Border Crossings

Southern AfricaFormerly known as German South West Africa, current day Namibia is a peculiar shape. In the northeast corner is a 500km long, narrow salient, rather like a pan handle, sandwiched between Angola in the north and Botswana in the south, and running eastwards towards Zambia. This land was granted to Germany in 1890 following a deal with the UK to give Germany access to the Zambezi River and Africa’s east coast. We got Zanzibar. This salient is known as the Caprivi Strip after the then German chancellor General Count Georg Leo von Caprivi di Caprara di Montecuccoli. What a name! No wonder they stripped it down to Caprivi. 😆

Unfortunately, the Zambezi River proved to be unnavigable owing to the precipitously majestic VIctoria Falls. OOPS!

It was Victoria Falls that we were now setting off to see. Today was billed as a long day, with maybe 9 hours of driving, depending on time taken at border crossings, so we set off at 06:00 following an early breakfast and bidding farewell to Capt. Sam and his houseboat.

Since the roads don’t directly match the land acquisition, there were to be an alarming number of border crossings or, at least, queues for border crossings:

  1. leave Botswana;
  2. enter Namibia;
  3. leave Namibia;
  4. re-enter Botswana;
  5. leave Botswana again;
  6. enter Zambia.

These, of course, came with paperwork, most notably the endless Covid-19 health questionnaires (have you got a cough, sniffles, fever ..?) accompanied by flashing your Covid-19 vaccination certificate. Most of the crossings “should be quiet” but entering Zambia “can be a lengthy process”. At least #5 & #6 were combined in the same facility though the earlier ones were separated. Poor ol’ Bibi was going to have to join 6 queues at the last to include vehicle formalities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiven the length of drive, Bibi wasn’t hanging around so there was little in the way of wildlife photography en route, by me, anyway. We did see quite a bit of game as soon as we entered Namibia but even IBIS would have trouble with a bouncing Landcruiser truck. Further along the Namibian tarmac roads, we saw what I think were our only examples of Sable Antelope by the side of the road but check out the middle one with a very wonky horn. Normally very handsome antelopes, I should zoom in on one that looks right. 😉

The first few border posts were, as suggested, quite quiet, though #1 and #2 still took an hour, but then we coincided with a small convoy of Sarth Efricans with families and off-road camping trailers in tow. It was apparently the beginning of their school break. Some of the border officials weren’t the speediest, either. At one border crossing an elephant bypassed any queues and simply sauntered through without so much as a by-your-leave – didn’t even get its passport stamped.

We knuckled down to the tedious part of travel and eventually arrived at the final port of call to enter Zambia, which required the purchase of a single-entry tourist visa for $25 [USD]. Those with a particular fondness for waterfalls purchased a $50 multiple entry visa permitting entry across the Zambezi River into Zimbabwe and back again – as if they hadn’t done enough border crossings already – enabling them to view the Victoria Falls from the other side. With money burning a hole in your pocket, those with an extra-special interest in waterfalls and a strong stomach could splash out about $500 on a 20-minute helicopter ride over “The Smoke that Thunders”. Nein danke!

I was unsure what to expect of Livingstone – high rise modern or collections of shacks African? The bit we visited turned out to be more the latter. Being a major town, I also thought that wandering in search of fresh water for odonata might be a possibility. That idea was scotched as, driving towards our hotel, a group of four elephants wandered across the road in front of us. Urban elephants instead of urban foxes. Great! 🙂

Waterfront Chalet (1 of 2)Waterfront Chalet (2 of 2)With some relief after a long and arduous day, we finally arrived at the Victoria Falls Waterfront Hotel at about 17:00. Francine and I lucked out I think; our allocated chalet was right beside a lovely little pond, dammed to retain more water. It was shaded at this time of day but looked very promising. The room was spacious and felt luxurious, too. We were here for two nights.

In a further stroke of luck, today the excellent riverside bar at the hotel was hosting happy hour with drinks at half price. Two double G&Ts each – the barman was a very effective salesman – have honestly never tasted so good, with the crowning glory being sipping them whilst watching sunset develop over the mighty Zambezi River.

Zambezi sunset

Posted in 2019 Sri Lanka

Moving House

[5th July was getting a bit long so here’s an addendum covering a couple of days.]

I’m used to seeing birds following moving items. Seagulls often follow tractors ploughing fields and Francine and I have watched a gang of Black Kites similarly following a tractor in France. Seagulls are frequently seen flying along behind or beside a cross channel ferry, too.

So, watching Swallows zooming about over the Cubango River beside our houseboat, the Okavango Spirit, as she was moved slowly downstream to quieter moorings away from some Shakawe music, was no particular cause for comment.

[Incidentally, the Cubango River IS the Okavango River – Cubango is the Portuguese name given to it in Angola to the north where it rises. To keep the unforgettable and potentially unpronounceable information coming, the Okavango Delta, famously without an outflow into any other water body, is known as an endorheic basin, disappearing into the Kalahari Desert.]

Barn SwallowIn the UK we are used to Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) migrating from southern Africa to breed in our country and other parts of northern Europe. Their journey takes about 6 weeks and the little darlings have been doing this since before the Sahara was a desert. About 10,000 years ago what we know as the Sahara Desert was lush and green with plants and water bodies. Now our Swallows are forced to run the gauntlet and cross one of the more inhospitable places on the planet.

Wire-tailed Swallow (1 of 2)Wire-tailed Swallow (2 of 2)There are, though, many more types of swallow in southern Africa that do not make the perilous journey. Those zooming about our houseboat were clearly different. Whereas ours have a deep red “face”, these were Wire-tailed Swallows (Hirundo smithii) with a russet skull cap. Just as a seagull sometimes settles on a ship, these occasionally alighted on our houseboat which, having singularly failed to track their fast flight, was the only time I could get a picture of them. I saw them first sitting on the rear platform of the boat. When I went downstairs for a shower, one was sitting just feet away on a rail outside our cabin.

Nesting swallowCapt Sam at the helmAs Capt. Sam moved his Okavago Spirit back up stream in two stages, our seemingly constant companions remained with us. I still failed to get one flying but I did notice that they were zooming up to the “eaves” of the lounge/dining area on the upper deck of the boat. (Cabins were below.) I slid open one of the “patio” doors and realized that the birds were actually nesting on the boat. No wonder they were following it everywhere it went.

I did see birds disappearing below the rear platform of the boat, where my first suspect had been sitting, so I’m sure they were also nesting there, just inches above the water level.

Lesser-striped SwallowsWhile I’m on the subject of Swallows, completely out of sequence, here’s a trio of what I believe are Lesser-striped Swallows (Hirundo abyssinica) from a later campsite. Very elegant creatures.

Posted in 2022 Botswana

A Mystery Solved

It is not often that I am left mystified by food. However, our Maun hotel dinner menu had featured as accompanying options: chips, mashed potato or pap. Pap? More of that later.

We’d heard hippo noises overnight; well, in the smaller hours of morning, really. I did pop up on deck early and spotted the signs of one passing the houseboat heading downstream but little of it showed above the surface and when it did, it was only very briefly to draw breath.

This was a day of three parts.

White-faced Whistling DucksAfter breakfast we headed downstream ourselves in the launch. We were soon overflown by a flight of White-faced Whistling Ducks. You can’t beat being in a new environment; no matter how common the species locally, they are all exciting to visitors.

African DarterThe sides of the river were a rich source of birdlife and we had more species than you could shake a camera at. In Sri Lanka, 2019, before the accursed Covid-19, we’d seen the Asian Darter/Snakebird; now we saw lots of its African equivalent. These birds are a lot like a Cormorant but with a longer neck which, with their body submerged, makes them look like a snake swimming in the water.

African Fish EagleLittle Bee-eaterA couple of species of the delightfully colourful Bee-eaters proved very numerous and, at the other end of the size scale, we saw a few African Fish Eagles, one of which decided we were disturbing its fishing and took flight.

We returned to the houseboat for brunch, including sausage, egg and baked beans – can’t be bad – at about 11:30.

Pseudagrion deningi, ShakaweCrocodileI was granted permission to wander ashore, though not too far – as well as hippos, one does have to be careful of these chaps on the left – having spotted a couple of damselflies in the shore vegetation. One of these was an old friend from Namibia, the Massai Sprite (Pseudagrion massaicum) but the 2nd was a new species and not widespread, the Dark Sprite (Pseudagrion deningi), with its trademark green undersides to the eye.

In the afternoon Capt. Sam made a slow journey against the flow of the river back upstream to make tomorrow’s early departure easier. En route he took into tow an offical boat, maybe army or wardens, which had become stranded in the middle of the river. The crew of four was very grateful.

Having returned to our original moorings, we were back in the launch to travel further up river this time, largely in search of hippos, I subsequently discovered. We most certainly found them and at one point our launch was surrounded by a pod of 12 or so. Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa so it’s perhaps not surprising how vulnerable you suddenly feel with a family group of these large animals staring at you and getting closer.

Hippo pod

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was another item on Bibi’s agenda and that was sunset. He’d done this so many times that he clearly knew how to time it and, having skilfully avoided being sunk by hippos, he now skilfully paused the launch in an open section just as the sun was sinking towards the western horizon.

And so to dinner. Today we were treated to steak accompanied by mashed potato, veggies and, yes, the mysterious pap. I hadn’t realized at the time but I had heard some of the pap preparation work – a rhythmic banging. Pap is pounded maizemeal boiled into a sort of porridge. Actually, it’s a lot like a white version of polenta though the latter has a rather more attractive name. I’m glad I’ve tasted it, these things must be done, but I’m not sure I’d rush back for seconds. For pudding there was guava and, yes, more custard. Not bad at all, their cartons of custard. 🙂

The last task of the evening was to set an alarm for 05:00 to depart at 06:00 on the next stage of our adventure. Tomorrow would be a long day.

Posted in 2022 Botswana

Tsodilo Hills

OK, cards on the table up front – this was not going to be my kind of day.

Tsodilo Hills is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with rock paintings dating back 3,000 years. There are rock shelters, too. So, this is about Homo sapiens history and not Natural History. It is, though, an important site revered by the local people. It was good to meet our local guide for a wander.

It should be “an interesting day” from another viewpoint, though. At some point, as the years advance, we will be the oldest folks on an Explore! trip. This was not that day, however. Two of our three late arrivals were far from being spring chickens. One had several replacement joints that set off airport alarms causing delays progressing through airports. They also noticeably restricted limb flexibility. She also “suffered from bad travel sickness” so “needed the front passenger seat” since “you really don’t want her to be sick”, quoting her similarly challenged but slightly-less-elderly-but-still-older-than-us sister. OK, let’s get this straight. You have restricted movement and travel sickness, so you booked a 2200 kms (rough) road trip requiring you to clamber in and out of a difficult-to-access safari truck around Botswana. I’ll just thumb through the brochures to see if I can find any trip less suitable. How about a cruise in the Southern Ocean across the roaring 40s? Their drive up from Maun had been in a more regular vehicle. I’ll just watch the early attempts and get ready to catch. Oh, we were 8 ladies and only 2 men, BTW.

Okavango Spirit had been moved downstream yesterday from its original mooring “to avoid a local disco”. Its new moorings were very pleasantly isolated. We began the day by making the journey in the launch back to the jetty to drive 30kms back down the road, then 30 kms along another dirt road to Tsodilo Hills. Along the river we had a very close view of a huge Crocodile, initially resting on the bank, higher than our boat, until it decided that we were too close and launched itself at us. A few pulse rates increased – scary stuff.

Pied Kingfishers-224929Bird life along the river was very varied and Francine and I were particularly taken by Pied Kingfishers. This is a male-female pair.

The fun began as arrived at the boat jetty. Never mind getting into the Landcruiser, Ms. Restricted needed help getting out of the launch. Now for the Landcruiser. Front passenger seat, no problem. Excellent. The rest of us crumblies made it into the back with relatively little problem. Off we roared.

Arriving at Tsodilo Hills, disembarkation proved a bit more dangerous. One of our originals proved even less nimble than the late arrivals when it came to exiting. We developed our favoured technique of somebody able-bodied descending first, then physically placing Ms. Wobbly’s feet on the ladder rungs to avoid any further mishap. I’m sure it would have been less dangerous had she actually looked to see where her feet were going. Call me old fashioned.

_22R8130_22R8164Safely out of the Landcruiser, we spent 2½ hours with our young guide touring the rock paintings. The most interesting image for me depicted whales and a penguin. These ancient inhabitants must’ve travelled.

Francine at Tsodilo Hills-111030370Our last stopping point on the Tsodillo Hills visit was at a viewing platform up a track necessitating clambering, which unsurprisingly was too much for some. I felt quite young and sprightly.

The return journey to the jetty and houseboat was via the water and wine shop before settling down to an evening meal of chicken curry, rice, veggies and potato salad followed by Swiss roll and custard. We were being well fed.

Posted in 2022 Botswana

United in Shakawe

Having arrived in South Africa on Saturday and made it by the skin of our teeth to Botswana, sans luggage, we hadn’t had much time to draw breath. Once on hotel wi-fi, though, Francine, had received an email from Air-Link advising that the booking for our flight had been cancelled. Curious, considering that the flight was expecting us (we were on the manifest) and that we’d arrived. Francine’s concern was that, since our outbound flight booking “had been cancelled”, our return flight might also have been affected. She forwarded the email to Explore! and told Bibi, our leader. He suggested checking at the Air-Link office before our journey up to the delta, since we would then be without communication for three days in the wilds.

We were ready for departure to Shakawe at 08:30 and Bibi duly arrived with our open-sided safari “truck”. It was actually a long wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser (isn’t everything in Africa?) with truck leaf-spring suspension at the rear and 11 seats in the back in a 2-3-3-3 arrangement. There was a front passenger seat too, of course. We climbed aboard. With three tourists still stuck in Jo’burg, we were currently only 7 so there was plenty of room for bums and camera bags.

We went first to the airport to investigate return flights and bags. Happily the bags had been found and Air-Link confirmed that we were, indeed, on the return flight. Our three missing companions would arrive a while after midday along with our bags … in theory.

We stopped again to buy water and lunch. At the stop our friend managed to miss her footing clambering out of the Landcruiser, fell backwards and struck her head on the unforgiving concrete of the parking area. Happily no serious damage was done.

The Truck-095345957I should explain. Entering and exiting the Landcruiser is on one side only and via two metal rungs running most of the length of the side, there being a break across the rear wheel arch. The spacing of the steps is a little uneven so care is required. Lesson learned.

The weather wasn’t particularly cold but we were speeding along at 60mph or so in an open-sided vehicle. Early morning was thus chilly. The roads on this journey were tarmac but decorated with potholes. We’d learned in Kenya many years ago that more undulating dirt/gravel roads are generally more comfortable than unmaintained tarmac with hard 90°-edged potholes. Bibi drove well, though – fast but well – and the journey was pleasantly uneventful.

Nearly all the children we drove past on the journey waved joyously at us. We returned the favour, of course. We saw a few Ostriches and several Hornbills en route but little else on the wildlife front.

Landing Dock-135431166Okavango SpiritAfter almost 400kms of shake, rattle and roll, we arrived at Shakawe and transferred to a launch to take us to the houseboat, Okavango Spirit, our accommodation for the next three nights on the Cubango River. Captain Sam was delightful but felt it necessary to apologise for the ongoing refurbishment works of the houseboat. The rooms were bijou but it was fine and we’d get used to it. Each room had an en suite bathroom with shower but we had to listen for the generator; when that was running there would be a hot water supply so that was when showers were possible – well, hot ones anyway.

Capt. Sam and his crew, John, prepared some very welcome Spaghetti Bolognese with veggies for dinner.

Our three missing companions arrived at 21:00 after their long day flying from Jo’burg to Maun by their tiring drive on to Shakawe. They were accompanied by all our misplaced luggage. Hooray!

Posted in 2022 Botswana

Staffing Issues

Time for another go at travelling after two years worth of Covid-19 disruption. Our first attempt, which went reasonably well, had been an Explore! walking trip to Lanzarote in March. We made that journey on easyJet with masks having to be worn all the way. This was an Explore! tented camping safari trip to Botswana, including a few days in Livingstone, Zambia, and would be on Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to Johannesburg with masks not required. It should also be a lot more comfortable since, for the 10-11 hour flight, we’d lashed out on seats in Upper Class. 😯 Clearly the money saved not travelling for two years was burning a hole in our pockets.

I’d booked our car into long term car parking on the airport; it wasn’t much more expensive than the taxi fare there and back. We parked shortly after 17:00 with the flight being at 22:00. I don’t like to be rushed and it would give us time to enjoy the Virgin lounge. We were travelling with a friend. She was in Premium Economy but had discovered we could sign in a guest. We expected her at 18:00.

At check-in we were told we’d need to claim our bags at Jo’burg then re-check them for the 90-minute connecting flight to Maun, Botswana, two hours later. Bother.

Our companion turned up an hour late, then the travel gremlins really began. Our Virgin flight was short one pilot [they needed three] and was delayed by an hour while a replacement was found. We took off shortly after 23:00 hoping to make up some time. Not only had we been a pilot down but the cabin crew was five short, just 8 instead of 13, so they were stretched.

On the flight I tried watching Operation Mincemeat but, after a drink or two, the lie-flat seat proved too appealing and I failed.

Following a comfortable night we didn’t seem to have made up any time, landing in Jo’burg an hour later than scheduled leaving us just one hour to make our connecting Air-Link flight. At disembarkation, our companion had been told by one of the over-worked cabin crew that our bags would’ve been checked through – confusingly conflicting information.

Since we’d also been given and completed South African travel health forms, we joined a distressingly long South African immigration queue. This felt wrong and wasn’t going to work. The three of us finally reversed and dashed to the in-transit section. Running most of the way, we made the Air-Link flight to Maun by the skin of our teeth, being the last to board.

Welcome to Maun. Immigration was a bit Heath Robinson but went smoothly enough after completing yet another health form.

We stood by the carousel and waited for our bags. Our companion’s bag turned up before she made it through immigration. Promising. The conveyor belt turned off. No bags – promise dashed. There weren’t bags for several other passengers waiting, either. Confirming that there were no more bags to arrive, we went to meet our safari leader for the next two weeks and gave him the joyous news. His name was Bibi and he proved to be unshakeable, mercifully.

There had been five safari folks on the Air-Link flight, only one of whose bag had arrived; four bags were missing. A further couple had wisely arrived the previous day when one of their bags had similarly not arrived. They had accompanied Bibi today to collect their bags a day late. Not only were four bags missing but also three other safari travellers who were, we surmised, stuck in Jo’burg along with their luggage.

It wasn’t just Virgin baggage that failed to make it. Some of our number had been on an Emirates flight, 30 minutes late arriving also, and that baggage had not arrived either.

Today’s arrivals all spent ages completing lost luggage forms – this appeared to be a regular occurrence – before Bibi took us to change Dollars into Pula and buy emergency warm clothing. This being Botswana’s winter, ‘t would be cold early in the morning in an open-sided truck at 60mph. I had spare underwear and required medical supplies in my camera bag so was otherwise relaxed. A Woolworths fleece and beanie hat fitted the bill. Supplies secured, we continued to our accommodation at the Sedia Riverside Hotel.

Our tour proper was due to start the following morning with the almost 400km drive to Shakawe, on the edge of the Okavango Delta in northwest Botswana. A delay wasn’t really practical. A plan formed following discussion in the local agent office. We’d set off on our drive and another agent would collect the late bags and three missing tourists from the flight the following day (it was a Sunday and there was only one flight). The job lot of luggage and people would then follow on up to Shakawe in another vehicle and join us on the houseboat to which we were heading.

Sedia Pool-151802653Our hotel room was adequate, the bed humongous and more than adequate and the hotel had a very pleasant bar beside a pool. Drinks were certainly needed.

Travel may have technically opened up but neither the airports nor the airlines are staffed and ready to give the necessary service, despite the expense of generous furlough arrangements in the UK.

Posted in 2022 Botswana

César Manrique

This was our day to depart Lanzarote but we were not due to leave for the airport until 17:00. So, having heard the name César Manrique on a daily basis for the last week, we thought we’d spend much of our free time on a visit to the Fundación César Manrique which lies a few kilometres north of Arrecife, the capital.

Sr. Manrique seems to be Mr. Lanzarote. He was a local artist who wielded quite a bit of influence. Not only did he create many works of art but he also specified architectural requirements on Lanzarote, such as the colours that should be used for doors and window frames of houses according to their location. He also was instrumental in keeping Lanzarote low-rise rather than high-rise. (One building has now broken that, sadly.)

Getting to the Foundation would be about 20 minutes by taxi. People are fond of saying, “just hop in a taxi”, a phrase that I regard with suspicion following experiences in Singapore. Getting a taxi from your hotel is generally very easy, they can be booked or they often just lurk about. Getting a taxi back from your potentially remote destination can be more tricky since taxis often don’t lurk there and passing taxis frequently already have a fare. On one occasion in Singapore we had to walk kilometres before coming across a shopping mall with a taxi rank (and a queue).

Our Lanzarote hotel reception was happy to book a taxi for out outbound trip. They then said they couldn’t book a taxi for the return trip “because the foundation is in a different district and only local taxis can operate from it”. “Bong!”, went the alarm bell. For the same reason, we couldn’t ask our taxi driver to return for us in 90 minutes. When we were dropped off, however, our outbound driver did point out a taxi rank (2 bays) in the foundation’s car park. OK.

_22R5962The foundation is one of the eminent Sr. Manrique’s houses … with a difference. It looks like a single story construction but it hides a secret. A lower floor, essentially a basement, of five rooms is constructed in originally natural gaps beneath the top layer of now solidified volcanic lava. Here’s what happens: during an eruption lava flows, the surface lava cools and solidifies but the underlying lava remains molten and continues to flow, leaving void spaces. Good ol’ César turned some of these voids into subterranean rooms that were cooler in summer. Clever. There’s a pool, too, not to mention a bar and couches on which to womanize. César liked the ladies.

_22R5921_22R5933_22R5934

_22R5927The place was filled with photos of the man himself, many depicting him enjoying life to the full. We went “ooh, ah” dutifully – more Francine’s thing than mine – before having a coffee and then trying to return to our hotel.

One of the two taxi slots in the car park contained a cab. The radio was playing. The cab contained no driver. After several minutes another couple arrived also looking for a cab. The cab continued to contain no driver as the radio played to itself. As suggested, Francine went back to the Foundation reception where a man helpfully summoned a cab. A cab turned up before Francine did. There was some confusion but, as Francine finally returned to me, it seems the cab was indeed ours.

We got back to Playa del Carmen safely for a relaxing lunch of some very good tapas looking at the ocean to bid farewell to Lanzarote.

A 17:00 taxi ferried us and two fellow travellers to the airport without any trouble. The airport was a zoo but we finally boarded, spent four hours flying and landed back at Luton in time for midnight and to collect our car before it turned into a pumpkin.

One slight panic awaited. I had pre-booked the 10-day parking slot in Terminal Car Park 1. Our car behaved, started and I drove to the exit barrier whereupon I was greeted by a message saying “Excess charge £627”. Very witty. I summoned a helpful man on the intercom who checked our registration and let us out. Phew! We’ve had that happen once before in Long Term parking but for a mere £260. So much for ANPR and pre-booking.

OK, we’re home; Lanzarote in retrospect. It was interesting to have seen but I wouldn’t rush back. It is not a place for those whose main interest is wildlife. I am fitter than I was a week ago, though.

Posted in 2022 Lanzarote

Earworms and Nudists

Yes, I thought that might get your attention.

But first [he said, losing 10 points for beginning not just a sentence but a paragraph with a conjunction, in true modern BBC fashion], we began with “a result” [back to the BBC and its sports commentators]. We have the honour of having to complete the accursed British Passenger Locator Form for our return home. It is apparently to be discarded but not in time for us. The concern over having to do it is a bit of distraction for the duration of a trip – at least, for us it is. I’d had a glitch attempting it last November to return from Jalón. Happily, 4G being commonplace on Lanzarote, we managed to get it done successfully on our mobile phones with little trouble.

Scintillating LandscapeFlushed with PLF success and with a weight off our minds, we were driven to the outskirts of Guatiza, actually to a filling station. Very picturesque! 😀 Here we began heading for the east coast. It was not the most scintillating of routes. (The wide angle phone lens has done something interesting to the horizon.)

_22R5883Hitting the coast, we encountered a collection of disused salt pans. Unfortunately for me somebody was flying a kite above them in the now familiar Lanzarote wind. That was it, it was earworm time. I now had to suffer a mental rendition of “let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height …” ♫ for the remaining 10 kms or so heading northwards along the coast. Arghhh!  Thank you very much.

What we were heading for northwards along the coastal path (“let’s go fly a kite …” ♫) was Arrieta where Francine and I had already lunched during our solo driving around. To get there, however, we had to negotiate the debateable delights of a coastal nudist colony. As we approached, we followed a pair of buttocks towards the colony. Once in the colony, a gentleman approached us with his buttocks planted firmly on a bicycle seat. Well, rather you than me, mush. (“Let’s go fly a kite …” ♫) Now there’s a bicycle I wouldn’t want to borrow for a quick spin into town. Discretion being the better part of valour, we decided not to point our cameras at the naturists, not even those on bikes.

Fishing shacksThe only other spot of variation (“let’s go fly a kite …” ♫) along this rather unvarying coastal path was a couple of now disused fishing shacks. I’m beginning to spot a pattern. The Cornish coastal path wins hands down.

We hadn’t had any climbing of note but the walk had felt like a bit of a monotonous slog, despite the undoubted interest of passing through a nudist colony. We finally reached Arrieta with visions of beer drifting before my eyes. (“Let’s go fly a kite …” ♫) OK, I’ll have another beer since I’m not driving and since it is, after all, Turia.

Cactus GardenOur bus called in to The Cactus Garden for a brief visit on the way back to home base. This was yet another creation of … yes, you guessed it, César Manrique. What would Lanzarote be without him? Since Francine and I had already visited this on our solo jaunts, I stayed outside with another traveller to chew the fat while Francine went in again.

OK legs, you can stop now.

(“Let’s go fly a kite …” ♫)

Posted in 2022 Lanzarote

My High Point

The trip notes set today’s scene:

Today’s moderate 12 kilometre walk is expected to take approximately four-and-a-half hours with a total ascent of 450 metres and descent of 650 metres.

barachitoOur start point for the walk was Haria, to which we were bussed. This is where Francine and I had bumped into hoards of people on our solo Saturday, there being a market in full swing. Today was much calmer and we took time in Haria to sample a barachito. Ramon had been encouraging us to sample one of these Canary Islands speciality coffees all week and, with the prospect of more uphill work, we finally succumbed. The key ingredient, it seems, rather than the coffee is Licor 43. The construction of the drink in layers is nothing short of a work of art in itself. Of course, the first thing you have to do is stir it and spoil the presentation.

Our route would take us up to the high point of Lanzarote at 627m. Given our previous uncomfortable scramble up a black gravel path to get to the Mirador del Rio, I was not particularly looking forward to today’s prospect but two things came to my rescue. Firstly, this path up was firm with many rocks acting rather like steps – no sliding backwards. Secondly, yesterday’s gentle 12km saunter along the Puerto del Carmen promenade seemed to have loosened up my legs which were now not feeling any ill effects.

As we approached the summit for lunch, slack-jawed we watched a dragonfly – yes, a dragonfly – fly by and over some bushes. It flew by again but never settled. This was a good thing since I had left my camera, now viewed as pointless ballast, back at the hotel to lighten my uphill load. Had it settled for identification I’d have been spitting feathers. It MAY have been a Wandering Glider, a species given to crossing oceans, but I really couldn’t tell. What it would do with no fresh water is anybody’s guess.

Distant FamaraThe view from near our summit lunch point down to Famara in the middle distance was undeniably very impressive. Atlantic breakers crashed in making it more of a surfing beach than a swimming beach, not that either kind of beach is of practical use to me. It’s pretty, though, being vividly blue.

Gulley to FamaraAfter lunch we tackled the majority of the 650m descent to get to Famara where we’d be picked up by the bus again. The gulley heading down was, in walking terms, quite technical for those using trekking poles. Most of the path was relatively narrow, with twists, turns and some loose rocks. It was sensible to concentrate on the technique of picking your step, planting the pole first, then and only then taking the step. I could hear distant echoes of our first skiing instructor. Incidentally, the middle distance crest along the left of the picture is a popular spot for those who’ve had enough to drive their cars off the cliff – a sort of Lanzarote Beachy Head. Cheerful!

Ultimately the path widened a little and the gradient lessened; we’d done the trickier part. Then we finished with something of a slog along a road into Famara itself to swallow a refreshing beer or two before re-joining our bus.

I’d walked past the jolly waiters at the Shai Indian restaurant every day up ‘til now, sometimes muttering “mañana” as they beckoned me in. This evening we did go and very good it was, too. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, having chosen a hot chicken jalfrezi – the waiter/jester joshed that I was no longer his friend – and been very impressed. It most certainly beat tasteless frozen prawns in supermarket mojo rojo.

Having begun with misgivings, this proved to be my favourite day. The climb up out of Haria was enjoyable, given the stable path, and the more challenging descent to Famara provided interest and gave a sense of achievement. The beers at the end weren’t half bad, either. Capping it all off with a damn fine curry was the icing on the cake.

Posted in 2022 Lanzarote

Meet My Mate

Today was designated as a free day in the tour itinerary. I’m not usually a fan of free days on such tours ‘cos it leaves me wondering what to do. On this occasion, though, with my leg muscles aching from sudden activity after lockdowns, I made an exception and was quite looking forward to it.

Had there been any fresh water on Lanzarote and anything approaching insect life, I’d have been happy to putz about looking for it. As it was, we decided to stroll along the promenade to the harbour of Puerto del Carmen in search mainly of lunch. It would be about 12kms there and back with a total ascent and descent of almost zero metres. 🙂

The promenade of Puerto del Carmen would appear to be where the majority of holiday makers on Lanzarote spend their time, cruising the front with its bars, cafes and restaurants. On day #1 we’d met a chatty English couple on their last day of a 1-month stay. I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth they’d spent their time doing with no rental car.

There is some form of electric scooter rental scheme operating in Puerto del Carmen. Preferring Shanks’s Pony, we didn’t bother to find out how it worked but clearly plenty of people had. Scooters were almost constantly zipping back and forth along the bike lane partitioned from the road. I am self-aware enough to know that I am now not the most sylphlike of people but here were countless fat blobs on electric scooters getting fatter and blobbier avoiding anything at all approaching physical exercise. Electric scooters are bad news.

We paused for a reviving coffee at a small cafe en route. Naturally I ordered in Spanish only to find that the owner was Liverpudlian. Duh!

_22R5722Eventually we made it to the port itself which proved a tad on the tedious side, in truth. The waters of the harbour were clear and I couldn’t help but notice that I could see no fish. What is it with Lanzarote and a lack of wildlife?

We went in search of an appealing restaurant. Those with a sea view are predictably more expensive but the cost isn’t great anyway so we settled into one which was, at least Spanish. Francine opted for sardinas, which she pronounced excellent, whilst I plumped for the pulpo [octopus] with a few Lanzarote potatoes. It was good but not as good as the trusty old Aleluja Bar back in Jalón.

El Robalo_22R5822Having walked off lunch returning to home base. We wandered beyond our hotel to a roundabout adorned by another César Manrique wind toy, this one called El Róbalo. Being a wind toy, this has more cone shapes to catch said wind, decorated as fish. The problem for me is that the wind makes the fish swim backwards. Artists, eh? Being a moving artwork, Francine indulged in a little artwork of her own featuring multiple exposures.

Having had a decent lunch, we elected to self-cater for the evening. This turned out to be a bit of a disaster. There are a couple of local sauces, mojo rojo and mojo verde,  which the Spar supermarket has in bottled form. I chose to chuck a pack of frozen prawns into mojo rojo. The prawns proved to be almost completely tasteless. I am not accustomed to tasteless Spanish prawns. The local Indian restaurant visible from our balcony looks like a much better option when we have more of an appetite; it smells good, too.

Collared Dove feedingI’d been making friends with a Collared Dove which had been frequenting our balcony back at the hotel since we arrived. He nervously began taking food from my hand with my arm resting on our balcony table. After a few days, I was a bit taken aback when he quite suddenly got considerably bolder and perched on my finger tips to take crumbs from my palm. I felt a little bad about habituating a bird but this was quite a thrill and it clearly wasn’t the first time this character had been fed by humans, though maybe not from the hand. We didn’t get visits from any of the local Parakeets, though.

Posted in 2022 Lanzarote