Lanzarote has never been high on my list of desired destinations. Too bare, too stony, too common, too full English breakfast, too hot, too near, too Spanish, too easy, too volcanic.
But I knew some people who went on a cycle training camp in April and they said I should join them. I resisted, but this year gave in.
My first sight was not reassuring but my view soon changed. There is a spare, unearthly, stark beauty to this landscape. It could not be more different from Kent.
Some creationists believe that the universe is the result of intelligent design – an over-riding intelligence that brings order to our worlds but Lanzarote is the counter to this idea. Unformed, this was the last land that God made, tired and bored he dispensed with vegetation, flora and fauna and all else his children may have desired – and now God is gone. This is nature, alone and primal, self-governing, wreaking havoc as it goes. The land is coarse, colourless, hard and rocky, bare, crusty like the hard edges of burnt toast. Picture the hard, black, gooey crumbs that you find at the bottom of your barbecue when it hasn’t been cleaned for the summer, caked on and requiring a knife to chip it away. Now picture this, expanded and spreading for miles. You cannot walk on it; each step risks a broken ankle or worse. It is treeless and virtually plantless – the few signs of vegetation are stunted, hardy, spiky cacti, occasional patches of thorny scrub. The land falls, broken and cracked until it tumbles – worn out – into the sea; there is little sand and no flowing white beaches. This is not the Maldives or the Seychelles, this is not Barbados. There is no grass, no soft verdant fields, no flowing yellow oil-seed rape, no lush greenery, no weeping willows; the plants hug the ground, desperate for the few drops of moisture they can wrestle from this forbidden soil. Even the bugs have flown the nest. There are no flies, no bees for there are no plants to pollinate, no wasps, no ants or spiders. No sheep or cows or goats graze here for there is nothing to graze. Imagine if Kent was a tarmacked car-park, broiling in the mid-day sun.
The remains of volcanoes litter the land like boils on the backs of scurvy sailors – smoky and weeping, waiting to erupt and spew their puss upon the ground. This is a land still in the process of being formed, an unfinished novel or symphony, work in progress. Maybe one day God will return and finish the task, but maybe it is a land abandoned and forgotten by God and God’s influence slips away, receding like the sea slips away from a beach.
The people are a hardy lot; they must be. Their houses are low and white, square, Cubist, hobbit-like, half-hidden in the ground to shelter from the relentless heat. Each one is (by law) painted white or sand coloured and must have a green, blue or brown door. Such uniformity the envy of North Korea. Nothing above 3 stories, no high-rise horrors such as have destroyed the Spanish mainland. The only crop is vines. Amidst the black asphalt land that passes for fields, low circular walls are built and within each hollow sits a vine plant, gnarled and scrawny, hugging the ground. The roads are mostly arrow-straight across the flat land and the view stretches for miles around. On a bicycle the view stretches towards the horizon, cars can be seen from miles away and only the relentless buffeting wind – no trees to protect you – spoils the joy.
One day man will reach for Mars and seek to colonise that dead, red planet. The first settlers should be from Lanzarote – people who are practiced at taming a land that was not built for humans.