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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.