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Black Rock And Peridot

By Charlie Nathan
29th August, 2013

Lanzarote is an unusual island, not beautiful, but dramatic. Travelling on the coach from the airport I noticed Luna-like landscapes clustered with low white buildings, reminding me of boxes draped with floral and green ribbon, their prettiness a stark contrast to the black rock around them.

   Cesar Manrique, famous sculptor, artist and architect is responsible for the aesthetic qualities of the island, having laws passed instructing that all buildings should be painted white and prohibiting them being constructed higher than four storeys.

   At some time in his life he spent time abroad and whilst away the Gran Hotel, Arrecife was erected with seventeen floors. Locals supported him and tried to burn it down, but it was rebuilt and the superb views over the capital and beyond can be enjoyed from the top floors. It is still the only high rise property in Lanzarote to this day.

   Our first impressions of our hotel, the Timanfaya Palace were good and improved with the more we discovered. Our room wasn’t ready on arrival, but there was plenty to do until 14.00 hours. Lunch for starters in the Café Del Mar, followed by a walk around the hotel grounds. We found giant chess, tennis courts, Petanque, mini golf, a gym, diving centre, there was even a nudist area in the centre - the hotel’s little secret.  We didn’t think we would be visiting there. Well, we wouldn’t want to get sun burnt in all the wrong places would we? Intriguing though.


   The swimming pools were far more alluring, two large round pools, one deep with a waterfall splashing in to it with a separate hot spa. The other, shallow and had a paddling pool adjoining it, but the holiday was for couples only, so adults were often seen relaxing in the calm waters. Finding sunbeds and umbrellas were never a problem and trees and shrubs offered natural shade too. Monday was our first full day and the pool area was perfect for putting us in a holiday mood.

   After a very lazy day and feeling full from our evening meal, a little bit of exploring was next. Out of the back heavy wooden gate we decided to head right towards the lighthouse. We wandered beside hotels, bungalows and apartments and stopped along the way enjoying the scenery warm and carefree from our hectic life back home. We had started out too late, twilight quickly became darkness, the sea swished, becoming a rich cerulean blue in the moonlight.  Not concentrating on the pathway, I stumbled and twisted my ankle, so we never did reach the lighthouse, but it was a great excuse to sit in a bar enjoying coffee and beer just watching life go by.

   Back at the hotel we had missed a champagne reception, but more entertainment was about to begin in the Disco Bar. African Footprints were loud and amusing; the three African clad men were multi-talented, showing off skills including juggling, acrobatics, novelty bike riding, fire eating and limbo dancing. They were very good, but not the best act of the week.

   By Tuesday we were really beginning to unwind, reading, writing, sleeping around the pool and lots of swimming too. Barbeque food was being cooked outside the Café Del Mar and meaty aromas wafting around tempted us, even though we had enjoyed an exemplary breakfast of fresh fruit, yoghurt, cold meats, cheeses and smoked salmon.  This was a small fraction of what was on offer every morning.   But Sangria sipped with pork chops, sausage rounds and salad was irresistible and enjoyed to the sounds of the hotel’s duo, His and Her’s. The female’s voice so beautiful and the guitarist accompanying her seemed to have charmed a tiny lizard to scuttle by, under our sunbeds, across hot terracotta tiles and in to the black basalt flowerbed that was behind us.

   All we needed to do for the rest of the afternoon was to decide how we would spend that evening and what we might do the following day.

   In the evening we turned left out of the hotel back entrance, along the promenade this time to Playa Blanca. The first little bunch of bars, cafés and supermarkets were a treat. We stopped for drinks, soaking up the ambience, taking photographs with a small rocky headland silhouetted and jutting out over the beach, where calming waves whispering on the sand below could be heard.

   The lights of Playa Blanca twinkled and called us as we ambled along the seafront, past swaying boats and Fuerteventura ferry, where the choice of bars and cafés was even greater. Of course, it was necessary to sample a few others before looking around the shops and heading back to the hotel. This time we spent the rest of the evening in the Piano bar, we had just missed the piano player, but were enthralled by the tones of the saxophonist who performed until very late.

      Wednesdays are craft market days at Rubicon Marina, so we set off after breakfast. Public transport was our choice, to mingle with local folk and to gain a small insight into their regional ways. Everyone seemed polite, from the `hola’, welcoming bus driver, to the woman sitting beside me who nudged me after about twenty minutes, signalling for us to get off.  I hadn’t even told her our intended bus stop. Tourists - so predictable.

   Rubicon Marina was fresh looking and nautical, and the lanes around it were laced with craft stalls.  Some tacky, but most were gift inspiring. It was easy to choose turquoise decorated flip flops for our daughter and a wooden Arabic style night light holder for our son. Some fridge magnets were handmade, tiny terracotta pots with cacti moulded in them. Even the word Lanzarote painted on them was appealing. We couldn’t come away without buying some black rock and Peridot jewellery either and searched numerous stalls selling it for the best pieces.  My necklace and earrings are really eye-catching, the citrus green translucent stones and black lava rock beads look great side by side.

   After sitting in a town square sipping icy drinks,  listening to Spanish music and chatting to an elderly British couple we headed back to the hotel where there was still time to sunbathe, swim and daydream. The main point to decide was what to wear in the evening and whether I had an outfit to show off my pretty new gems.

   Thursday was the day to go further afield in a hire car. Arranged excursions were roughly fifty Euros each, so the car option was more economical and would be tailored to our needs. We didn’t want to be organised by others. We picked up the keys in reception, Thompsons do hire deals, but for one day it was cheaper from the hotel. My husband was happy to drive and I was happy to sit, well, with a bit of map reading thrown in too.

   The landscape was stunning, hardened lava flow had settled in folds like a gargantuan black meringue on the lands surface, caused by volcanic eruptions in 1730 – 1736. I imagined what it would be like living with roaring volcanoes, smoking out ash, sand and debris night and day. Although intermittent, the uncertainty and changing landscape painted by luminous magma under red and blue lightening for six years must have been frightening.  This land is now known as Timanfaya National Park and is one of the newest formed places in the world. It will be interesting to see how the land, mountains and volcanoes covering the many lost villages develop in the future.

    The latest eruption was in 1824 and volcanic action is closely monitored today, so being in Lanzarote is completely safe. There is a cooling off period after emissions and this is still happening.

    We visited Mancha Blanca’s Visitors and Interpretation Centre where staff were helpful and amusing. They guided us to a small theatre where we watched two films about the history of Timanfaya showing how vegetation grows on the hardened lava flow in the centuries afterwards, affected and promoted by birds, insects and lizards.  In another area we experienced a mock eruption, spine chilling and loud, but not as noisy as the real thing which would have sounded more than a hundred times louder.

   There was a lot to see. Outside we were fascinated by clusters of Peridot nestled in the basalt where it had been born from slowly cooled magma, its translucent green created by iron and containing the mineral olivine, locally the gemstone is known as Olivina.  The sun was drawn towards the black terrain as we walked on a long wooden walkway and I was in awe of how many vibrant green gemstones might be hidden under the blackness as we gazed towards dormant volcanoes with bright villages at their base.

   In the gift shop we bought a small terracotta glazed plaque for our conservatory and more Peridot, which was even more fascinating since we had seen how it was formed and I decided I would research it further on my return to Britain.

   Well, we might have found Timanfaya easily, but our next planned destination was a different matter. We certainly saw parts of southern Lanzarote than we had not intended and Costa Tequise was one of those places. It was fine for lunch, a delicious lunch of Spanish omelette with salad. Balsamic vinegar was an unusual accompaniment, but scrumptious and something we would remember to have at home. The resort didn’t appear to have much character and we couldn’t see anything to entice us to stay longer. So, reenergised after food and cold drinks, we carried on our search for the Cesar Manrique Foundation. The bar’s waitress had told us about some of his huge mechanical sculptures adorning the roundabouts near to it, easily seen on the approach, so we drove straight there. It was just outside San Bartolome, a small town we had been in and out of earlier, but on another wrong road.

   The quest was worthwhile, as Manrique’s talents were both artistic and architectural. The two storey home and gardens he created for himself in the 1960s is constructed in five large solidified volcanic bubbles, or lava caves, and now opened as the foundation showcasing his work. The tour started viewing his studio on one of the upper floors, but the most memorable spaces were in the basement and connected by small passages through the basalt and lined halfway down with white painted waterproof lining. The living areas were strangely comfortable looking, from the small dance floor, lounge, outside oven and enchanting outside natural shaped swimming pool, all topped with an abundance of plants and trees.

   His home was a canvas in itself and captured lots of the characteristics of his artwork where nature is important. A mural and pond in the garden encapsulates this further, along with a car that he painted in a similar style, all of which were bold and bright and truly inspirational.

   At the end of the afternoon there was time for a short visit to Puerto Calear, recommended by our holiday representatives. It was a yachting marina, clean, fresh and with designer shops we have in Britain. Apparently if there is anyone famous visiting the island then they’ll certainly been seen here, but we didn’t see any celebrities. In fact it was very quiet and many of the eateries and bars were only 10% full, which was probably due to the time of the day, maybe a night time visit would be better.

    No holiday would be complete without a trip to the beach and the golden sands (probably imported) of Playa Flamingo was only five minutes’ walk away. Friday was a sunny, breezy day; we secured our sunbeds and umbrellas and enjoyed views of Fuerteventura across the sea, reminding me of the original book cover for The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. It was good to see families and children playing, after the privilege of our couples’ only hotel, but it did remind us of how lovely it was to be free. Everything was within easy reach too, cafes, bars, pedaloes and two supermarkets, where we identified our purchases for later that evening, locally made Aloe Vera soap, banana liqueur, Spanish biscuits and brandy.

    The area was fairly small, compact, clean and quite idyllic, so we returned there again after dinner and sat at a small café on the promenade before going back to the hotel for another cabaret evening.

   The highlight act of the week was called the Beijing Acrobats.  A family of four very energetic adults, whose contortions were amazing, especially close up and so original.

   Saturday, our last full day. After breakfast we purchased two professional photographs taken the night before, quite reasonable at ten Euros. I still needed to buy postcards too for the people back home, but would write and post them on my return. The little boutique in the main reception had a good selection and there was time to browse and maybe make a purchase from exclusive jewellery and fashions on offer.

   The thought of going home settled a large cloud over my thoughts, but I was determined to nudge it to one side and make the most of our time left. Relaxing again – of course, and enjoying our surroundings, storing memories of the swimming pool and gardens with beautiful sea views.

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