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May 14

Why Am I Here? Lanzarote charm, that’s why!

I am often asked what brought me to this tiny, little island in the sun.  The honest answer is that I didn’t really have any choice.  By that I don’t mean I was forced here, but the choice was certainly made for me.  I was the youngest in a rock covers band by ten years and the band had played an audition to spend a winter in either Kuala Lumpur or here.  It was decided that Lanzarote, being a good few hours closer to the UK was the best choice for many reasons, but mainly the proximity to our home base was the deciding factor, along with a very persuasive manager from the Los Zocos Hotel  here on the island.

La-voz-tset

I was 20 years old and we couldn’t get a direct flight into Lanzarote, so we flew in to Tenerife and spent the night there before being driven to the other end of the island and put on a local flight in to Lanzarote.    It was my first ever flight.

I wasn’t keen on Tenerife, in fact I hardly ventured out of the hotel. I remember our hotel having a sea filled swimming pool that was lapped by the waves, and I remember the union flags advertising all that a Brit abroad could wish,  English breakfasts, betting, newspapers etc.

I was really hoping Lanzarote would be different and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  The airport was very small and there were no customs that I could see. In the exit area after collecting our bags I remember lots of tanned ex-pats in what I learned later was called the Thursday Club, gathered around the bar.  Apparently they would drift in and out of the airport on “arrivals day” and pick up discarded newspapers from the arrivees.  In the 80’s very few ‘planes from the UK came in to Lanzarote and those that did came on a Thursday.  UK newspapers for the preceding days also arrived on these flights, to be distributed to the supermarkets.  As a consequence the Sunday Times and the like would not be available until Thursday at the earliest and the news hungry ex-pats,  not having satellite TV, or indeed any TV to watch really, would hang around picking up what they could from the arriving passengers and anxious to touch base in some small way with their brethren from home

This was something I liked, it meant I could be as detached as I wanted.

We left the airport as the sun was going down and I experienced that crazy orange to purple sky for the first time.  I had seen the sky depicted on a video game, driving a Porsche around a sea-side road as the sun set – I loved the surreal colour mix but had assumed there had been some artistic licence. Now I had witnessed it for my self and it was magical.  It still catches me some 26 years on and I still love it.

There were a few really hairy moments on the cab ride from the airport.  People complain about the roads here now, but in the 80’s they were a death trap.  Crossroads with no priority either way were everywhere and one of the junctions that was only recently taken out of service was mind boggling.  Clearly the road system was designed for horse and cart, or donkey and camels, as I later learned.

As we turned off the main road towards our destination it became clear that the town of Costa Teguise was much more modern and designed from the word “go” as a tourist town.  The first buildings had been a swish 5 star hotel, owned at the time by the Sheraton group, and a lovely apartment complex called Los Molinos.

The town had been built by mining company Rio Tinto, who had owned the land and used it for testing explosives to be used in the mining industry, I was told.  When their work was done they were granted a licence to put in all of the roads and infrastructure needed to build a town. We are about half built as I write this.  From the top of a nearby volcano you can see the road layout, with its street lights and power buildings at various intervals and how the building of houses and apartment blocks have been added and where there is still room to add more.  So the size of the town was fixed at its conception, it just needs filing in.

Its only in the last few years have we acquired our own police station and “town hall” – previously we were fully administered from the old capital of Lanzarote, Teguise, and much of the paper work regarding housing is still carried out “up the road”, but we can now do certain things in the town itself.  We also have a couple of schools, recent additions, and a doctor’s surgery, but the paperwork and red-tape nightmare that Spain lives in means half my family are registered here, and the other half in yet another town. But I digress…..

It was dark by the time we arrived in our hotel and it was a typically warm September evening with cicadas chirping.  The unusual architecture of our surroundings was beautifully lit and the hotel was immaculate.  We dumped our cases and headed for the night club that we were to appear in 6 nights a week for the next six months.  We walked back down the pathway towards the main hotel building and climbing cactus had sprouted enormous flowers that hung from the up-lit walls without support of any kind.  It was so different to anything I had seen before compared to the foliage back home.  We stayed out until quite late, not venturing from the hotel at all, but as our equipment was being shipped from the UK separately from us and had yet to arrive, we looked forwards to a couple of days exploring before we had to start work.

Next morning we gathered at the restaurant for some breakfast from the sumptuous buffet.  It was really laid on, anything you could want plus some stranger looking fruits and meats and cheeses that I wouldn’t have dreamt of having for breakfast back home.  These days, the advent of all inclusive holidays and Brit bars, like those in Tenerife have really lowered the quality of what is available generally but back in the 80’s the quality was really high and the town was frequently populated by TV and music stars of the day.  It was exclusive enough that they could wander almost anonymously and they did, even coming in to see us perform when we actually got going.  I remember being introduced to Barbara Windsor, someone from Bucks Fizz, Tom Robinson, Kevin Wheatly, and an older guy from Tomorrows World who I saved from buying squid rings mistaking them for onion rings in the supermarket.  His name escapes me but he was instantly recognisable.

After breakfast we strolled over the road and had a look at the beach that was being built.  Lorry after lorry dumped huge rocks that now serve as breakwaters and the promenade was a treacherous path. It was beautiful – the bright blue sky and matching blue sea was and still is breath taking.  Even in bad weather you get the feeling it’s never going to be as miserable as it can get back in the UK.  It’s no where near as cold for a start and usually it’s gone as quick as it arrived.  There’s never a log period of nagging, depressing, filthy weather.  It just comes over, dumps it’s rain and disappears.  While there are certainly problems for the islands when this happens, it seems to be all cleared up after a week or so and the lovely blue sky is back and the sun heats everything back to operating temperature again.

And that’s the thing that gets some people.  The light is special and the constant wind becomes less of a hindrance and more of a relief.

Taking a dip.  That tree behind is now taller than the apartment block it sits in.

Taking a dip. That tree behind is now taller than the apartment block it sits in.

 

We finished our six month stint but before we had even got half way through the winter, as we sat in the tropical sunshine for the very first time on a Christmas day after a Christmas dinner of prawns and turkey, we had signed to return the following year.

This didn’t make leaving any easier for me, I had fallen hook line and sinker for the place and I was in bits as we boarded the taxi for the airport.  The distance had proved no problem, as frequent visits from our families and very good friends had confirmed. I had had a good attempt at the language and found I could communicate quite well, I loved the weather and the food and the way of life. The locals were all charming and accepting and I found myself  still dreaming of coming back even half way through the summer in the UK.

So here I am.  That was 1986 and in 2013 I am still here and still loving it.  The financial crisis has crippled Spain and there is depression and recession all around us, but every day the sun rises in the east, dragging the deep blue sky around with it and it sets in the evening leaving the orange to purple glow lingering in the west.

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