Artbreak Hotel?

On Lanzarote they call it the Ghost Hotel. It can be seen from a distance only in a certain light, and if you are driving along the LZ 2 near Playa Blanca it can be seen some days and others not, and even then only as a mirage-like object in the distance.

It stands between Playa Blanca and El Golfo, and is pretty much in the middle of a small but unforgiving desert, that runs away to the cliff-top edge about 150 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

Deserts have a strange unreality all of their own. Driving across the Rubicon desert gives a sense that nothing has ever really happened here; walking there gives an even greater sense of timelessness – it´s easy to imagine that whole civilisations might have disappeared under the wastes of the world´s great deserts.

On a holiday here about fifteen or twenty years ago my wife and I had been told about this semi-mythical and unoccupied building that had been built as an intended hotel. We set out on a ´stroll´, unprepared and ill-equipped to find the unoccupied building and have a look around. Because of the way the sunlight plays upon the land there you often don´t really see the place until you trip over it, but on this occasion we could see, from a couple of hundred yards away, a silhouette of the shell that had been left by the owners and builders a quarter of a century earlier. From that shell emanated an eerie silence and there was, too, a strange stillness.

Or so we thought.

However, as we crept a few steps forward, we could hear voices and in the shimmering sun we could see human beings. There were no walls, but only a strange shell of rectangular rooms and we recognised the sight as similar to many others on the island at that time in places such as Costa Teguise. It all seemed strange and felt as if these people we could see in the distance were perhaps homeless people having taken up residence rights in rooms with no facilities: not even a roof. To be honest we felt like intruders and were afraid we might not be welcome if we advanced any further.

So we turned round and walked the five or six km back to our car.

Some years later we retired here to Lanzarote and live in Playa Blanca, the nearest town to the so called Ghost Hotel. In the nine years we have lived here we have never approached the place, for a variety of reasons. One reason is because there are no roads out to the derelict edifice, as the building work was abandoned before the infrastructure was put in place. Another reason is because The Ghost Hotel is a long walk from anywhere, mostly across an uninviting desert terrain. And another reason is because we are just a little bit too nervous to go anywhere near it.

Maybe it is the songwriter in me….but somehow my only blinking sight of this place reminded me of hotels of infamy and fame. In my mind it looked as I imagine the Hotel California that The Eagles lamented in their song of that title.

How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
So I called up the Captain, “Please bring me my wine”
He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969″
And still, those voices are calling from far away
Wake you up in the middle of the night just to hear them say
“Welcome to the Hotel California
 Such a lovely place 
We´re livin’ it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise 
Bring your alibis”

and although this tumble down structure is far removed from the grandeur of Graceland, perhaps Elvis now lives here, down at the end of Lonely Street, in this Heartbreak Hotel.

Regardless of all this my wife suddenly announced this week, much to my surprise, that she had cajoled her “Yogini” girl friends to join her and their leader, Mercedes, to take a Saturday morning light-walk from El Faro de Pechiguera lighthouse to The Ghost Hotel.

Would you like to join us? she asked.

´No, but thanks ever so much´, I replied, knowing that there was a football match on telly in the afternoon.

Perhaps, too, there is something about my previous trip to The Ghost Hotel that still haunts me.

The yogini´s expedition followed along the seaward margin of the Rubicon passing some beautiful rock pools set in the lava foreshore, to the ´peña´ of this desert, the long-abandoned Atlante del Sol Hotel (to give the place its real name), a monument to the foolishness of investing in the desert, – that was our original summary, though the foolishness of property developer greed is obvious amongst Playa Blanca´s recently abandoned developments, the Atlante del Sol´s dramatic isolation still stands as a monument to the failure of ´desert dreams´ decades after its ill-fated construction.

The six yoginis, I´m told, walked in three sets of pairs, in single-pair file: The rock pools were glorious, Dee told me when she arrived back home and the sea, to their left had been a constant beautiful backdrop. After an hour´s gentle walking, albeit through real heat and driving winds, they got to within sight of the oasis that is The Ghost Hotel.

Dee told me that, unlike the only other time she and I had seen it, the place seemed uninhabited with only a few brave or foolhardy ramblers moving within close distance of the structure.

Apparently, Dee and her group preferred to stand and take long distance photo shots of the interior walls of the rooms with no exterior facade. When they looked into their long lenses at the imaginative murals painted on the walls by either previous ´inhabitants´ or passers-by. There are several of these graffiti-blotted or art adorned empty buildings throughout the island.

Rumours abound of legislation that some of these anachronistic shells (certainly compared to some of the huge and dignified hotels now being built) will be demolished, but little action seems to be taken and instead these
empty shells stand as a stark reminder of the island´s social housing problems.

When I asked Dee if they had gone any further after taking their photographs, she replied. ¨No. We were hungry and we had a table booked back past where had come from, at Chiringuito Tropical Bar, back beyond the lighthouse.

The ladies shared a tapas lunch of croquets, prawns, tomatoes from Tinajo, fried vegetable chips and paella and drinks of wine and beer before heading home. Dee arrived home just after the kick-off of the match I had been looking forward to.

´That Ghost Hotel, as you call it, looked really good,´ she said.

´Great. How close did you get´?

´About two hundred yards´!


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