When I arrived here in Lanzarote, late at night after a 31 hour ferry crossing from Cadiz, I got a ride to my B&B with Mikael, a Swede I had met whilst waiting for the ferry (if you’re reading this, thank you!)
The following morning, I got a taxi to Marina Lanzarote to meet my boat… I had found Gill and John and their boat Mehalah through Crewbay.com. We Skyped just before Christmas and they offered me the fourth position on their voyage from the Canaries to the Caribbean, along with their friend, another John.
We had tea and some great biscuits, a quick tour of the boat during which I admired the serious stash of Green & Blacks chocolate, and I left my main bag with them feeling like I’d made a very good decision.
They had a couple of friends staying for a week, so there was not room for me to move aboard immediately. Aware that I was about to spend a number of weeks in a confined space with limited options for stretching my legs or being alone, I hired a bicycle from the tourist information office in the marina and set off to build up my leg muscles and store up some alone time on a 5 day cycle and wild camping tour of Lanzarote.
This is what I learnt…
1) The landscape is… weird
It is rocky. And harsh. And there are very few plants, let alone trees. It is like nowhere else I have ever been, and it took me a while to get used to it. The Canaries are volcanic islands, and the lack of rain and significant wind (see point 11) mean that very little grows, so mostly there is just rock and sand.
2) Lanzarote is great for cyclists!
There’s actually no need to push your bike along rocky dirt tracks, because the main roads are great. They often have bicycle lanes, and otherwise have wide margins easily big enough to cycle in. Cars pass wide and slow – I saw a few cars preferentially drive into oncoming traffic (or wait for ages) rather than pass a cyclist already comfortably in the margin. There are literally hundreds of Lycra-clad cyclists on the roads here; triathletes and ironmen (and women) come here to train (and compete), so everyone is used to bikes, and I never felt an inconvenience to other road users (even when I was going reeeeeally sloooowly)
3) Panniers are really helpful
I didn’t have any. I really wished I did when I was cycling up hill in the hot sun with a heavy backpack on. But at least it meant I didn’t have to worry about anything (other than the bike) being stolen if I left it somewhere (but see point 9)
(You might be wondering how I know that panniers are helpful if I didn’t have any. When I cycled around Shetland with Leejiah and Jack in 2014 we had panniers, and I did cycling around Malta in 2019. It was a lot easier.)
4) A good map is really useful too
Again, I didn’t have one and I wished I had. I had two very basic maps of the whole island from the tourist information office, and google maps on my phone, neither of which showed all the roads or, more importantly, gradients. Not having a map had been partly due to a lack of opportunity to buy one before setting off, and partly not wanting to spend money on something I’d only use for 5 days. However, I spent plenty more in multiple cafes while I recharged my phone every day from checking google maps so often. (I subsequently heard about the fatmap app, which shows cycle and hiking routes in moveable 3D – I wish I’d known about it just a couple of days earlier!)
5) Places to wild camp are few and far between
Most of the ground is sloping, hard and rocky (I saw nowhere that would have been suitable for a tent, but only had my bivvy bag, sleeping bag and thermarest with me anyway), but beach wind shelters are perfect. A few of the beaches I found had multiple shelters built up like dry stone walls in circles out of volcanic rock, to offer some protection from the sun and wind. They were brilliant for sleeping in – no one could see me unless they walked right up and looked in, and it was very sheltered but with an excellent view of the night sky and rising moon around 2am each night.
N.B. Often contain nudists. Depending on your sensibilities, you may want to approach with caution.
6) Don’t ride somewhere just because the name sounds good
‘Los Cocoteros’ sounds good, right? I saw the sign and turned off the main road thinking that maybe there would be a little beach side cafe for my morning coffee and phone charge. As I glided down a lovely winding road towards the sea, I considered how frustrating it would be to find nothing at the bottom and have to cycle all the way back up. Sure enough, the small village was almost deserted and the only bar closed. As I turned around and changed gear to start riding back up hill, the chain came off for the third time. Grr.
7) Mouths make good taps
The aforementioned chain came off almost every time I changed gear on the crankset (the front gears – I had to google the proper name). Eventually I just left it in third (my preferred gear) after it popped there unintentionally having previously refused to leave second. Not before I had perfected the art of cleaning oil off my fingers though. I quickly discovered that if I rubbed my fingers in the dirt, then took a big mouthful of water, I could dribble it out slowly like a tap and wash off the oil with the dirt – clean fingers (almost)!
8) Lanzarote grows grapes out of volcanic rock and makes wine!
Madness! The winds here can be very strong (again, see point 11), so rather than grow vines as in mainland Europe, they dig holes in the volcanic ash/rock and build up shelters around the edge (like the ones I slept in on the beach). I’ve yet to try any of the wine – will report back!
Edit: have just returned from an evening out and can confirm the wine is very good.
9) Lock your bike to something other than itself
On my second night on the beach, I didn’t fancy pushing my bike through the sand to where I’d be sleeping so locked it to itself leaning against a rock out of sight of the road. The following morning, I walked back to where I’d left it – no bike. It had been dusk when I had left it there so I wasn’t certain it was the right spot, and walked round a few times – still no bike, and that was definitely the rock it had been lent against. Shit. I looked around; I had pulled off the road a couple of miles from the nearest village. There were a couple of camper vans parked up so I wandered over towards them thinking I could ask if they’d seen anything. I saw a wheel poking out in front of one of the camper vans and prayed it might be mine… Black forks… Red frame… Yes, it was mine!! I breathed a huge sigh of relief and picked it up to carry it away. A man came out of one of the other vans and started speaking to me in Spanish. I took the key out of my pocket and unlocked the chain to prove it was mine, and he let me push it away. I am trusting that they just moved it to keep it safe… And from then on, always locked it to fences, lamp posts etc.
10) Cycling uphill is great, if you can enjoy the downhill
Sunday was peak day (after relocating my bicycle!) I got up in good time and cycled to Teguise (the old capital) up hill all the way without pushing – wahoo! I arrived late morning before it got too hot, and spent a couple of hours walking around the big market (along with what appeared to be the entire tourist population of Lanzarote) and in a bakery charging my phone, and then at a fuel station charging myself with ice cream and a whole pot of cheese in a fresh roll.
Once the heat had dropped off, I cycled all afternoon, mostly downhill, through the volcanic vineyards with the sun and a faint breeze on my face. I reached the southern point of the island and refuelled at another service station (thank goodness they’re open on Sundays!) with more ice cream and half a pack of Oreos, then cycled slightly north around the corner and down a dirt track to Papagayo for the night. I had cycled the length of the island in one day without pushing my bike and it felt amazing. Unfortunately, my legs felt totally empty the following day, when I was also met with strong headwinds…
11) It can get really windy
Oh my. Pushing up hill into a headwind with empty legs is not fun. Especially when half way up the hill the cycle lane ends and the road has a ‘no bicycles’ sign on it, forcing you to turn off at the roundabout and cycle down hill back to the road you cycled on the previous day, and could have got to in 20 minutes instead of the hour and a half slog up hill as an intended ‘short cut’. Unfortunately, google maps doesn’t know (or care?) what roads cyclists are not permitted on when coming up with cycle routes.
12) There’s a reason most cyclists wear Lycra with those funny bum pads in
Oweeeee my bottom! Maybe I had a particularly hard saddle. Maybe the patches I had sewn into my favourite shorts before I left Ben in Spain rubbed, but my bottom was not happy by day 4, and I soothed it by squatting in a rock pool on an empty beach while I had a wash. Much better.
13) There are an incredible number of British and German tourists
Welcome to the British seaside, but sunnier, warmer and considerably more desert-ish. I cycled along the cycle path (being refurbished so actually I pushed my bike along half of it) between Puerto del Carmen and Arrecife past more Irish pubs than I could count, multiple British Deutsche Drs, and even a ‘Devon’ restaurant complete with Devon flag.
14) It’s ok to take a break
On my last night, feeling exhausted after my day of empty legged pushing up hill into a headwind, I booked back in to the B&B in Arrecife I had stayed in when I first arrived in Lanzarote. A hot shower instead of taking a bar of soap into the sea with me. A big, comfy bed to spread out in rather than my sleeping bag in the sand. Unlimited phone charge. But no stars, and no fresh breeze on my face as I slept. I missed that bit.