BY AMANDA CUMMINS
My life hasn’t been blessed only by the blue Caribbean Sea. I have spent very happy holidays in the Mediterranean, with the occasional foray over the Channel to France.
One trip to France is best forgotten. I spent a weekend with a most unsuitable man, sailing from Hampshire to Boulogne. The chap I went away with, and with whom I thought I was madly in love, turned out to be rather less than wonderful. As my mother said, as she picked up the pieces of the misalliance, “he was nothing but a louche lounge lizard”. My mother had a splendid way with words.
I shall gloss over any further details of that particular adventure, and share a memory of spending a week on a Desert Island, La Graciosa, further south in the Canaries – an island which is only accessible by boat.
It was a place of which I’d heard not even the faintest murmur. A speck off the north coast of Lanzarote. I had been invited to join a friend who had taken an apartment for a week there. She and I met at Lanzarote airport and set off in a taxi to Orzola, the port from which the ferry to La Graciosa sails. So off we went…
As the ferry rounded the point at the very top of Lanzarote and entered a channel between some mighty rocks, I could see an island with a finger of white which could have been a mirage. As we drew closer, the finger of white was actually a village.
La Graciosa is tiny. There is one village, with a population of around 700. The houses – none higher than 2 storeys – are white with blue shutters and doors. There are no roads and, apart from one area of tarmac by the harbour, everywhere is sand. There are a few palm trees near the harbour, otherwise the island has little vegetation. White sand everywhere and some parched scrub.
Getting off the ferry involved a rather gulp-making leap from boat to the quay. Our cases were unloaded or, more precisely, thrown from a window on the ferry onto the quay. My friend said someone from the apartment would find us (hard not to recognise two travellers arriving to stay) and take us to the apartment. Which wasn’t quite what happened, and we ended up walking through every little alleyway and sandy street, trying to find a place which looked like the photograph on the agency website. It was immensely hot, and the whiteness of the buildings and the sand was blinding against a cloudless sky.
Finally, thanks to some half-remembered schoolgirl Spanish and waving the booking confirmation, we found someone who knew the fellow who had been meant to meet us and where the apartment was located (it transpired that we had walked past it at least three times).
The principal joy of the apartment, which stood at the top of a slope overlooking the village, was the balcony facing the sea – more a terrace than a balcony, as it was huge – with a view of the village and the sea beyond, with the cliffs of Lanzarote as a backdrop.
Our first lunch, after the sweltering hiccups of finding the apartment, was at the main restaurant in the village. All manner of tapas, including prawns, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes drizzled with pungent olive oil, local ham. And padrone peppers fried in oil and rolled in sea salt. With local bread and bowls of mojo verde, a Canarian condiment to which I became addicted. All this with local families milling around and eating lunch.
The sea, when one walked to one of the beaches, was the emerald of the Costa Smeralda with a hint of Caribbean azure. Nobody was on the beach. No shade. No fandango of facilities. A yacht anchored further up the bay. Blistering sun, blindingly white sand and – for all its beauty – icily cold water. I did not swim. I did no more than paddle and squawk when I started to roast in the sun: the Atlantic in mid-April was not conducive to this Child of the Caribbean immersing herself.
Each morning, as the temperature built up to its daily heat of 30-plus, we would have breakfast on the balcony overlooking the village, then stroll down to the harbour area for coffee, watching the world go by. Our attempts at Spanish were greeted with friendly laughter. We said hola to everyone we encountered. A pit stop at the bakery for my friend to buy a bocadillo filled with Canarian ham and cheese for her lunch.
The island’s economy relies upon fishing and tourism. The frequent ferries from Lanzarote carry day visitors, some spending their time on the island exploring the beaches with a picnic, some disembarking purely to have a lengthy lunch overlooking the harbour. Diving and sailing trips are available.
The islanders are renovating properties for holiday rentals to encourage tourism, rather than just rely upon “day trippers” or those who might stay for a few nights. There has been a camping site close to the village for some years. One can hire bicycles (to be frank, bicycling on sand is funny to watch but must be hellish to do) for exploration of the beaches.
Fish is sold at the harbour market, while everything else for the island is delivered by the ferry. There are two small supermarkets which seemed to stock everything. There’s a vegetable shop. And a butcher. The latter was too daunting for my limited Spanish.
We never actually cooked anything. It seemed easier to have a pre-supper drink on the balcony in the still-blistering sun and then go to a small bar on the village beach for drinks while watching the village children and dogs (including a yellow Labrador) play in the sea in the fading light, before going to the one and only proper restaurant for something to eat.
On the final evening, there was great excitement as the fishermen had just landed a massive haul of sardines which we could see from the terrace of the restaurant. The waitress had enjoyed our attempts at Spanish during our stay and said, in halting English, “we have the little fishes”. My pal’s supper was sorted in an instant. I had Atlantic prawns sizzling atop a ton of garlic.
There is magic sprinkled over La Graciosa. It is of another world. I feel certain it’s Prospero’s island from The Tempest.
Two helpful tips:
- After the high temperatures during the day, it becomes quite chilly in the evening, so be prepared for “layering” once the sun goes down (and a blanket on one’s bed: I resorted to using the bedspread on the second bed in my bedroom to stave off midnight chills).
- Take more Euro-dosh in cash than you might think you need because the ATM hole-in-the-wall doesn’t allow non-La Graciosa residents to withdraw cash. The supermarkets, restaurant and biggest of the handful of cafes do accept Mastercard/VISA but don’t rely upon card-swiping.