A combination of cheap flights and cheap shots meant the Canary Islands were hard to resist when I finished the first year of my A-levels in 2001. Three friends and I flew to Lanzarote to let off steam on our first holiday without parental supervision.
It was the stereotypical boys’ holiday, with a suitcase full of swimming trunks and ill-fitting T-shirts. Comfort was not a priority; we paid around £100 return for easyJet flights and located the cheapest hotel we could find, where breakfast was included, but only if we woke up in time.
Our group must have looked like a pilot for The Inbetweeners as we strolled the strip in Playa Blanca – one of the island’s tourist hubs – for drinks and the chance to make eye contact with girls as we did our best dance moves to Usher and So Solid Crew into the early hours of the morning.
Approaching 40, I decided to relive this rite of passage in celebration of my milestone year. I have lost touch with most of the school friends from that formative trip, but it wasn’t hard to convince a bunch of others to leave their families for four nights in the sun. In fact, I managed to convince 16 people to come, many of whom had previously been to Lanzarote.
This time, though, we were going to do it in style, using Avios points to fly with slightly more legroom on British Airways back to Playa Blanca.
Most of us had taken similar trips as teenagers, but our priorities were different now. We were no longer looking for romance but still wanted to celebrate and see if we still had the stamina to party all night and let our hair – or what is left of it – down.
Memories were hazy. One friend recollected a bar called Waikiki that was either good because he was so drunk he couldn’t remember, or it was so bad that it wasn’t worth properly remembering.
I had drunkenly mistaken the next-door family’s room for mine and persuaded them to let me sleep on the couch one night. Luckily, life wasn’t mainly viewed through a smartphone screen in the early Noughties and any uncomfortable evidence is gathering dust on long-lost digital and disposable cameras.
It would be fair to say that our collective misdemeanours contributed to the island’s rather unfair reputation as “Lanzagrotty” – a label the island is now striving to shake off. Earlier this year, president María Dolores Corujo sparked controversy by suggesting German holidaymakers could make a “high-quality” contribution to the island’s tourism economy, seen as a snub to British visitors – a claim she later denied.
Returning as a group of 40-year-olds - most of us married with children - brought a different perspective. We were more self-aware and hopefully, more considerate.
We chose the family-friendly, all-inclusive resort THB Tropical Island in Playa Blanca in the south of the island. The area appealed both to the teenage and 40-year old me since hotels here are typically cheaper than in the more central Puerto Del Carmen resort town. Playa Blanca is about a 25-minute cab journey from Puerto Del Carmen’s popular Avenida de las Playas strip, but locally there is a lovely beach and plenty of clubs and bars.
There was a mix of young families and teenagers at the hotel who mainly hung around the waterslides but otherwise it was relatively quiet. We congregated around the mini-pools near our apartments and at the adults-only pool bar, where we spent much of the day debating whose turn it was to pick up rounds of beer or lemon Fanta.
Unlike our teenage years, we knew we had to pace ourselves, so we were still awake to enjoy to the nightlife. This meant our evenings often began with espresso shots rather than Jaegerbombs to get us to midnight when the clubs and bars start to fill up.
At the tired-looking Papagayo Commercial Centre – often referred to as the British section thanks to venues like Bar Soho and pubs showing Premier League games – in Playa Blanca, we found Waikiki was still blasting out dance tunes, though it seemed smaller than some remembered.
At around half past midnight, we moved a few doors down to Bar Soho where I gave my best karaoke rendition of “Tainted Love”. The sticky stage took me back two decades. This time though, we were the oldest in the room and it was hard to tell if the teenagers were singing or dancing along in support, out of pity or just because they were too drunk to notice.
We knew we may have to venture further for a more appropriate age range so another night we headed to the main strip in Puerto Del Carmen.
This took us back to 2001, with neon lights and the bass of the music drawing us to the bar without us even noticing. There are the classics such as Linekers and Heineken but we settled on Bar 66, where they played many of the same songs we partied to as teenagers. Youngsters watched in amazement as we dad-danced to classics such as Wannabe, Cotton Eye Joe and the Macarena. The constant bangers, as we used to say, meant we managed to stay out until a respectable 4am.
We saw little of Lanzarote beyond the bars and clubs as teenagers, but this time we were magnetised by the island’s volcanic roots, exploring Timanfaya National Park on a buggy tour with Campo Phoenix, run by Christiane Göldner and her partner Christian Kottwitz.
Her story is as inspiring as the endless, dramatic volcanic landscapes, where you can still sense the echoes of the eruptions from hundreds of years ago that formed this island.
A climbing accident in Germany in 2007 left Christiane in a coma for three weeks and paralysed from the waist down. Her survival has made her focus on making the most of exploring and enjoying the world.
It is with this in mind that the pair built their own off-road vehicles inspired by the 60s Meyers Manx Californian dune buggies created by Bruce Meyers and made famous by Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair.
With leather seats and a wooden interior, these aren’t the fastest of machines – the car protested if you tried to get much above 100km/h – but they are nonetheless fun to drive.
We stopped to admire a guide pouring water into a 10m deep hole dug into the rust-red earth, where temperatures can reach 600°C. This quickly caused water to shoot high into the air – a reminder that Timanfaya is still active. These were the kind of thrills more in tune with our age-group than shots at the bar.
Another sign of the times was tasting wines from grapes grown in the volcanic soil of La Geria. We stopped at the Bodega La Geria where green vines – picked by hand for hundreds of years – reach out of the black volcanic ash. Stone walls are built in semi-circles around the vines to protect them from dust and ash blown in the wind. It looked weird to the eye but was a treat – the sweet Moscatel was a crisp, delightful and refreshing surprise in the 30°C heat.
On the south-west coast, among Armani and Tommy Hilfiger boutiques in upmarket Puerto Calero, I joined a submarine safari. Staff admitted that the dives had been quieter since the Titanic submersible disaster, but I felt safe in our spacious yellow sub as it dipped around 100ft into the Atlantic.
Each of the 40 or so passengers got their own window to spot and take pictures of the passing marine life. We were only submerged for an hour, but it didn’t take long for seabream, stingrays and swordfish to swim by.
Looking back, teenage-me would have baulked at the idea of leaving the resort for anything other than the beach, bars and clubs. This time I found the island just as exciting, but for entirely different reasons. It was less “Lanzagrotty”, more “Lanza-40” as that may be the age people actually come to appreciate its defining features.
Reliving my formative first trip away from home as a 40-year-old made me see the same place though a different lens and realise the importance of looking beyond the sunbed and bars – something I may pass my children when they become teenagers. It is possible to make memories at any age without staying up too late.
How to get there
British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair fly direct to Lanzarote.
Where to stay
THB Tropical Island in Playa Blanca has all-inclusive apartments from £285 per night.
H10 Lanzarote Princess has all-inclusive double rooms for £326 per night.
Blue Sea Lanzarote Palm has all-inclusive apartments from £235 per night.
What to see
OKLanzarote arranges hiking and buggy tours of Timanfaya National Park as well as the Submarine Safari and other activities such as kayaking.