As we stood in the car park of Jameos del Agua, trying to work out which of the small silver cars was ours, Commando said, “we could drive to Timanfaya while we have the car?”
Timanfaya National Park is where the Mountains del Fuego, or fire mountains erupted between 1730 and 1736, burying villages and turning the fertile lowlands into a sea of larva. It’s at the opposite end of the Island to Jameos del Agua, probably twenty or more miles away. In the normal course of things not a terribly long drive but on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car in a strange country… “It’s a long drive,” I said.
“If we don’t do it today, when will we?” Commando countered.
“If you’re sure?”
He was and, once we’d stopped trying to get into a completely different silver Polo and found the right car, then found Timanfaya National Park on Tom Tom Tim, we set off. Things were going quite well at first, as we drove along the coast. Ok, so Commando occasionally reached down to his left to change gear but I had Tim on my lap and was warning him of what was coming up. “There’s a sharp right hand bend along here,” “We’re coming up to another roundabout,” that kind of stuff. In Lanzarote they are very found of their roundabouts, strangely we went round a couple that had only one exit which seems a touch pointless as far as I can see, especially on a straight road.
Then things started to go horribly wrong. We were driving up a hill through a little village of white houses when Tim said, “turn right.” This would have been all very well had he said it two minutes before but, as it was, despite driving at about nine miles an hour, we had already gone past the only visible turn. As this was a narrow road with no natural turning points, we had no choice but to keep going the way we were. Luckily Tim cottoned on quite quickly and soon stopped telling us to turn around. After a bit he even recalculated and we seemed to be going in the right direction, at least we hoped we were.
For a while things were going swimmingly again. Tim was telling us which exit to take on all the roundabouts and we were driving nicely along the blue line on the sat nav. This went in for some time until Tim told us to take the third exit on a roundabout and the blue line seemed to be telling us to take the second. There wasn’t much time for decision making and we made the wrong choice. Yet again we were driving blind with no blue line to follow. Finally Tim caught on to this situation and recalculated again though and we felt slightly more confident we were going the right way.
At another roundabout we got stuck in the middle of a convoy of dune buggys. There were three in front and a long line behind us as we drove through pretty little villages and wound up and down hills. When we saw the first sign for Timanfaya it was a relief, we were in the right place. When we saw the second, directing us to the visitor information centre the dune buggys in front went sailing on past happy as could be.
We parked up and, once I’d taken a photo of the volcanoes all around us with the Manrique little devil, symbol of the park, in the background, we strolled inside. It was a surprise when we didn’t have to pay. There was a shop and a room filled with souvenirs. There was a strange square chamber in the wall with round terracotta pots arranged in a wooden grid dripping water into a pool below. Neither of us could work out what it was. Then we found ourselves in a large room filled with information about volcanoes. We walked around looking at each but, after our time in Jameos del Agua looking at all the vulcanology equipment and information such a short while before, we were slightly overloaded with facts and figures. I for one couldn’t really take it all in.
Finally we walked through a door leading to the outside. This was where we’d see the geyser and the fire in a crater. Or was it? Actually it just led us out onto a viewing platform where we could look over the same larva fields we’d just driven through. Stunning in their austere beauty, with huge mounds of once molten rock and the volcanoes on the distant horizon but not quite what we were expecting. Photos were taken and then we went back inside to ask about the fire in a crater, geyser stuff. This, apparently was a few miles up the road, we could have a coach tour if we liked. We didn’t like. Why was everyone trying to get us on a coach?
Armed with directions which were basically follow the road to the right, you can’t miss it, we left, not bothering with the traitorous Tom Tom Tim who seemed intent in getting us lost. Thankfully, the people in the visitor centre were right, we couldn’t miss it. A few miles of driving on a narrow, winding road, just big enough for one car but with strategically placed semi circular passing points every few yards, we were there, Montanas del Fuego. The drive was awesome, the larva fields here are even more barren than those we walked over from Tahiche, with tall columns of solidified larva and the volcanoes, varying in colour from greenish, through black, to deep red all around.
We stopped and, while Commando paid our nine euros each at the barrier, I took a quick snap, through the car window, of the peculiar wooden sign, like a strange, long beaked bird with the words Montanas del Fuego carved on the weathered wood. We drove up a steep incline and parked. Someone stopped us and asked what country we came from, then told us, “English, the coach tour leaves in twenty minutes.” Maybe our nine euros each included a coach tour but we most certainly did not want one. Ok, so perhaps we’d have seen more that way but I’ve done enough coach tours in my days running educational trips for travel agents to ever want to get onto a coach full of strangers again in my life if I can help it.
We climbed a steep hill of dusty red grit towards the building at the top, not really knowing where we were going or what we were supposed to be doing. What we did know was that we were on a volcano, climbing to the top and all around us there were other volcanoes for as far as the eye could see. At the summit we discovered we’d just missed the geyser, a small puff of steam was all there was to be seen. This geyser, unlike the one I saw in the Azores, does not just randomly whoosh out tall columns of steam every so often, the ground around it is not a bubbling, steaming, mass of mud. It is, in fact, a small, red dirt arena with several pipes, surrounded by piles of rock, coming out of the ground. Every ten minutes or so a little man pours cold water inside and, after a few minutes of rumbling, the water whooshes up into the air as steam because the ground underneath the red earth is hot, six hundred degrees Celsius of hot. Not quite as impressive I’ll admit, but still…
What we hadn’t missed was the fire in a crater malarkey. Again this involved a little man but he was getting set to do his stuff so went trotted off to have a look. The crater is down a few steps from the geyser, in another arena of red earth, it’s a real crater, a small chasm amid a twisted mass of volcanic rock. Peering over the edge the hot air rising creates a wavy heat haze. If you fell in you wouldn’t last very long. Mindful of the Azores where the bottoms of Joe’s shoes began to melt while we stood watching the geyser because he stood in the same stop for too long, I bent to feel the red earth with my hand. It was hot but not shoe melting hot.
While we waited for the man to gather his equipment, Commando took a photo of me standing in what is basically a flattened crater with larva fields and volcanoes as a backdrop. The man came back back with a big bundle of straw and manoeuvred it onto a ledge with a long metal pole. We all crowded round, taking care not to be down wind for fear of being burned, well I did anyway. He told people to stand back. We did. If I’m totally honest, I expected something a little more sudden. When he pulled the bundle of straw over the crater it sat there for a bit doing nothing much at all. After a bit it began to smoulder, smoke swirling up into the faces of the people who’d stood downwind, including Commando. One of these days he’s going to listen to me I swear. Then it began to burn and people moved back, away from the heat as the straw went up in flames.
The geyser man was still not ready so we wandered off to have a look at a barbecue built over another crater where the heat from under the ground is used to cook sausages and steaks instead of the usual charcoal and fire lighters. No one was cooking anything though so we had to use our imagination a little.
Finally the geyser man had come back with some buckets of water. Once again, everyone gathered round, standing well back this time. With the air of a magician, the man poured a little water into one of the pipes, a little puff of steam came out, maybe as tall as a man. That was it. Disappointed didn’t even cover it. Once the steam had cleared, the magician went back to the hole and poured in a whole bucket of water, this time it wished high up into the air so quickly I missed it with my phone and just caught the aftermath. Luckily he hadn’t finished. He repeated the whole process in another hole, just to the side of the first, which was still steaming gently. This time I was prepared and held my finger on the button to take a series of shots, one after the other. Whoosh, the water came shooting out as steam. it went on for a little while then fizzled out. Pretty impressive, although I’d have quite liked a bit of bubbling mud but I guess you can’t have everything.
As the show was now over and the coach we didn’t want to get on would be coming along soon, we scampered inside the building to hide out. Turns out it is yet another restaurant. Restaurants seem to be a bit of a theme in Lanzarote, you can hardly turn around without seeing another one, it’s a wonder everyone isn’t the size of a small car. This, however, is a restaurant with a difference, the food is all cooked using the heat of the volcano. A deep well just inside the entrance has had a ring of stones built around it and a kind of stainless steel, spoked wheel where trays of meat are cooked by the heat rising from deep within the mountain. Nothing was actually cooking but the walls of the well were greasy with burnt fat and the smells from the kitchen behind were quite tempting.
As we’d eaten at Jameos del Agua and had a hotel buffet ahead of us, we plumped for coffee and some bottles of water. The restaurant is circular and has panoramic views from windows running all the way around. In the centre a round installation, open to the sky and protected by glass has a dead tree, some black gravel and some animal bones. Quite bizarre. We sat by a window with Manrique’s red devil painted on it and drank our coffee looking around at all the strange cooking pots and pans made into lamps and ceiling lights.
With a final look at the brass devil outside the restaurant and a few photos looking down from the top of the volcano at the assortment of other volcanoes below, we went back down to the car. From here we could see another red peak, just above the one we were on. This one had no crater. In fact the whole landscape before us was nothing but a series of peaks of various sizes and heights, some were flattened at the top, some had craters, others sharply angled.
The narrow, winding road we’d driven up actually circled another peak, just below ours. This one had been blown apart, the pointed top was gone, there was a huge crater in the side and the whole thing had the look of the top of a slightly squashed chocolate muffin. Then again, maybe I just have chocolate muffins on the brain.
The drive home was not uneventful. There was the breathtaking landscape for a start, acres and acres of strange rock formations, tall spikes, towers of black larva and everywhere the coloured peaks. Unfortunately, being in the car, I couldn’t take photos, although I’d probably still be there snapping away now if I could. Tim didn’t lead us back the way we came so nothing was familiar. There were so many roundabouts Commando began to get quite blasé about driving the wrong way round them (anticlockwise which is the wrong way as far as we are concerned anyway) and looking left to give way rather than right. There were more roundabouts with only one exit. One had two exits that looked like they were just dirt roads leading nowhere and it was only that I could see from the Tom Tom moat that we had to go straight across that we didn’t go completely wrong again.
Then we came to yet another roundabout and Tim said take the third exit but, on the map, it looked like he should have said the second exit. Time for a split second decision and Commando decided to go with what Tim said rather than was his map was showing us. This proved to be the wrong choice and, within moments, Tim was telling us off. There was some recalculating on Tim’s part and we drove round in a big circle coming at the same roundabout again from a different direction. This time Tim said take the fifth exit which would have been fine except that there were only four! We took the fourth and, thankfully stayed on the blue line keeping Tim happy. All I can think is that someone has stolen an exit!
Eventually we began to see signs for Costa Teguise so we knew we were getting close to the hotel which was quite a relief. Then we came to an area where they appear to be building a whole new road system. Tim was still working on the old road system and kept telling us to go left when there was no turn to the left or go around roundabouts that were no longer there. We gave up listening to him and just followed the signs the best we could. I think Tim needs a bit of an update.