Discovering Fuerteventura – From El Cotillo to Tefia

A Brief Spell in Corralejo

The northern end of the mountainous island of Fuerteventura contains the sprawling metropolis of Corralejo situated on the eastern corner, a tourist town that has completely obliterated the once quaint fishing village and small port receiving boats from Lanzarote. I took no photos in the short time I was there. Unlike Puerto del Rosario, which is vibrant and exudes civic pride, Corralejo held no appeal that day. I guess I remembered it as it was and couldn’t come to terms with how it is now. Perhaps on a different day I’ll change my mind. Has been known! My companion and tour guide Paul, who had business in the town, led me across numerous small plazas and down many backstreets. I found it hard to gain a sense of the spirit of the place. We did enjoy lunch in a French cafe which was very good.

Heading to El Cotillo

I was pleased when we headed west to El Cotillo.

We passed through La Oliva, which has retained its charm despite the new housing development, and has an open, welcoming feel. The old church is impressive. 

This trip was all about open country. The foreground is rarely anything to speak of. The ground is dry, rocky and inhospitable. This is an island of low mountains and they loom everywhere and are truly magnificent, appearing much closer and higher than in a photo. No matter where you go on the island, there are always the mountains and the volcanoes to draw the eye. Yet always, too, the power lines. Pity the government has no plans to put them underground. When you are driving and looking, you ignore them, but when you take a photo, there they are.

El Cotillo on the western corner of the island is exactly as I imagined it. The little harbour, the low cliffs trailing off into the distance, there is so much here to please the eye. Boats entering the harbour navigate through that passage in the second photo.

El Cotillo

Although when we headed back through the town I was again disappointed to see too much development and nowhere near enough streetscaping and civic infrastructure to tie things together. I have to keep reminding myself that this tourism boom is very recent, only in the last few decades, and that before, Fuerteventura was the Canary Islands’ poor relation, a backwater place with a tiny population. It is a massive leap to get from those circumstances to the current ones, demanding a lot from town planners. Fuerteventura lacks the influence of artist and ecologist César Manrique who prevented aesthetically unpleasing development on Lanzarote by getting certain rules written into law. Construction is hard to undo and the consequences on Fuerteventura are evident everywhere.

The reefs that make El Cotillo so special, creating swimming pools sheltered from the strong Atlantic waves, are unspoilt.

El Cotillo

Visiting Dark Times in Tefía at El Albergue – the Hostel that was once a Concentration Camp for Gay Men

The journey inland from El Cotillo past Montaña de Tindaya features a remoter part of the island, and up through the backroads I gained a sense of how things would have been elsewhere, in the past. I had driven up this road before. I knew where I was heading. Last time, in 1990, I had no idea, and as my then boyfriend drove through Tefía, I didn’t realise the gay prison he had been telling me about many times as though it signified the pinnacle of Fuerteventura’s dark past was right there only a hundred metres or so off the main road. Last year, A Prison in the Sun, my novel depicting conditions in this concentration camp, was published and I felt I had to come to the island and pay my respects to those men.

Of course, the prison cells are impossible to see from the road. They were built in a dip in the terrain and the land below the cells’ back walls falls away into a deep barranco. I had seen a YouTube video of these three prison cells each housing about 12 men, but to get close and see them for myself was a whole different matter.

Tefía is a windswept plain. I saw the arduous walk the prisoners had to make each Sunday to reach the church in Casillas del Angel.

I wanted to visit the cells but the compound, now a youth centre, had something on and while we were able to pull up in the carpark, I wasn’t comfortable traipsing down the hill. I felt we were trespassing.

Concentration camp for gay men Tefia Fuerteventura

All that passers-by can see from the road is this windmill which sits all proud and lonely on the wild windy plain as though it has no secret to behold.

Windmill Tefia Fuerteventura

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You can read my other blog posts of my February 2020 Fuerteventura holiday here https://isobelblackthorn.com/fuerteventura-travel-diary/

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes gripping mysteries, dark psychological thrillers and historical fiction. She is the author of two novels set in FuerteventuraClarissa’s Warning and A Prison in the Sun.

Book Trailer: A Prison in the Sun

I’m delighted to share this book trailer for a Prison in the Sun, created by PR Manager and author Henry Roi.

http://mybook.to/prisonsun

“After millennial ghostwriter Trevor Moore rents an old farmhouse in Fuerteventura, he moves in to find his muse.

Instead, he discovers a rucksack filled with cash. Who does it belong to – and should he hand it in… or keep it?

Struggling to make up his mind, Trevor unravels the harrowing true story of a little-known concentration camp that incarcerated gay men in the 1950s and 60s.”

Read more about my novel here – https://isobelblackthorn.com/canary-islands-novels/a-prison-in-the-sun/

Isobel Blackthorn is the author of a Canary Islands Mystery series, including A Matter of LatitudeClarissa’s Warning and A Prison in the SunThe Drago Tree serves as a prequel. Find her author page and easy access to her writing here author.to/IsobelBlackthorn

Behind the Story: A Prison in the Sun (Canary Islands Mysteries Book 3)

When I was first told that a prison incarcerating gay men during General Franco’s regime in Spain, I was a foolish twenty-seven year old with aspirations of becoming a writer and not a clue how to go about it. The year was 1989. Back then, the true story of the prison was a dark secret whispered among locals and no one else. The Canary Islands government was silent.

It took me almost thirty years to feel equipped to tell this story. By then I was living in Australia, I had three novels set in the Canary Islands and I knew I needed to write a fourth. I felt torn as I also wanted to produce something literary, a work set entirely in the Canary Islands in the 1950s. Trouble for me was I no longer lived there, I was not born there, my Spanish was adequate but by no means sufficient to chat with locals, and above all, I am not male and I am not gay. I am also not rich! The research needed for such a literary approach would have cost many thousands in travel and accommodation. Twice I applied for funding but was unsuccessful. So I resigned myself to the notion of positioning the novel alongside the two mysteries I had already written, knowing that approach would constrain the way A Prison in the Sun could be told.

The prison cells at La Colonia Agrícola Penitenciaria de Tefía, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain

I felt apprehensive. I had a lot of conversations with numerous respected authors and publishers. There was talk of the inappropriateness or lack of my fitness for the task, being neither male, gay nor from the islands. Lionel Shriver was mentioned along with political correctness. Most encouraged me, championing my efforts and bravery. I took this very idea of appropriateness and also of contemporary conversations around sexual preference and created a conflicted character, millennial ghostwriter Trevor Moore. I decided I would have him tell the story of the prison. After all, he wants to write a novel with his name on the cover for once, and there is the small matter of his ghostwriting gigs winning prizes for other writers. I had so much fun being Trevor. Best of all, I popped him in a holiday let which was a house I was poised to buy back in 2017. The only reason I didn’t was the owners took it off the market. I think they did me a favour, as you will find out if you read the book.

Screenshot taken from documentary La Memoria Silenciada Tefía – Twelve men crammed in a barn.

As for the prison in Tefía, Fuerteventura – or rather concentration camp for that is what it was – I spent many many hours brushing up my Spanish so that I could read newspaper articles, blog posts, doctoral theses and academic books. I read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. I took copious notes on the economic, political and social history of the Canary Islands from the 1920s. I watched YouTube videos. I read everything I could find on the prison. I am indebted to former prisoner Octavio García, whose testimony and activism helped raise awareness, in Spain at least, of this ignominy. Also to Professor of History Miguel Ángel Sosa Machín who interviewed Octavio and produced a novella, Viaje al centro de la infamia (which I read). His efforts gained much publicity in the noughties. It would have been impossible for me to write this novel prior to efforts of these two men.  I read up on what it was like to be gay in Spain. I recalled my closest friends of that time, who were both local to the islands and gay. The result is as authentic as I, a humble female author in her fifties, could make it. I did not shy away from the brutal truth of prison life. I put myself there. I lay down in the prisoners’ cots. I trudged up the hill in the searing sun and the raging wind to assemble in the quadrangle. I imagined what it would be like to break rocks all day. To be starving.

Not wanting to give Trevor an easy time of it, I put him through his paces. And what he goes through provides relief from the harsh reality of Fuerteventura in the 1950s. To say more would spoil the novel. Here is what one reviewer has to say:

“The author has used her deep knowledge of landscape, politics and history on the Canary Islands to give us a page-turning juxtaposition of savage past events with present-day drama, mystery and murder.

The book weaves two stories together over decades: a present-day author uncovering revelations of sadistic and gut-wrenching homophobia in the past while anguishing over his own sexual orientation. Matters heat up as he finds himself battling for his life, caught in the crosshairs of a murderous drug deal.

The result is a tapestry of events that will keep you reading to the last page.” – Veronica Schwarz.

You can find A Prison in the Sun here : http://mybook.to/prisonsun