle distance. There are lots of walks across lava fields and craters to visit.  More tomorrow.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder published by Willow Moon. E-edition at and for the paperback.