Prologue: A Week in Lanzarote

You are unlikely to find yourself looking for ways to run out of time before going away, the trip itself, preparations for it and other general occurrences will happily do that for you, but if for whatever reason you feel like giving yourself an even smaller thimble of time to fit your lake of prep into, a week’s holiday to a Canary Island will definitely do it.

And what a week it was. My Mum and Grandpa on one side, and partner in crime Leo on the other. It was a fantastic opportunity to relax, which we didn’t take up, and also one to have an awful lot of fun.

There’s a few very big differences between this holiday and what I’m doing this summer. Notably; I was only away for a week, I flew there and back, I was closer to Africa than mainland Europe, I was with family, I was accompanied by a friend, and for a good portion of the week I wasn’t cycling. Oh, we also had a lovely studio apartment at our disposal, with cleaning ladies who refused to accept our relocation of the bin to outside a difficultly situated cupboard.

But then again, there were a lot of parallels drawn between this trip and mine, and others that appeared whilst we were there. The largest of these was an ever-present sense of exploration, a desire to go to places or do things that weren’t put in-front of us, but that we were giddily excited and fantastical (is this right?) about doing for ourselves. It was a week absolutely full of firsts, and more importantly equally well endowed with adventure, which by this time is already shaping itself nicely into a selection of very happy, very vivid memories.

Both Leo and I are reasonably mature, or we would like to think, but the feeling of dizzying freedom seemed to take us over the minute we were dropped off at Liverpool Airport on a dim morning, to such an extent we couldn’t resist the advert of beer from Subway. We spent (between us) close to my daily budget on two footlongs, of course, and a good pint and a half of beer/cider, which made a fantastic breakfast. We realised as we boarded the plane, with Mum and Derek (Grandpa) already on their way by different flights that this was the first time either of us had flown ‘by ourselves’, without family or school etc. The security staff did us a favour more than anything in taking from us a bottle of very dubious Aloe Vera drink, complete with bits of superfood nastiness floating around in it. And before we knew it we were in Lanzarote. It was heavy, as if ready to rain, but still noticeably warmer than home, as you’d hope being relatively close to the equator.

Mario had been recommended to us as a very useful receptionist by Derek – who is a regular at the resort we were staying at. Mario indeed proved most useful in something or other, when he regretfully informed us he couldn’t organise a taxi from the airport, supplementing this usefulness with a link to a website for a car hire company. We never learned what stood in the way of Mario helping us out, but it may be a Canary Law, like that which makes swimming anywhere, anywhere, illegal after 10pm. We made it to our apartment okay, Mario proved useful in giving us our keys as we checked in, and in his defence proved genuinely useful 5 minutes later when we had to go and get a third one. Upon arrival in our home from home, we’d looked around, put down our bags, and then gone next door to see Mum and Derek. We’d left both keys in the apartment, locking them in.

Once we were all settled in we were welcomed in to 219 (M+D’s apartment) for dinner and before we knew it, it was late. We tried some banana liquor, which was sweet if nothing else, and decided to start our week off with a spot of illegality. Mum had agreed to walk us down to the beach, showing us the best route, but by the time we were ready she was long gone, without even a word (thanks Ma). Leo and I ambled downhill, whichever direction that was, through the quiet streets of Puerto del Carmen. We (mostly Leo) remarked upon the look of the place, with whitewashed buildings, funky chimneys and flat rooves, there was a definite Saharan tone to what was otherwise a part of Spain. Lanzarote, it turns out, is a mixing pot of all three cultures – the Spanish moved there en mass and prop up the tourism industry that now powers/plagues the island, and there is more of the African about the place than most of the others, especially Tenerife, where I’ve been twice. And above all, like all its neighbours, Lanzarote is Canarian. The islands have their own culture, and cultural assets – their own bananas, their own potatoes and ‘mojos’ served with them, their own wine, their own national hero (César Manrique), and at-least two thirds of the population identify as Canarians rather than, or before, Spaniards. We got down to the beach for a ‘paddle’, and spent a good 5 minutes watching the waves come in from the pitch black void in-front of us. Then Leo said it.

“I’m going in.”

If he was, there was no way I wasn’t, and so in we went, somewhere between midnight and 1am. I’d never swam in the sea at night, it’s very strange, but for the stars there’s not much to tell you what’s sky and what’s water. My trusted method of entering very very cold oceans didn’t help either: I run as fast as I can and keep doing so until a wave does the hard bit for me and I trip under the surface. The water was cold. But it was brilliant, Mum loved it, part of me clicked too, like something brimming up to a point of fulfilment rarely ever reached, an almost instinctive sense of joy. Everybody understands excitement, how it feels, like excitement for Christmas, excitement for a concert and so on, and Christmas is amazing, concerts are unforgettable, don’t get me wrong. But being excited for something has the drawback of seeing it coming, you think about it, you overthink it, and when it comes you’ve already enjoyed the idea so much that the real thing is a tiny bit, a teeny tiny bit numb. Now, I was numb. I was definitely bloody numb, my fingers and my toes at-least, but I didn’t feel numb at all. This was how Lanzarote welcomed us, freezing cold but unexpectedly thrilling, and decidedly rewarding, it was like diving into the sea 3 hours after curfew let the place notice us, and it bid us welcome, and set us up for the best week it could throw at us. It was a beautiful moment, until we left the water cursing and screaming and begging for towels and a shower and a good English brew etc. etc. etc.

The next day we rented mountain bikes and immediately went to try them out, Mum in tow. The lady at the rental, bless her, had explained the inner workings of gears and brakes and suspension to us for a good half hour, before giving a nice gentle route to get used to the bikes on, before suggesting we try some tracks north-west of the resort later on in the day, after Mum had taken her bike back (we had ours til the next evening). Half an hour later we were atop a sizeable hill, looking out at Carmen and Calero and Arrecife with its airport and singular multi-storey building (built before another Canary Law banned tall buildings). I’ve never really mountain biked before. Not properly. But I’d cycled my whole life, how hard could it be? Leo took the descent like a true professional, then it was my turn, what the balls do I even do? Saddle down, I knew that, I made sure I knew that, for sake of any future children I may want, but what else? This is a pretty steep hill, covered in rocks as big as fists, or gored out hearts – still beating on the dusty ground while my mangled body watches in horror from the middle of a shrub a few feet away, the bike probably still rolling down the hill gracefully, having a great time. Anyway, where was I? Oh well I let go of the brake, I guess this is it. Stick to the track, we’re gaining speed, I’m not even pedalling, who invented this ungodly pastime? Stick to the track, wait no don’t, everyone does that and now it’s been worn down with little grooves like tram tracks, ideal for getting stuck in. Do I brake? Do I pedal? Do I panic? I mean wow, this is fast, and I like fast, but that is a big rock ahead and this ground is very loose, how I do I even move around it? Well, I’m braking instinctively, happy to know I still have self-preservation on my side in these moments, but now I’ve stopped, wow, what a whack attempt at mountain biking that was. I made it 50 metres maybe. Try again, building speed, yes that’s it get off the track, oh wait now all the rocks are as big as hearts. At-least as big as hearts. Is this the end? We’re going very fast now. Thank god for sus-PEEEEEHN-sion WOW that was a big ridge, ohp, here we go again, still dropping, okay, woo! Haha, hah.. this is alright. OHHH the bike does the work for me? Well come on then Boris (the bike was already named, they knew us well) take me home old boy. FASTER. FASTERRRRR, MAYBE NOONE SAW ME STOP, YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAand there we are. At the bottom, Leo grinning at me.
“Good?!” he asked,
“Terrifying! But yes.” I confirmed.

We watched mother come down slower but still alarmingly fast, and sat down – poor Blue – with her legs splayed out for balance, a sight I don’t think I’ll forget in a hurry, and then we were reunited. The next bit was a long descent in a sort of pass between two hills, the same issues plagued my still inexperienced performance: loose ground, worn paths, big rocks. But there was one thing I wasn’t expecting. A ditch adorned the track as I came round a corner towards it, I thought the best thing to do would be to take a slanted but rocky route around it, and let the bike keep the pace up – which great chunks of my mind disagreed with. Either way, it didn’t work too well, and I soon found myself heading for the ground. Falling off a bike is different to falling off other things. Weights and physics usually leave you with a brief moment to bask in the realisation that you are indeed about to hit the floor before it actually happens, and so I at-least had plenty of time to throw my arms outwards in true will-regret-this-later fashion. I landed on the dirt, took it in a second then the bike ran me over, testing my helmet (never pass up an opportunity to be safe, of course). Leo was long gone, but good ol’ Ma was behind me and had probably already phoned home and all the emergency services on my behalf. I hollered that I was alright and, in keeping with my borderline immoral commitment to my cause, made sure the GoPro had filmed it. It had. I thought ‘great!’, and thought the fall was actually worth it for the shot. It’s reached that stage these days.

The fall opened grazes from a week earlier so I made a lovely dark crimson gild upon the Lanzarote sand and again thanked circumstances for giving me an interesting thing to film. The first fall had been captured and probably looked pretty cool. The second fall though, was not nearly as useful, and merely put me in a bad mood. We cycled back into town and decided we’d use natural antiseptic as an excuse to go in the sea again.

The next day, Leo and I rode half-way up a mountain, from which point I noticed a zig-zagged line up to a very, very tall summit to our right. We decided to head straight for it, on the bikes, through a vineyard (which we later bought wine from, it was lovely), before we realised we could have just gone back on ourselves 50 metres and gone up a path. We ended up jumping the vineyard fence, considering whether we’d just broken another law by trespassing, and then rode as far as we could up the side of the mountain/hill/thing, after that we were on foot, and jesus christ (had to make a special effort to type that without capital letters at the start) was it windy. The gusststs quite literally threatened to blow us away at certain points as we crawled our way up to the top. Once we got there, the views were sublime. Before descending back to town (during which I broke my cycling speed record – on a heavy mountain bike no less- at 51mph), we sat and looked out for an eternity, joined by a Frenchman who had carried a 2m tripod up with him, the lunatic. Lanzarote might not be typically ‘pretty’, we both agreed, but it is incontrovertibly breathtaking. With views down on the sea all the way to the next island along, and a landscape to our west which looked like it was taken straight out of Mordor, or the moon, or both. At one point, a helicopter sped by below us. Below us. A good couple of hundred of metres below us, too. We watched the reflected sunlight off cars on a road below moving along slowly and agreed we wanted to go down that road somehow, perhaps if we found someone insane enough to give us mopeds.

A couple of days later, we had found someone insane enough. It wasn’t all that hard really. With one full license and one CBT between us, we secured two twist-and-go speed machines (maybe not) until the next morning, the morning of our flight home. He chatted with us bouncily, this 8 foot Scottish gent, and assured us two scooters were ready, just at the garage, and so he organised for the mechanic to come and pick us up. 50 minutes later, a car pulled up outside, and out stepped Carl/Karl (the K seems to suit him better). Karl welcomed us into his blue BMW, endowed with a smashed windscreen, which he later explained had been dealt by a girl he’d taken out for a drink, and we got ready for our 50 minute drive back to the garage. It took us 5 minutes. It should have taken us 10, granted, Karl drove like a…like a Karl, but still we’d been waiting that long earlier for this gent to drive less than a mile.. Karl got out of the car and we followed him on a bizarre zig-zag route across the road, jumping over a wall, which we did too with semi-scared uniformity. Then we tailed him as he sidestepped down a ramp into an ever darkening hovel, kicked a metal door and then opened it up to reveal a scene I thought only existed in films. A garage full of disused and semi-repaired buggies, broken cars, spare parts, oil stains, all too capable of being used in a dingy torture scene. His desk was furnished with half a bottle of Fanta and the same amount of what looked like used engine oil or similar, easily confused, we thought. Karl set us up with two steeds for the day, and sent us on our way. Well, he sent Leo on his way, and eventually I followed, after a long time trying to get my ‘ped started, adding some fuel (which he poured all over himself too), and beating it into submission. Then we added more fuel and went on our merry way.

In the slapdash vlog I made once I was home, I previewed some footage from Lanzarote to the soundtrack of the Stereophonics’ ‘Dakota’. This was directly as a result of our experiences on the scooters. After we’d made it out of town, broken down once, waited for Karl once more (another 40 minutes), watched in horror as the most shredded belt either of us had ever seen was yanked out of the belly of my moped with a crowbar, and continued to observe fearfully as Karl put that same bike back together, somehow. Once we set back off my speedo (the only one that worked) had died, which wouldn’t have mattered much if the new belt hadn’t also seemed to bypass the limiters. Leo’s bike quickly became known as the agile one, the one with working electronics and a functional stowaway. Mine? Mine took its time but eventually reached grand prix speeds (or close), eyewateringly fast, with Leo disappearing behind me I remembered that my indicators didn’t work, it was a memorable feeling of ‘hahahahaha! Okaaaaay..”. Anyway, yes, after all that, we were on the road, that road, the one through the mountains, with peaks and craters rising beside us and a great lava flow feet away from our feet, we were living a childish, somewhat pitiful yet still very potent version of the dream. It was bloody freezing with the wind and all but we still tried out ‘cruising’ topless for the sake of it. Shades on, wind in our…faces.. Dakota fit the moment perfectly, absolutely perfectly. It was a summer’s day in February, well March 1st, we were timeless and young and potentially stupid but infinitely cool and carefree, a long way from home, school, college, uni, work, all of it.

We had the bikes until we had to go for our flights the next morning, so we made the most of them. In our daytime exploits we made it loosely round the island, and back in time for dinner at Derek’s choice of restaurant: Blooming Cactus, a delicious vegetarian/vegan tapas bar. Then we made it back, Leo gave Mum a ‘waz’ on a moped while I finished off packing and did my bit in finishing off the masses of food we’d bought/cooked. Then, with collected excitement, we set out on our stallions for a blistering night ride. We buzzed around the roads behind the town, then found we had to turn around, and so we buzzed back on ourselves and towards the capital. We tried each of the towns we passed, looking for our final destination for the morning. By moonlight we found it, and happy with our choice, we went back to the apartment. There was still one thing we hadn’t done though.

Derek, at the start of the week, had told us with youthful excitement about our resort’s three main pools, all on different levels at different parts of the complex, and…AND…the secret pool. Tucked away in a corner somewhere, found most reliably by leaving through a side gate and entering through another. I strapped my GoPro to my head, looking like a complete twat, and we set out on our last illegal swimming endeavour. Quietly, covertly, we slipped into each pool one by one and swam across them, trying our best not to wake anyone (we had polished off a bottle of local wine by this point). We ran, shivering, back to the apartment one last time, bidding good eve to Dentei, the cat who we had befriended (deeply, intimately) over the week. Then we were done. It was 3am, we had 3 hours to sleep.

And then we were up again, and back on the bikes. We rushed out to our predetermined location: an unspoilt, much more local-feeling beach at Playa Honda, and there we watched the sun come up, kind of, in that it was cloudy and so it just got brighter without a ball of flame appearing in the sky, and then we took one last dive into the Atlantic. It was absolutely freezing, the coldest we’d known, and we came out immediately. But that was that, the last couple of experiences done, we dried off and set off back to the apartment, in time to catch a taxi for the flight home. And that was that, Lanzarote. An island beautifully balanced between touristy and authentic, comfortable and rugged, relaxing and active. It had been a week to remember, most definitely, and one I shall not forget in a hurry. It had also proved most useful as a means of testing out this sense of adventure I keep banging on about, and that I know I will need to make it round Europe, and that will likely make the entire journey much, much more fun. Our last potentially illegal act was bringing back Lanzarote sand and Lanzarote rocks. We both now have a private collection at home as a keepsake. Is that sad? Meh.
What was sad was the view out of our window as we came in to land at Manchester. Snow. Snow on the hills, snow in the towns.

“I leave in a week,” I said, “and I’m packing for summer…”

2 Replies to “Prologue: A Week in Lanzarote”

  1. loved this narrative – detailed, descriptive and amusing…but what of the story on the final morning when one of the moped keys went missing, with a tight deadline for their return, and a flight to catch? Most entertaining.

    Like

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