Friday, March 30, 2012

“No a las Petroleras!” Says Lanzarote

Along with many other nations around the world, Spain has been desperately searching for solutions to relieve the increasing financial woes the country is facing.  With significant portion of its oil supply being imported and oil prices skyrocketing, attention to cuttingdown on this lofty expense has turned toward a tempting opportunity to drill for oil off shore in their own territory.  The large Spanish petrol firm, REPSOL, has declared an interest in surveying underwater land dangerously close to the Spanish Canary Islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.   This would, in theory, cut down significantly on spending for the struggling country, providing a desperately needed financial boost. But are the grave ecological repercussions worth the investment?  There is much debate around the world about this controversial subject; but on the island of Lanzarote, it is clear that this will not be a welcome move.

Clear opposition to drilling

Saturday, protesters from around the island gathered in the capital city of Arrecife to demonstrate their opposition to the exploration for underwater oil.  With their faces painted black and picket signs in hand, an estimated 22,000 people (almost one fifth of the island’s population) walked from one side of the city to the other, chanting passionately and marching to the beat of drums that lead the pack.  Late into the night, locals of all ages and occupations joined together to express their dire concerns. 

Huge number of locals hit the street in protest

Besides the massive eyesore that the site of the drilling will introduce off the east coast, the ripple effects to islanders will have a devastating impact.  The most obvious industry that will take a serious hit will be tourism, which the island depends on heavily.  Most of the large touristic destinations are on the eastern shore due to the year-round excellent weather and plethora of picturesque beaches.  But with the introduction of REPSOL’s towers a mere 23 kilometers (14 miles) from the island’s most populated beaches, the natural purity and ambient tranquility that draws so many European travelers will be a thing of the past. 

Popular tourist beach that will be affected

Beyond the defaced natural setting, the sea level and temperature will inevitably change dramatically, and with the coastal waters being densely populated with sea life, this will have a devastating impact for the underwater creatures and the lucrative fishing industry.  This change does not take into account the shattering results of a potential catastrophe similar to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The necessary depth of drilling in this prospective site would match that of the Deepwater Horizon spill (1,500 meters), to which there is still no rapid intervention technology in place. While the possibility of this level of destruction is not a high likelihood, if the waters were to be poisoned, the water supply to the entire island would be almost eliminated.  Lanzarote’s dry climate and absence of ground water makes the ocean the primary source of potable water.  The island’s large desalination plant is located in the capital city of Arrecife, on the east coast, and in extreme proximity to the point of drilling. 

Rich fishing industry is in danger

These factors have sparked the attention of more than the locals in the potentially affected areas.  Rallies have already been held all over the peninsula, pickets raised in cities like Barcalona and Madrid.  Along with Spaniards, many international environmental groups, including Oceana, vehemently oppose Spain’s decision to risk ravishing the delicate marine ecosystem.
But this issue is a sensitive one, and with more people feeling the painful effects of the economic crisis, ineffective methods to cutting costs and feeble attempts at reducing oil consumption are simply not working.  All around the globe, as oil prices climb, the need for alternative forms of energy are absolutely essential.  Will these more radical solutions in conjunction with the feverous attempts by the green minded population be enough to leave these precious waters untapped?  Only time will tell.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Thick African Haze Covers the Islands

La calima is in full force today as the desert sand has created a dense, dusty fog throughout the entire island.  Locals are behaving as they would if storms loomed in the atmosphere all day back home, drizzle dampering people's disposition.  Here the same is true, but with most days being sun filled and mild, the murky tone is unwelcome.  Even our harmonious yoga teacher lacked her usual xenfulness this evening.
Striking satellite image of Sahara sand blowing over Lanzarote

The strange phenomenon called calima, or haze in Enlgish, is a natural weather pattern experienced on the island when the eastern wind blows over the Sahara desert and lifts sand and dust up from the arid land, carrying it a short distance across the sea and engulfing Lanzarote and the surrounding northern Canaries.  Today felt grey and dull from my window, reminding me of a cloudy morning in the States, soon to be followed by a powerful thunderstorm.  But as I stepped outside I was hit by the yellow haze that hung heavy on the horizon, a bizarre image of grainy dust floating in the sky.  Today the wind was more gentle than usual, creating an illusion that I could almost reach out and grab a handful of sky.

This is my second encounter of a day filled with sandy air, as they tend to occur about once a month. Weeks ago, I did not have the privilege to be surrounded by walls as I did today.  Unprepared, I found myself trekking though lava fields, the powerful gusts of wind pushing me back throughout the journey, blasting pieces of powdery land into my unprotected face.  At the conclusion of the day, a single drop of water trickling down my leg changed the tint of my dusty skin to it's normally bronze shade.  My lungs felt as if they were lined with grit, my hair coated with granular fragments.
An attempted photo during calima storm

Beyond a parched throat and layer of filth covering the landscape and all outdoor items, the calima is also responsible for passing on a myriad of pesky illnesses that seem to sneak in and knock the victim off their feet.  Insects and new bacteria and viruses accompany the sand's journey to the island's coast.  The up side to a day like to today is that normally after the eastern winds blow, islanders can look forward to a rare, refreshing rain shower to wash away the dirt and disease.  But with rainfall nearing record lows, hopes of any precipitation are low, and while the tourists can gear up for more sun filled beach days, farmers and locals alike are feeling the adverse effects like never before.

Two Islands, Two Scoops

A little something for everyone!  Check out my Scoop on crazy Carnival in Gran Canaria or inspiration derived from Lanzarote at

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Discovering Lanzarote: Sneak Peak Article

Here's a little glimpse of why I'm in love with this island, soon to come on The Spain Scoop. 

Island Life- Finding Inspiration on Lanzarote

Enjoying the view of La Graciosa

The island of Lanzarote, part of the Canary Island chain off the coast of Africa, is a hidden gem of the Atlantic, a place of great wonder, beauty, and inspiration, from the volcanic landscape to the eccentric outsiders that flock to its energy.  Many, like me, are initially drawn in by the lure of a tiny island with good weather, pretty beaches, and outdoor excursions.  But shortly after arriving it is clear that this is not your typical tropical vacation. 

The landscape is one of a different planet, with the Mars-like skyline consisting of craters, erupted volcanoes, and hills of hardened lava.   The sides of the ridges are coated with layers of cooled magma, creating a glow of reds, oranges, and browns streaking down the sides and taking on different appearances, depending on the sun’s influence.  The massive peaks that once acted as lids to the volcanoes have exploded, leaving hollowed craters of crumbled rock with caves and deep scars engraved throughout the surface.  The ground below is covered with lava flow that goes on for miles, small villages carved out among it, with single plots leveled out to farm the fertile land.

The volcanic flow in the National Park

The beaches that surround the island are another thing of amazement.  Even the eastern, more populated portion of the island that is littered with tourists and accommodating shops, bars, and hotels, has the same breath-taking shorelines as the less touched, more local western side of the island.  In the south, attracting locals and experienced vacationers are five hidden white sand beaches of Papagayo, only accessible through bumpy dirt roads.  In the northern town of Orzola you can find lagoons of shallow clear water, placid and expansive, for a different type of relaxing day at the beach.  Fishing villages like Punta Mujeres or La Santa quietly boast the islands beauty with their black rock shorelines greeting rolling aqua blue water.

Punta Mujeres 

Rapidly becoming my favorite place to be on the island is the small village of Famara on the western shore.  This surfer’s paradise is often the inspiration for great artistic conceptions due to the towering cliffs that frame the shoreline and the neighboring island of La Graciosa that is in clear view.  Among these inspired individuals is the island’s most influential artist, Cesar Manrique, responsible for the uniform white stucco homes with signature green, blue, or brown doors and window frames among other unique artistic charms that add to Lanzarote’s aesthetic appeal.  The imprint of his influence can be felt throughout the island as his value to harmonize nature’s beauty into his artwork strongly contributes to the preservation of the landscape today.

The awe inspiring cliffs of Famara

While it is true that there are foreign neighborhoods spawning off of the many German and English that flock here for the sun, and the herds of tourists that arrive merely to lie on the beach and play in their resorts, the island also has a growing population of people from around the world that stay here to embrace the undeniable energy that this island radiates.  From painters and musicians to doctors and healers, there seems to be an underlying appreciation for the tranquil vibes that are likewise so alive with vigor.  Simply being here seems to have its own healing power, alleviating day to day stresses and clearing a path for creative thinking and inner contentment. 

My artistic interpretation of la playa

It’s still difficult for me to place what exactly it is about sitting on a piece of volcanic land floating out in the Atlantic that feeds the soul like no other place I have visited has, but there is no doubt that the sensation is universally felt.  Whether I am experiencing this Canary Island among the singing, happy locals at a village cafe, alone in the countryside watching the midday sun shining down on the rolling hills, or curled up on the beach on a crisp evening, gazing up at the dome of brilliant twinkling stars while sharing inspired revelations with another ex-patriot, it is clear to me that I have discovered a magical gem that is Lanzarote.

Happy, singing locals

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Little Smurf that Could

Oh Pitufa... (that's Spanish for Smurf, the name my new set of wheels has adopted).  How I love you and all of your quirky attributes.  As we make our way around this hilly island, unable to climb certain mountains moving over 40 km/hr (that's about 25 mph); when cars are honking and flashing lights behind us as we struggle to reach the posted speed limit on main roads; the times we need to pull over to analyze the map with a flashlight (no fancy GPS or dome lights here); or on windy days that I must grip the steering wheel hard as I feel the gusts rocking us from side to side, I can't help but just smile.  I grin and shake my head as the springy clutch squeaks each time it is compressed, and at the sound of the transmission dropping with every gear I change; at the rattling doors bobbling about on their hinges, or the whistling air seeping through the unsealed window frames.  How I love this unique rolling box that I've some how temporarily adopted.  She gets me around with great persistence even though she whines to me loudly when we go too fast or the terrain is not perfectly smooth.  Pitufa knows nothing of AC, heating, or radios (no speaker would be audible over her insistent noises anyway).  When we hit the road it's just her and I, me trusting her to get me around this peculiar new land, survive the busy highways when I get lost around the capital city, and carry me back safely to the little dirt road where my hidden home rests.  Thank you little Nissan That Could for adding to the charm of this experience and giving me just one more challenge to be thankful I have.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Simple Joy

That thing is happening again.  That moment in time when everything seems profound and special, where I grasp on to every detail of life, trying to form a mental image and catalog it into a special point of reference in my mind. That sensation of being alive every waking moment and when I'm sleeping having the most vivid, moving dreams.  I've missed this feeling.  I never thought I'd find it again after I returned from backpacking.  And there's no telling what it is that is bringing this way of experiencing life back into the forefront.  I suppose it's a myriad of things...  living in a new place, separated from all things familiar and easy... but what's different now is that I have feeling that I'm beginning to understand it all a bit clearer.  That this fabulous feeling comes from within, not from the environment in which I live.  (Although it certainly doesn't hurt that I live in tranquil, scenic Tao)  For me, sometimes to be away, really away, is what it takes to understand what makes me feel amazing and connected and alive. In less than a week I'm there once again.  And like a waterfall of coincidences, people are flowing into my life just at the right time, adding extra inspiration to my world and gaining their own inspiration from me.  New connections with fascinating people here are flooding in, and reigniting relationships with people back on the other side of the Atlantic.  All the pieces are coming together, or actually, they all seem to be together, even if there are still many unanswered questions.  It's all about perspective, point of view, and to me all those other factors like geography and career and money and so on are details.  I'll end this one with a quote that my good friend back home just sent me moments ago that reminded her of me and reminds me of why I starting doing this all in the first place:

 "When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be."

Thank you for that Lex, and thanks to those of you who read this and get why I put it out there.  Hopefully you can relate to the feeling and are on your own path toward being content :)