Magic at the 2023 Sisters in the Wild Lanzarote Gravel Camp
Earlier this year, 40 bikepackers met up on the sunny island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands for a five-day, mixed-terrain group ride as part of the 2023 Sisters in the Wild Lanzarote Gravel Camp. Find a colorful selection of photos, a recap from the event organizer, and a reflection from one of the attendees here…
Introduction by Charlotte Inman, photos by Slawa Walczak and Weronika Szales
The seeds for a Lanzarote Gravel Camp were planted in 2021 while riding Matteo Minelli’s Gran Guanche bikepacking route across the Canary Islands. Craving an escape from the UK winter, I stumbled across this island-hopping that starts in the north of Lanzarote. This place was familiar to me, but not for reasons of wilderness seeking and exploration. As a kid, my dad would take us south every couple of years for a week of sun, sea, and sand in one of its many identical tourist resorts. My memories of those trips are special, but I knew nothing of the vast, empty landscapes that were outside the perimeter of the resorts, where whitewashed hotels stopped abruptly when construction money ran out.
Four days of riding across Lanzarote shook every perception I had of this tiny Spanish island in the Atlantic Ocean. The landscapes felt neither like the Spain I knew or the West African counties that sat only miles across the ocean. It was a lunar world unlike anything I’d seen before. As we followed the Gran Guanche route, I saw gravel tracks head off in every direction. Some cut through black lava, other skirted wild coastline or criss-crossed dunes rising from the sea. The elevation was manageable, the terrain perfect for a gravel bike, and though villages were never far away, it felt like true wilderness just beyond them.
I knew this would be an incredible place to bring a group of Sisters in the Wild riders, but finding the right basecamp is just as important as finding good rides. We look for places where we can connect with each other and the land around us but find quiet and space amongst the togetherness. Somewhere we can cook and eat together outside, and ride from the door right into nature. Months of searching led to dead ends, until I connected with Spanish bikepacker Ana Zamorano Ruiz. Ana has an adventurous soul that attracts good people and a contagious inquisitiveness and excitement. I knew if anyone could find us a place, it would be her.
Friends of friends (of friends) introduced Ana to Joan, a steward of a unique finca that stands alone in the middle of the island. Over months of phone calls, Joan and I worked out a way to turn his finca into a basecamp for 40 women and non-binary bikepackers.
Joan is uniquely connected to the land he lives in, and the people who live on it. He understands the resource limitations and the challenges faced by locals to live on the island. Water is shipped in and energy is carefully managed by solar panels and a back-up generator. Food is grown or traded where possible, and nothing is wasted. The finca becomes a temporary home to locals forced out of their homes when Airbnb becomes too tempting of an option for landlords to resist. Joan and I spend hours talking on the phone – about how we would manage showers to conserve water, how to charge everyone’s GPX units with the cycle of the sun, and fretting about what we’ll do if it rains. For me, this one is easier. “Then we’ll just get wet,” I insist. When we finally meet at the Finca in person, and we are like old friends and embrace warmly, both excited to be here and making this happen.
Finca Tisalay sits on the edge of Timanfaya National Park. At first glance, it’s a simple three-storey white painted house, standing alone in a beautiful setting. But look closer and you’ll see hidden inhabited corners of the black lava sand that surround it. A yurt where kids come after school to play in nature. A handbuilt pagoda that hosts celebrations and dances for local community groups. An underground cave made out of waste bottles and tyres—the place that Joan has made his home.
We ran two camps across the month of January, with the Komoot Women’s rally on the Gran Guanche Route sandwiched in between them. The energy of an island full of matriachal energy is palpable. Locals and tourists comment jovially on the scenes of dozens of laden bikes resting outside cafes, whilst their owners chat excitably over a cafe con leche. Local schoolgirls nervously come over to chat and leave giddy with ideas.
Our two camps are magical in their own ways. For our first, we are blessed with blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine, and we eat every meal outside. We swim at every opportunity, jumping straight into the ocean from the bike, wet cycling gear soon drying in the sun and the breeze. We huddle in the rare shade of a cactus, sharing stories of heartbreak and loss, then burst into giggles as we notice the dirt and tan lines that are impossible to distinguish between.
During our second, the Lanzarote winter Joan had warned us about made an appearance. We huddle together inside for dinner as winds batter at the old oak windows, elbows knocking together as we devour meals, and the high ceilings of the small dining room are filled with laughter and chatter. Some days we, feel like we’ve shared in a battle, fighting headwinds and successfully dodging storms. It was a challenge for everyone and bonded us together. When the sun did make an appearance, we relished every moment of the warmth on our skin.
Though the photos might suggest two wildly different experiences, the common themes prevail across both. Connection, personal challenge, friendship, confidence building. There are gentle moments and slow conversations that will be life-changing, and seeds of new friendships and adventures planted. This island is special place. We’ll be back.
Words by Katie Kaestner
As the bus I shared from the airport drove up the dirt road to the farm where Sisters in the Wild Gravel Camp in Lanzarote would take place, I was a bundle of emotions. I had never set foot in the Canary Islands, and the dark grey volcanic earth was mesmerising and alien. The landscape is dotted with shallow, dug-out wells, each protecting a single grapevine from the relentless wind. The sky goes on forever, and in all directions, you can see the remnants of this island’s fiery, volcanic past rising out of the landscape. I was nervous, too, I had been off my bike for what felt like an eternity, and as I scrolled through the routes on Komoot, I was aware that I might not have the long rides in my under-prepared little legs. I worried about pulling up the rear all weeked, which is pretty standard for me, but it never feels that great.
We checked in at the beautiful whitewashed finca, and I saw organizer Charlotte with her signature grin, and my anxiety melted away. I remembered that whetever happens, I was with Sisters in the Wild, and that meant there would be support and laughs and someone to ride with if I want it, regardless of how strong I’m feeling.
We set out that evening for a quick shakedown ride through the volcanic national park the finca sits in the middle of. It looked like another planet. I had rented a mountain bike and gleefully smashed my way over big rocks and through sand – it felt like driving a big Mack Truck in comparison to my gravel rig, and I was absolutely delighted with my decision to forgo flying with my own. After meandering through some farms and a short, gnarly, sandy climb on which most of the group got off to walk, we coasted down to the finca for dinner.
The next day’s route gave us the option to climb to the highest point on Lanzarote, and despite my fears, I went for it. I needed the reminder that I can actually do hard things, even if I’m the slowest. We climbed a long-dormant volcano and soared down the other side into the village of Teguise. The sun dipped in and out from behind the clouds and we pulled up nine chairs on the terrace of a little cafe called El Recovejo. Cinnamon churros, wrinkly potatoes (a Canarian specialty), grilled limpets in their shells, coffee, and decadent dulce de leche cake were shared as we braced for the climb up to Peñas del Chache, which sits 672 metres up from the waves below. It was a grind, but every pedal stroke was accompanied by gorgeous views of the coast and the Atlantic ocean and Karen, our guide, was always around for a breathless chat as I crawled my way up. I celebrated at the the viewpoint with a guava ice cream and turned back with two others who thought 50 kilometres and 880 metres of climbing was just about enough for one day, thankyouverymuch.
And this is how our days would go. Each day, we would split into two groups – Party Pace or Pacey Party – and spend our days exploring different corners of the island. I chose the former so I could stop as much as I want to take photos and just go with the flow, whilst some others headed out on longer, speedier rides. Our two groups would criss-cross each other, sharing cafe con leches and cerveza in villages, and eventually we’d all come back to basecamp for dinner, which was lovingly cooked by local chef Eva.
Eva is an unmissable woman – tiny in stature, with a mess of curls piled up on top of her head and a contagious smile. In a wonderful melange of English and Spanish, she talked us through the meal – noting every allergy and listing all the vegetables and legumes she used – sometimes looking up for one of us to shout a translation when she needed it. Every evening, we would come back to a delicious meal, Eva’s contagious grin and adorable Spanglish quips. Most of us would be in bed by 9:30, full of good food and happily exhausted by a long day of riding and being outdoors—and ready to it all again the next day.
I’ve ridden with Sisters in the Wild twice, and their first event got me into off-road riding in the first place. It’s a safe, joyful environment that encourages pushing yourself and respecting your boundaries at the same time. Magic, if you ask me.
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