Monday, November 14, 2005

Guest entry: Ian in Lanzarote (2nd-6th Nov)

When I last saw Nick & Ellen during Kika sea trials in Dartmouth harbour back in August they made encouraging noises about visiting them enroute and ever since then I’ve been conjuring up images of island hopping in a tropical paradise, diving into crystal clear waters to swim ashore to that pure white sandy beach where you can rest in the shade of its palm fringes whilst being served fresh local cocktails by happy smiling locals…ah what it is to dream. Do dreams come true I wonder? Not for me, it seems, as here I am arriving in package holiday heaven - LANZAROTE. In all honesty, of the wonderful places I’ve read about in the blog during the first 3 months of this trip Lanzagrotty would be my last choice as a place to visit. I’m sorry to all those Lanzarote fans out there. My taste is not everyone’s taste – and if you like volcanic ash, sprawling resorts of white holiday apartments, speaking English, tattoos, chips and other British people on holiday then it’s perfect. Clearly Nick and Ellen thought it important to go there! We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they knew flights were cheap and that it would be easy to welcome family and friends aboard. They had at least changed out of their shell-suits by the time I arrived!!

I know it’s not my kind of place because every time I tell anyone who knows me where I’m going they give me an odd look and ask why! Well we know why… it’s a last chance to catch up with Nick and Ellen, our intrepid adventurers, before they skip European shores for distant tropical lands with crystal clear waters, palm-fringed white sandy beaches, and potent rum cocktails!! Bah humbug…

Anyway with Kika berthed in the very upmarket Marina Rubicon on the south of the island it was surreal to wander up to the harbour edge and spot Nick waving from the deck. This is 3 months, and several thousand miles since I was last aboard, and yet it doesn’t seem that long. I’m sure for Nick and Ellen it seems like they have crammed loads in during that time, but for us normal people those months have just flown by with not much more than our routines…it is refreshing and hopefully inspiring to see friends making better use of their time!!

On board I am honoured by boat turmoil as efforts have been focused on clearing the stern of the boat so I can have my very own cabin. This leaves the main cabin free for extensive partying, frequent meals, and the now extensive Kika library of books about how to plan, navigate, survive, drink, cook, eat, vomit, sleep, wake, talk, fish, nurse, operate, wash, toilet and clean whilst at sea. Add to this the collection of 1st hand accounts of others doing all these things, and several ‘weather’ forecasting manuals and it begins to look like they’ll have no time for sailing and I haven’t even mentioned the front cabin crammed with the non-nautical books either. Lucky for Nick and Ellen I’ve bought a couple more to add to the collection.

We toasted my arrival (Wednesday) with cold beer on deck and spent the evening catching up – firstly over cocktails at ‘Café del Mar’ and then over steaks at Lani’s, pleasant settings overlooking the marina. No Spanish was necessary – English or German essential though! Easily led astray by hosts that seem to have learned how to mix their drinks, I was plied with beer, then rum cocktail, and finally red wine before slotting into my tube-like bunk in the stern that night.

Thursday was a beautiful morning – blue sky, nice breeze, and warm – so Nick and I headed along the coast on foot to Playa Blanca, the local beach resort in search of decent provisions whilst Ellen tended to general boat maintenance! Finding fresh food of any description on the island though is not easy. Not a lot can grow on the sides of volcanoes. The supermarkets invariably have 2 or 3 aisles of alcohol and slightly less for food. Once you eliminate the crisps and biscuits there is about 6ft of shelf space devoted to cans of fish and olive oil and not much else. After extensive reconnaissance we eventually located the only Fruiteria in town – and satisfied our cravings by buying some of most green things they had.

Back on Kika the ‘Boat Maintenance Manual’ lay open on the plumbing page as Ellen had spent the morning dismantling the heads at my end of the boat. Everyone need be reassured that the problem was not of my making! Apparently there was already a leak from the pump, honest guv! Emerging from the stern with beads of sweat on her forehead and sporting a pair of rubber gloves was a very satisfied Ellen. ‘I think I’ve done it’ she said. And I can indeed confirm the improvement in pump action from then on!

Pimientos de padron for lunch and then a relaxing afternoon on deck reading whilst Nick figured out how to connect the gas barbecue fitted to the back of the boat so we could christen it that evening. We were joined by those other salty seadogs, Mark and Nat from Free Spirit, who just happened to be moored on the next pontoon along. What a pleasant evening it was – the BBQ was a treat whilst it was alight…the only trouble being that it kept going out! The ensuing BBQ faff to relight it could so easily have ended with our sausages, ribs and veggie kebabs in the marina - but we managed to serve them, and great they tasted too, washed down with plenty of a surprisingly drinkable Vino de Lanzarote!

With Nick’s parents – Jenny and Brian - due on the boat on Friday we spent a hilarious Friday morning editing a short video that Nick and Ellen had made over the weeks for Jenny’s birthday. From making toast, to navigating, to dolphin watching, to trumpeting and fridge cleaning, there are a lot of choice comic moments, most of them unplanned by the presenters. I’m told there are many more episodes to come and given the editing skills acquired that morning we can all eagerly await our own personalised video to land on the doormat!!

We met Jenny and Brian on the path to Playa Blanca and relieved them of some very heavy bags – which it turned out contained several more essential books. I thought I also glimpsed a boxed set of Desperate Housewives DVD’s too but I suspect that was just my mind playing tricks…one wonders whether our sea farers will have their own homemade Desperado DVD collection by the time they reach the other side of the Atlantic anyway – episodes including Desperado for water, Desperado for sleep, Desperado for decent conversation, Desperado for Nick to stop practicing the bl***y trumpet…the collection should be extensive.

Friday night was curry night on Kika. It’s one thing to cook a curry at home and stink the kitchen out for a day or so. It’s another thing to cook one on board knowing you’ll have to live with the smell for days to come in all quarters. Never the less it was my hosts’ enthusiastic request and who am I but a menial galley slave to argue. Later on, stuffed full, and reeking of garlic, Nick and I headed out to see if we’d be cool enough to get into Mojitos – the local salsa joint – whilst Ellen relaxed onboard. Yep you guessed it…we didn’t get in! Yeah ok don’t be so smug, it was actually closed - so we ended up back at our usual haunt of Café del Mar drinking large measures of Cuban rum and coke and watching a very drunk blonde trying to flaunt her way into a job.Keep still: First haircut of trip
Keep still: First haircut of trip

With the weather practically blowing a gale, and with Jenny and Brian staying in the north of the island, we’d decided to hire a car for a couple of days. Saturday, our local island specialist and tour guide Ellen, presented a programme of sights that included a volcano park, a substantial lunch (quel surprise), and some caves with a secret twist. Volcano park promised more than it delivered – a couple of geysers on top of a windswept hill, a restaurant with a BBQ pit that cooks on the open earth’s crust, and thousands of people. The showman poured a bucket of water down a drain hole, the crowd counts “1, 2, 3” in their native tongue and the earth obliges with a huge spurt of hot water to a collective gasp and the sound of hundreds of cameras clicking. It would be magical if it were less of a circus and more of geology. The views here in the west of the island are amazing though – brown and barren for as far as you can see, with the earth itself made up of huge lumps of larva.

Next stop was lunch of course. Tapas at the highly-recommended ‘El Chopadero’, a vineyard in the centre of the island. Pimientos de padron, tortilla, dates wrapped in bacon, local cheese, albondigas and prawns in garlic. Delicious and washed down with some more great wine. I won’t mention the garlic Ellen!

Then onwards and northwards to the much anticipated ‘Cuevas de los Verdes’. These spectacular caves are underground tubes carved out of the earth by molten lava flows. They are huge and it was much more interesting than any of us sceptics expected! Our guide was a happy chap dressed in a ridiculous stripey green suit, who spoke pretty good English and spent much of his time singing ‘cuidado la cabeza’ to the group as we stepped our way under some very low ceilings. It was an entertaining tour and the last stop had the crowd gasping as the secret of the caves was revealed. We could tell you – but we pledged our loyalty there and then in front of a hundred witnesses. SSShhhhh…you’ll have to go there!!

Final stop of the day was dinner in the old town Teguise after collecting Jenny and Brian from their apartment at Costa Teguise. At last some semblance of history, dinner was great in an old converted house in the centre of the town. It seemed we were the only people eating, but then it was well away from the resorts of the coast and the weather was pretty chilly. The food was plentiful, the setting picturesque and we amused ourselves by trying to extract dirt on Nick from his parents to his embarrassment. meal out
meal out

Back in Marina Rubicon all of us were too full to sit comfortably below deck so we made one last ditch effort at Mojitos – still closed – and ended up at Mollie’s Taverna, the Irish bar round the corner where a terrible pub singer was banging out very poor versions of Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen and similar. We tolerated him long enough to down a rum and coke (with a hint of onion – yuk!) and then wandered back to our favourite watering hole – Café del Mar – for a nightcap.

Sunday was changeover day on Kika – I was giving up my bunk to Liz who was arriving lunchtime. As seems to be our habit we threw together a sumptuous lunch - mango tabouleh, Cuban black beans, green salad, chicken curry, and rice – and ate too much one last time. And then it was time to say goodbye. I can highly recommend a trip on Kika if you ever get the chance. We never stopped laughing (nor eating!) those few days and it was a very entertaining and relaxing. We even warmed to Lanzarote! I hope it was the same for my hosts and I wish them safe passage to those distant tropical lands with crystal clear waters, palm-fringed white sandy beaches, and potent rum cocktails!! Perhaps I’ll see them there…!!

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