The Best Little Shop in the World

By William J. Furney

The only store in the tiny village in Lanzarote I’ve been staying in for the last few weeks has little on its shelves. And what’s there is in a tragic state of decay.

Fruit and vegetables are rotting; bread is covered in mould; and I grabbed the solitary can of peas. 

It’s a good thing there’s not a pandemic and a charge to buy all you can, because here, in this onion-roofed building that also houses a shuttered bar, there’s precious little to scoop up.

The shopkeeper, a local man, and I have become friendly; this is because I am sure I’m his best customer. I’ve spent hundreds, even though the offerings are less-than-expected, and some an actual shock; but the nearest good supermarket is many miles away and I don’t have a car — partly because I, bred in the British Isles, don’t know how to drive on the right but mostly because I don’t wish to pollute the already imperilled environment with unnecessary trips that chuck even more greenhouse gases into an overheating world. 

So my part-time shopkeeper does it all for me, and I’m grateful, despite the sky-high prices. His shop, in the nudist village of Charco del Palo on the northeastern coast of the volcanic Spanish island of Lanzarote, closes at 2pm, but as no one here works — apart from me, an apparent “digital nomad” — why would you need to stay open all day when you can get what you need in your carefree morning? 

Who needs to shop in the afternoon, evening or even night when you can kick back in your hammock or sun lounger or dive into the rockpools or sea?

Hidden Gems: The only shop in Charco del Palo had some surprises, like this aubergine, or eggplant, hummus. (Photo: William J. Furney)

Despite the scant ingredients, I still managed to whip up delicious dinners and other meals (below) — proving that you don’t need a lot to make a lot and that the basics are often best.

I reported in my previous dispatch from this barren and desolate place of particular beauty that my obese neighbours, one by one, departed, forlornly, back to their sun-starved and fully clothed homelands. And then a whole new shock transpired: brash and loud Spanish neighbours, a young couple who slammed kitchen cabinet doors, scraped tables and shuffled chairs from early in the morning to late at night, and spoke at volume. 

Several times I hollered “mucho ruido”, to no avail. They were lost in their insulated world of unending chaos. 

Myself, I make stringent efforts to avoid noise and disorder, preferring the solitude of quiet and tranquility. 

I went for another early morning run, before my taxi arrived to take me to the airport, for the brief, 45-minute flight to Gran Canaria, two islands away, and witnessed a sight as I left my bungalow: an obese, naked man helping an equally starkers, large woman, who may have been his wife, along the craggy ocean path, she using a zimmer frame and both appearing in their late 70s or more, and he wearing a cockring. And I thought to myself: this is how to live and enjoy your life, even as it nears the end — doing what you want and not caring what anyone thinks. 

Isaac, my driver, turned up not long afterwards, in a taxi that was about as big as him. All my road transportations on this multi-island trip over the last month have been these massive vans with cavernous spaces at the back for wheelchairs, and it seemed to me that this was because of tourists’ enormous size. 

I wondered how morbidly obese Isaac might fit into the driver’s seat, but he managed to manouver and squeeze himself into position, without much of a worry, or effort. He was from Andalucia, in southern mainland Spain, and married to a local woman, and loved travelling, he disclosed, having been to Canada just before the pandemic — “la pandemia” here — struck. 

“Este es un pueblo desnudo,” I said to Isaac as we left the nudist village and an elderly, inflated man teetered on the lane in front of us, barely able to make out where he was going and perhaps not even sure where. Some of the oversized, temporary residents seemed to be in a constant state of confusion. One gigantic, old man had a habit of perching himself on a rock in front of my place — sans vêtements — and puffing on cigarettes as he watched me do early morning workouts. 

If there’s one thing you can say with absolute certainty about this place, it’s that it would be a commercial disaster for a clothes shop to suddenly open up — never mind the calamity of the half food store that’s here. 

Isaac told me he frequently travelled by the small inter-island planes (with their tiny seats) to Gran Canaria, to get medical treatment — all paid for, including his flights, by the government. I wanted to probe about his condition, but our conversation was repeatedly interrupted by a fast-talking female caller who was distraught that she’d missed the bus to university and was looking for transport. 

And it was a brief ride, as the airport was less than half an hour away, and as we pulled up, two ambulances were parked outside the departure doors. A while later, as I waited to check in, multiple emergency medical staff wheeled an unconscious woman out. 

This month-long trip that had earlier taken me to Fuerteventura taught me to appreciate absolutely everything, from your health right down to the only little shop in the village — something I did the next day, in the well-stocked and fresh-produce aisles of my local supermarket. 

  • The main photograph shows a commercial center that houses the sole shop in Charco del Palo, Lanzarote. (Credit: William J. Furney)