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Vagamonde: Chasing Euphoria and Getting Hit by Reality
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Volcanic paradise before heading east

I'm sick of running errands! We have done as much planning as we can for our eastward journey. The rest will have to be figured out on the road where you can only make do with what you have. We loved our apartment in Las Palmas despite all the noise, which included a cat with blue balls howling outside our window every night.

Michèle comments: The plan so far for our eastward journey is this: catch a flight, which we hope will be our last plane ride for a long long time, to Naples Italy at the end of February. From there, cycle across the 300 or so kilometres to Bari, and then take a ferry to Albania or Greece. It seems that Croatia is not an option, because the ferries from Bari to Croatia do not start running until late March (we think, but we have been having a hard time confirming this). As always, the days ticking on the Schengen clock are hanging over me like a dark cloud, which would make (non-Schengen) Albania and Croatia preferable to (Schengen) Greece. My 90 days allowed in the Schengen region are finished around mid March.

Now we are officially back on the road and what better way to start than with another overnight ferry ride. This time we are a bit more organized than with the ferry from Laâyoune. We brought sleeping bags and mattresses. The boat is empty. There are at most twenty passengers and a handful of cars. The rest is freight. That means we can park our ass anywhere and set up camp. When midnight rolls around, we head to bed. Then, it's time for Terminator Salvation. Starring Neverheard Ofhim and Whogives Ashit. This movie is dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles. Talk about lack of efficiency. It's loud, and the TVs are set up like in a sports bar so that you can't escape them no matter where you sit. I concentrate on the sound of the boat engine to lull myself to sleep. But it's being drowned out by sounds of gun fights and car chases. Not to forget the "nuclear power plant" flavoured air freshener wafting in every five minutes. Anyway, the credits finally come up and we can get a few hours of sleep.

Michèle comments: Back on the road to explore a few more of the Canary Islands before heading east from Italy. The midnight ferry to the island of Lanzarote is run by Naviera Armas, the same company that took us from Laâyoune Morocco to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria back in December. It would be a six-hour journey. The internet on the ferry was working this time, so I took the opportunity for a quick video chat with my sister. I was crouched down in my seat, talking in whispers, trying not to disturb the passengers around us who would be settling down to sleep. It seems so ridiculous in hindsight to have been talking in such hushed tones when in less than an hour, the 1:00am movie, of the Terminator series no less, would be blasting out for our "viewing pleasure". So, no, I didn't get the best of sleep.

We get to Lanzarote early. It's still dark. Several hours later, the tourist office sets us up with some free camping on a small island called La Graciosa. The boat leaves from a town forty kilometres away. This gives us a chance to see some of Lanzarote. Being volcanic, it looks a lot like Iceland. Think of it as the Provence of Iceland. It's got it all, turquoise water, rolling waves and white sand beaches. We stop for lunch and watch paragliders land on the beach. After which we have a much needed power nap. A few hours later, we get to Orzola where we meet up with the guy who will take us to La Graciosa. We pile our bikes into his large Zodiac and off we go.

At the campsite, we set up the tent and proceed to sleep for more than twelve hours. This time, no gun fights and car chases. Just the sound of breaking waves. In the morning, a groovy German hippie tells us that we are set up outside the campground perimeter. From what he tells us, the ranger is not nice and will ask us to move. He also tells us that he's been here for a month and that he has lost the track of time. I want to get that effect too. I've been working hard to eradicate the multitude of useless stresses. The conclusion is that if you can't stop stressing, there is no point in being on this trip.

Michèle comments: In the picture above, my bike is leaning against the perimeter marker of the campground. We did have to move our tent from that spot. The bottle of golden liquid on my bike many people mistook for a big bottle of whiskey. That would have been a great idea. But I was carrying olive oil.

Not much to do on La Graciosa. The evenings are chilly but during the day, if the sun is out, it's hot! We are doing our daily exploration of the island. I've gotten into the habit of picking up garbage during our excursions. I could pick up a truck load, but I limit myself to a grocery bag full. There is so much garbage out there that it looks like the garden weed of the twenty-first century. You figure it should be harvested like any other plant. I am the new harvester I guess. I get strange looks from tourists who are here on speed vacations. You know, if you want to find what you're looking for, you should look in the garbage. I was able to replace my failing pedals with some virtually brand new ones. Thank you garbage gods, you sure are popular these days.

Michèle comments: La Graciosa was actually quite clean. Most of the island is protected reserve land. Yet there is always garbage washing up on shore. Benoit and I go about picking up trash as we stroll, trying to leave a place cleaner than when we arrived.

Like all the Canary islands, La Graciosa benefits from a generous tax exemption. There is no GST (TVA in France, VAT in England, ΦΔΠ in Greece ... sorry, I am getting that confused with an engineering fraternity whose only purpose is to climb a greasy telephone pole). The result is an influx of retired fifty year olds looking to drink cheap beer. As for me, my retirement will coincide with my reincarnation. I am, however, trying to drink as much beer as possible as we will not find any farther east. Don't worry if you don't get this.

I went to a spot on the island where I could stand and face west towards the open ocean. The waves are monstrous. Walking towards the shore, I place myself as close to the water without the ocean giving me a pink slip on life. Huge walls of water come towards me as I fight the urge to turn around and bolt.

Off in the distance, the waves are even bigger. So big that they seem frozen in time. I get a flashback to yesteryears where I would have rushed to the nearest rental shop to rent a surf board. That motivation is no longer at arms length. Now, I sit and watch cheery faced twenty year olds, surf board underneath their arm, heading towards the beach.

Well, it's time to say goodbye to La Graciosa, getting a ride back to Lanzarote on the large Zodiac that brought us in. After that we head straight into some climbing. Aside from the stunning views and unique landscape, Lanzarote feels a bit like a go-cart track. It's about half the size of Gran Canaria with just as many cars. Every road seems to be a main road. This doesn't stop tons of cyclists from riding. Some of them even have penis shaped helmets and ride carbon fibre death traps as fast as they can. They never say hello. Too busy making record time. Some do have a more recreational mentality. One guy even pats me on the back during a big climb.
- You're brave he says.

Michèle comments: On the island of La Graciosa, we met a total of three cyclists with heavy panniers on their bicycles. One from Portugal, and a couple from Germany. All with great maps. The first day of pedalling on Lanzarote, a peloton of paraplegic cyclists went zooming past us. "Let's catch up with them," yelled Benoit as he picked up the pace. "I can't ride that fast," I yelled back, and neither could he. Those cyclists left us in their dust.

Fast forward a few hours and we get to Caleta de Famara. Another hip surfing spot. There, we head straight to the beach where there is a huge "No Camping" sign. We wait for night fall and set up our tent. Nothing happened during the night except the usual wild camping anxieties. I kept thinking that someone was walking off with our bikes and Michèle kept thinking that mice were chewing through our dry bags. The result was a shitty night sleep.

The next night we spent in Arrecife at a cheap hotel. Showering had to be done. The first high pressure hot shower we've had in a long time. But that's all we got because outside it was party time. Music and yelling till the wee hours. The next morning, it was hard climbing back up the hill to the wine area of Lanzarote.

We stopped for lunch at a Bodega and proceeded to polish off a bottle of wine. The next several hours of riding went a lot smoother. All the way down to a tourist blackhead on the face of Lanzarote. There, we slept and the next day we took the boat to Fuertevertura.

We took three days to cycle across Fuerteventura. It is not as nice, geologically, as Lanzarote but offers more solitude. We can finally be on secondary roads with no traffic. Fuerteventura is simple. It doesn't seem to have the bells and whistles of Lanzarote. I like it. There are several spots with high tourist density but the rest looks like a scene from a spaghetti western.

We stop at a road side bar to fill up on water. Inside, there's the barkeep and a woman in a wheelchair with a pile of medication in front of her. We ask the barkeep if we can camp for the night. He tells us that there is a shelter in the childrens playground and that we can crash there for the night. Michèle asks if we're going to bother the kids playing. The guy tells us that there are no kids and that the playground is never used.

Michèle comments: Fuerteventura offered us two opposite experiences of wild camping. The first "wild camp" in the playground was a bust. At first, it seemed ideal. In a tranquil little village, with soft-lit street lanterns that started glowing as dusk fell. We were just snuggled into our tent, when with an automated timer click, an extremely bright fluorescent light went on over our heads. I guess it was to deter people from lurking in a dark and empty playground. We had to pull scarves over our eyes to sleep and pretend that we were in the perpetual summer light of Iceland. In contrast, the second wild camping spot was tucked in a valley in the midst of palm trees under a starlit sky. It truly was ideal. We both had the best sleep in our tent yet.

Well, we got a stick in our spokes. One of the countries on our itinerary has denied us a visa. This is a bit of a blow. I'm finding it hard not to take it personally. There is a guy, somewhere, that denied us entry. Not sure why but we don't want to complain too much. With our nationality, we have it pretty easy. We keep thinking about the Chinese couple that we met in Scotland. They spent a large sum on three attempts to get a two week visa for the UK. The guy seemed quite frustrated about this. During the night, he yelled out (in English) "only two fucking weeks!?!?" We were sharing a hostel room with them.

There really seems to be a cultural stream that most people follow. Each country has it's own. Within that stream there is the illusion of freedom. Veer away from it and you will see that there isn't as much freedom as you thought. Even for the fortunate jetsetters like ourselves. So, what's next? Who knows ... Suggestions?

Michèle comments: To end this post, I want to talk a bit about Javier, a cyclist from Gran Canaria and a member of the WarmShowers network of hosts for bicycle tourers. His was the only pin on the WarmShowers map for all the Canary Islands. We got in contact with him while we were in Morocco. In the few emails that we exchanged with Javier, he had generously offered us a lot of help for when we would be cycling the islands. In one email he informed us that he was no longer able to ride his bicycle, because of his cancer, which he described as "a bad one". Only a few weeks later, and before we left Morocco, Javier's sister wrote to us via an Anonymous comment on our blog. Javier had died. When he was in the hospital, he had asked her to let us know. (We didn't post that comment from his sister. It seemed a bit too personal at the time.) We never met him in person, though we wish that we had. As we were pedalling around Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, it helped to think that maybe he was nudging our handlebars in a certain direction to show us the best parts. What we saw of those islands by bicycle, we loved.

All of our Canary Islands photos are here.


  1. c'est quel pays qui vous a refusé ? c'est triste l'histoire de votre ami. Bon courage, vous êtes braves ! :-)

    - Seb

  2. How is the new saddle working out? Shame the Brooks didn't work out.

    What exactly were those small crater like holes in the ground with the rock wind barriers. The Islands look beautiful!

    Wonderful read. Keep on cycling!

  3. Hey Bryant, the new saddle is way better and it could even do with some improvement. The crater like holes are the wineries vine protectors from the wind. Glad you're keeping in touch.

  4. seeing this world, our one, through your eyes, is great for me. i love check in, dreaming i was one of you.
    we go to birmingham england tomorrow for a show -- i dont get on stage as much as i used to, so this will be fun. delph cant come :( but some other guys i am working with now in berlin.
    have fun!!! keep breathing. do yoga...

  5. Hi Robert! We'll keep writing, so please keep reading. Or come with us and contribute to the content. Have fun in Birmingham. Wish we could be there to see you on stage.