One Week On The Canaries
Updated: Jan 11
If you know me for any amount of time, I have probably already told you about my love for the Canary Islands. I have visited some of them close to forty times, and still, I could always go for one more visit. I was looking forward to this particular visit the entire summer, while we were anchored off the Danish coast, close to the port of Skagen. And while the days were getting shorter, the winds colder and ourselves less optimistic about any form of restart during this year the news suddenly broke.
We would be going to the Canary Islands; we would take guests on board, and our restart was just ten days away. Of course, we did not restart operations with only ten days of preparation. Throughout the summer, latest after Norway got taken off the board as a potential destination; we started to eye the Islands of Madeira and the Canaries as possible alternatives. So once we had our final go, we had already prepared quite a lot. But still, the ship launched into a flurry of activity, as I had never before seen. And I had experienced many a frenzied time-crunch during my time at sea. There is a lot to be told concerning the feelings I experienced during these days. So much in fact, that I decided to post a separate blog all about it.
But this is not the topic I would like to linger on today, but instead, I would like to go above and beyond my usual "One Day in …" series and talk about four Islands, all in one blog. And four Islands they might be, but in terms of the difference between those, you might as well be travelling between continents. And we start with the greenest of the lot.
La Palma And The Rainbows On The Mountain
The green island, as is La Palma's official nickname, greeted us with quite a show. After a day out at sea, it was the first time in quite a while for us to set our feet on solid ground. For some of us, the first time since July. And you noticed it. Long before the mooring manoeuvre concluded, and long before any Passengers were allowed anywhere close to the gangway, the usual congregation of working crew occurred in the area. The Bosun and his men working on the gangway and the shell doors themselves, under the watch full eye of the Staff Captain. The Ships Security with all the shore equipment neatly packed on carts, ready to jump on the gangway, as soon as the everpresent Safety Officer clears it. The Security Officer prepared to aid his team and to accompany the Pilot down from Bridge to Gangway. The Purser, waiting to be first ashore to greet and welcome authorities and answer all their questions. And between this assortment of quite essential people, we were standing. Fifteen something people from the Shore Excursion Department, waiting for the gangway like everybody else.
The mood was merry, everybody a bit jokey and the relieve at the final start of operations visible in many faces. And then it happened. The gangway touched down on the pier, and greetings said, and everybody rushed ashore to perform their individual tasks, just like they had every day of the week all the time before that damnable Covid had stopped everything. And La Palma, it greeted us like we were stumbling into a fairytale. The lush green mountainsides, dotted with colourful houses. And in that mountains hanging low, the last clouds of morning rain showers, and a rainbow with a pot of gold beneath its end: Our own gangway. To claim that every eye was dry at that moment would be to lie, but still, everybody was cheerful, happy.
And after a swift unloading Operation, we stood there, with our bikes, ready for our first guests of the year. And already you noticed the differences. Because while a biking excursion usually starts with a witty greeting and general safety information, now something was preceding that—a short instruction regarding social distance and mask-wearing policy. To sum that one up for those not aware: While stopped, always keep an arms-length distance from other people. It is also mandatory to wear a face mask in pretty much any public place on the Canaries. But you do not have to wear one, while engaged in a sporty activity. And that meant for us: Cycling without the Mask is possible, but we need to put one on, as soon as we stopped. And with that short instruction it was finally time to get on our Bikes and finally start the tour.
We did not get far before I stopped at a parking lot. Like a giant amphitheatre, in front of us, rose a half-open caldera, dotted with some houses in the lower half, but rising to a steep and mighty wall in the upper Section. On top, quite at a distance, there was a radio tower. And then I gave a short sentence, that made many a guest dread the tour ahead of them. "We are going up to that tower." And indeed we were. And the route was quite a scenic one. Over a distance of close to eight kilometres, we would continuously be cycling uphill, on a gentle slope, but a constant ascent. But of course, we would not do it in one go. Three times we took a break in small parking lots next to the road. And while that might not sound like any particular place, still there was plenty to see. We had excellent views of the port, cactus with prickly pears, eucalyptus trees, strelitzia, and many other plants. They don't call it the green island for nothing. It took us almost an hour to reach the top, and some guests had to dismount, pushing their bikes for a short while to catch a breath, but in the end, we all managed. And we were rewarded not only with some great views. And the island had one more sight on offer for us: Looking northwards, along the mountainside, we could see some rainclouds still caught in some valleys and ridges, producing a magnificent rainbow. The only problem was that we would cycle into this rainclouds.
But still, we did, keeping our height on the mountain we cycled through forests of pine, plantations of bananas, through tiny villages until we reached the smallest hamlet of the lot—a place called "Las Nieves" consisting pretty much of a church and a few related buildings. Still, this church is the holiest place on the island, as the locals credit the Virgin of Las Nieves, to have saved the island from a destructive Volcanic explosion, by as the name foreshadows, cooling the Volcano with some winter snow. The church is a beautiful sight to see and despite its simplistic exterior, equipped with an opulent and magnificent interior. In this, it is somewhat like the Canaries themselves. They do not look like much from a distance, but you will find beauty in many places if you care to visit.
Anyways, continuing from this curch we still had a ways to go, until we reached our next, and last viewpoint: The balcony of the Iglesia de la Mirca, where we had absolutely stunning views of our island. It was now time to go downhill again, for quite a while, and finish our tour with a small zig-zack through Santa Cruz de la Palma. The first day out had been successful, and we were ready for more.
The Other Santa Cruz And A Visit To The Beach
Naming traditions on the Canaries seem a little convoluted at first. There is a town called Las Palmas on the island Gran Canaria. However, there is also an island named La Palma, with a city called Santa Cruz de La Palma. There is another Santa Cruz, located on the island Tenerife and, for differentiating purposes, named Santa Cruz de Tenerife. If you are confused, do not worry, because it is not unheard of that passenger of cruise lines book flights to entirely the wrong destinations.
Anyways, after a night at sea, we had completed our transfer from on Santa Cruz to the other and awoke on a new island. Despite the crossing between the two Santa Curz's being only around a hundred kilometres. The two are like separate worlds. The island we arrived on is one of the Canaries' major economic hubs, with a million people living in its capital. The difference is imidate notable. While you could traverse the entirety of Santa Cruz de La Palma in close to ten minutes with a bike, our round through Santa Cruz de Tenerife lasted for close to two hours.
And of course, it did, as there is plenty to see in the town. On that particular day, I was guiding the tour with the electronic bikes, and after a short misstep with a forgotten battery, we were out on the Plaza de Espania. On this beautiful open plaza, with a big round fountain in the middle. And around the fountain, there are three buildings made from volcanic rock. The story I tell about those is that one happens to be devoid of any decorations, except for a few cacti which obviously represents Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, one is quite a bit larger, with a pointy roof, signifying the Teide and the island Tenerife, and the last one with a green roof and green walls representing the green islands of La Palma, La Gomera and El Hiero. Of course, this story falls apart as soon as you mention Gran Canaria, but half the skill in guiding tours is to bring across those half-believable stories with enough certainty, that no guest will ever question them.
After that enlightening stop, we explored other sights of the city, among others the opera, the Parque Maritimo, the Market and the founding church of Santa Cruz. From here on out the tour reached a stage of novelty. Since Covid related restrictions made it impossible to have stops in local cafes, usually are a staple of our biking excursions, we had changed a few things up, to keep the tour in the same timeframe. The route through the city we would take now, past the Casa Carnival, the disused bullfight arena and towards the park to the town was entirely new for most of us. I say for most of us because I actually knew the route from my first contract back in two thousand sixteen when we still had Segways on board. And while I did not remember it exactly, I luckily still had the GPS-Track I had created with my fitness tracker at the time in my personal archives. So this is as right a place as any for my reminder to any outdoor person: Record literally everything you do, because it might become handy with future adventures.
Anyways, back to our tour. We had just completed our stop in the city park, and now rode on familiar paths again, now aiming for the coast. Just meters away from our ship, but not yet inside the port, we turned northwards on the promenade, following a long cycleway through the industrial area of Santa Cruz. This would bring us further north, towards the beach of Las Terresitas. This beach, while artificially constructed, is still one of the best on Tenerife.
And most importantly not as overcrowded as many of the others. One reason for that is that it is its location in the northern part of the island. Here the weather can be a little bit rowdier, and as the clouds move in here from the sea, there is often a chance for relatively random rainstorms. And just a storm like this hit us when we were about to reach the beach. Well, to call it aa rainstorm would not be entirely honest. It was more like a thick mist of tiny droplets, that nevertheless drenched us quite quickly. But the temperatures stayed in an enjoyable spectrum, so there really was not any reason to stop what we were planning.
We planned to climb a long uphill section, towards an excellent viewpoint over the beach. And while the climb was long and hard, at least it would have been, if not for our e-bikes doing all the legwork, we eventually reached the top and got to enjoy a sight that reminded me of the Caribbean. But on the other side of our viewpoint, there was a less happy sight to behold. There, close by the shore, lay anchored cruise ship after cruise ship after cruise ship. In total it must have been close to twenty ships parked there, all waiting for better times. And what is funny in this regard, is that we were kind of the heralds of better times approaching, waving and photographing our good news down from the mountainside.
We also had to get down from the mountainside for our next stop: a relaxing break at the beach. The weather had cleared up again at this point so that we could enjoy the sand between our toes and ocean water on our skin. And after we had finished our break at the beach, it was time to go back, to our ship, load our bikes, and to look forward to the next day.
Fuerteventura And The Unrelenting Wind
Our morning in Fuerteventura began as the rest of the day would continue. Strong winds forcing themselves over the island, hitting us in the face, and making us feel alive and fresh. I for one dreaded the wind a little bit because I knew that we would have to come up against it towards the end of our tour, but for now, I was just happy to go out and cycle once again.
This time we started with a short round through the town of Puerto del Rosario, and after just one stop we were off to our overland tour. In this blog, I said you have to take a close look to discover the Canaries' beauty. Well, on Fuerteventura you have to take an extra close look. The island is a pure desert, albeit on made from volcanic rocks, and unlike its smaller brother Lanzarote, it can not show off with building codes written by a world-renowned artist. But there are still exciting spots to be discovered.
For example, after the first long third of our overland tour, we had a small bridge, leading over a tiny rivulet. And there, with a bit of water actually flowing at the surface, we suddenly had a lush strip of greenery, leading down a narrow valley and a stark contrast to the browns and greys of the volcanic rock. And we had more to discover. Just after our break at the little oasis, we had the most intense climb of the tour, leading us uphill in a quite strenuous exercise. And up there, with the sun breaking through the clouds we could suddenly see the hidden beauty of the desert, with each part glowing a slightly different mix of brown and orange—a surprisingly stunning view to behold.
But now we had the best part of the tour ahead of us. A long and continuous downhill, leading us back to the sea, only there was a problem. Now, with the wind in our faces, and the descent being only a gentle slope, we actually had to pedal downhill to get moving at an acceptable pace. Which is something I am sure not many people can put on the list with their experiences. But despite the obstacles, we finally reached the town of Caleta de Fuste, where we had another stunning piece of nature lined up. A cycleway leading us directly along the storm-battered coast of the island. Here we had an opportunity to awe at the force of the ocean crashing into the steep volcanic shore.
And up next, we had only really the way back to our ship. And what a way it was. Past the island's airport, we had to cycle on a gravel road, pushing against a fierce headwind. Quite an effort was necessary on our part, and for quite a while, there seemed no end in sight.
And while the description of this tour, might appear curiously much more shortened than the other islands, mainly because there is only so much you can tell about riding down a straight road through the desert, you should not think lesser of it because of it. Biking on Fuerteventura is still an amazing and unique experience. And it is an excellent primer for the upcoming island of Lanzarote.
Lanzarote And A New Discovery
There is one name you can not miss if you ever visit Lanzarote. And that name is Cesar Manrique, the architect and artist, that shaped the islands face, fate and fortune. And also our biking tours for the longest time had no intention of dodging the matter of his legacy, with stops at two different of his artworks. His own house, and the house of Lago Mar, build for the actor Omar Sharif. But there was a problem with those two: They were both not open. And we had, suddenly, a lot of extra time to bridge with our biking tours. This had led me to spend quite a significant amount of time on google maps, Komoot and other route planning services to evaluate alternative possibilities. And I came out of my research-marathon with small changes for tours with the regular bikes and a complete redesign of our e-bike tour. So it was a natural decision for me to guide the e-biking tour on our first call.
I had a sound plan for the tour, but it was only a plan, with over fifty per cent of the excursion on roads I had never before ridden. I knew that it would all be very likely okay, but still, I could not discount the possibility of some swift improvisation being necessary.
It all turned out fine, though. After an initial round through Arrecife, we turned left onto some unfamiliar ground and made our way over the island. The tiny street, almost wholly devoid of traffic led us, continually rising, through fields of volcanic rock and past looming, but forever-silent craters. It was a really long ascent, but not a strenuous one, as we had our e-bikes, and finally, we arrived at a viewpoint. Here we could overlook the entire southern coast of the island and even further over the ocean towards Fuerteventura and the Isla Los Lobos.
From that particular viewpoint, it was only a short while until we had reached the town of San Bartolome. Much has been said about the white houses of Lanzarote, so I would like to limit myself to only short praise. These tiny, one or two-story, boxy, virgin-white houses, with their green and blue and black wooden window frames, are one reason why I prefer Lanzarote to Fuerteventura. As strange as it sounds, but even the smallest village on the island can produce, through its architecture alone, a certain feeling of gravitas and serenity. Which seem fitting emotions, considering you are standing between volcanos on million-year-old rocks, receiving only twelve days of rain a year, made arable and habitable by sheer force of human will.
And San Bartolome was quite the town to give you that feeling. Actually, one of the best on the island, I would say. And I had only visited it this one time on this tour. It is one of those villages you would pass up on a typical holiday on the island because it is tiny and a little out of the way, but I can only recommend to give it a try. After a short stop at the church, it was time for us to continue, and now I had another first. We were cycling along a road, over the northern, the weather side of the island. And for the first time in my over thirty visits to Lanzarote, I actually saw green fields and pastures between the black of frozen lava streams. And with a short downhill, we arrived at our next discovery. And that was a particular gamble.
While scouring google maps, I discovered a cave-in at the side of a volcano close to Cesar Manrique's house. I had found one photo of the inside and decided that this would be something good to visit. But it required plenty of variables to work out. Was there enough space to park our bikes on the roadside? Was the short hike to reach it possible for everyone? Was it even beautiful enough to justify the visits? As it turns out, all the answers were positive. And standing, basically inside a volcano, looking at the different coloured layers of rock, and the great view of Arrecife we had of the hillside were as good, as I had guessed them.
From here on out it was only familiar sights. We had ahead of us a few more stops at Cesar Manrique's house, photographing it from the outside only, and the beach. And afterwards, there was only really to return home, to our ship, and for me also back to Germany.
Christmas at home and the Quarantine
I wrote this text while at home. After returning from the Canaries, I had to self-isolate for ten days, and the day you are reading this blog, will be simultaneously the first day I will be able to leave my apartment. Ten days locked in your home allow for some perspective to grow, and for some long present thoughts to fully manifest themselves. Guiding tours again reminded me of the passion I had, and still have, for this particular occupation and the fact that I had somehow disregarded that passion in the face of good career opportunities presenting themselves over the last years. I also got a reminder of how much is left to explore, even in familiar grounds, but also as to how limited you really are when working on a cruise ship. So I expect this to be one of the last posts I will ever write, about my direct experience while working onboard. For sure, the One Day in… series will have a few more instalments, but all in all, I am looking forward to finally stepping over a ship's gangway in an operational role on last time in late February.