A Lazy Day in Las Playitas, Fuerteventura

I had no idea what sort of day I would be having when friends Gaynor and Paul invited me to lunch in Las Playitas, a tiny village on Fuerteventura’s east coast, a little north of Gran Tarajal. Mid-morning, we set off from Puerto del Rosario, taking an inland route to pick up another friend who was celebrating her birthday. First, we took coffee in Antigua. We were too late to enter the church but I was pleased to find the day clear and crisp for photos. Antigua is a charming village and easily my favourite on the island.

Antigua Fuerteventura

Later, as we drove through Tiscamanita, I asked for a short detour down a side street so I could see for myself the block on land where my character Claire restored an old ruin. I found the spot exactly as I’d imagined, only there was a lot of new development opposite. This is the view from Claire’s imaginary house in Clarissa’s Warning.

Tiscamanita Fuerteventura

From there we headed straight to the coast. As ever, I was enchanted with the mountains, the wonderful scenery we passed. We were on the plain heading to a beach so I had no fear that we would be traversing any narrow roads snaking up mountainsides.

I was wrong.

Gaynor wanted to visit the lighthouse. I, naturally, did not. But I knew it would be lovely up there and if I could manage to avoid looking at the sheer drop, avoid noting the lack of crash barriers, avoid picturing inordinately wide vehicles approaching and forcing us over the edge, I’d make it without succumbing to full-blown panic.

This is why there are no photos of the ascent. And why my photos of the view from the lighthouse are somewhat constrained. The others, of course, trotted off to the edge of the parking area and disappeared down a path.

I found out afterwards that the elevation is only 196 metres and I have stood on cliffs much higher. Maybe it is ageing increasing my fear of heights. But I am determined to at least partially conquer this fear. I don’t want to miss out on all the tremendous views from up high.

Faro de la Entallada was built in 1955 in Moorish style out of stone from the island village of Tetir. The brown ochre and white mortar make for a pleasing mottled effect. The lighthouse is the third highest in the Canary Islands and is the closest point to Africa.

Faro de la Entallada

This is where the others went, down this path, Gaynor no doubt hanging upside down off the railings at the end. She was rapt!

With Gaynor’s help and Paul’s excellent driving, I managed the descent without enduring too much terror and we were at last heading to Las Playitas where we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of grilled fish and tapas. I love the way the houses are cut into the hillside. The one with the arched blue doors looks like it’s for sale.

More sculpture for visitors and locals to enjoy.

Las Playitas
Las Playitas

 

The water was pristine. I headed up a short quay…

and took some photos looking back at Las Playitas with its jumble of cuboid dwellings.

I think the food, the wine and the great company made me forget the all important food photo. So I pinched a photo of a plate of grilled fish off the internet for the sake of completion.

There is everything to love about this island, especially in the winter months when the days are cooler. Laid back and tranquil and very friendly.

(note my photos have not been colour enhanced – they are just holiday snaps):

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.

A Day Out and About in Fuerteventura

When I planned to spend a month on this fascinating Canary Island, I imagined getting around on public buses and placing my faith in their esoteric timetables. Instead, my fabulous friends here are showing me around. Yesterday, photographer and artist JF Olivares took me south. The day proved hazy thanks to a strong easterly bringing with it Saharan dust. Which means my photos are not the best photos of these places, but they do tell a story. The photo below is a typical view of the island on the eastern seaboard.

After a late breakfast in a cafe near Gran Tarajal we turned inland, Oli always preferring the backroads. With him, I felt I was getting a glimpse of the real Fuerteventura. It is a privilege to know someone who has spent all his life in a place, seen the changes as the island transitioned from a forgotten backwater into a tourist mecca. He remembers the island when the population was small, when the development was just about non existent. I listened. I could feel his pain. Trouble is, you can’t undo time.

At first, as we drove into the interior, the mountains towered in the mid distance.

Before long, we were in amongst them. Their distinct formations cannot fail to grab the eye. Photos flatten a landscape. These old volcanoes rise up out of the flat plain in every direction. Monoliths, sculptural, as though the island itself was a vast exhibition.

On and on we went. We chatted about life, the island, the future, sharing the same passion, the same values, mourning what has been lost here. My Spanish had improved from the week before and I was able to communicate in full sentences, which only spurred Oli on, confident I could understand. Then, the landscape changed.

Montaña Cardón
Montaña Cardón

We’d reached a portion of the southern massif, where Montaña Cardón affords a stupendous view. The road was narrow, the bends many and sharp and Oli could see I was nervous. I have a terrible fear of driving on roads with a sharp fall to the side. I wish I could overcome it. Maybe with practice. The scenery all through this area is breathtaking. The short walk to the summit from the small parking area contained scores of tourists, all of them much braver than me. I did manage to take this photo of the undulating mountains.

It seems I am not the only person to remark on the femininity of the landscape, which Oli says resembles a heavily pregnant woman.

Our next stop was the coastal town of Ajuy, which took us past this mountain, which the locals have named La Teta de la Abuela, or Grandmother’s Tit.

A great disappoint to Oli and to me are the power poles. The government went for the cheap option of erecting towers to provide electricity to every region. They should be put underground. They graffiti the landscape.

The west coast of Fuerteventura is tremendous. The immense force of the ocean is felt here. For a long time, we stood on the low cliffs surrounding Ajuy with the wind blasting from the east and the Atlantic waves pounding the shore, waves much bigger than they look.

          

From there we headed down a back road to the water and this fabulous rock formation.

Oli was on the hunt for pebbles.

I kept one which fits in the palm of my hand.

I managed to take this photo without any tourists. Everywhere we went, on every single dirt track, someone was there before us. It was inevitable and yet disappointing as there are so few places locals can go to get away from holidaymakers, to gain a sense that the island still belongs to them. The roads here are terrific and they need to be; there’s a continuous flow of traffic on each and every one of them, sometimes a trickle, other times a steady flow, but always people, always vehicles, wherever you go. It is a pity, as this should be wilderness. Tourism is the mainstay of the economy, but how to control it when people do not like being controlled. Impose a rule and you can be sure the unreflective will march with their feet to other climes. How could I explain to Oli that it was the same the world over. Beside, I think he’s aware. Tourism is the modern version of colonisation.

Oli’s dog Rohn didn’t mind the presence of others. He swam about in the water, joining this tourist with his can of beer and his cigarette. The others are out of the frame. The guy in the water was on borrowed time; the tide was coming in fast.

We managed to have this secluded spring near Ajuy to ourselves, passing some other visitors exiting the barranco as we arrived. The water in this dam was stagnant and green. There’s been no rain here this winter. Rohn hadn’t a care and we enjoyed the smell of his coat all the way home.

photo JF Olivares

As we whipped through the inland villages Oli explained that Fuerteventura lacks the architectural restrictions of its sister island Lanzarote. I already knew. We both think local government zoning of residential land needs to be tightened to prevent a sprawl of scattered dwellings across the island. Fuerteventura is not an island of pretty villages, but there are exceptions. Páraja is a pretty town and Triquivijate too. Tiscamanita is charming due to its position in the landscape, as is Agua de Bueyes. But what the island majors in is landscape:

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.

 

A morning stroll in Puerto del Rosario

I had no idea when I booked an entire month in an apartment in central Puerto del Rosario that I would fall for this little port city. Little, as it has a population of 40,000, which is half the population of Fuerteventura. Formerly Puerto Cabras, the city has been the island capital since 1860.

The barrios of Puerto del Rosario fan out from the port up a steepish rise. Ribbons of one-way streets filled with a mix of shops and residential properties are constructed mostly in standard cuboid style, although here and there it is possible to commend the modern architecture with its attention to detail in the facades. So much of the housing stock on the island is relatively new, a boom in tourism and consequent migration has seen rapid expansion in the last few decades. Evidence of civic pride abounds in the street plantings of trees, the carefully designed parks and the plazas.

Pedestrians have right of way, so crossing the roads are not a hassle.

I headed down Calle Leon y Castille, cutting around the back of the church, grandly named Parroquia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, to the Museo Miguel de Unamuno, housed in a building that pre-dates 1877, when it appears in a property register.

Lecturer and Rector of the University of Salamanca, Miguel de Unamuno came to Fuerteventura in 1924, after being exiled by General Primo de Rivera for criticising Spanish politics. He stayed on Fuerteventura for about four months, visiting the inland towns and writing his impressions of island. After leaving for Paris, he continued to include Fuerteventura in his writing and for which he has been acknowledged as culturally significant. I am going to have to read this author’s work!

 

th Statue of Miguel de Unamuno outside the Museum in Puerto del Rosario

The museum comprises a number of rooms with 14 foot ceilings containing original furnishings arranged around a central courtyard. In the centre of the courtyard, an iron staircase leads to a cellar below. After taking in the heavy furniture, the intricate tiles and the beamed ceilings and having flashbacks to when I lived in a house equally grand in Lanzarote, it was the courtyard that held my attention. I am used to rooms in the old houses leading directly outside. I have not seen an enclosed courtyard created in this style before and find it intriguing.

After a short dose of history, I headed down to the port, following a road so steep in places stairs had been provided for the faint of heart. I crossed another road on the designated zebra crossing – they are everywhere and very well-placed – and headed along a path beside the water, which soon widened and became a promenade. All along the promenade, just like in much of the city centre, are large sculptures in metal and rock. Here’s a snail.

Looking back at the city, these buildings caught my eye. The one in the middle is obviously old and I wonder what its history might be. Beside it is one of the city’s famous murals. I have a lot of respect for a city bent on beautifying and creating interest out of its plain white walls.

Something else that grabbed me was the way the local council had thought of every sort of comfort and enjoyment when landscaping the point sheltering Playa del Pozos. Beside the main walkway along Senda de los Cetáceos lie a series of sheltered and semi-private seating areas overlooking the turquoise waters of this most tranquil beach. I found the entire arrangement charming.

I arrived on a cloudy day, but still, the water has a lovely hue to it and the chalky mountains make a pleasant backdrop. The beach has so much sand and at the head is a boardwalk for those who don’t want sand in their shoes. I read somewhere that this is not a beach used by tourists as it is close to the port. Still, I would be very tempted to take a dip.

My destination was the limestone ovens, or hornos de cal. Enjoying an abundance of limestone, Fuerteventura exported lime to the other islands.

I walked up and around the twin ovens in their stout round edifice, and admired the view before taking a short cut home past the shopping mall.

A two-hour walk and I feel I am getting to know this town just a little bit. Really, I have hardly scratched the surface.

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…

***

I ended up doing this…

…with this wonderful man and local artist and photographer JF Olivares who I have been waiting to meet for over three years.

Suffice to say my photos cannot do justice to the scale, the atmosphere and the incredible silence of the island away from the tourists. We talked and talked and my head bursts with fresh knowledge of the special culture of the indigenous people, the dark history of the Spanish overlords, and the lack of will of modern day governments at all levels to preserve the integrity of Fuerteventura and value it as so much more than a lot of dry dirt to be built on so that more and more can dip their toes in the ocean.

 

Read more https://isobelblackthorn.com/2020/02/10/a-morning-stroll-in-puerto-del-rosario/

 

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.

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

Release Day for A Prison in the Sun

Book 3 in my Canary Islands Mysteries Series is released today by Next Chapter Publishing!

The Blurb: 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.

Some Reflections

There is a lot to this novel, including the setting. Trevor rents a house I came very close to buying. I poured over the photos, dwelt in my mind in the rooms, but in the end it wasn’t to be. In the course of my quest to buy I discovered the location of the prison that was used to incarcerate gay men for a period of twelve years in the 1950s and 60s. I first heard about the prison in the 1980s when it was still very much a shameful secret whispered among locals.

Despite Fuerteventura receiving about two million tourists a year, the prison remains little known outside the island. I had to conduct all my research in Spanish. I am pleased I made the effort. I hope my readers are too. Here’s what some are saying:

“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.”

Buy your copy here

http://mybook.to/prisonsun

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