In my long life I have seldom thought about the Canary Islands, but when I did, I thought they were:
- atwitter with little yellow birds, and
- somewhere out there.
Turns out they are 54 miles off the coast of North Africa, and they are Spanish. They are named after the Canarii tribe of settlers, also from North Africa. The little birds are named after the islands, but they must have all emigrated to pet shops elsewhere.
As noted here, I saw the Canaries from the cockpit of Merlyn III, my friends Christopher and Clare McCann’s 55-foot Discovery yacht, which offered a washer/dryer, a DVD player, hot showers, a microwave oven, a gas stove, a zillion navigation gadgets and some amazing galley cuisine. Tom stayed back in Girona, close to friends and phones, should his health require attention.
We began in Lanzarote, an island made from some 300 volcanoes, totally covered with lava black as pitch. It might have been a dreary landscape but for the visionary ministrations of local artist Cesar Manrique, (1919-1992) who insisted that all the buildings on the island should be painted white. Take a color picture of Lanzarote, and it comes out black and white.
We visited Manrique’s former home, a unique assemblage of glossy white rooms built over five volcanic bubbles, which form a sort of entertainment pit. There’s a swimming pool, a dance floor, a barbecue and about a half mile of long low banquettes among the five rooms, reeking of potential seduction. He must have thrown some amazing parties.
We also took a bus tour of Timanfaya National Park. (I voted for the camel tour, but my sophisticated companions were all been-there-done-that.) The park was formed when fifty square kilometers of volcanoes erupted in 1730 and kept going for six years, swallowing vegetation and entire villages. Today it is all an ebony moonscape, but in places – this was inspiring – new bright green vegetation struggled through, the urge to life being unstoppable, even where the fires still burn beneath the surface. In fact, the cooking at the visitor center’s El Diablo restaurant is done on a cast-iron grill placed over a hole in the ground.
After a few days at sea, we ended up at the archipelago’s largest city, Las Palmas, on Gran Canaria, the island where the land turns green. We dined sumptuously in La Vegueta, the old town which is centered by a gray cathedral that looks like a sand castle. Here, too, is the Casa de Colon, where Columbus allegedly stayed while outfitting his ships for three of his voyages to the new world. He seems to have slept in as many places as George Washington. He also often visited a beautiful twenty-year-old Canarian named Beatriz Enriquez de Arana, who was both a widow and an orphan.
The next day we drove around the varied hills of the island, some brown, some green, ascending to perilous heights, sighing at the incredible views. We paused at Cruz de Tejeda, a headquarters for the serious walkers with boots and sticks and packs who populate the island’s celebrated network of trails. Everybody went for a quick hike but me; I pled inadequate footwear and drank a half gallon of cold water at the cafe.
The week whizzed by and soon Christopher and Clare and Cheryl were hugging me good-bye at the Las Palmas airport. I flew back to Barcelona and reunited with Tom at the airport.
And so the adventure continues…..