There we were, on a beautiful island, so different from our own, with so much to explore. In case you don’t know, Lanzarote is a volcanic island. It literally rose from the sea. It was born through fiery eruptions and solidified lava streams are visible across the island, as well as extravagant rock formations. The sea is glorious to behold, smashing against the rocky outcrops along the coastline.
My wife and I spent the first part of 2020 in Lanzarote in The Canary Islands.
We’d never been before. We just decided we needed a break, dropped our indie travel agent a line and asked what she could bag for us at short notice. Emma Savage, our travel counselor always manages to pull a rabbit out of the hat for us.
Lovely hotel, five minutes’ walk from the beach, pool and bar on site. But why would we want to stay there for the full seven days?
We couldn’t wait to get out there and marvel at this extraordinary meeting of fire and water.
Leaving our apartment every day and wandering out, into the resort and beyond, we noticed something.
The UK was everywhere.
Irish bars. English pubs. Giant TV screens showing UK football channels.
Where we were wondering how well our rudimentary Spanish might hold up, we had to crane to find a native accent among all the English voices.
That’s okay. I can totally understand why Brits – or any nation – would want to settle in such a magnificent region. Who wouldn’t? (Maybe some need to remember how many foreign climes we’ve dominated over the years when all our xenophobes are complaining about ‘foreigners’ in our own country, but that’s another story for another day. And don’t even get me started on Brexit!).
What made us stop and think, though, were all the Brits who seemed to leave their hotel and move straight to a bar, beer, cocktails and a plate of chips. No matter the time of day.
And the shape of so many of our countrymen (and women). So many proudly displaying their years of beer consumption like a beachball-shaped medal of honour, football shirts stretched tightly over the top.
So many of ‘us’ were such an odd shape. Like tadpoles. Skinny legs and shoulders, bloated bellies.
So many young people waddling around as if they were wearing Moonbumps (Google ‘em if you don’t know what they are).
Just to be absolutely clear, the point of this article is absolutely not to criticise other people’s shapes. You all know how many times I’ve spoken out against body shaming. Hell, I’m nowhere near the perfect shape and I’m hardly sylph-like.
The point is that so many of us seem to have turned our eyes away from the beauty of the world around us and locked them onto football screens and pint glasses. And smartphones, too.
Why do so many of us pay so much to get out of our own country for a break, only to try to recreate it abroad?
Why, with landscapes so different from our own and the richness of another culture to explore, do we just want to sit in a bar and fill ourselves with unhealthy fare?
Yeah, I get that many travel for the sunshine – it’s a beautiful climate there – but why do we want to catch glimpses of that sunshine from the inside of a pub?
We walked and walked and walked on that vacation. We took a 10 mile hike between resorts, stopping to wonder at the ‘frozen’ lava streams and think about the raw, untamed energy that created the place.
We wandered around marinas and stopped to watch the fish swarming around morsels of food in crystal clear waters.
We took excursions to the volcano fields – the heart of Timanfaya National Park – felt the heat of the rocks and saw tumbleweed burst into flames where the volcanic fury still bubbles just beneath the surface.
We travelled through vineyards, so different to anything we’d seen before, where farmers have to dig circular ‘wells’ into the landscape for each of the vines, in order to get beneath the dense layers of volcanic ash.
We learned about the little stone walls built around individual crops in grassless ‘fields’, which protect the vulnerable plants from harsh winds. We smiled at the local farming custom of putting old tyres around crops too – to protect them from rabbits!
We went off the beaten track, searching for local arts and crafts instead of the tourist-driven oriental shops crowding the beachfront, all offering everything from Lanzarote ashtrays to beach towels, and all probably made in Taiwan.
We visited the former home of César Manrique – a well-known Spanish artist, sculptor and architect, who dedicated so much of his life to creating beautiful spectacles on the island. Volcanic bubbles turned into living rooms, the cactus gardens, the stunningly beautiful Jameos Del Agua – a real piece of paradise, the Mirador del Rio viewing point, and so many huge sculptures dedicated to local life and traditions.
We soaked up as much of the culture and landscape as we possibly could.
And why wouldn’t we?
Why wouldn’t YOU?
The first column I ever wrote for America Out Loud had to do with us looking, but not *seeing*. I referred back to so many things my grandfather had taught me, about tuning into nature, opening my eyes and heart, learning from the world around us.
It took me a lot of years to understand those teachings. I just didn’t get it at the time. Now, I have so much gratitude in my heart for that man, and for the lust for life and learning I’ve discovered since.
My point is this: if you really, 100% get magical, soul-deep pleasure and growth from leaving your own country and then finding a bar/restaurant that replicates it in another, complete with lager and pommes frites, go for it.
If you genuinely find personal fulfilment through sitting in front of a giant football screen all day, have at it.
If you honestly want to visit another clime and culture, then never leave your resort, enjoy.
But maybe, just maybe, there’s something else to explore and absorb beyond that pint glass.
Open your mind a bit more. Open your heart. Learn. Grow. Experience. Get some exploring in while you’re young enough to do it.
Until next time,