Friction? Fact Or Fiction?

At the stroke of mid-day on Saturday 20th April a demonstration began in Arrecife, coinciding with similar events across the rest of the islands, in some capitals of the Peninsula and also in several European cities under the slogan “The Canary Islands Have A Limit” which may have represented a mistrust of the current tourism model throughout the canaries.

There have been estimations that 9,000 people participated in the demonstration that took place here in the capital of Lanzarote, which was called by different environmental groups following the protests on the island of Tenerife that had been on-going for a fortnight.

In Lanzarote, social, cultural and environmental associations and groups have been joining the protest whilst wanting to make it clear that it is not called against the tourist but against the tourism model and against the unequal distribution of the benefits generated by the sector. The tourist sector is the main driver of wealth in the Canary Islands, represents 35 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of the islands and 40 per cent of the employment that is generated directly or indirectly.

Despite some evidence to the contrary the protest organizers have been quick to clarify that there is no tourism phobia in the call.

Nevertheless, from the music kiosk in the José Ramírez Cerdá Park, thousands began a march to the Lanzarote Cabildo (government offices) in the capital’s theme park. There, children and adults read some manifestos that highlighted the need to stop, to reflect on tourism growth and to care for our environment.

When my wife Dee and I came to retire here on Lanzarote in 2015 we had already enjoyed the island’s hospitality for a dozen holidays over the previous ten years.

We bought our house in Playa Blanca with the intention of integrating with the island’s population, particularly with its indigenous people. The first thing Dee did when we got here was to seek out and join a yoga group in which she became its first English member. Most of its members were Canarian or Spanish or German and she made friends with a group of ladies that remains intact today.

At the same time I set up my daily blog, called Sidetracks And Detours, as the site would make a habit of stepping off the main thoroughfare of arts and culture to find niches, new approaches and innovation. I also made an enquiry offering my services to Lanzarote Information and they graciously took me on board. That gave me an opportunity to follow their lead in seeking to introduce visitors and new British residents on the island to the authentic Lanzarote arts scene,

I have also, on two or three occasions written for the Lancelot, the honorary editor of which, Larry Yaskiel and his wife, the lovely Liz, have become strong family friends. He it was who gently advised me that we are guests on the island and should perhaps not comment on its politics.

Coincidentally, the day after the protest walks, Dee and eight of her colleagues from her Yoga group went on a walk of their own. This was one of the hikes on the island that they take three or four times a year, led by their group leader. Mercedes Minguela, who is a yoga practitioner as well as a poet and writer. We have featured news, previews, interviews and reviews of her work several times on these pages.

One of the yoga members, Jacqueline, sings with the excellent Yaiza Ladies Choir, and because of the friendship Dee enjoys with both Jacqueline and her close friend Isobel, we have reported on their many, many choral recitals in venues such as Plaza Nuestra Senora Del Carmen, in Playa Blanca, and in the beautiful church in the centre of Yaiza. We have reported on these performances on all our platforms.

The walk Dee and her friends took on Sunday 21st April, couldn’t have been better timed, as it meant I would be alone (in peace and quiet!) watching Manchester United stroll to what I assumed would be an easy victory in the FA Cup semi final over Coventry City from the lower division. I could enjoy that in the comfort of my living room and whoop and holler come on you reds to my heart’s content. So I dropped Dee in town where she and the two aforementioned friends were collected by another member, Manuela, and driven to Puerto Calero.

The four of them then met up with another four colleagues down by the beautiful harbour, with its millionaire yacht-club life style. The quality of the food in its more than twenty restaurants reflects this status and although always busy the harbour rests in a genteel manner. There is a fairly flat and beautiful walk way along the cliff side, half way up, with beautiful and colourful plants and shrubs dotted between the tall trees that turn the path into a shaded avenue. Benches are set at regular intervals, offering glorious views over the crow’s nests of the flotilla in the harbour and out to sea, with a number of boats gliding in and out of the harbour as you watch.

It is here where Dee and I occasionally meet with Larry and Liz for coffee and cake and a catch-up and it is also the venue for the water taxi that transfers us from Puerto Calero up in to Puerto Del Carmen, where we disembark and step off the gangplank and into the La Valeta restaurant for a long, lazy meal before stepping across the road and into El Fondeadero theatre, where we have heard poetry recitals, chamber music and even flamenco. We have then delivered our reports to Lanzarote Information. In fact we will there on the evening of Friday 26th April for a violin and piano concerto.

There was no water taxi ride for Dee’s hardy walking-group, though. Instead their hike would take them a few kilometres along the cliff top path to Playa Quemada, which couldn´t be a greater contrast to where the rich folk moor their boats in Calero. Far from being a haven for wealthy ocean goers, this idyllic shoreline is a fishing village that over the last five or six decades has become a quiet haven for artists. There were mobile homes here when we first started visiting around twenty years ago, and they are pretty much still here today. Whenever we visit we love the short walk past a row of tiny houses with gardens adorned by paintings, photographs and pottery and all sorts of found objects that have been turned into art.

For many years there were huge lobster pots out in the bay, but they were removed two or three years ago. Nevertheless visitors can still catch a glimpse of the real Lanzarote when passing the densely populated goat herds on the drive down to the shore. They seem to be wandering aimlessly and we often wonder to ourselves where they could possibly find to graze along Playa Quemada’s arid cliff tops.

Although this particular walk was actually the shortest Dee and the ladies have taken so far, they were all attired in clothing similar to what Sir Edmond Hilary and Sherpa Tensing wore to climb Everest. As our photo shows they hold a close resemblance to a group we saw in a BBC tv comedy series, called The Great Outdoors. Their laughter and chatter and determined strides mark them out as Victoria Wood and Julie Walters types, and to make them even more idiosyncratic they were accompanied on this occasion by Ella, a cross-breed terrier belonging to one of them. Ella is a well travelled and well behaved dog but Dee reckons she looks after them all the by keeping them together and ´away from the edge.´ That mattered on this walk because Dee reckons there were a few up and down bits with some loose shale.

Apparently the group sat down for a drink right at the ocean’s edge before turning round and taking the four km stroll back to Puerto Calero.

I was probably eating my kit-kat and drinking my Oxo and hurling insults at the football team I idolise. Lazy devils all of ´em. Manchester United were 3-0 up at half time and at that stage I was singing Songs Of Praise. With only 20 minutes of the match remaining we still held our lead, but suddenly it was 3-3 and Coventry had a winning goal disallowed for an invisible offside. Half an hour of extra time could not produce a winning goal and it went to penalties. I breathed a sigh of relief when we scored more penalties than they did, and got through to the FA Cup final to play Manchester City.

I was listening to the post match interviews when Dee arrived home. Even whilst Bruno Fernandez was talking on the telly she immediately began to regale me with tales of her hike from Puerto Calero to Playa Quemada and back again.

My wife then went on (and on, and on) telling me about the colours of the sea, the quietude of Quemada, and even of other walking groups they passed along the way. Feeling I ought to somehow interrupt her monologue, I made the mistake of asking her where they had lunch and what did they have.

Of course, that simply opened her monologue into a mini-series, of ´Oh I had a lovely chicken breast with rice and chips and spinach with a cheese sauce on top.´ She then told me what each of her friends had ordered, what they all had to drink and what was for dessert and how little it had all cost. The staff were great, too, she told me before she set off on another walk, …. this time down Memory Lane.

¨Do you remember how we fell in love with Playa Quemada when we first came to Lanzarote? she asked.

Well, my memory isn’t so good these days, I can’t even remember when Manchester United were last a good team. I have had season tickets for UD Lanzarote and Yaiza football club, so I know a thing or two about integration.

All this, though, is not a rambler’s guide, nor sport or arts report. It is rather a compare and contrast tale between the voice of protest, (that some press have described as being against tourists, rather than against tourism) and the camaraderie and contribution we have always sought to achieve over the last eight years on Lanzarote.

We love the little hamlets like Playa Quemada, which as Julie Cliffe Jones once reported on these pages is reminiscent of what Lanzarote would have been like before tourism. It’s a small seaside village where the residents are outnumbered by the goats that roam the hillsides. Situated at the foot of the mountains that are the Monumento Natural de Los Ajaches the village of Playa Quemada is nestled on the coast between Puerto Calero and the Punta de Papagayo.

The village has a very laid back and Spanish feel to it. On the morning I visited families were sitting outside their houses, some fishing from the beach and others cooling off with a swim before the heat of the day kicked in and siesta time began.

We have already spoken of how different the fishing village is from the huge harbour just up the coast. According to on line, Puerto Calero, on the other hand, is a sports dock on the Island of Lanzarote, known worldwide for being one of the most prestigious destinations in the world of sailing. It was built in 1986, becoming the first marina on the island.

Puerto Calero is an ideal destination to rest with a very familiar and close atmosphere that stands out for its security, modernity and exclusivity. Its location of volcanic origin makes Puerto Calero an idyllic place to spend a special day or an unforgettable stay.

On an island where my wife and seven friends and a dog, representing four nationalities rambled up and down the coastline on Sunday in comfortable camaraderie it would be regrettable if a dis-connect were to set-in between Lanzarote and its people and the tourists that contribute huge income to the island.

After the covid restrictions were lifted there was much talk from the Cabildo and tourism sector about how the tourist influx might be better dispersed around Lanzarote and how niche markets, like sport, the arts, walking etc could be established to overcome some of the confusion.

However, we new residents who live here should perhaps remind the government of what we have to offer to the island

Issues such as social housing need to be resolved, and the labour issues regarding taxi drivers and bus routes etc need to be addressed,

Don’t let any of this scare you, though. We all know that Lanzarote is beautiful and is receptive to visitors and newcomers

As we say over here…tranquilo.