Exclusive interview with Sara Hernandez.

Carols at Christmas: timetable

There is no shortage of salt at the beautiful Salinas De Janubio on Lanzarote, but although visitors who take the tours of the salt pans with their guide Sara will be provided with three or four pinches of different flavoured salts at the tasting session afterwards they will certainly not be needed to avert scepticism. Instead they will open taste-buds to the versatility of salt in the same way as Sara’s enthusiasm opens eyes to the past, present and future of a place that is timeless, peaceful and providing perhaps one of the most beautiful panoramic views on the island.

So excited were we when reading a piece by Miguel, here on the Lanzarote Information web site that we have since taken three guided tours with different friends who have come to visit us here on holiday.

Sara so impressed us with her smiling, good humoured delivery of facts and figures and her obvious passion for the site and its tradition that we thought she might make a great subject for these pages. When we asked her if that might be possible she agreed immediately and it was all fixed up within a few days. We looked forward to learning more about her and how she came to be working in a role that, at first, seems a million miles away from the island’s busy tourist industry.

It was wonderful, therefore, to hear how far reaching are her hopes and plans for what was once one of the island’s most important industries, with a huge workforce. We also learned how much she feels the arts could contribute to the future evolution and growth of the site.

Salinas

As Dee and I sit with Sara on a recently built little look-out platform, right on the very lip of the salt fields, it is evident how rich is the area in natural attributes.

´Toblerone´ piles of salt glisten in the early morning sun, and the water in the fields, that has been gathered from the sea, a further quarter of a mile away, shimmers in a hundred different shades with a slight pink being quite predominant. The waves beyond the natural shelf forming a ´wall´ between the sea and the site break gently on the shore, and pairs of exotic looking birds circle serenely in a clear blue sky. Visitors taking her tour learn much more from Sara about all these aspects of the area.

All this is only two days after strong November winds that wreaked havoc all over the island (that being the reason Sara was already at hard at work, sweeping brush in hand, in the bodega when we arrived at 9.00 am for our appointed interview.) Nevertheless she had immediately led us down to where we now are, on a quaint wooden bench on the viewing platform, at the rear of a natural amphitheatre, looking out across the sea to a horizon beyond which lies Africa.

Dee shuffles around taking photographs as I stumble into my questioning. I have no list prepared, though the fact that Sara has come armed with files and information suggests I should have. Nevertheless, it is our way to simply follow various Sidetracks and Detours, even if we set out on this particular question and answer session in a tried and trusted manner.

´With our love of alliteration,´ we tell her, ¨we want to call you Sara del Salinas, but for our readers, would you please tell us your full name and a little bit more about yourself ?´

¨Yes, my name is Sara Hernandez Hernandez. I was born on Lanzarote but I went to Gran Canaria to gain a degree in Tourism. I also got a grant to study in Germany to improve my German speaking skills. It felt important to me to improve my languages so I acquired an Erasmus grant. I spent a whole semester in the South of Germany and for me it was an amazing experience that really opened my mind. It was very nice, but for me, very short and so when I completed my degree on Gran Canarias I decided to move back to Germany.´

¨This was in 2009, when there was the economic crisis and the situation in Spain regarding employment availability was not good. I ended up spending another seven years in Germany, but now my German speaking skills are quite good, quite fluent. Lanzarote was always on my mind, though, with its nature and its heritage that I had loved since I was a child. That is why it was always important to me to return to Lanzarote and work in this ´slow tourism´ and to connect tourism, and to re-connect myself to Lanzarote and its nature. At this time I was living in Munich and was very busy and I was often stressed but whenever I returned to Lanzarote for a holiday during this period I would immediately feel myself slowing down and re-connecting with nature. Lanzarote has so many natural assets that are not well known to the rest of the world, so I started to again improve my communicative skills, because I am quite shy. It wasn’t easy, but my love for Lanzarote is so strong I knew I had to try.´

It is interesting to hear Sara talk about a slow life style, because whilst many tourists from the UK and similar countries would view the pace of life in Lanzarote as quite relaxing I wonder if an earlier generation than Sara’s might not feel that life is relaxed as once it was. Even Sara´s parents must have felt the last forty or fifty years has been like a lap with Lewis Hamilton as Lanzarote has developed so quickly.

´Yes, that is true,´ she agrees. ´Perhaps, even now, the time is difficult. Our young people have the opportunity to study and gain good qualifications, but in Spain and on The Canary Islands over the last few years, it hasn´t made any difference how good your qualifications might be. There is not the work available. So it can be frustrating.´

That last comment prompted the question I asked next. After explaining to her the nuance of the ´what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this´ kind of question, I then went ahead and asked it anyway, changing it only slightly.

So what is an attractive and obviously very clever girl like you doing shovelling salt to earn a living?

¨Good question,’ Sara laughs. ´Actually, we who work here all share in looking after the place. I work here because I really believe that the future for this area and this industry is potentially very exciting. I have a lot of different work experience. I have worked at a travel agency and at the airport and I have even worked in a bank! What I really enjoy, though, is this sort of job. Working with nature and taking part in all aspects of the operation here. It is to me a very important job. I want people to know and love this place and that is why I try to share all my knowledge and all my passion for the place with our visitors and those who come for the guided tour.´

Sara’s belief in the potential development of the area and re-building and developing of the industry sings clearly through her words. Her work is important and she has the opportunity to be part of an exciting future in a unique way.

Dee and I know and so do our friends Martin and Sarah, and Harry and Catherine, two couples who have followed our advice to book on to one of Sara’s ´walk and talk´ tours, how she shares her knowledge and passion in a way that makes the whole tour a fun event. She talks a lot about the history of the area, of course, and makes us aware of how vitally important the salt industry once was to the island. She doesn’t disguise the fact that the role of salt on the island is no longer quite as pivotal to life here as it once was, so we wonder if she still genuinely believes there is a purpose in the industry.

´The money is not there in quite the same way as it used to be. It doesn´t generate, as an industry, the revenue it used to, but I feel my role is to help the owners of this field to raise its visibility and the public awareness of what we do here. There is funding available for developing industries and I think we can re-generate and that we do have a future. Of course.´

In saying this, Sara has touched on something Dee and I ponder on whenever we visit this wide, expansive bay with its sheltered, natural lagoon. Just a few yards away and a few feet overhead, is the coast

´We have a place in a slower paced sector of tourism, perhaps, but we want to show the history of the salt industry and its continuing relevance today and we also want to show people this region as an example of why Lanzarote was made a World Biosphere Reserve in 1993.´

We don’t want to divulge too much of what Sara imparts to her tour parties, as we would rather encourage readers to visit Lanzarote for themselves, and even to then ensure they book on to a walk for themselves and see just how knowledgeable Sara is about the history of the industry and its past achievements. It is perhaps that awareness of, and pride in, its past that sees her working so hard to ensure and shape its future.

´I have a dream,´ she says with a smile, ´and I know the owners have a dream too. They want to preserve this area. They want the industry to remain important in the 21st century and they want to not only do all that, but to do it well. Nevertheless, despite all this natural beauty and our perfect surroundings it is not always possible to move quickly forward. We have to ask permission, we have to wait, and we have to follow advice. In some ways things on Lanzarote still do move very slowly. I would like to see different things brought here to revive the area. With over a million square metres to look after we can´t change or renew all the landscape, but maybe certain parts can be altered and made receptive to other activities we might be able to bring here. To be honest, I would love one day to see a visitors´ centre here or a small restaurants.¨

I am sure it is a bigger model than Sara has in mind, but as she speaks I see an image in my head of the Timanfaya Information Centre on the volcano field a few miles away, with its incredible reconstruction of the eruptions and audio and visual clips of local families who have lived in the region for generations.

´We could even offer Spa facilities here one day,´ Sara enthuses, ´it being such a restful place. There are similar salt fields on the mainland of Spain that have followed that route.´

I mention that Dee and I come from an area in the UK that was once the home of a thriving cotton industry, until that production fell into decline partly because of the cheaper imports becoming available. Over the last quarter of a century, though, many ramshackled and empty cotton mills have been re-gentrified into hotels, enterprise business blocks or even holiday homes, and a whole new interest in the industry has been awoken by folk groups singing the mill floor songs the workers used to sing. We know there is a tradition of similar salt songs on Lanzarote.

´That is an area I would like to explore. There are only a few men working here these days, and I would like to reach out to former female employees, or their families, to talk to me about earlier working conditions and traditions of the salt industry. And perhaps I could even persuade them to give occasional talks to our visitors! The salt industry has played such an important part in Lanzarote’s history that it would be a shame to let its legacy fade away. I have much work to do to ensure that doesn’t happen but I have other role to fill here, too, and I have to manage my time. But we are on the way.´

Walking around the site with Sara and listening to her dispense facts and figures we certainly feel, too, that the Janubio is on the way to greater things. Nevertheless, production and staffing levels are considerably lower than at its zenith, so we wonder whether that fact alone represents a sign of decline.

´In that sense, it is true the area has been in decline for many years, but there are some interesting examples from elsewhere,´ she responds fiercely. ´For instance, in Fuencaliente Salt Flat in La Palma there is a small salt flat in full productivity, so it seems there is a change. People want to support good quality local product, and at the same time want to look after the landscape. So, whilst we are in decline from a former greatness there is the hope that awareness of us and demand for our product are growing.´

Sara is undoubtedly positive and optimistic but she recognises that none of this will be easy to bring about.

´Not everyone would want to work here,´ she reminds us. ¨harvesting the salt is a very hard job in difficult conditions. We know that some people would enjoy this sort of work, of course, so let´s just see what happens.´

The salt industry has gone through the same dynamic change as has the island over the last hundred years with a sudden surge of technological changes, like refrigeration, of course that brought such challenges to the sale industry, and the influx of tourists and the growth of that industry. If the old artisan traditional workplaces can no longer provide jobs or attract a workforce, will ´that mean future generations have to leave the island to find employment and opportunity?

´I see my job as one of making employment in the salt production a meaningful job, and for it to offer a community work spirit as it regains its place in the island´s values,´ says Sara. ´I want salt and its landscape to play an important part in the future of the next generations. This industry once worked parallel with a fishing industry that also is today slightly less important than in the past. I would like us to restore that synergy. People will not value and protect an industry or a product they don’t know about, so my first steps in this job will always be to raise awareness of salt’s great history.´

My own experience in the UK, in my various guises as songwriter with Lendanear, creative writing facilitator at Just Poets and as an agent for change as a journalist writing all across the arts tells me how important it is to create cross-over audiences to raise awareness, but Sara beats me to making that point.

¨We have a fabulous opportunity here,´ she says, sweeping her arm across the breadth of the vista.

´I could see yoga sessions here, choirs, poets, painters, photographers, bird watchers all perhaps gaining some awareness for the first time of Lanzarote´s salt heritage. These guided walks are already raising that awareness and as more people become aware they will agree that this is an industry with a past worth preserving.´

As we wound up the interview Sara told me that she has always been an artistically curious person, following sidetracks and detours down routes of flower preservation and arrangement and photography and even origami, so I pass on to her that I am a poet and would love to perhaps help put on a salt-themed poetry event at the Salinas one night.

´I may have been away studying in Germany for a long time,´ she confesses, ´but all the time the volcanoes of Lanzarote were calling me back. They pulled me back, like a magnet, and I believe that was for a reason. I am proud of my island and its heritage and want to share it with the world.´

As she says this, Sara’s eyes are staring into the middle distance, over the salt fields, over the lagoon, past the shoreline and beyond the point where the sea meets the sky. I wonder, then, what, metaphorically, she sees coming towards us from that horizon. What does she think the future might hold?

´I see opportunity.´ she says with certainty. ´And I know in my heart that we must be in a position to, and be ready to, accept and take advantage of whatever those opportunities may be. These guided tours are part of that preparation and I know the Padron Llea family, now in its third generation of ownership of this Janubio, wants to move forward with dignity and respect and to do the right thing, but also wants to move forward with energy.´

Visit https://salinasdejanubio.com/visitas/ for further information about Sara and the salt. She cares passionately about culture, heritage and the future of this island she was born on.

Carols at Christmas

There is no doubt that Salinas De Janubio is in a unique setting that might suit some outdoor events that would benefit from its unique amphitheatre and ambience. I was reminded of that fact, when our all across the arts office received information from Dena Emerson, who deserves the title of Cheerleader For The Choirs. A chorister herself, she keeps us updated of choral events and her latest advice is that the Voices choir is ready to deliver its Christmas performances.

The first events will on Saturdays 14th December at 5.00 pm. This will be in the Hotel Coronas Playa in Costa Teguise, but please note this will be performed only for adults. Later that evening at 8.15 pm will sing again at Tekkers Bars, Avenue Islas Canarias, Costa Teguise. This performance will feature Christmas stalls, and dancers, etc., with Voices leading some “singalong” carol-singing.

A few days later, at 6.00 pm on Wednesday 18th December, the singers will deliver Carols in Church of Nuestra Senora del Carmen, Avenida de Papagayo, Playa Blanca.

Voices choir can be heard again on the following day, Thursday 19th December, at 7.00 pm in the Church of Nuestra Senora de Lourdes in Puerto Del Carmen.

On the following Saturday of 21st December, Voices will be heard at 6.45 pm in the Costa Sal villas and suites in Matagorda.

Voices will then close this series of Carol concert with their fiorst performance of 2010 when, on January 2nd at 7.30 they will be heard at the Church of Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, in a concert which, like all those before it, offers free admission but would welcome donations in aid of the Lanzarote charity Calor y Café.

For further details check the Voices Lanzarote facebook page. We have always attended Voices carol concerts in the four years since we came to live here. They are a gentle Christmas treat that is not to be missed. Why am I imagining a wonderful outdoor concert next year, somewhere near the salt flats?



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