The Green Flash in Lanzarote

We were staying in a small rented apartment in a collection of the same at Playa Blanca, on the Southern end of the volcanic island of Lanzarote in the Canary island archipelago.

On arriving at our accommodation I had admired the black-brown ash covered cone behind our accommodation, not that far away. Without any vegetation or discernible feature it was difficult to judge distance to it or it’s height, but it looked like an extinct volcano cone - and they were big, right?

I instantly liked the look of it and wanted to climb it.

Our week’s holiday sped by, enjoying visiting all the usual places of Lanzarote: Timanfaya, Gemeos del agua, Mirador del Rio, black volcanic sand beaches, César Manrique Foundation (my favorite), etc.

Each night we arrived home in our rented white, two-door, Opel Corsa (it seemed, identical to a thousand others on the island!), tired, or with a plan for the evening, or too late to contemplate a volcano climb of unknown duration and difficulty.

But every morning and every night it was still there, waiting for me.

When arriving home or rising in the morning I would open the shutters to our bedroom and contemplate it, trying to discern how far away it was and how high it could be, and imagine how long it would take to climb.

The week passed, and it hadn’t been climbed. Like a nagging chore it was always waiting for you when you get home - but one you want to do - but without time to tackle it.

Our last night there cam around. Our flight was the next morning, and it was time to pack, and I hadn’t gone near it.

But it was still there, waiting for me.

Lanzarote must be one of the best places in the world in which to sleep, day or night, with an almost constant 23deg Celsius, moderate humidity and a gentle breeze day and night. Just enough to keep you cool despite sleeping in shorts only accompanied by the soothing movement of the curtains beside the bed, with the windows open and the window shutters closed.

But this night I couldn’t sleep. Although I couldn’t see it from my bed, I knew it was there, just behind my shutters if I threw them open, looming in the darkness.

Darker than the night itself, it beckoned.

Four AM and I couldn’t take it any longer. I calculated it could take 2-3h to climb and 1-2 to descend, leaving just enough time to get back and catch our flight if I left immediately.

I slipped on my running shoes, a tee-shirt, grabbed my camera and car keys and slipped out the door and down the zig-zag path to the car pack and the ubiquitous white Corsa!

On one occasion on the island I had to try the car key in three or four identical cars, all from the same hire car company, before finding which one was ours - but this time I knew which to chose and got going quickly.

I parked at the base of the hill and followed a path of smoother texture cinder that seemed to meander upwards. With no vegetation or obstacles I could have taken any route, but why not follow this “path”?

Concerned I wouldn’t have time, I didn’t loiter and pressed on upwards quickly in the darkness.

After a while I could see I was making good progress and nearing the top - much faster than I had expected.

When I reached the top, only forty minutes had passed and it was still before sunrise, although it was visible lighter.

The lack of scale had made it look much bigger than it really was!

It was getting light and sunrise approached. I settled into position, camera at the ready to capture the first rays of light of our last day on the island.

I sat with the viewfinder pressed to my eye, finger on the shutter button, waiting for the disk to appear.

As the Sun started to creep it’s way above the horizon over the sea to the East I was surprised by a green flash of light at the instance it first appeared!

It was similar to the laser lighting effect used in discos, where a scanning laser beam forms a plane of light that moves upwards until the plane of light meets your eyesight. They coincide in a sudden flash of light as the laser points directly at your eyes for an instance. Instantly returning to the less visible plane of light as viewed at an angle.

Unsure what I had seen or what had happened I instinctively took my eye off the viewfinder and at the sun looked around the camera, as if to avoid being tricked by the lens or viewfinder.

But there was nothing special to see, except the rising orange disk of sun.

I took my photos and skipped back down the hard-packed cinder path to the car, the white bleached apartment against the black volcanic background, my waiting packed bags and our flight home.

Years later when I heard of the phenomenon, I think either from a film or in someone else’s conversation, I jumped!

I had seen that! What did you say it was? Yes, that’s it, that’s what I saw!

The description: “As the sun rises (or sets), more common nearer the equator (Lanzarote below 30degrees North) and over the sea in certain meteorological conditions. Easier to see at slightly more elevated viewing positions.”

Looking back, I see that my determination to climb the volcano (independently of how big it looked, and how small it really was!) and my unwillingness to leave that chore unfinished lead and my early rise was rewarded with a special natural phenomena.

With difficulty I could seek it out and find it, and I will probably never see it again. That Green Flash.

Written on September 7, 2006