Thursday, November 4, 2010

Have we landed on the Moon?

Lanzarote, Canary Island---The year was 1730.  It would take years later for the world to know the events occurring on this very Island. There were 4,967 people living here then. A Priest named Don Andres Lorenzo Curbelo, in the town of Yaiza wrote: “Between nine and ten in the evening of 1st September 1730, at Timanfaya, two hours walk from Yaiza, the earth suddenly broke open. In the first night, a gigantic mountain reared up out of the lap of the earth, and from its peak flames leapt up and burnt incessantly for 19 days.” (from the book “Notes about the Occurrences Between the Years 1730 and 1736”)

The book is this Priest's journal and continues telling tales of six years of eruptions: “ On 7th January, 1731, new eruptions overshadowed the previous ones. White-hot rivers of lava accompanied by very dense smoke ran from the cracks that had formed in the mountain. The smoke clouds were often penetrated by glowing flashes of blue and red light, followed by mighty thunderclaps and lightning like those in a storm, and this spectacle was as atrocious as it was new for the populace, because they did not know thunder-storms in this area.”

Fields of cattle dropped dead from the vapors, piles and piles of dead fish lined the beaches, what had been fertile land was wiped out. All in all, 12 villages were completely destroyed and 15 villages were buried under sand and volcanic ash. Yet the King of Spain at the time, Phillip V, issued a decree that forbid the people of Lanzarote to leave the island under threat of the death penalty. What a guy.

And now, here I am on Lanzarote (Lanz-zor-rot-tay), the Canary Island that has gained huge popularity with Europeans on holiday.

This island is amazing in its geographic and cosmetic symmetry. The Volcanoes set a landscape, but the island’s human touch didn’t happen by accident, it happened with the help of an artist named Cesar Manrique, making it famous for being different than all the other Canary Islands. They are Volcanic but this island did “city planning and zoning” with the help of this artist, to fit itself around nature.

With the aid of a rental car, exploring the 50Km long and 16km wide mile long Island with a current population of 85,000, was something I really looked forward to doing.

On our tour around the Island, we headed first to El Golfo, a green lake set back from the sea. From there we drove to the vast beach filled with surfers and Europeans taking surfing lessons!

Next, the National Park of Timanfaya and Montanas del Fuego; the fire mountains. Passing the “Camel rides for 6 Euro,” we headed to the park with a logo of Diablo, a little devil with a pitchfork and tail. Thankfully a bus took us from the park’s main lot to pass through the volcano craters on a very narrow, winding, one-way road. Of the three Volcano’s I’ve seen Sicily and Italy on this trip, this island’s group of Volcano’s and craters were by far the most unusual. Miles of deep black porous rock that look like it had been recently bull dozed. And in drastic contrast, land would rise that looked like powder sand in colors of red and yellow, most likely gathered from the Sahara sands blowing to the Islands from Africa only 70 miles away. I have felt like being on the moon when I have scuba dove in a cavern, but this was the wide lens. A few of the entire landscape. And beautiful.

After our tour, it was noted that the “geyser” was simply a man with a bucket of water who poured it down one of the hot spots next to the restaurant and quickly moved away as the water shot out as a steam induced water spout. This would please the crowd gathered taking photos, we thought it was a funny sideshow.

The claim to fame of the Restaurant at the Park was the fact that the food was cooked over the Volcano’s heat in a detached room filled only with a huge grill. Looking down, there was no bottom to be seen and I regretted not having any popcorn kernels on me to throw in.

Regardless, we had to try the food. A half chicken later, we agreed that it was incredibly well cooked and flavorful. However, getting a volcano into your back yard would be a huge undertaking, so this method is a bit unpractical. The other interesting part of this building was the use of metal along the flooring. This was connected to the earth’s heat under the building and heated the entire building.

From there we made our way to the look out point at the Northernmost side of the island that overlooked their sister island of La Graciosa. From here we could clearly see where we had sailed. I glared at the two looming rock/tiny islands that we had passed in the dark. I was on watch and thought my eyes were playing tricks on me because one looked like a cargo ship that had no lights turned on. This made no sense to me but I didn’t run down stairs to check the navigation charts and see they were clearly marked. By boat, they looked as if being a few degrees off I could have hit them. Now looking down at the miles and miles of sea I could see the distance was greater than I imagined. All that worry for an optical illusion.

Next we made our way to the archetect’s home which is now a museum, this was so incredible that I’m saving the photos for the next post.

A stop at a large grocery store in the Island’s capital city, Arrecife, making use of rarely having a car (and are used to lugging heavy items long distances) we took advantage of this one-day transportation. Home to the sail boat, neatly tied to the dock, a full day of seeing and learning about this island.

I can’t imagine living here for the two years that the priest did before he had permission to leave. Waiting and watching the mountains explode, or new ones appearing out of the earth.

And now, what was his nightmare is beauty for the rest of us to enjoy.

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