Fire and Wind: Discovering the rural heart of Lanzarote
The countryside of this island is home to a lot of truth. This comes to mind when standing before some of the black gardens that the people of Lanzarote designed with the ashes thrown up by the volcano in the 18th century, the same century that saw the building of our accommodation. Out there an unexpected ecosystem is waiting for us, a farming culture from which we have much to learn.
The sun on this October morning is warm and comforting. We nibble on toast drizzled with olive oil from the island’s Picual olives and served with a chico tomato -tiny and very sweet. There is also goat yoghurt, honey, cheese, eggs from happy, free-range hens, and an assortment of fig, pumpkin and strawberry jams.
This is how the day starts in one of Lanzarote’s meticulous and well-maintained properties providing rural accommodation.
Windmills and watermills: the friendly wind
The trade winds are insistent and persistent, bending branches, playing with your hair and, until a few decades ago, they were the force that moved the blades of the mills that ground the grain to make goﬁo, a Canary island speciality made from roasted grains.
We set off on a route to see windmills (with blades), fire mills (motor-driven) and watermills (those that pump water from the ocean into the salt pans where the salt crystallises):
- The Tiagua mill, standing since the 18th century, recently restored, with impressive blades, for the moment without canvas sails.
- The José María Gil mill, in San Bartolomé: a three-storey tower with a circular base, built in the 19th century from stone, mud and lime. Today it is motorised and still in operation. At the end of the guided tour, we bought delicious cinnamon mantecados (a local biscuit) and a packet of goﬁo de millo (corn), wheat, barley and local chickpeas ground on site.
- The Cactus Garden mill, on top of a hill: one of the three that existed in the village of Guatiza, with its roof of zinc red tile sheets.
- The small Janubio salt mills, in a privileged setting, are perfect for watching the sunset, with its salt pans looking for all the world like a make-up palette.
In Lanzarote you can see a radically unique rainfed agriculture in action that brings together all the practices that the scientific community is recommending to the world to adapt to climate change:
- The hollows of La Geria. Designed after the eruption of Timanfaya to take advantage of the volcanic sand’s ability to capture the little water the island has and conserve it, as well as fertilizing the earth that lies below. Some of the vines that later become the exquisite wines of the Lanzarote Denomination of Origin are grown here.
- The enarenados. Plots of arable land on which the ash from the volcano was spread when its beneﬁcial properties were recognised. Onions, potatoes, millet, watermelon… There are many crops that thrive in this grateful land.
- Jable. A river of organic sand, formed by mollusc shells, algae and skeletons of tiny marine organisms, has similar properties to volcanic sand. The sweet potatoes grown in it have found international fame.
- The prickly pear cactus orchards. In the Guatiza-Mala region, the prickly pear cactus (nopales) are infected with the cochineal beetle. After a laborious artisanal task, the insects are harvested to take advantage of their carmine, a bright, long-lasting and environmentally friendly natural dye, used in the fashion, cosmetics and food industries. The nopal is the star product of the Cactus Garden restaurant, where we sampled some tender nopalitos in olive oil, a cactus burger and a honeyed croquette, all from this plant.
Rural museums: tradition and roots
What was life like in a Lanzarote farmhouse in 1845? What tools were essential for life on a nineteenth-century farm? The El Patio Agricultural Museum offers a journey into the past where you will find tools adapted to the soils and climate of Lanzarote that are still used to till the land.
The Tanit Ethnographic Museum is located in the 300-year-old Las Vegas winery in a large eighteenth-century house. Its collections include clothing, utensils of daily life, idols and a large collection of objects that demonstrate the huge doses of ingenuity and adaptation that the people of Lanzarote have shown throughout their history.
At the Lanzaloe organic farm in Órzola, we learn that aloe needs sandy soil, preferably with a slope of thirty degrees and low humidity. When the plant is adult, the leaves closest to the trunk are cut, brushed, washed, trimmed, peeled and ground to obtain the pulp with which this local company manufactures a range of sustainable cosmetics that are respectful with the natural environment of Lanzarote where they come from.
Also, in the five museums that Aloe Plus has spread around the island, we can learn more details about the history of this crop and its properties.
We finish our tour of these ethnographic centres in La Geria, in the Bodegas El Grifo Wine Museum, the oldest in the Canary Islands (1775), which brings together five hundred pieces related to the history of wine in Lanzarote.
We dine on a stew of the island’s lentils and a glass of wine. And some verses by Alberti come to mind:
“And the wind gave the sea
A name and surname
The clouds a body, And the fire a soul”