Borders Open Borders Shut: When Will I Ever Get Back to the Canary Islands?

Canary Islands, all I can do is give you a wave from afar!

I live in Victoria, Australia. Covid 19 cases are few but we don’t want any. We take a very hard line. Australia has become a gilded cage and there’s no sign of the cage opening any time soon. Hopes for travel by Christmas 2022 could be pie in the sky. We’re very lucky and the envy of the world, but the restrictions only serve to make my wanderlust more intense. I don’t do prisons. But what to do? Life goes on. You just have to make the best of things. And I’ve had my first dose of the AstraZeneca shot which puts me a small step closer to my travel goal.

I’m sitting here at my brand new desk enjoying the comforts of my brand new office chair. I bought it last month in Canary yellow! Could be the start of some very sunny home decor. And of course I write at this desk every day and I’m back in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote in my mind.

La Corona, Lanzarote, taken by me.

When I lived in Lanzarote, the old road north to Arrieta went through Guatiza and Mala. There were sealed roads but hardly ever any traffic. The north was remote and empty. The further north you went, the emptier it got. When I went back in 2016, I was awash with the same feelings I felt back in the 1980s, only this time the island was busy end to end and you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone. I would have enjoyed being there during Covid as it would have been for me a reprieve from all that bustle. Selfish, I know.

I like to imagine what the islands were like before the tourist invasion. We live in a much more homogenous world today and it’s a huge stretch of the imagination to conjure a life of simple farming in this brutal if stunning landscape. And what of all the other jobs people did? There would have been fishermen and doctors and teachers and priests. Tailors and shop keepers and those working in the mills. Writers and journalists. Police and a judge. And a wealthy tier of Spanish landowners. What would a day-to-day life have felt like? What would we all be thinking about? What are the stories locked away in the stones of the old houses? What of the old people there now, people born in the 1930s and 1940s, what do they recall of their parents and grandparents? I have a hunger to know. I can only hope someone is making an effort to capture some of those stories before they are lost forever.

Back in the early 1880s, travel writer Olivia Stone wrote of Guatiza:

The village is situated on a flat plain between hills…It was here we saw for the first time extraordinary cone-shaped stacks, twelve to twenty feet in height, in the hollow centre of which grain was stored. The top of which is removed each year to admit the grain, was here of red clay, which dries to a lighter colour, and looks like a monk’s shaven head…The road is a wide path between broad, low walls of grey pumice stones, and winds in and out and round the farms and farmhouses like a maze, for one frequently turns to the left in order to reach one’s destination on the right. Cochineal is the chief product, and everywhere the ugly cactus rises amid the dry, bare lava. The fields are simply composed of black cinders. What a burning, smothering furnace this place must be in summer, when even today the winter sun feels strong!

Olivia M. Stone Tenerife and its Six Satellites Vol II, pp 271-2.

I couldn’t find a photo of grain stacks on Lanzarote. The above image is taken from Stone’s book and depicts the grain stacks in La Oliva, Fuerteventura. (p 346) She also writes:

The people of this island [Fuerteventura], as well as Lanzarote, seem to be bright, cheerful, and witty. The appearance of the Majoreros, however, is different. They are tall, high-shouldered, and angular, with very large, liquid brown eyes. The women one notices more particularly than the men for their cheerfulness, which is sadly wanting in the other islands.

ibid., p. 341.

Olivia Stone and her husband had many guides. Theirs were of the wealthier set. The Stones didn’t get down among the people. They observed from the elevated height of a camel back and were entertained by local dignitaries. That is not to detract from the valuable insights into the Canary Islands of the late nineteenth century that Olivia Stone has provided the English-speaking world.

I was privileged back in February 2020 to have met with many friends who drove me all over the island of the Majoreros, including renowned Majorero artist and photographer JF Olivares. I suppose I got to feel a little bit like Olivia Stone because I, too, was visiting with a special purpose. To write about the islands.

Travelling from Lanzarote to Fuerteventura, I am always struck by the differences, the black cinders and the vast amount of lava on Lanzarote, and the majesty of the bare mountain ranges of Fuerteventura.

photo by JF Olivares

For me, this photo could just as well be a painting. Mountains beneath milky skies.

I’m so grateful to be able to include these images in my posts. Of course, no photo can replace being there. You can’t feel that uplift; the landscape can’t take your breath away. You can’t feel that wind!

The prevailing wind where I live comes off the cold Southern Ocean, sometimes all the way from Antarctica. It’s probably the cleanest air in the world. And when I head down to the coast and take in the heaving ocean, I am transported halfway around the world to my special place.

Maybe one day I’ll see you there. Keep well!

Published by isobelblackthorn

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of mysteries, thrillers and historical fiction. She holds a PhD in Western Esotericism for her groundbreaking study of the Alice Bailey books. She has a passion for social justice, philosophy, current affairs, books and art.

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