Travel and Culture

Lanzarote: The hunt for Olivine

As a dedicated beachcomber, hunting for the semi precious stone Olivine was high on my list of ‘must-do’ activities in Lanzarote. Olivine is the birthstone for August. It is also known as peridot and the poor mans emerald. The El Golfo region of Lanzarote, only twenty minutes from where we were staying, is famed for the huge chunks of this green gemstone that are hidden within the black basalt.

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Years of erosion mean that the black sandy beaches in this region often glisten in the sunshine with particles of the green gem, ranging in size from a speck of dust to a grain of rice. Olivine, which gets it’s name from is deep olive green colour, is a common mineral in the earths substrate and  once on the earths surface it weathers quickly, .

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The Olivine found in this region of Lanzarote is apparently Mg-rich and is one of the most common types in the world. It is rumoured that Mg-rich Olivine also has extraterrestrial links! Apparently it has been found in meteorites, on the Moon and on Mars, I will leave it up to you to research that one!

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The black beach at Playa de Janubio, near Yaiza, is one of the best areas to find this gem. After parking up in a dusty carpark on the southern side of the beach we begin the short stroll the shoreline. Around us desolate buildings are all that remain of what must have been a residence of some description.

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The beach is located in front of the salt works. Squinting against the bright sun it is possible to make out pyramids of salt that have recently been harvested. Large manmade square reservoirs filled with liquid of varying shades of green, yellow, ochre, blue and white shimmer in the sun. The reflection from the whitest salty pools is blinding.

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Looking inland a large lagoon and several smaller pools separate the salt works from the beach. The view is fantastic. Glowing red mountains, set afire by the late afternoon sun, black rocks and boulders, black sand, all contrast against the vivid blue sky speckled with white fluffy clouds that are reflected in small pools of salt water.

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Against this background grow vibrant lime green succulents. It is hard to see how anything can grow in this salty and dusty environment, but somehow plants sprout from among the stones and position their leaves to absorb the sunlight.

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Walking towards the beach we have a sudden, rather surprising realisation. Everyone is naked. We have somehow stumbled across the local nudist beach. It is sparsely populated compared to some of the other beaches we have been to.  Couples lay on towels, their skin glowing against the deep black pebbles and dark sand.
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Towards the dunes the sand is fine and grey, but turn towards the ocean and walk to the waves and soon the sand becomes sharp and jagged, painful to walk on. Yet, this does not seem to put people off from strolling along the beach. Old men, naked as the day they were born, bend down picking up pebbles from the lapping waves. An elderly couple holding hands completely unfazed by stretch marks, sagging skin and drooping genitalia  paddle among the waves until the crashing foam reaches their knees. A young family, the woman resplendent with her post birth body and her partner holding a young baby, stroll along together. It is a beautiful sight and it feels so liberating to see people who are so completely at ease with their bodies. There is a wonderful feeling letting the sun touch parts of the body that are not normally exposed. It is indulgent, warming and freeing. One day maybe I will be brave enough to totally join them!
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Anyway, back to the search for Olivine! Within minutes of scanning the shore we have handfuls of rocks, each hiding green centres and miniscule shining shards of green glassy gems. The Olivine is everywhere, you just need to have a close look. Each time the tide recedes more fragments are exposed. A hunt among the larger pebbles reveals slightly bigger pieces of Olivine encased within black crusts of basalt. It seems as though almost every large rock on the shore-side has the green gem enclosed inside it.
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For those that are interested in the scientific composition of Olivine, Wikipedia has informed me that “The mineral Olivine is a magnesium iron silicate with the formula (Mg2+, Fe2+)2Sio4”
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If you don’t fancy searching for your own treasure there are plenty of small roadside stands in this area, and also in the carparks at El Lago Verde and Los Hervideros, that feature small stands selling souvenir rocks or a few Euros. There is also plenty of Olivine jewellery for sale at the Sunday market at Teguise.

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