There is a cockatoo here where I am staying. I think Samuel, the guy who got me the car looks after it. It whistles and talks – in Spanish – all day long. Sometimes, it is the only sound you can hear up here on my mountain. That and the rooster that wakes me at pre-dawn each day. After I get the car keys from Samuel and had explained that I was Australian, which is why I made gear stick motions with my left hand, I tell him that the cockatoo is Australian too. “Si?”, has asks, “cockatoo-ah?”. I told him in Spanish that I was certain. As I pass the cockatoo on the way back to my room, it talks to me. I stop and say “Hello cocky, hello cocky” and then sing to it “Dance, cockie, dance cockie”. The cockie asks me “Que t’all?” which is “how are you” in Spanish. I roll my eyes and smile, thinking to myself, lucky cocky living here but there is no hope for you.
After grabbing my bag and my sunnies, I head for the car telling myself that I just have to remember that I need to be near the middle of the road, not next to the curb. This has helped me stay on the right side of the road, but has not stopped me from grabbing at the door quite a few times when I need to change gears. I start off easy, going to the nearby village, the one I usually walk to. It’s fine, no problems. I even successfully negotiated the round-about. Courage up, I drive north to the small fishing town the ferry leaves from to go to La Graciosa. I take a slightly different route back and drive up to del Sebo Mirador del Rio, which from my understanding of Spanish, means there is a view to be had. Once there, you have to pay to go into a building to see the view but seeing the building was work every cent. It is a curved building on the top of the mountain looking out to the sea and La Graciosa. The building is simple it does not detract from the landscape rather it complements it.Yet there is so much to look at both inside and out at the view. Far below the ferry bobs its way through the tough Atlantic waves back to Lanzarote. There are several levels to the building, curved white walls lead me up to another level. The stairs are white, topped with a black timber. It makes me think of piano keys. There is a restaurant, but it is too late for lunch. I stop off at the souvenir shop to add to my collection of fridge-magnets. As I leave, I think about what I just saw, it was art, it was architecture and it was the natural environment – all rolled into one single work of art. On the way home I drive through the town of Haria, where majestic palms line either side of the road. The island appears more fertile on this side. The town is crowded and I can’t find a park. I head back home and I am feeling that maybe I will be ok with driving.
The next day I was planning on going to the other side of the island to visit the lava lunar landscape, but think maybe I should stay another day or two without having to go through the main towns to the south until my confidence is a bit higher. I head north again. There is a tourist destination called Jameos del Agua. I’m not really sure what it is. The bus stopped there on the way to the ferry and the place was packed. The car-park was full and people were lining up to get in. I had thought to myself that maybe it was some sort of aqua-farm as there was a sculpture of what looked like a lobster outside. Remember, the only real research I had undertaken before reaching Lanzarote was to look up IMDB and find out where Almodovar filmed. I turned up just after ten o’clock, which is when everything in Spain opens. The car park is not yet packed but there is a line to get in. While waiting on the line, I quickly jump on-line to read what this place is. I am informed reliably by the web, that it is not an aqua-farm but rather a tourist centre combining nature and art and the habitat for blind crabs. There is also a concert hall and a really good restaurant. Okkkkaaaaayyyy. My turn, I pay the price and walk in. It is a lava tube formed when the outside of a lava stream cools quickly and the inside of the lava continues to run out to the sea. It is magical. Inside, there is a sense of refinement, waiters are setting up tables for the day but it is way too early to lunch. There are plants and lights among the rock that give the whole place an air of peace and serenity. The tourists are not at all loud in this place. Down the stairs I go and then further down. There is a natural lagoon on the inside. This is where the blind crabs live. They are not just blind, they are albino and no bigger than one centimetre. At the bottom of the pristine water of the shallow lagoon, the blind, albino crabs sparkle like stars against the black night sky. Exiting the cave into the bright sunlight there is a beautifully landscaped area. It’s not just landscape – it’s art. There are small unobtrusive sculptural pieces among the gardens and a blue pond glistens in its white surrounds. The contrast of the bright white to the black volcanic rocks and stones and the green palms, cactus, mosses and lichens is surreal in a natural beauty of something that has been designed and built.
Like lava, I flow through this place re-entering another part of the tube. This tube has an amphitheatre shell-shape to it and has been designed as the concert hall. Concerts are held here two nights a week in winter, more in summer. The stage is down in the corner of the shell-shaped tube and black seating with white cushioning make their way up to the back of the theatre like piano keys. It is understatedly beautiful. I start thinking it must have been designed by the same guy as the building from yesterday as again, this place was art, architecture and landscape rolled into one work of art. Also, maybe he designs the roundabouts. I make a mental note to do some research.
If I had been told that morning that by day’s end I would have a new favourite artist, I would not have believed it. That is exactly what happened and his name is Cesar Manrique. Firstly I have to overlook the fact that he voluntarily fought on Franco’s side during the Spanish Civil War. I can do that. He did start off studying architecture but gave it up after a few years. Cesar was born on Lanzarote and had a great love for the island. He lived in New York for a couple of years after receiving a grant from Nelson Rockefeller but returned to his home. He was more than an artist. Cesar had a major influence on local planning decisions. His influence was successful in that there are no high rise buildings on the island and all buildings use the traditional colours on their exteriors. It is heart-warming to see that one man’s passion for nature and for his environment can have such an effect on a place.
I have just found out that his old house is now an art-gallery. Bubble-rooms are dug into the volcanic rocks. His art is on display there but also his own art collection which houses works by Miro and Picasso. I just wish he had lobbied more successfully for better roads. Some of the roads I drove on today were quite fright inducing. I think that visiting his gallery should be my drive tomorrow. I just wish I had not read that he died in a car accident not far from here.