A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Hawkson

Las Palmas - Christopher Columbus wuz 'ere (Probably).

sunny 32 °C

We spent our final few days on Lanzarote driving around its volcanic landscape. The roads on the island are incredibly well built, signposted and maintained – and there is very little traffic. The views of neighbouring arid islands from various veiwpoints were spectacular. This is La Graciosa...
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Perhaps the most striking feature of Lanzarote is that all the buildings are white...
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The island's government strictly controls building based on the ideas of famed Canarian artist Cesar Manrique – no building can exceed 4 floors; all must be white with woodwork either natural or, near the coast, blue, or inland, green.

You've probably heard that a dance floor collapsed in Tenerife in the early hours of Sunday morning and many were injured. After our recent quad biking escapade in Zanzibar you might worry that we've now taken up night-clubbing in the Canaries – not so. In fact we've hopped islands to Gran Canaria where we are soaking up the sun on the prom in Las Palmas...
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Many people are in the ocean but after getting accustomed to sea temperatures in excess of 40 Celsius in Zanzibar we decided to skip a dip and have fresh sardines on the prom for lunch...
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Las Palmas is something of a enigma. It is a grand port city that lacks the chic of Cannes, the splendour of Hong Kong or the history of Venice, although there are some interesting Spanish colonial buildings...
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And, being a Spanish colony, you can be certain that there is a grand cathedral fronted by an enormous plaza...
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While it may not quite be Sevilla or Granada, the Island does have one thing in its favour - Las Palmas has been declared scientifically to have the best climate in the world for humans. There is absolutely no chance of a white Christmas here but we thought we might see Santa when the streets filled with hundreds of parade goers on Saturday...
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We were still waiting for Rudolph and sleigh when we realised that we were watching a protest against sexual violence toward women by men. However, the many pedestrianised streets are all decked out ready for the jolly old chaps appearance.

America looms large in Las Palmas because it is claimed that Christopher Columbus stopped here in 1492 on his way to prove that the world was round and the east coast of India was just across the Atlantic. But whether or not he actually stayed in this house is widely disputed...
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However, Columbus House is an excellent museum in the heart of the old city. The navigator may have even waved to the crowds from this balcony before setting off for India...
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Columbus, (actually named Christophe Colon), 'discovered' America about 500 years after Norsemen first settled there, and when he returned to Spain he confidently announced that he had found the westerly passage to the Levant. Modern America was thus accidentally founded by a latecomer and total failure who is still venerated to this day in the U.S.A.

Gran Canaria is a lot greener than its volcanic neighbour Lanzarote and now we are heading into the central mountains to find some shade under the palms before we return to London. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 07:17 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Life on the Moon in Lanzarote

sunny 25 °C

We chose an eco-farmhouse for our stay on the island of Lanzarote and envisaged ourselves surrounded by grazing animals while basking in the warm ocean breezes off the southwest coast of Morocco, We arrived at night and our host cautioned us not to step off the dimly lit path onto the 'flowers' as we approached the villa. We couldn't see the plants in the darkness, but with memories of Zanzibar still fresh in our minds we anticipated being surrounded by a lush tropical landscape. Then we awoke to this view of our garden!...
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Where are the flowers? What happened to the tropical plants: the coconut and banana palms; the frangipane and bougainvillea? We had gone from an equatorial paradise in Zanzibar to a sterile moonscape dotted with bare mountains and vast fields of volcanic ash...
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We soon realised that when our Spanish host had said, “Mind the flowers,” he was actually saying, “Mind the flows, - the lava flows...
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The Canary Islands rose out of the Atlantic Ocean 15 million years ago when the earth's tectonic plates shifted and volcanoes sprouted from the sea bed to rise high into the air. The new land cooled and eventually became forested tropical islands inhabited by settlers of various ethnicities. The Spanish came in search of slaves in the 15th century and the islands were often a battleground. Then, from 1730 to 1736, the volcanoes of Lanzarote erupted repeatedly and completely blanketed the island in molten lava.
But if life throws you rocks – make a rock garden. And that's what the local grape producers have done. These are their 'fields'...
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In addition to being hundreds of feet deep in volcanic ash, Lanzarote is also extremely dry. It only rains a couple of times a month and never from April to October. It might rain 3 times in November, (thankfully not this week), when daytime temperatures rarely drop below 25c. But, ingenious wine makers have found that by planting just one vine at the bottom of a wide deep hole it can get just enough moisture to survive. Judging by the number of barrels in the Bodega de Rubicon they are very successful...
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The hot, dry conditions are also great for sea salt production at the salinas...
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In truth, Lanzarote is just one big pumice stone. But one other asset of an island made entirely of rock is that it is surrounded by miles of fabulous sandy beaches – and that is where we are headed now. Hasta la vista...
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Posted by Hawkson 10:41 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

The Difference a Day Makes

semi-overcast 7 °C

Here's a phrase you probably thought you would never hear us utter. “While we were quad biking along the beach and through the sugar cane fields of Zanzibar...”
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”Yes – dear blog reader, here we are on a quad bike preparing for a thrilling 3 hour drive through the plantations and villages of northern Zanzibar. But this wasn't our idea. We were goaded into it by this group of retired nurses from British Columbia's Sunshine Coast who were staying at the Villa Kiva in Matemwe...
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Mary, Deidre, Dee and friends have quad-biked all over the place and convinced us that age was no barrier when it came to racing through the countryside on a quad - and we had a great time. Here's Sheila taking a break under a mango tree...
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Our East African experience has ended and we are briefly back in England having time-travelled from rural Zanzibar to London via Dubai. Overnight, the skies darkened; the temperature dropped nearly 30 degrees and we jumped forward a century or more.. While we enjoyed a luxurious, even decadent, lifestyle in Tanzania, we were always conscious of the extreme poverty and Dickensian lifestyle of many of the locals. Despite the enormous amount of income from tourism and the spice trade, most Zanzibarians live in tin-roofed shacks, many without electricity or plumbing, and they shop at roadside stalls like this...
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Ox-carts and old bicycles are still major means of transport for goods...
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...while most locals travel in incredibly overloaded mini-buses called dala-dala. These ancient buses, packed to the gunwales, can be seen broken down by the roadsides all over Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is as exotic as its name suggests but its crumbling roads and decayed infrastructure mean that, while it is a fascinating place to visit, life is not necessarily comfortable or convenient for the inhabitants. The contrast between Zanzibar's decrepit airport and Dubai's palatial terminals could not be more extreme. However, we will miss the genuine warmth of the Tanzanians and the many incredible sights we witnessed in their country. We are now headed to the Canary islands, but first a quick stop in the English Midlands to visit Waddesdon Manor...
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This flambouyant mansion was built by Baron Rothschild in the 1880s and was just one of many country houses owned by the wealthy aristocrat. However, we were not on the guest list for dinner at the manor – we only came for the popular Christmas Fair.
Now we fly south again – this time to the islands off the west coast of Africa.

Posted by Hawkson 10:40 Archived in England Comments (7)

Imagining Paradise in Matemwe

With sincere condolences to our many friends on Canada's wintry west coast.

sunny 33 °C

Imagine a pristine beach with icing sugar sand so white that it reflects the tropical sun and stays cool even at midday...
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Imagine a crystal clear lagoon sheltered from the turbulence of the Indian Ocean by a coral reef, where the gently lapping water is as warm as a soothing bath...
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Imagine a tropical land where cloves drying in the sun by the roadsides scent the afternoon air...
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Imagine a leafy shoreline fringed with lofty coconut palms swaying in the soft evening breeze as the sun sinks into a clear blue sky...
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Imagine the tropical night air perfumed with the fragrance of a thousand frangipane blossoms...
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...and a Garden of Eden delicately painted with the blooms of roses and bougainvillea..
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Imagine dining under the stars by the side of a warm pool...
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Now imagine all of these things without noisy throngs of happy-hour tourists; without beach bums and kiss-me-quick hat merchants – just an endless tropical beach, a glassy aquamarine lagoon and a pretty waitress to serve you dinner before you slip into a peaceful air-conditioned sleep in a luxury bungalow...
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Now you have imagined paradise. But you don't have to imagine any of this. You too can find paradise in Matemwe on the remote north east coast of Zanzibar. Here you will discover an idyllic corner of an island paradise where Kamila and her staff will be waiting to serve you with a smile at the Villa Kiva...
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As a certain fictional detective turned author once penned, “If this be a dream, wake me never – that I may not suffer the pain of disillusionment.” But wake we must, and soon we will leave this paradise island in search of another. Stay tuned.

Posted by Hawkson 06:49 Archived in Tanzania Comments (6)

Down to Earth in Stone Town

Zanzibar

sunny 32 °C

It is just a short flight from Arusha, the end point of our safari, to the capital of the Zanzibar archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Gone are the wide open pastures, the semi-arid deserts, and the forests and scraggy woodlands of Northern Tanzania. Gone too are the multitudinous herds of exotic animals and the packs of predators stalking them. In just one hour we have flown to another planet – a much hotter one - where the meagre thatched huts of the Maasai Boma...
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...have been replaced by the masonry buildings of Zanzibar's ancient capital – Stone Town...
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Stone Town is just the central part of a much larger Zanzibar City today, but beyond the old city boundaries there is little of significance for tourists. However, the old city is particularly interesting because of its tumultuous heritage. The islands off the east coast of Africa first attracted slave traders and merchants at the beginning of the 16th century and the Portuguese seized control in 1503 and held on until 1698. They erected many European style buildings from the local coral rock...
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In 1698 the Sultan of Oman overthrew the Portuguese and brought both Islam and its distinctively Arabian architecturt to the islands. This was the 2nd Sultan's grand palace, the Palace of Wonders, on Stone Town's waterfront...
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And this is the excellently maintained waterfront promenade...
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Unfortunately, much of the old city is just a labyrinth of crumbling ruins – many held up by makeshift wooden bulwarks. The stonework of the colonial fortress is just about holding on...
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The doorways of Stone Town are some of its best features. There are some 200 elaborately carved entranceways like this...
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An Arab dhow returning to port after a days fishing made an atmospheric sight in the sepia light of the dying sun...
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...But the stench and the chaos at the city's fishermen's wharf was considerably less romantic...
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Sheila first came to Zanzibar on an Arab dhow from Dar-es-Salaam almost fifty years ago. The voyage took a day and a night on an open boat. Frequent high-speed ferries now make the journey in two hours and passengers are no longer allowed on the dhows.
The Sultan was overthrown by a revolution in 1964 when 20,000 islanders died. Zanzibar, under a socialist government, then joined forces with the newly independent Tanganyika to create the country of Tanzania. However, the Muslim influence has remained and for the first time in a while we were woken in the early hours by the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer from the mosques' minarets.

Posted by Hawkson 19:35 Archived in Tanzania Comments (7)

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