Lost, and Sadly Found, Amid the Cactus Fields of Macaronesia

By William J. Furney

Resources are scarce on these Macaronesian islands. There is no rain, and life — plant and animal — clings on, desperately hoping for some kind of respite, a chance to survive against the overwhelmingly harsh odds. Mostly it doesn’t come.

These are lands, as Karen Blixen wrote in Out of Africa, that have no fat on them, and are the result of volcanic eruptions whose craggy trails still run down into the sea and where survival is, indeed, an incredible challenge. 

Yet abundant cactus fields sprout and blossom in the mineral-rich soil, and men walk the winding and deserted coastal roads to a day’s work in the blistering sun, just as a trio was doing early this morning while I was out running (below) on the scenic stretches of underused asphalt. A neighbouring island, La Graciosa, is famous for having no roads at all, and its approximately 700 people live in two tiny villages where they fish and cater to a smattering of gawking tourists.


#Running for my life (part of a story).

♬ original sound – wjfurney

And while the short ocean crossing to Africa brings a whole new world of hunger, starvation and dearth of resources too, here on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, there is no shortage of excess in the village I’ve been staying in for the past while. Its visiting and corpulent population is a visible sign of a hunger that is not only always satiated but to an extent that would make reasonable eyes pop. 

Anthony, my elderly, obese and naked Irish neighbour, invited me to dinner a few evenings ago. I declined, saying my diet was “restricted” and that I was sure the local restaurant wouldn’t have anything for me. That was half the truth; the other was I didn’t wish to spend my night with him — and not only because I could hardly make out what he was on about, due to his mumbling way of speaking. And I was not here to make new pals, as I wrote last week, amid a growing number of needy and overly friendly neighbours that now included a chatty Englishman, along with the existing, obese, smoking Frenchman, to the other side of my bungalow. 

Anthony looked at me with pity, over my dietary remark, as though I were ill; it prompted me to say the v-word.

“Tell me,” he insisted, as his massive frame inched forward, “What’s the difference between vegetarian and vegan?”

Sometimes it feels like it’s an entire and endless duty to educate the meat-chomping masses. 

But I would do my bit, again. I have found that everyone has the power to change lives, for the better, and even the most fleeting of chats and information delivered can have profound and lasting effects. 

“Vegetarians eat animal products, like eggs and dairy, and vegans don’t — not even honey.”

“Honey, really?”

“It’s the result of bees’ labour, so no. And it’s also a lifestyle choice, and making an effort to reduce your carbon footprint. All these massive storms and climate change, and people driving around in multiple cars and eating meat and dairy — the largest CO2 emitters — and thinking everything is fine. It’s not.” 

I also believed my diet boosted my health, running and overall fitness, and drastically slashed recovery times from my almost daily long runs, I told Anthony.

“But what do you eat?” he pressed on.

I felt like I was educating a child.

“Tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables — nothing over-processed; as natural as possible.”

Ultimately, it’s about cruelty — the unnecessary suffering and death of our fellow sentient beings — although I didn’t get around to expressing that.

I didn’t dare tell this portly man with an undoubted sweet tooth that I gave up sugar years ago.

Lazy Daze: If this Lanzarote town’s name had an “s” at the end of it, it would mean “lazy” in Indonesian, and that would aptly describe the slothy, portly and obese residents of the nearby village I’ve been staying at. (Photo: William J. Furney)

I made major efforts again this week to avoid the community of giant, instant neighbour-friends I had reluctantly become part of, but sometimes there was no getting away from them. Their incessant neediness was shattering my blissful solitary solace; their constant chat-attempts were destroying my zen and spirituality in this otherwise remote place of calm. The waves were not the only things crashing up around me. 

Just as I was starting to breathe easier, as it was departure day for Anthony and I thought he had left as a maid was cleaning his bungalow, he popped up at my door to elbow-bump and say adiós — and give me his email and phone number so we could stay in touch. “It’s a pity we didn’t share some wine in the evenings,” he said. 

But I was slightly saddened, because Anthony said he was so happy in this isolated, rocky place that he was planning to come back next year. 

Sad because you had to wait 12 months for enjoyment, to be somewhere you really liked and wanted to spend your time. Whereas I can travel the world at will and be wherever I like. Lifetimes are limited and I don’t believe in waiting. 

Cactired: Sadly, these cacti have decided there’s no reason for going on, amid a dearth of resources, like water, and have given up all hope of surviving in this desolate and desperate place. (Photo: William J. Furney)

I went for my second run of the day — another hour in the high heat, but immensely enjoyable — and when I came back and went to the rock pool in front of my place, the Englishman, typically with lobster-skin from the sun, plopped his stuff beside me and said he had not had a single covid jab, because he didn’t believe in it. “Shall I move away from you?” he asked in jest. 


  • Title photograph by William J. Furney.