The Sahara arrives in Fuerteventura

A Calima hits the Canary Islands

The Calima: I knew it would happen if I stayed here long enough. Maybe that is why I choose to be here for a whole month. I wanted to test how I would handle it.

Periodically, the Canary Islands get choked in Saharan dust that wafts over the ocean from Morocco. Hot dry winds tend to come with it, although today there is a temperature inversion, the dust acting as a shield from the sun. There is little wind at present. And the dust is thick, although not so thick as to blacken the sky. I watched the calima approach from the east this morning. In a few hours it had smothered the island. This is one of the worst I have experienced. You can feel it in your mouth. Can I endure it? Yes, but only by staying inside and closing the windows. It doesn’t sting the nose like bushfire smoke. But it isn’t healthy. Traditionally, I guess  this is why those living in desert climes wear scarves over their faces. I would do the same, living here on days like this.

I knew the calima was coming as I have taken to watching Canarian news in an effort to drench myself in Spanish.

About mid-morning, I decided I had to go out, even though I didn’t feel like it. After depositing my recycling in the communal bin on the corner of my street, I wandered back towards the park I can see from my apartment. I found Calle Lanzarote and thought it was quite lovely, even though the photo does not reveal its charm. You can see the haze making the sky dull.

Escaping into a Bookstore

Determined to explore more of the city – I have an awful habit of finding preferred routes and sticking to them, a habit I am determined to break – I stumbled on the island’s main bookstore, Tagaror. Downstairs was filled with children’s books and all sorts of items for school. Stairs led to another floor but there was no sign and I wasn’t that sure if it was private. I was about to leave when I summoned the courage to ask and was directed up to the main bookstore. I entered a large room that Oxford itself would be proud of, one half given over to fiction. I went to the non-fiction section and browsed the shelves. There was an Esoteric section, appropriately named for what it is, and not New Age or some other euphemism.

No Alice Bailey, the subject of my doctorate and mother of the New Age movement.

I did find probably the only book written in the English language in the store.

I felt embarrassed paying for it, especially when the assistant spoke to me in English. I have become awfully shy speaking Spanish. I need to take a bold pill. When I do summon the courage, the response is very positive, especially when I announce I am Australian.

While in the bookstore I made an important assessment. Tagoror is a bookstore for the local Spanish-speaking population. The two tables containing books of the Canary Islands featured two fiction authors, one who lives in Lanzarote and another who used to live in Fuerteventura and is now based in Gran Canaria. I doubt either sell many copies, but what was obvious was my books, written in English, would have no place there in that bookstore. Few English browsers would venture up the stairs. If my books were translated into Spanish and published locally then they might stand a chance of doing okay, but only if I lived here. And even then, I would have to find a way of gaining acceptance as a British-Australian, when culturally, the islands will rightly champion their own. I would have to navigate the terrain of cultural appropriation, not in the content of my fiction, but in my very presence as a non-Canarian author on the island. It seems an awful lot of effort to sell a few books. But is that what my role here, if I had a role here, would really be about?

Understanding Fuerteventura

My stay in Puerto del Rosario, as distinct from any of the many tourist towns on the island, has left me in no doubt that there are two Fuerteventuras. One comprises the tourism and the migrants (perhaps including the Spanish from the mainland), the other is made up of the local population, those born in the Canary Islands, and they live a life as much as possible entirely separate from the tourism they can scarcely avoid. It is as though, in Puerto del Rosario, through their determination not to cater for tourists, especially in the way they fashion their shops and cafes for themselves, they are making it clear they do not want to invite in outsiders. It’s a silent statement and it is very obvious. They don’t want to make it all that easy, not because they are hostile, but rather because they are holding on to their own cultural identity. And if Tagoror is anything to go by, there is a large educated reading public in this town, which serves to strengthen cultural identity and pride.

Of course, these are only my observations and speculations. I am going on brief impressions. But I am observant. And I am trying to imagine myself living here. How would I fit in?

Australia shares with the Canary Islands a love affair with all things local and as an author, I have come up against this many times. Local sells, because people love to read about their own place and tourists love to read about places they’ve visited. Hence travel fiction. Local also sells in cultures that feel invaded or vulnerable in some way, which applies to both the Canary Islands and Australia.

My problem is the only place that inspires me to write over and again is this island Fuerteventura, and it feels weird continuing in this vein when I live in Australia. I am caught on the horns of a dilemma. Should I relocate? I have been considering the possibility for three years. I only have a few months to make up my mind thanks to Brexit.

Alas my walk about town was curtailed by the thickening dust. I can still feel it in my mouth writing this. Normally, you can see the ocean in the first photo below.

Making a life-changing choice is never easy. Right now, my mind is as dusty as the horizon.

Incidentally, while in Tagoror I browsed a glossy hardback explaining how climate change would affect the Canary Islands. From what I could gather examining the various charts, the average temperatures here should remain reasonably stable. But the prevailing wind is shifting to the east and bringing with it more calima days, more days of Saharan dust.

Join my Facebook group to keep up to date with my Canary Islands writing

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.

Arriving in Fuerteventura

Flying from the Gold Coast to Fuerteventura to arrive at the equivalent latitude in the north is a journey not to be sniffed at. It took 44 hours of travelling door to door, involving an airport shuttle, four planes, a lift in a car, a ferry and another lift in a car. Those car journeys were originally going to be buses; I was saved that ordeal by generous friends.

It’s February, and the land is dry. This is my first visit in four years and this time, I am not staying in my old home of Lanzarote, but heading straight to Fuerteventura. I could have flown direct after an unexpected change of initial destination, but I am glad I didn’t. It was nice just to say hello and soak in the atmosphere of the mountains on Lanzarote.

I had lunch in a cafe in Yaiza and seated below the artworks are other diners. There is something mesmerising about the barren landscape and I love the way the island makes a big effort to present itself well to tourists. It needs to. There’s a competitive world out there.

And then, with the sun low in the western sky, I headed to Fuerteventura on the ferry, crossing the sapphire water. What a charming introduction to this desert landscape. The shapes of the volcanoes and ranges, the creamy pale browns of the earth; it was as though the island was saying welcome. As the ferry approached Corralejo, I took in the sprawling development of this once tiny fishing village and understood why many here want some sort of reversal of the  thoughtless development that has been taking place. As my new friends drove me down to the capital Puerto del Rosario where I am spending the next month, they explained that the road cutting through the sand dunes would soon be closed permanently to all traffic to protect the environment. Seeing a long row of cars parked up on the sand, and the occupants wandering around over the dunes like ants, I thought it about time things like this started happening. There are ways to corral humans and stop them wandering all over the place.

As we drove on, my gaze was drawn by the sapphire and turquoise water on this island of beaches, and also by the mountains. It is a natural landscape that in many ways would benefit from an absence of occupants. But humanity is what it is and the local economy needs to flourish somehow.

What has struck me most so far on the first hours of my trip is the hospitality. The people here are overwhelmingly polite and generous and friendly. They endure my broken Spanish with delight and help me to speak better. They exude genuine warmth that makes me feel at home. The owner of my apartment  – which is spacious, clean and well presented – was here to greet me and show me around. A glowing 5 star review guaranteed! I slept well in a very comfortable bed, and I find I don’t mind the various noises coming from the other apartments and from the street and the little park below in this my inner city location. There is something warming hearing Spanish everywhere.

Here is an example of Puerto del Rosario’s famous murals.

As I wait for another friend to arrive, I penned this by way of capturing my first impressions. It’s winter. The day is set to reach 21 Celsius. The sunlight of this special latitude of 28-29 degrees is perfect and nourishing somehow. No wonder people from Europe come here for their holidays. No wonder they come here to live as well…

I’m here to write a novel. My third set on the island and my fifth in my Canary Islands collection. Although, I am too tired to make a start today…

 

Join my Facebook group to keep up to date with my Canary Islands writing

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 Fuerteventura: Clarissa’s Warning and A Prison in the Sun.