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Most of the tourist shops of Las Palmas and neighboring Tenerife are run by East Indians who sell the metallic threaded bags with which their cousins have glutted the market in New York and San Francisco, ivory curios and, of course, walking dolls. But there is no buy for a man like the hand-tailored suits which are made by Canary tailors in three days at prices that beat even Hong Kong. Sanchiz at Triana No. 55 and Cardenes at Triana No. 108 will copy any suit you own, using Spanish or English woolens. The price, at $35.20, is hardly arguable.
In a trim little quartier of pink, blue and orange domiciles is Columbus House, the former governor's mansion where Columbus stayed during his sojourns in the Canaries. Relics of the earliest days of the islands are on view at the Canary Museum, which delights in its skull collection, advertised as the world's largest. There are over 2,000 crania on public view, stored neatly in cases, 11 skulls high, all ranged according to types.
The trip to the island of Lanzarote, an hour by Iberia's DC-3, is the most fascinating of all excursions in the Canaries. Here, where the first Spaniards landed, the women still bind their faces in white cloth, cover their heads with huge straw hats, wear long-sleeved blouses with floppy wristlets, cover their hands with white gloves and in this costume work the meager land, tossing seeds into the volcanic ash that is the island's soil, trudging behind their husbands, who dig the furrows with a camel and a wooden plow. When I was on Lanzarote it had rained two months before, and that had been the first rain in 14 months' time. And yet, figs and grapes grow in the pulverized black lava, flowers bloom and onions are harvested in the spring and exported to Britain and Scandinavia.
Some 200 craters blister the landscape of Lanzarote, many of them blown suddenly out of fertile fields in the fantastic eruption of 1730, a volcanic unrest that lasted for six years, buried four villages and covered a fifth of all the island with ragged black lava. Islanders chopped away at the gray rock, found the earth again and planted it with new seed. The lava ash, they found, takes the evening dew and contains it and protects it from the next day's hot sun. And so grapes grow, and purple bougainvillaea, geraniums, palm trees, guavas, and even orange trees, growing without trunks, like bushes, the branches spreading in depressed potholes, secure from the hot winds that blow out of Africa.
Wealthy islanders have villas in the country, built of lava stone and painted white. But the lawn is black ash with brilliant flowering bushes growing out of the cinders. Pretty young daughters with blue eyes, dressed always in their white-hooded Mother Hubbard hats, hide behind the pillars and titter self-consciously. Then suddenly the last house of the habitable earth is passed, and then, where man has not chopped away what the earth disgorged two centuries ago, there is only the jagged lava, a wind-tossed black sea suddenly stopped and petrified in mid-motion, running out to the horizon. A camel or a car will take you up a 200-year-old range called the Fire Mountains and, although there is no visible fissure in the earth, the gravel is warm, and in a fire hole you can fry an egg or watch an armful of brush burst in one minute into excited flame.
On the moon island of Lanzarote it is a day's outing to drive south to El Golfo, a weird nook by the sea walled in by a queer semicircle of stratified rock, and a maroon hill that runs down to a coal-colored beach. Behind the beach is an emerald lagoon. Herons that float in on white wings use it as a way station, and swimmers who have never plumbed its depths use it as a pool. There is a picnic table tucked in a red rock cave. Six miles away there is hunting for black African duck in the salt flats of Salinas deJanubio. The season is open the year round and all that is needed is permission of the salt flat owner, one Jaimen Lleo. As for the salt which is reduced from the sea water, most of it is sold to preserve the corbina, a codlike fish that is caught by Lanzarote fishermen in six-month excursions off the African coast, dried and salted, then sold to natives of the Belgian Congo, much as Nova Scotia salts cod and sells it to the West Indies.
The center of all excursions on Lanzarote is its pleasant little parador which decorates the harbor's edges in Arrecife, a metropolis of 14,000 people, nearly half the island's total population. This year it has redone most of its rooms, and a suite with waterside terrace and private bath, plus full board, tips and taxes will come to $3.80 a day. Tables are set up along the private tiled dock. A call for hors d'oeuvres will bring 10 dishes, among them mero, olives stuffed with anchovies, potato chips and cold pickled barnacles. Sixteen cents will buy you a half bottle of Canary wine, white, strong and sweet, and many times mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare.
From the parador dock a charter boat ($10 for boat and crew) sails out for tuna and bonito, working the waters off the African coast. The ocean is so clear—the bottom is paved with lava—that fishermen do best in 300 feet of water. And the lines must be heavy to contend with manta rays that run upward of 600 pounds.
But the very clarity of the water that forces rod fishermen into extreme depths is what makes Lanzarote and its offshore satellite islands a dreamland for skin-divers. Off its northern end is Graciosa, a roadless island where fishermen live. Offshore from it are the islets of Monta�a Clara, Alegranza, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Infierno where old birds go to die. Montana Clara has two families, one the lighthouse keeper, one a goat herder. It is also a nesting place for the pardela, a bird that is hunted by torchlight for the meat which is salted and sold, and the feathers which are dandy for hats. Alegranza is privately owned. It is the channels between the islands that skin-divers say are among the best hunting grounds in the world. Although a charter boat can take skin-divers from the Arrecife parador to Graciosa, it is faster to go in one hour by car to the end of Lanzarote, in one hour by boat to Graciosa, and in one hour by camel across roadless Graciosa to Playa La Concha, the island beach.
There is a pension on Graciosa owned by an entrepreneur named Jorge Toledo, who is also captain of the charter boat, operator of the island radio, postman and mayor. The car across Lanzarote costs $6, Jorge gets $10 a day for the boat, and the camel costs $1 for two people, round trip.