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It’s hard to imagine what the surface of our planet looked like so many millions of years ago. But a visit to the tiny island of Lanzarote reveals what it may have been. Situated off the coast of southern Morocco, Lanzarote is the easternmost landmass in the Canary archipelago. It’s a place of grand ecological contrast where seemingly lifeless layers of jagged rock, uprooted as molten lava from deep inside the earth’s core, meets vibrant, volcanically active hills. It’s a palette of white, tan, and black sand beaches against the crystal blue water of the Atlantic Ocean which creates a divine landscape.
The adventure to this autonomously run Spanish outpost came in conjunction with Ducati’s worldwide press introduction of its revamped do-it-all street bike, the 2010 Multistrada 1200S. Designed to better fuse the sport and adventure riding worlds, the new Multi proved to be the ideal two-wheeled companion on an exploratory tour of this captivating isle.
Our headquarters for the trip was the Gran Meliá Volcán Lanzarote Resort situated on the southern coast. This contemporary, ultra-luxurious resort is a superb home base whether traveling solo or with the family. It features an assortment of amenities including generously sized rooms with private verandas, several swimming pools highlighted by a gigantic Hugh Hefner-style grotto, a body-pampering spa and gym as well as multiple bars and restaurants. Its
Situated on the southern coast, our lodgings were at the Gran Meliá Volcán Lanzarote Resort which had great views of the surrounding landscape.
hilltop vantage offers spectacular views of the marina and the Castillo de las Coloradas – a round three-story stone fort built in the 1700s to detect inbound sea traffic, including pirates, which were a feared foe during that era.
The facility is within strolling distance of the main promenade which connects the southern portion of the island and its other seaside resorts, shops, restaurants and, of course, those inviting beaches. A stroll down the boardwalk reveals that Lanzarote thrives on tourists. The area is exceptionally clean and there are an abundance of cozy shops and restaurants catering to the armies of pasty-white northern European visitors, all on temporary holiday escaping the drudgery of another winter. Despite Spanish being the primary language, English is also readily spoken, making communication fairly easy.
The weather is temperate, even in early March, due to its latitude (inline with Southern California). This equates to copious amounts of sunshine, little chance of precipitation and generally pleasant air temperatures day and night. Given the unhurried pace and accommodating nature of the resort, one could easily spend all day holed up within its posh gates, however, adventure awaits us from the saddle of Ducati’s latest creation.
From the hotel we head northwest on the LZ-2, the primary artery linking to the southern part of the island. Moderate, dry weather, infrequent motorized traffic and a huge amount of incoming tourism Euros equates to incredibly manicured roads. Veering toward the coast the landscape suddenly morphs from Mediterranean terrestrial to extra-terrestrial. A ribbon of black, freshly paved and bowling alley-smooth asphalt weaves across layer upon layer of jagged, red-tinged rock that looks like it was hijacked from the surface of Mars.
Approaching the ocean, its salty scent permeates the air. The temperature cools slightly and thickens with mist as waves of frothy seawater are pulverized against the enormous formations of dried lava along the shoreline. Saltwater spray settles on the surface of the pavement making things a bit slick, fortunately the Multistrada’s traction control and optional anti-lock braking system (ABS) provide a safety net if you get too greedy with the throttle or brakes. Nevertheless, if you are one of those riders who enjoy getting the bike squirrelly, you’ll be happy to know that you can easily disable both features. While the asphalt is smooth and well-marked, run-off room is non-existent, so to avoid impaling yourself on an ocean of sharp volcanic rock it’s crucial to ride within your abilities, for the consequences of running off the road will certainly be messy.
The road winds relentlessly, following the serrated coastline. With so many inviting curves it’s hard to resist mashing the throttle and rushing forward past Mother Nature’s magnificence. But every few turns, out of the corner of your eye, you’ll catch the glimpse of a giant wave smashing against the shore, and for a moment it’s gorgeous enough to steal your attention, forcing you to let up… but only for a second.
Ahead a colossal cliff looms over a portion of the road. Over many years, wind and water have carved this giant monument, whittling the sides of it into dagger-like shards. Known as El Charco de los Clicos, this cliff wraps around concealing the remnants of a collapsed volcanic crater-turned-lagoon, filled with emerald-colored water, a result of the
algae that thrive inside. The lagoon is sandwiched between dark hues of gray sand creating an unusual visual contrast. In fact, this exact location is where ‘60s super-babe, Raquel Welch, posed for the classic film, One Million Years B.C.
From here we cut back inland toward the small town of Yaiza. On our way the road opens up allowing us to explore the character of the Multistrada’s retuned liquid-cooled 1199cc L-Twin Superbike engine. In the motorcycling world, normally the word “retuned” means slow, but with Sport mode selected even the slightest tug of the throttle results in a sturdy blast of acceleration. Stand on the twist grip a little longer and the front wheel claws for the sky, reaffirming that you are at the controls of a Ducati.
The sea of lava rock finally gives way to ordinary pasture as we pass through the edge of town. It’s crazy to think that if the lava kept spewing only a few hundred yards more this town might not be here today. From Yaiza we motor north across another encompassing expanse of lava rock and
The road curved endlessly along the coast where waves would sporadically crash against the exposed cliffs.
onward toward the menacing Montañas del Fuego (Mountains of Fire) – one of the most fascinating sections of Lanzarote.
This chain of dormant volcanoes last erupted more than 185 years ago creating the alien landscape of red, black and gray ultra-fine sand, and equally colorful rock formations. The terrain is so foreign it makes you feel like you’re another planet. Occasionally, you’ll see a tiny tree fighting its way through the desolate rocks, proving how immensely fertile the soil really is. This area has become annexed as the Timanfaya National Park, which is amusing considering that stone-hard lava remnants aren’t something one would assume needs preserving.
A narrow road off the main highway leads you up to the Islote de Hilario, the summit of the park. For a nominal fee you can take part in a guided English- or Spanish-speaking tour in a bus.If you’re really adventurous, you can explore the park atop a camel like they did way back before the advent of the internal combustion engine. During the course of the tour, workers demonstrate how “dormant” the volcanoes are by tossing dry brush into a small hole in the ground, no more than six-feet deep so the tourists can see it ignite instantly. In fact, you can scoop up a handful of soil with your hand and barely hold it due to its temperature. Another amazing spectacle is when a bucket of water is poured into those same vents. Within seconds it explodes with a loud bang and a big poof of steam, which startles me when one of the aqua bombs goes off while I am snapping photos. Despite standing on a volcanic time bomb, there aren’t any strange sulfur smells. Perhaps that’s because of the constant breeze off the ocean only a couple miles away.
Local workers demonstrated how these ‘dormant’ volcanoes are capable of igniting small brush and releasing large amounts of steam.
Also at the summit is a brilliantly-designed restaurant, fittingly named El Diablo. Modeled by Lanzarote’s esteemed son, artist and architect César Manrique, the restaurant makes use of a large geothermal barbeque in which food is placed over a grill and cooked by the earth’s own heat. The grill is maybe 25 feet above a cavernous fissure in the ground and if you look closely you can actually see lava bubbling below. It’s so toasty you can only have part of your body over it for a few seconds before it becomes uncomfortably hot. Inside the restaurant features huge glass windows which give extraordinary 360-degree panoramic views of the entire island, views that intensify at sunset.
Back on the road heading toward the center of the island, the lunar-like landscape again gives way to earthly pasture as we near Teguise. It feels like I’m returning to Earth as the horizon is littered with colorful tones against a clear blue sky. Farms are plentiful here and it’s especially interesting how local farmers build short one- to two-foot stone retaining walls to help protect crops from the strong winds that frequently blow across the land. I rocket through the countryside pointing the Multi to the mountains in the north. Even though the road is
mostly straight with excellent visibility, I maintain a reasonable cruising speed, mindful of the many road-pedaling cyclists that are on their own explorations.
Considering the island’s diminutive geographical size, one can easily visit a good portion of it in a single day, and by lunchtime we had already reached the northernmost city of Orzola. With our fuel tanks nearly depleted, we pull into the seaside Restaurante El Norte for some refueling. Considering the proximity to the ocean, seafood is one of the primary staples of the local cuisine. And since the culture is so heavily influenced by Spain, much of the food is comparable to what you’d experience in coastal areas there. If you aren’t a fish lover, there’s a good chance you’ll be a little lighter upon returning home. If you do enjoy seafood, prepare for some serious caloric consumption. During lunch my favorite dish was this ceviche-style seafood mixture with squid and some other sort of mystery fish – delicious! I dined outside basking in the 70-degree coastal air while taking in the sights of the marina to the east and the rugged line of mountains to the west. Like most of Europe, no meal here is complete without a strong shot of caffeine, or if you’re me, three shots of espresso to get both the brain and stomach back up to speed.
And back up to speed we are within minutes of lifting up the kickstand. Our Ducati-riding troupe negotiates one of the island’s only poorly paved roads. The farther we climb the narrower the road gets, eventually becoming just one lane. Stone walls on either side add an element of danger, Isle of Man-style, making you feel like you’re riding faster than you probably are. At first the more forgiving suspension settings are appreciated given all the bumps along the route, but soon enough the road begins to sweep back and forth. Speed increases with the bends taken in third or fourth gear. It’s this pace that overwhelms the damping capabilities of the suspension. No worries, though, because the S model I’m piloting offers electronic suspension adjustment. By pushing the handlebar-mounted button you can tune its characteristics to suit your preference. I choose Sport mode with passenger and full luggage option. This adds maximum tension to the rear shock spring and slows down compression and rebound damping circuits fore and aft. This permits the Duc to be ridden more aggressively without having to worry about the chassis wallowing, squatting or diving excessively. If it were only this quick and easy to alter the handling performance of other sport motorcycles!
More visual treats are in store as we reach the top, courtesy of another brilliant example of César Manrique’s artistic genius. Developed in the 1970s, the Mirador del Rio is one of the most impressive vantage points on the island! Here you stand roughly 1500 feet atop a vertical cliff that overlooks the beach and the islands of Graciosa as well as its neighbor, the Isla de Montana Clara. Similar to the setup atop Islote de Hilario, a swanky restaurant is on-site so visitors can enjoy a meal while gazing out over the ocean. The view is so gorgeous that you could easily spend hours just basking in the scenery, but alas, with the sun creeping lower in the sky it’s time to motor on.
The S model we piloted offered electronic suspension adjustment. By the push of a button on the handlebars you could tune its characteristics to suit your preference.
Back on the main highway (LZ-10) we return south toward the palm tree-laden jungles of Haria. The palms are said to have been planted to mark the birth of a child. A baby girl gets one tree, while two are planted for a boy. This town is interesting in the fact that it is set within a thriving green valley surrounded on all sides by hills covered with vegetation. After spending most the day in the arid regions, the paradox this oasis offers between the southern Mediterranean countryside and that of the Martian surroundings within Timanfaya is incredible. Similar to most of Europe, the buildings are well-kept, but appear old in design. It’s also interesting how each and every structure is painted bright white, no doubt to try and reflect some of the excess heat radiated by the sun.
Yet another epic panorama waits as I ascend the road toward the island’s tallest mountain range. A narrow stone ledge runs alongside the road right before it curves 180-degrees. Hop over the short retaining wall and the only thing holding you back from plunging to the ground some hundred feet below is your own sense of balance. From this angle you can better appreciate the entire basin. Fields are rich with crops adjacent to the white roofs of Haria. Twin volcanoes loom in the distance and are flanked by the hazy blue waters of the Atlantic. It’s so rich with green color that from this angle it feels like you’re looking down at a jungle village in Southeast Asia.
More sharp bends are in store as we motor towards the peak. Given the narrowness of the road, steep drop-offs, blind corners and relatively heavy traffic, this section of road is without question the most dangerous of the trip. The road is barely wide enough for two compact Euro-style cars, so when you come face to face with a fast-moving bus filled with tourists, you realize it’s in your best interest to ride with caution to avoid becoming part of the landscape.
Playa de Farma beach is located on the northwest side of the island and stretches alomost four mile from north to south.
Just a few miles to the west lay one of the island’s primo opportunities to play in the sand or catch a wave, the Playa de Famara. The beach is located on the northwest quadrant of the island and stretches almost four miles from north to south, giving you plenty of room to frolic in the sand with the mountain we’ve been riding as the backdrop.
Environmental sustainability is a recurring theme on the island, evident by how immaculately kept it is and the presence of Los Valle’s wind farms just ahead. Situated in the mountain’s highest plateaus, the wind farms make use of one of Lanzarote’s most abundant natural resources. A set of tall, white poles, each with their own oversized propeller, converts the sea breeze into electric energy used to power parts of the island. These eolicos (Spanish for windmill) are laid across the hills in an aesthetically pleasing array.
The sun is straight ahead of us as we loop down towards the flat plains. Here the engine’s wide torque curve helps make quick work of the occasional car we come upon. As the stretches of asphalt open up ahead, it’s hard to resist pinning the throttle and zooming across the scenery, but again your eyes are drawn to the sides, wanting to absorb every last bit of Lanzarote’s beauty. It’s like it steals the thought of speed from your mind, forcing you to slow just so y