A Day in Fuerteventura with Photographer JF Olivares

Meeting Majorero photographer JF Olivares

I had only been on the island a day when JF Olivares – a friend I met on Facebook in 2017 and who inspired both my novels set on Fuerteventura – offered to show me some of his favourite places on the island. He’s a charismatic and passionate man and I managed to follow his Spanish for a good many hours, which is no small feat when you’ve just arrived after travelling for 44 hours.

The Secret Valley of Guisguey

We headed west from Puerto del Rosario to the village of Guisguey in a long valley, wide at first, but narrowing the further up we went into the mountain range the cuts the island in two for a stretch in the mid-north. Google Maps takes you so far into this enchanting location, but JF Olivares was taking me well beyond that. I was in for a serious back road adventure. I cannot describe how it feels to be amongst all this dry rock, except that whenever we stopped, which was whenever the road ran out and we had to turn around, we could hear only the wind and a few birds.

near Guisguey Fuerteventura

Heading from Caldereta to La Oliva

On the way back down the bumpy rocky road Juan pointed at some houses on the crest of the steep hill. El Time. I remembered my boyfriend and artist Pedro and our short-lived and passionate romance, and how he wanted me to move to Fuerteventura and live with him in El Time. It wasn’t to be as I was swept up by the infamous Miguel and installed in his house in Haría, Lanzarote, and my fate was sealed.

When we reached the main road we headed north a short stretch, turning off to La Oliva. When we reached Caldereta, a village I knew only because I found a charming old cottage for sale a few years back and toyed with buying it until I saw the dogs chained up beside the neighbouring farmhouse.

After a quick drive through La Oliva, Juan called in at a small grocery store for ham and cheese rolls. We ate our lunch standing beside Montaña Arena surveying the entire northern tip of the island.

Montaña Arena near La Oliva Fuerteventura

Fuerteventura – A Sensual Landscape Experience

I was agog the whole trip, drawn by sweeping curves, the sensuality of the landscape. Fuerteventura brings out the artist in me. I am sure if I lived here I would draw and paint. My photos cannot do justice to the scale, the atmosphere and the incredible silence of the island away from the tourists. Juan pointed out the ruins of aboriginal dwellings – little more than small circles of stones that were once huts. 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.

So pleased I managed to take this photo of JF Olivares, a man with a grand passion for his island.

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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.

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

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.