Exploring Jandía

How could I forego the invitation to visit Punta Jandía, Fuertventura’s southern tip. I’d already passed up the opportunity to visit Villa Winter and the village of Cofete due to the nature of the drive. But I was reassured that the drive to Punta Jandía was straight and flat and no big deal at all, even for fearful me.

It was not!

A windy narrow road heading south from Morro Jable soon gave way to a dirt track badly in need of grading. Pot holes and corrugations and dubious edges formed this wriggling snake of a road set halfway up the skirt of the mountain range. Like everywhere else on this island, there was nothing to break a fall. This road was not made for scaredy cats like me. But I held on tight and, after insisting we travelled at the pace of a snail, mustered as much confidence in my driver, the oncoming traffic, fate and life itself as I could manage. We passed the turnoff to Cofete and I observed the way that road hugged the mountainside. I even saw the lookout over Cofete. Very nice. I would never go there. Apparently, many get to the lookout, observe the even more confronting drive down the other side and turn back.

These old roads were built in the 1930s when General Gustav Winter was building his little German empire down this way. During the Second World War, Germany owned Jandía. It’s a dark and fascinating history, which I am sure to tell in a novel one day.

Eventually we exited the wriggly portion of the road and headed along a flat plain sloping gently down to the ocean. Not much further and we pulled up in the lighthouse car park.

It’s an iconic spot. You can tell that from the number of cars parked in the photo below. None stay long. All the visitors do what we did, have a good look around, take some photos, then get fed up being blasted by the wind and seek shelter and lunch in the hamlet in the near distance.

Jandía Fuerteventura

Situated on an isthmus, the lighthouse takes up almost the whole area at the southeastern tip of the island. While clearly impressive and still operational, we found the lighthouse building dusty and closed up and the best that can be said is it forms a bit of a wind break in certain spots.

Lighthouse Jandía Fuerteventura

Down here, it is all about the views and the ocean and watching where east meets west and the waves break from both sides. Mesmerising.

Punta de Jandía

The photo below looks to the west. The following, to the north on the other side of the isthmus.

I have tried to capture the magnificence of the view in the following shots. Apologies for my appalling splicing! The ocean was that colour. These photos have not been enhanced.

Jandía

After soaking in the exhilarating atmosphere we headed off, following tradition, to the fishing hamlet of Puertito de la Cruz, which makes a strong statement for its size. Here is all about staying in a highly remote location, the fishing of course, and eating. There is a row of permanent caravans with sturdy annexes which can be seen on the left of the photo below, featuring the outdoor eating of the first of three restaurants.

The second restaurant is tucked at the end of the hamlet’s little street.

I was amazed at how neat and tidy this little row of holiday houses looked. Must be holiday houses, surely? Surely no one actually lives here permanently?

We chose the third restaurant, El caletón, which enjoys the waterfront. Terrific on a glorious day. And here is another sculpture, looking the worse for wear.

El caletón Jandía

I am not big on food photos. Instead, I chatted with Antonio, the hardworking waiter rushed off his feet. He lives in Morro Jable and drives down to Punta Jandía every day to work. What a commute!

We lingered for what felt like hours before we drove off in search of the old airstrip. We found it – a stretch of level ground about the right width and length for a small plane – and I decided it did not merit a photo. Instead, on the other side of the road, the island’s bottom edge descends in low cliffs that meet volcanic reefs below. The first photo looks west, the next looks east to the lighthouse.

The west coast is dramatic. A portion of a volcanic crater descends into the ocean and there is no way of accessing the Cofete beach beyond. No idea if anyone owns the goats.

Cofete from south Jandía

The island’s southwestern tip ends in a door. Why ever not! It is the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen. None of us could decide if it used to belong to a former structure or if it is a sculpture in its own right, standing staunch and proud on its own plinth.

It’s Faro Punta Pesebre – in English, a lighthouse (faro) – or rather, a beacon warning of a danger point.

Punta Pesebre Fuerteventura

What was obvious, to me and to my day’s hosts Jill and Ian, was here was a place to get truly blasted by the wind. Unlike the gentler if dramatic shores to the east, the Atlantic ocean to the west is deep and dark blue and with its heaving swell it lets you know it would happily take your life if you let it, even on a calm day like this. Seemed like an ideal moment for the all important selfie.

On the return leg – which proved shorter and less confronting somehow, even though we were on the fall side  –  I managed to take one photo to give an impression of the road. I’m not sure I have really captured the full reality as you cannot see the land descending on the other side. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

The whole journey back I thought of Antonio and his commute.

Now, after the richest and most fulfilling holiday of my life, I must return to Australia, starting early in the morning when I catch a bus to Corralejo, then a ferry to Lanzarote, another bus to the airport, and on to Queensland via Barcelona, Doha and Sydney.

Thank you, Fuerteventura! And thank you, all my wonderful new friends.

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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 Voltaire’s Garden, a memoir of building a sustainable lifestyle in Australia, and two novels set in FuerteventuraClarissa’s Warning and A Prison in the Sun.

A Day in Gran Tarajal

On Thursday, I caught the bus to the Spanish seaside town of Gran Tarajal on Fuerteventura’s east coast. I knew I was in for an adventure, the bus journey alone amounting to almost an hour of door to door scenery. I am a real sucker for scenery. Only, so many times on the journey I wanted the bus to pull over so I could take long lingering looks at the mountains with all of their curves and their jagged edges. To add to my frustration, the glorious views continued on both sides of the road so you never knew where best to turn your head and, since these are public buses, how to do so without drawing attention to yourself. The bus driver, it has to be said, was a touch reckless. He drove too fast, tailgated, overtook when it was scarcely safe to do so and threw the bus into curves. I was not the only passenger to find this alarming. When I arrived at my destination, a woman approached me and struck up a conversation about the bus ride. She was Spanish and thought I was too. I carried on replying to her without announcing I was English and not fully understanding her every word. The intuition comes in very handy in these situations. And we had a good laugh.

My host for the day was Kelly and when she appeared and interrupted us, I felt handed back to my own language. This was the first time we’d met and as we strolled through the town’s park, all beautiful green grass peppered with palm trees, we quickly discovered we had a raft of geographical connections. I warmed to Kelly immediately as a kindred soul without knowing why. I also warmed to Gran Tarajal, an authentic, Canarian town displaying oodles of civic pride.

The park soon gave way to the promenade and the beach and the ocean. These photos are not the best due to morning cloud, but you get the idea.

Sculpture Gran Tarajal Fuerteventura

The promenade widens then narrows and widens again beside acres of fine dark sand. It is a promenade filled with seats and street plantings and demands of its walkers a slower pace, a stroll.

Promenade Gran Tarajal

Gran Tarajal is wrapped around a bay. Looking up side streets is a reminder of how tucked in the town is, tucked in below cradling, steep-sided hills or small mountains whose arms reach out to form the headlands. The backdrop is far more impressive in real life.

Canarian house Gran Tarajal

I got the impression, confirmed by Kelly, that Gran Tarajal is a laid back, family-centred community of mostly Spanish workers. Here there’s another of the island’s murals.

Narrow lanes Gran Tarajal Mural Gran Tarajal

And of course, more sculpture.

Sculpture Gran Tarajal Sculpture Gran Tarajal

And here you can get a glimpse of how the 800 metre long beach is set up for activities of all kinds.

Promenade Gran Tarajal

Kelly suggested we walked on past the port  – all agricultural produce was once shipped from Gran Tarajal  – to the marina and when there she spotted her friend Georgie, who lives on a boat with her partner and their three small children. The boat was in dry dock needing maintenance. Georgie came over and we chatted through the fence. After a while she invited us for coffee and we sat around beside her boat. I marvelled at what it took to live a life at sea, let alone with three children. I didn’t even know what an anchorage was, such is my knowledge of maritime existence, and I had it all explained to me and gained an image of a very different kind of lifestyle. Hours slipped by and the early cloud gave way to a brilliant blue sky.

Marina Gran Tarajal

Eventually, we pulled ourselves away from what was for me an enchanting and memorable experience.

We passed more sculpture on our way back to collect Kelly’s son from school. Kelly was keen to take me back to her place.

Gran Tajaral

This time, we walked through the town’s streets and arrived at the seahorse fountain.

Gran Tarajal Seahorse Fountain Gran Tarajal

We collected Kelly’s son – memories of doing the same stirred as we stood waiting in the playground for him – then enjoyed a superb lunch at Kelly’s and a rich conversation with her and her partner Dean. It was then I discovered the deeper connection we shared. The couple are creating a sustainable lifestyle here on Fuerteventura, with off-grid solar, grey-water irrigation, trash-mulching and more. In about a year they have transformed their block with extensive vegetable gardens and orchards. When all the baby trees grow they will have an oasis. And they are smart, too. Their block is on a slope, descending to a natural flat-bottomed waterless dam. Their aim is to harvest as much water from that natural dam as they are able. Having created my own sustainable lifestyle in Australia, I resonated strongly.

I didn’t take photos of Kelly’s place; there’s always people’s privacy to consider. Just let it be known there are all kinds of people living on Fuerteventura doing amazing things. I was buoyed by this knowledge all the way back to Puerto del Rosario on the bus. This time I took the coastal route for more epic scenery, although I suspect I scored the same maverick bus driver!

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Read the rest of my  Fuerteventura travel blog 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 Voltaire’s Garden, a memoir of building a sustainable lifestyle in Australia, and two novels set in FuerteventuraClarissa’s Warning and A Prison in the Sun.

 

A Short Journey into the past in Puerto del Rosario Fuerteventura

Finding Puerto del Rosario Sculptures

Every time I walk around the little port city of Puerto del Rosario – the city of sculptures – I discover something new. Yesterday, I walked to the end of my street Calle León y Castillo, which took me straight down to the commercial port. The day was warm and it was a public holiday so the city was empty, everyone sleeping off the Carnaval celebrations of the night before.

I’ve been passing this iconic roundabout sculpture for weeks now. It’s called the ‘three bums roundabout’ in English, and the same in Spanish, more or less, although they say ‘the three female bums’. – Rotonda de las Culonas, a symbol of unity.

Three Bums Roundabout or Rotonda de las Culonas Puerto del Rosario Fuerteventura

Heading down past Plaza del la Paz, which is set up for open air events with an elevated stage backing onto the street, I reached the city centre. I love the grand old buildings, even though I know they represent Spanish colonialism, and I have no idea when the building below was built. The history of Fuerteventura since Spanish conquest and occupation of the island back in the early 1400s has been one of a blending of cultures, new Spanish landowners fathering children with majorero women. But the climate here is so dry and farming hard that many Spanish overlords preferred to live elsewhere and the population remained low. To give an idea, Puerto del Rosario is only three kilometres by five at its widest points.

I was on the hunt of sculpture, because through it, the majoreros are telling the world some of their story. On my side of the street I encountered this chap, El Aguador or water carrier. This was how fresh water was carried to the doors of houses in Puerto del Rosario right up until the 1960s. These containers carried about 15 litres each.

El Aguador Sculpture Puerto del Rosario Fuerteventura

A Detour into the Past of Canary Islands Travel Writer Olivia Stone

My sculpture hunt was sidetracked when I passed by this building. Back in the 1880s, British travel writer Olivia Stone came on a tour of the Canary Islands with her husband. Her travel diary Tenerife and Its Six Satellites is well worth a read.  The two volumes paint a vivid picture of the islands and serve as a vital historical document. When researching Clarissa’s Warning, which includes some of Olivia Stone’s mysterious story including her disappearance from public life, I discovered she had stayed in this building, then a hotel and now, sadly, a ruin. This building is in a prime location at the end of Calle León y Castillo. Something grand should be done here! But then again, would Fuerteventura want to spotlight a British couple who single-handedly stimulated the first tourist boom the Canary Islands experienced? Although it was not a boom that reached Fuerteventura. That said, Olivia Stone played an enormous role in documenting the traditional ways of the islands as she found them then, and somewhere, I feel some honour is due her.

Olivia Stone Fuerteventura Canary Islands casa ruinas ruins Fuerteventura old hotel Olivia Stone travel writer Canary Islands

I carried on, having reached the end of my street. The old and the new blend a little uneasily in this city, as is made clear a few paces on at the corner of Calle Ruperto González.

REl Charco

Back to the Sculptures of Puerto del Rosario

On this corner is another roundabout sculpture, Fuente de la Explanada, expressing the traditional values of the island.

Fuente de la Explanada Puerto del Rosario Fuerteventura

The promenade along the port contains a long row of sculptures. There’s this guy…

…and this giant shell.

And then, crossing back, I found this, a tribute to round-trip migration. The majoreros have migrated to other lands over the many centuries largely due to drought and famine, and now Fuerteventura is a multicultural island, receiving Brits, Germans, Italians, French, Russians, Latvians, Polish, Moroccans, Venezuelans and potentially one Australian…

Majoreros Fuertventura

Heading Back up Calle León y Castillo

I think I had my British guise on when I set off for my walk, as I wore no hat and had chosen the wrong time of day and it got too hot on the promenade. I hunted for a seat in some shade but there were none. So I headed back up the hill. Olivia Stone writes of how steep the roads up from the port are. Here you can see they are similar to San Francisco in places.

Puerto del Rosario Fuerteventura

I stopped to catch my breath in the shade a couple of times, and to photograph more of the charming old buildings.

Soon I was back at the church, Our Lady of the Rosary, which dominates the main square. Conceived in 1812 and built in 1824 and then continuing in 1835, today it is considered an historical monument.

Our Lady of the Rosary Church Parroquia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario

Walking up beside the church I found this chap, Suso Machín, an artist and writer who wrote extensively of his time in then Puerto Cabras in the 1930s.

Suso Machín Sculpture Puerto del Rosario Fuerteventura

Walking around Puerto del Rosario, I have gained a tremendously rich impression of what is important to Fuerteventura, to the majoreros and their cultural identity. They live quietly and modestly behind the scenes, letting all this street sculpture – there are over a 100 works around the tiny city – tell their story for them.

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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.

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.

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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.

A short walk around Puerto del Rosario Fuerteventura

Playa Chica or Los Pozos

Feeling energetic this morning, I set off for Playa Chica, the lovely beach in the Los Pozos quarter of Puerto del Rosario. It was about 10am and the cool northerly wind aside – which had caused locals to don jumpers, jackets and even scarves – the day was glorious. The first evidence that it would be a different sort of day to when I last had a ramble about town was when I passed a few stout elderly couples with backpacks, obviously not knowing where they were going.

The pavements were definitely not my own. There were more of them as I neared the central square. Then, a swarm exited the side door of the Our Lady of the Rosary church. Last time, although the church had been open, I did not enter as it was almost empty and I had no idea if the two women inside were worshipping. It seemed wrong to barge on in. This time, since it was so obviously overrun, I went in and sat on a pew.

Our Lady of the Rosary Church

I tried to imagine what it would be like as a place of worship with its vaulted ceiling and huge wooden doors, and its modest if absorbing altarpiece, but there were too many tourists to get any sort of spiritual vibe. I didn’t linger long. I was thinking since it was Carnaval, maybe a lot of holidaymakers had arrived.

I headed off down past the town hall, skirting a party of cyclists, none of whom looked all that cycle-fit, and it was then I saw why there were so many tourists. Two cruise ships were docked in the little port.

Puerto del Rosario

Floating hotels. And they really are imposing. The entire promenade beside the ocean was filled with ramblers. It was not possible to walk in a straight line. I was a little disappointed to see the dedicated cruise ship market, located on the opposite side of the road, only had a smattering of stalls and many of the slots were empty. Seemed to me either a missed opportunity or the cruisers were not known for spending their cash. Something I have noted here on the island is a real lack of tourist bric-a-brac. I have not seen markets filled with artesans selling their wares. Maybe I’m missing something. I’m used to Lanzarote, where they even sell the pebbles off the beach, crafted into jewellery.

I kept walking, dodging, pressing on, hoping locals did not assume I was one of the cruiser pack. Although looking at me, it would have been a fair assumption. I do not resemble the majoreros at all.

Ahead was the beach, which I decided on the spot was my beach, having been there once before when it was completely empty, and those others had no right to it. Only…

Playa Chica

They had every right to it, of course they did.

Some guys in a van were setting up music so I sat and listened to Canary Island tunes, caught a little sun and enjoyed the view of the rather grand Palacio de Formación y Congresos de Fuerteventura – that big dark-grey building in the photo above – and the distant mountains, and I marvelled at this wonderful unassuming little city of Puerto del Rosario. I even took a selfie, replete with the ship.

I didn’t hang around long. I headed up to Las Rotondas, where I visited a bookstore to discover what I already knew. There is no place here for my books. No easy spot for them. I would have to make that happen and I think it would be quite hard. Just because an author writes about a place does not mean that place will embrace the works. Depends.

Wall Art in Puerto del Rosario

I kept walking, back to the church and on up , and I mean up Calle Juan de Bethencourt, all the way up to the cafe Gaynor and Paul introduced me to, a German cafe selling wonderful rich bread and some of the best coffee in town. Of course, you can rely on me not to take food photos, so here is another mural to finish off. The street art here is fantastic and all part of why this little city has become my ideal place to live. It has everything I could wish for. It makes me feel I have entered a Graham Greene novel. And I do admire Graham Greene.

Street art Puerto del Rosario

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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 Lazy Day in Las Playitas, Fuerteventura

Enjoying Antigua

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

A Brief Moment in Tiscamanita

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.

A Detour to Faro de la Entallada

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!

Arriving at Las Playitas

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):

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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.

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.

Heading for Montaña Cardón

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.

Experiencing Ajuy

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:

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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.

 

Drag over coals

Last month I found myself on a fast train from Edinburgh to London. Too tired to read, I spent the whole journey gazing out the window. Recollecting that journey, one memory stands out: the number of wind farms, none of them that far from residential areas. I mentioned this to the couple seated by me, and they said that people are used to them. They realise the necessity. I have no idea if that is true, but their comment had me thinking how absurdly precious Australia can be.

images

Also, we passed  a solar farm, tucked beside the railway tracks. Obviously someone decided those panels would generate enough power, despite cloud.

I know, as do many, that Australia could be 100% renewable so easily. We could be running all our vehicles off grid too. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!

So I ask myself, why is this country so embarrassingly backward when it comes to alternative energy? Is it because a small group of mining magnates have our politicians by the short and curlies? If so, then that is corruption, plain and simple.

Maybe we need a People’s Commission. Challenge these power-crazed dullards and their minions with their fracking and their blasting and their dredging. Drag them over their own hot coals.

A People’s Commission, now wouldn’t that be novel? But I doubt the citizenry of Australia is all that motivated. Too many are out to lunch on their sun loungers?

Well, on the up side, if you want a real estate bargain, buy a house in Toora, South Gippsland, a town situated near a wind farm.

http://stopthesethings.com/tag/toora-wind-farm/

http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/wind-storm-sixty-minutes-story-about-wind-farm-woes-at-toora-wind-farm-victoria/

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-18/a-wind-turbine-at-toora-wind-farm-in-the-south/7180670

Good news is prices in Toora are low, they are right down there with properties in towns in decline due to the endless dry.

What a sight!!!

The penultimate day of our stay on the island proved to be intriguing.

Our first stop was Arrecife, the island’s capital famous for it’s warren of narrow streets. Until this day we had taken the ring road, avoiding the confusion. This time, on a mission to deposit copies of The Drago Tree at a book shop near the Castillo de San Gabriel, we had no choice but to enter the fray.

Somehow we found our way to the Cabildo, on the southern end of town, an impressive modern building constructed in Spanish colonial style and surrounded by car parks. Not wanting to re-enter the warren of streets, we parked and walked the promenade back to Calle Leon y Castillo.

Lanzarote

The day was sunny and warm and it was a pleasant walk, first through a neatly laid out cactus garden fringed with low stone walls flanking the sea, and then around the creamy sands and sapphire waters of Playa Reducto – my kind of beach too, shallow and still. There were couples, old and young, women with strollers, the people of the city walking leisurely, relaxed. It’s a vibe you lock into, immediately.

Once past the 5 star Gran Hotel, the promenade continued on to Castillo de San Gabriel. Here, major road works impeded the flow of our walk, but the view of the old fort and the shimmering sea drew our attention.

We found the Libreria El Puente, down a side street off Calle Leon y Castillo – Arrecife’s main thoroughfare – the owner happy to take our remaining copies of The Drago Tree, to sell on our behalf.

By now it was lunch time. We had to eat. After walking around a number of side streets, passing eateries either uninspiring and notably empty, or exciting and predictably overflowing, we ended up back at the bookshop, and the restaurant next door. A small, friendly affair, with original paintings for sale on the walls and fried rabbit on the menu. Irresistible.

Arrecife

I imagined intense conversations between leftist intellectual types over salami and hard cheese. And I wondered at who the two men were who ran the joint and whether they were really from Andalucia. I doubted it.

We ambled over to the old fort along a narrow causeway, pausing at the old drawbridge for photos, staring down into the tranquil water, watching a woman taking advantage of the warmer shallows and edged by basalt walls, little beaches, pebble strewn, appearing unexpectedly.

Arrecife

The fort was closed. So we posed by the cannons, had a snoop around and strolled back along the other causeway. I told Michelle I thought I could rent an apartment in Arrecife, one facing the ocean, and write a book or two. Something about the vibe of the city aroused me. Maybe all those narrow streets filled with secrets.

We stopped for gelato near the Gran Hotel. By the time we reached our car it was 4pm.

Perfect timing for a drive to Famara. I wanted to provide Michelle with a contrast.

El Risco

It took about 1/2 an hour to drive across the belly of the island. And there we were facing north, with the cliff of El Risco towering to our east, the low rollers pushing in the tide. So we walked along the beach, pebbly and not so easy on the feet (I had rather stupidly chosen sandals for the outing), and kept on heading east, hoping that the lower the sun, the less cyclists would be on the roads when we headed back to our farmhouse in Maguez. On and on we went, in no hurry to turn around. Then Michelle stopped and asked me if I wanted to continue. I said I didn’t care either way but sensed she wanted to head back. As I turned I saw a man, naked, heading our way.

His speed was greater than ours. I turned back a few times, to admire the cliffs, say adios, or hasta luego, and there he was in all his glory. So I said to Michelle, ‘He’s spoiling my view.’

‘Complete with his semi,’ she replied.

I have to admit it took me a while to connect his half-erect penis jutting out like those of the male figurines that sometimes appear above male ablutions, or indeed abound in my friend Domingo’s studio, with her comment – semi.

Harianovio del mojon

We laughed all the way home. I was still wiping away the tears as I set about making cauliflower soup. (We’re down to using up the scraps of the groceries we’ve been buying from the local supermercado in Arrieta. Tomorrow is chorizo day. Don’t ask.)

Michelle is happy to report that we walked 16,000 steps today. She has an app. What the app doesn’t say is that they were all steps of contentment.

Long gone the old ways …

As any anthropologist will tell you, the old ways of indigenous cultures the world over are always tramped on in the name of progress. Some are decimated, wiped from the earth like unwanted crumbs. Others allowed to exist on the fringes, tolerated, ignored and oppressed all at once. Then there are smaller cultures absorbed into a larger dominant culture, seeping into language and custom. And then there are those wiped away by the dishrag of colonisation, only to be resurrected as curiosities for the edification of tourism.

Lanzaroteview of Los Helechos through our front door

Here on Lanzarote, the indigenous people, the Conojeros, blended with their colonisers, through marriage, through birth. A new sort of traditional way of life, Catholicised, yet still seated in the old ways, endured for centuries. It was a culture of survival and resilience in brutal conditions. Here, dry land farming and ingenious water capture techniques kept a small population of about a few thousand from starvation.

LanzaroteAn alcogida

Swathes of the lower slopes of volcanoes were smeared with concrete (alcogidas), funnelling water into underground water tanks (aljibes); large fresh water ponds (maretas) were built along with wells and dams; in the 1920s, tunnels were gouged into the cliff of El Risco to access the water in the water galleries of the Famara massif; roofs of dwellings and patios built high, were designed to channel water into farmhouse aljibes – the people went to ingenious lengths to capture what little rain there was.

Up until the 1960s and beyond, farmers terraced the mountainsides right to the top to capture any water should it rain, creating moist micro-environments along the stone wall edge. The terraces also took advantage of the moisture provided by morning mist.

LanzaroteMaize growing in little cinder pits

The Conojeros were a people accustomed to breathtaking views, at ease in the wind, strong enough at times to knock you over.

The people built their farmhouses strategically, the north facing wall windowless, rooms inside facing an interior courtyard. Farmers lived alongside their animals. They grew what they could, hardy plants able to tolerate high amounts of wind. For a long time only two villages existed, Teguise and Haria, the other villages were more like localities where a few farmhouses, spread well apart, took advantage of a valley, a mountainside, a plain.

Fish were plentiful and a small fishing industry grew up around Arrecife. Some farmers grew prickly pear for cochineal. Salt works providing another source of income for a sparse economy.

In the 1960s up sprang a hotel. And then another …

YaizaCamel sculptures on a roundabout in Yaiza.

Now, the tourists can see the old ways, as displayed in museums courtesy of CACT (the local government’s Centre for Arts, Culture and Tourism). Or they can visit the alcogidas, now in disrepair, or poke their heads down an abandoned aljibe, or well – the water below polluted by effluent and no longer safe to drink, or check out the dam at Mala, the wall now cracked and leaking, or puzzle over the site of the grand mareta at Teguise, and witness the erosion of the mountainsides where the terraces are crumbling away.

The government knows it has a problem. Residents are entitled to have 10,000 square metres of land to farm as they wish, with access to cheap water from the desal plants – but the young are not that interested.

You can still see the old farmers at work. Up in the north there are many small farms run by the old people. Little fields of black planted up with neat rows of maize, and not a weed in sight. A farmer harvesting potatoes by hand, his wheelbarrow nearby. They still farm right to the mountaintops and the cliff edge. It’s a privilege to behold.

Haria LanzaroteThe mother volcano, La Corona, as seen from our garden.

I am glad I decided to write a sequel to The Drago Tree. I want to be taken deeper into the story of this island. And the sequel will necessitate my return. For now, as our time here draws to a close, I feel just as Ann felt at the end of her holiday, still in awe of my surroundings, wanting to celebrate the traditions and mourn their passing, at odds with the very tourist industry that has allowed my easy passage to Lanzarote’s shores.