Who would try to farm in the desert? And, what's more, a desert created not just by drought but by volcanoes? You'd need to head to Lanzarote for that.
Lanzarote has had more than its fair share of volcanic eruptions. The most recent were in the nineteenth century though they reckon they're all dormant now (fingers crossed) but the most spectacular and devastating took place in the eighteenth century. For six years from 1730, more than 100 volcanoes delivered a series of eruptions that forced the inhabitants to flee and covered the island in molten ash and volcanic rock. Because there's no rain (or virtually no rain, anyway, around 20 days a year if they're lucky), there's no erosion and so it all looks pretty much the same almost 300 years on. In the Timanfaya National Park, there are holes in the ground – literal hot spots – where fire seems to combust spontaneously. The locals play tricks for visitors with "geysers" too where steam is encouraged out of blow holes.
You can see the beginnings of lichen coating some of the black volcanic hillsides in the national park – but it has taken the best part of three centuries for even this modest sign of vegetative life to take hold. So, to go back to my original question: who would farm here? Well, there is, in fact, a remarkable organic farm here, Finca de Uga, that supplies produce for its hotel, Princess Yaiza, on the southern coast in Playa Blanca – where the white sand is something to marvel at on this island where most beaches are black.
Their secret is that they have an underground channel of sea water that comes to this particular spot – and which they then desalinate to use on the farm. Volcanic soil is a pretty fertile place for most plants to grow. All they needed was the water. The finca grows plenty of fruit and veg – papaya, salads, tomatoes, avocados and an East Asian fruit known as the Buddha's Hand.
And then there are the animals. Goats, sheep and cows – to my surprise, Jerseys with their soulful eyes lie on the sand under shade trees – produce a great variety of handmade cheese. Then there are the pigs. Now clearly pigs aren't big on producing dairy and the more sensitive among those visiting the finca with me were shocked at the idea of eating these little cuties. Especially when it turned out suckling pig was on the menu that night at Princess Yaiza.
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