El Aljibe,  Plaza de la Constitucion, Haria

(almost) The Lanzarote Ensemble

February 2019

Having worked in this role for over a year now, my wife Dee and have seen all sorts of events all over the island and have found our way to a wide variety of venues in some off-the-beaten-track kind of places. So when we noticed that The Lanzarote Ensemble was to perform in Haria we had no qualms at the prospect of travelling up there from Playa Blanca for an 8.00 pm Saturday night concert. What could possibly go wrong, we thought.

However, the advance publicity was somewhat confusing as it appeared on only one of the two monthly advance listings The Cabildo sent me. There it was, with a page of its own and an accompanying photograph in The English version but not in the Spanish language version I always receive, which usually is an original Spanish language version of the English. That was a slight worry, and so was the fact that we could find no other independent advertising of the event but we put that down to the fact that perhaps such advertising would be localised in the Haria area.

Another disconcerting factor was that, not being particularly familiar with the arts venues in Haria, we weren’t too sure whereabouts in the town this concert location might be. So we decided to leave it until the week of the concert and then do a ´reccy´ trip up North and scout the place, nothing being too much trouble for my readers.

However, on the Tuesday prior to the concert on Saturday 16th February a colleague of mine for whom I have recently completed some consultancy work on his forthcoming book, offered us a last minute ticket for an overnight stay in Fuerteventura to celebrate Valentines’s Day.

Romantic old fool that I am, I accepted his offer and presented it to Dee as a somewhat more ostentatious gift than the bar of Thornton’s toffee I have usually bought her in previous years.

So, about two hours after Miguel had mailed out a yellow storm warning, off we set on the ferry and were very happy that this particular storm held off for a couple of hours. The five o’clock crossing was ´pleasant and delightful´ but we stepped straight off in Corralejo and approached a waiting taxi, asking the driver to take us to The Surfing Colours Hotel. Their web page had told us the place was only an eleven minute walk from the harbour, but we didn’t want to risk that as the skies were growing increasingly threatening. Still, the taxi driver told us we didn’t need a taxi, as The Surfing Colours was just round the corner, so he pointed in its direction, saying ´only two minute walk !´

We had seen several buildings and seascapes for the second and third times when, a half hour later, we asked a poor young lady, who tried desperately to avoid us, whether or not she could tell us where the hotel might be. She told us, in Spanish, French, Italian, German and / or Dutch but in the end, seeing the blank look on our English faces, she took the mobile phone from Dee’s hand, pressed a few of its buttons (without showing us which ones) until a voice exploded out of its speaker. ´In two hundred metres, turn left,´ it advised, in our own language! The lady then walked away with a relieved ´my work here is done´ expression on her face.

We had covered about a hundred and eighty metres when the voice from the machine sharply rebuked us, saying in that robotic, autocratic way she has, ´in twenty metres make a u-turn, if you can.´ In the next ten minutes we turned so many u-manoeuvres at her command that my suitcase-on-wheels became dizzy and in the end we had to figure out how to turn off the phone, and continue making our own sweet way.

Forty five minutes later, we were still traipsing down back streets, full of supermarkets, underground car parks and broken pavements. It wasn’t looking good, but as if by magic a taxi driver pulled up for a cigarette within walking distance of us and we pounced on him and asked for a ride to The Surfing Colours. The distance he drove us was shorter than the distance we had walked to his cab and in less than two minutes he was dropping us at the door of a somewhat ordinary looking hotel.

From the very second we walked in, though, everything was wonderful for the next twenty four hours. The receptionists were young, warm, friendly and funny and our swimming pool-side room was huge, bright, modern and incredibly comfortable. We were told we could order a complimentary drink at the little outside bar, and we gratefully accepted, assuming it was being offered for ´courage shown in the face of adversity!´

Although the hotel had a lovely breakfast bar, it didn’t serve evening meals so we decided to walk down to the harbour and find a restaurant. Walking from the hotel we found the harbour straight away whereas walking from the harbour to the hotel had seemed like being lost in The Crystal Maze.

The side streets now were vibrant with light and sound, seemingly having a group performing on every corner.

It was after all, St. Valentine’s Night, and many of the restaurants had covered their tables with a rose petal effect. We found dining for two (even without the aid of a sat nav) in the El Anzuela restaurant on the waterfront and found their fried Fuerteventuran goat cheese to be a lovely shared starter and my house-named steak, drenched in assorted sauces, was heavenly, as were the crisp vegetables and sautee potatoes (don’t tell the nurses monitoring my diabetes at Centro Salud). Dee spoke very highly of her vegetable lasagne, too, and the meals were perfectly complemented by a couple of cold beers for me and a little white wine for Dee.

The threatened storm hadn’t arrived on the day and so we took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel stopping every so often to listen to groups that reminded me of the Credence Clearwater Revival song about Willie And The Poor Boys, ´playing in the street.´ It was a wonderful, vibrant atmosphere, quite distinct from the slightly more refined night life of Lanzarote. It was, nevertheless, safe and friendly.

When we got back to our room I foolishly decided to play with the remote and see if I could find anything of interest on the telly. I found about a hundred channels in just about every language except the only one we speak and so decided to give it up as a bad job and pressed the off switch. The volume immediately rose a couple of levels so I assumed I had pressed the wrong button and checked and pressed again. After two more frantic presses the characters on the tv were screaming at me and the background music sounded as loud as an orchestra. Even Dee, who was yelling at me that she was trying to get some sleep could hardly make herself heard above the din. We finally managed to mute the volume but couldn’t lose the pictures and slept with the tv on until morning, when it miraculously turned itself off just after we woke up.

Showered and dressed we had a really fried and fruity breakfast in a cheerful dining area and then, come the eleven thirty check out time, we were told we could place our luggage in a storage room and should feel free to go into town and return for it or simply enjoy all the amenities of the hotel. As the clouds from the previous day had not abated we decided to hang around the hotel with its strangely elegant surfer-dude air. It seemed to attract an eclectic guest list of walkers, cyclists, arty types and of course surfer dudes and ageing hippies but everyone mingled comfortably and the staff encouraged a laid back but considerate air.

The clouds finally parted just after lunch and poured their rain on our parade. The wind howled and Dee was beginning to worry that it might not relent before our six o’clock return ferry and that the waters might be choppy.

We sang a bad duet of Stormy Weather, like a dreadful version of  Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine, and argued all afternoon about whether the weather would ever get better.

In the end we were able to head to the harbour in dazzling sunlight and were afforded a wonderful panoramic view of Lanzarote, all white lego bricks and green and red landscape, beneath a now sunset strewn sky. It had surely been Dee’s most romantic ever Valentine’s Day, notwithstanding the dodgy new sat nav technology, taxi drivers who didn’t want to taxi drive and a telly we couldn’t turn off.

Still, tomorrow we would be taking a drive up on Lanzarote, up North to Haria to hear what promised to be a wonderful concert. What could possibly go wrong, we wondered.

To ensure we didn’t have to repeat any of the complications of the preceding couple of days we decided to set off early for Haria, via our favourite route. However, as we approached Arrieta, our turn off to take us up the mountain through Tabeyesco was closed, so we decided to give our newly found sat nav app another chance. We pulled into the garage near the windmill roundabout where we turn right for another route to Haria, and entered the description of the venue of the concert.

Up it came on screen, with a picture of a building, accompanied by that metallic but reassuring voice. You could probably guess that twenty minutes later we had been round the mountain and had arrived back at the garage. Like John Cleese, wanting to beat with a branch either my car or my unhelpful Suzie Sat Nav, I was by now uttering a few swear words. Nevertheless, we turned off Sally and decided to ´keep calm and carry on.´

Without her help we managed to find Plaza de la Constitucion which was the address on the concert advertising. This tiny little town square was walled on all sides by elegant, old buildings, one of which even bore more than a passing resemblance to the building shown on the advertising photographs. It was, however, firmly locked and bolted and carried no ´welcome to tonight’s concert´ kind of stickers.

We had an hour to spare before any doors were due to open anyway, and so decided to find somewhere to eat. We had passed, several times over the previous hour or so, a very attractive roadside restaurant called Puerta Verde and so parked the car near to the potential venue of the concert and walked a few hundred yards round Haria back to the restaurant. We stepped inside a colourful, artsy but minimalist-styled dining area, in which several tables were already taken. We were handed an impressive looking menu of what we interpreted to be locally sourced food cooked in interesting ways, but before we could peruse it properly the waiter gave us details of the specials he had available. This seemed to last about as long as News At Ten and then, of course Dee and I had to discuss them while she explained to me in English what each dish consisted of. It did all sound tempting but I am a bit finicky about my food, and so started to scroll down the menu. We had already been there for a good while when I noticed the opening page explaining that this was a slow-cook restaurant with food produced in lengthy processes that released all its full and various flavours. Customers were asked to show respectful patience.

We were prepared to be respectfully patient but felt certain this would result in us being late for the concert and so I had to politely make our excuses to the proprietor, promising him we would return on a future occasion as the food sounded and smelled delicious.

It was dark now as we wandered down the hill back to the town centre.

Right at the foot of the hill, though, was a tempting little side street café and we realised we would be able to eat al fresco at El Rincon de Quino and keep our eye on the building we presumed to be the event venue, so that as soon as there was any sign of doors being opened and tickets sold we would be able to rush down and hand over our ten euros per ticket. In fact, as we sat down at one of the tables on the footpath we noticed that standing at the bar having a chat with a waiter and waitress was a young man we recognised as a staff member from the arts and culture department in the Cabildo in Arrecife.

Now, the smart thing to do would have been to politely interrupt his conversation and enquire as to when and where tickets for tonight’s event might be made available. However, typically British, we decided to order our food, and simply keep our eye on him and follow him down to the auditorium when he left. Our calm reassurance quietly increased when we saw several smartly dressed young men, carrying instrument cases, who were obviously orchestra members. It was a relief to watch them pass by us and head directly to the venue we had identified earlier. However, they did not enter through its locked front doors, but instead seemed to disappear somewhere round the side of the building. Nevertheless, ´The Cabildo Kid´ was still on the café premises and so we calmly finished the beautifully salted Potato Arrugada we had ordered, dipping them liberally in the accompanying salsa and garlic sauces. Mine were washed down with two bottles of the Kapitan beer I have come to love since coming to live here on the island.

Of course, troubles always tumble down, and so just as my dessert was delivered ´The Cabildo Kid´ suddenly set off, without a backward glance, towards the location for the concert. He was too quickly out of sight, and my carrot cake far too good to be abandoned, and so by the time we followed him,… he was gone.

El Aljibe

The front doors of the building were still locked and there was neither a tuba nor trumpet in sight. We looked round all the corners, through every tiny gap in the curtains and shutters and listened for a tune-up and it was only then that we noticed, in the town square behind us, that there were several people congregating around the top of a flight of steps that seemed to disappear underground. We hadn’t noticed this area at all when looking round earlier but suddenly piccalos peeped, cellos chattered and violins vibrated, as the musicians prepared for the concert. We followed the crowd down the steps to be at the front door of El Aljibe, a venue-name which had not actually appeared in any of the advertising we had seen. We were met again at the door by our young acquaintance from Arrecife who, perhaps hardly surprisingly, didn’t recognise us, as he informed us that all the tickets had been sold earlier in the week either on line or from the Cabildo.

Part of me wanted to ask why a flier hadn’t been circulated by e mail or whatever to save a wasted journey for those of us without tickets and part of me even wanted to ask him if he knew who I am, but I feared the inevitable answer of ´I’m sorry sir, I don’t know who you are, but if you need help I will see if I can find someone who does.´ And, anyway, I knew none of this was his fault and all of this was our fault.

So, tails between our legs, we climbed back up into the night air and went to sit on a wall some distance away, just in case any tickets might be returned before the show began. From our vantage point, we even saw and heard our friend Christine Want showing her purchased-in-advance ticket at the door and making her way in.

As what seemed to be the last few stragglers followed her, we headed back to the door, and like poor children with their noses pressed up against a Dickensian sweet shop window, listened to the music wafting out through the door still left ajar, but manned, for any last minute arrivals.

Even from this distance, and with no view, the quality of the ensemble was immediately evident, and we could hear why their itinerary over the next couple of months includes performances at Covent Garden in London and in cities like Berlin, before they play again in May and June on Lanzarote.

However, having quickly checked that all eighty seats in the audience were now occupied, ´The Cabildo Kid´ closed the doors leaving the sounds so muffled as to render staying here pretty pointless. A slow trudge back up to the car park left us in no mood for any further classical music and we drove home singing along to the slightly rougher edges of Van Morrison on our cd deck, as he grunted about how ´my mama warned me there’d be days like this´ We arrived back home in Playa Blanca in time for Match Of The Day but as we walked down the path, I remembered it had been Valentine’s week and so I slipped my hand round Dee’s shoulder in some sort of loving apology. Suddenly a perfect replica of Suzie Sat Nav’s voice warned me to ´Proceed no further. Make a u turn and turn off your engine!´

However, let me issue a final reassuring note to anyone out there who is thinking about jumping in to the arts scene but who might be put off doing so by this tale of woe and misadventure. To be honest, things like this will go wrong from time to time and venues will prove difficult to locate, with scant published information on hand to help.

But every town you get lost in will have its own great restaurant, every non sat-nav road or track you travel will lead you through beautiful scenery and the people you will bump into will invariably be friendly and helpful and when you do find the gig, which ninety nine times out of a hundred you will, the music / dance / drama and / or comedy will be first rate, and inexpensive.

Should you get lost whilst travelling all up and down the island, keep your eyes open for us, just as lost, as we travel all across the arts, and pip and wave as you drive past us,….no, not THAT kind of wave !!



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