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Bringing a blast of Irish music to Lanzarote

TANNED faces contrast whitewashed walls and the slap of dominoes on worn wood keeps the beat on a warm Canaries night. Money appears to be changing hands in the gaming corner but it’s rude to stare and so I’m finding the systems and handovers hard to follow. And anyways, we have our own business to attend to: the hair of a particularly vicious dog and an unpleasant post mortem.

Sean Hoskins

Did you hear the one about the kiwi chancer playing trad Irish music in the Canaries for St Patrick’s Day? It has a great punch line of sunburn and happy hangovers but during the moments described all seemed lost.

A hook up of a hook up saw three Irishman and myself play a series of St Patrick’s gigs in what has become a favorite haunt of the Celtic Tigers kittens, the volcanic island of Lanzarote. Unfortunately the all-expenses-paid buzz of it went to our heads. After a successful first gig and many free pints at Mulligans Bar in Puerto del Carmen’s Old Town we jumped the gun and did a shambolic set at another joint we were due to play the following night.

The heavy call came the next day…the owner had pulled the gig. So we shuffled hanging heads to the Puerto del Carmen Bar to drink with the locals. But even the rightly accused find it hard to stay down in the warm night air 70 miles off the coast of Africa…as the old boys slapped their dominoes down, all macho Hispanic at the corner table, we mulled it over and gradually talked ourselves out of culpability.
The cool Spanish lager helped too and took the heat out of bodies not used to the hot sun we’d enjoyed that day on a trip round the island.

Lanzarote is just 60 kilometers long and 20 wide with most of the bovine tourist activity confined to a few square clicks on the coast. Head inland and the sun-burnt bellies and boobs of over the hill Brits and Irish give way to the less-reddened curves of a volcanic landscape.

The Bad Examples, as we became known, descended on the village of Yaiza for a fortifying late breakfast of fried baby squid followed by fried goat and garlic, both stinky and good. The settlement survived a 1730 eruption on the island, vividly recorded by the parish priest who described huge mountains of fire erupting from the “bowels of the earth” and repeated evacuations by terrified villagers. Eventually the catastrophic convulsions stopped and life crept back, closer and further up the sides of still smoking and barren mountains.

Today a bus tour through the Timafaya National Park’s Montanas del fuego reveals a tortured landscape where vultures nest in dormant craters, lichens cling to burnt rock and where once molten lava hangs and flows in drips and runnels, hardened in transit but looking ready to roll again.

The landscape lends itself to apocalyptic visions, including the cinematic classic Planet of the Apes, filmed after Charlton Heston arrived in the late sixties with his masculine jaw and a ton crate of gorilla suits. Further back still the hermit Hillario took to wandering the barren territories with just a camel for company. He planted an olive tree on one of the volcanic summits that took root but never flowered due to the intense heat coming from the earth around it.  The tree’s skeleton remains, now a centerpiece to the tastefully constructed visitor center restaurant where tourists can sample fare from a true Hell’s Kitchen. Chefs cook mouth-watering meat dishes over volcanic heat rising from a shaft sunk into the mountain’s side.

All very impressive and doubly entertaining with commentary in broad Tipperary from fiddler Ned, a hard case farmer who runs his Audi on vege oil from Tesco.

On from Timafaya we stopped our Renault at yet another whitewashed village to pick up bottles of Dorado beer. The store was tiny and whiffed of belly-grumbling homemade goats cheese, dried sardines from the Atlantic, sun-cured dates still on the twig and curious jars of what appeared to be preserved limpets. Humming The Athol Highlanders through mouthfuls of beer we then hit one of Lanzarote’s fine and not-too crowded beaches where big Ned startled topless Europeans with happy cursing at the pleasantness of it all.

The water was clear and fresh and we dilly-dallied accordingly, running out of time to see the world’s longest lava tunnel, a subterranean concert hall and packs of blind albino cave crabs. Heading back to camp we did managed to pass through the village of Guatiza which specializes in the cultivation of the prickly pear, home to cochineal insects used in cosmetics.

Meet the mayor

Back at Club Flamingo in Puerto Del Carmen we practised poolside…a rake of jigs, reels and hornpipes as well as ballads ala The Dubliners and some beat-heavy Pogues numbers.  The tanorexic pool tenants stared with curiosity; apart from the fiddles etc we stood out like sore thumbs with our Dublin pub tans of creamy white. The auld ones took to us and the next day visited the marquee on one of Puerto Del Carmen’s beachfronts where the first public St Patrick’s celebration in the Canaries took place.

The Irish, more red that green in Lanzarote, were out in force and joined by curious locals and tourists of all nationalities. The Bad Examples had a picture taken with the Mayor of Puerto del Carmen and we ripped and rollicked our way through the tunes until dark. Guilt over our earlier informal show gradually evaporated and then completely disappeared when the bar owner who’d blacklisted us invited us back to his pub for conciliatory gig. The last set of the night was a sure thing, an easy number in front of the well-lubricated crowd and we continued well into the night after our agent disappeared from the mixing desk, last seen lurching doorward in a sweat-stained leprechaun suit. That led to a mad taxi-hopping sequence as we dashed around the town searching bars for himself and his pot of gold. We gave up at 3am, too tired to care whether or not we had our fee or plane tickets for a dawn check-in at Lanzarote airport. But yer man came through, bursting into our room at 5am all wild-eyed with a fistful of banknotes and the tickets.

A couple of hours later, Dublin-bound with red eyes behind cheap Lanzarote aviators, I reclined my seat and said a silent “cheers, good craic, Kia Ora” to the interesting isle.

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