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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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 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.

 

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.

Museo Miguel de Unamuno

I headed down Calle León y Castillo, 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.

Walking the Promenade to Los Pozos

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.

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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.

 

 

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…

 

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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 Fuerteventura: Clarissa’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.

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.

The fire mountains

What can be said about driving down a narrow road carved through a lava plain, a road that goes on and on and on? The basalt that covers the land in every direction, thick, crusty, alive with lichen. Volcanoes or calderas 500 metres high and about 1 or 2 kilometres in diameter, rising up like cone-shaped boils, some black, others brown or red. Then there are those calderas burst open, serrated at the rim, splayed where their lava spilled to scour the land.

Timanfaya

Everywhere you look on the island, there they are, some ancient, some young, the roads on Lanzarote coursing paths between.

Lanzarote volcano

The eruptions of Timanfaya that took place in the mid 1700s and lasted for 6 years, have resulted in a landscape not of this world. A spreading mass of impenetrable rock, about 15 kilometres wide and long.

Lanzarote lava

These volcanoes emerged in fissures in the land, once a wide plain perfect for grazing. Fissures bleeding rock, cleaving open as the pressure of the volcanoes beneath forced their way above ground. This is what I have read and imagine, a primordial groaning, perhaps deafening, definitely terrifying, apocalyptic. Livestock asphyxiated, fish boiled alive, the ocean steaming, the island showered with volcanic ash and smoke. You have to know all this, to appreciate the place as it is now. But it is still impossible to take in.

The speed limit of 50 kmh is too fast. We crawled along, fascinated, not wanting to reach the end of the road.

We went to where the lava met the ocean. The road snaking along, embedded in the lava, right beside the water’s edge.

Los Helechos

We parked at Los Hervidores, a site of extraordinary beauty, where narrow basalt paths have been created to allow tourists to get close and see that meeting of rock and water. The basalt is many metres thick, chunky, descending in a vertical cliff. The ocean swells and surges, blue on black, sending forth its spume. There are holes in the lava, like wells, places to get soaked when the ocean is angry.

No one speaks. The wind, that other element, blows and blows. You either get used to it, or you leave Lanzarote behind for another clime. I love this meeting of the elements, all of them present, in the wind, the ocean, the rock born of fire. Lanzarote is a powerful place, unspoiled, a place to be revered. And as Ann found in The Drago Tree, every tourist slips into reverence in the face of such a setting.

Nothing has changed…

Before I came here I was informed by one and all that Lanzarote had changed in the last twenty-six years, changed dramatically, for better or worse who can say. When I landed and saw the development, the mass of white cubes where once was rocky terrain, I had agreed, and when we headed north to the farmhouse we had rented for the 18 days, it was with some trepidation in my heart.

My companion and publisher Michelle was seeing all for the very first time. And I have witnessed her reactions, her awe, her growing affection for the island. With a smile.

Puerto CaleroMichelle Lovi, taken as we ambled along the strip of expensive designer boutiques of Puerto Calero.

For me, the north of the island – about 7 km long and 5 wide – is my old stomping ground. Every village and every road familiar. But I’d forgotten the three dimensionality, the way the mountains and volcanoes loom, the way the old crusty lava dominates. I’d forgotten the atmosphere, at once friendly yet private, closed. For millennia the people here have farmed this land. They’ve terraced the mountainsides as high as they dare to trap the water flow, on the odd occasions it rains. The way they’ve plastered slopes with a lime wash, and funnelled that water into underground water tanks (aljibes). The use they’ve made of the basalt rock and the volcanic cinders (picon), as wind break and mulch.

LanzaroteAnother view of La Corona taken fom our farmhouse.

Despite the explosion of tourism which now forms about 90% of the island’s economy, the old farmers can still be found, tilling their land. Not as many as I recall, and certainly not as many as fifty years ago, but some cling to the old ways, some see sense in the dry land farming techniques their ancestors created.

Not much development has occurred in the north. The villages are much the same, a mix of smart new villas, old run down farmhouses, ruins and vacant blocks. A few farmhouses here and there on the land around. The restaurants cater for the people more than tourists. The shops are few and largely invisible.

So, what has changed? My answer is simple. Nothing. Unless I reduce change to a mere matter of multiplication. The population has doubled. Expats from many nations comprise about 30%. Many from Latin America. Consequently, there are a lot more houses. Tourism has boomed. Consequently, there are a lot more hotels and apartments. The roads are wider and there are roundabouts everywhere. Supermarkets and petrol stations abound. Cyclists from La Santa, athletic types wearing the correct gear, hog the roads.

There is definitely a lot more money around, going into the pockets of some, and not the many.

And that’s it.

For me, Lanzarote is the same as it ever was. There is the same north/south divide, as if those choosing the south, where almost all the development has occurred, overshadowed by the rugged dry peaks of Los Ajaches, the young calderas of Timanfaya, a landscape conjuring a certain pioneering spirit in the soul, of the Wild West perhaps, somewhere on the edge, pervades the collective psyche.

imageA small creation by indigenous artist Domingo Diaz Barrios

Those choosing the north are influenced by the softer greener peaks of the Famara massif, drawing on the comfort of its sheltered valleys, the secret of the massif, its dramatic western cliff, always hidden from view. Here the artists and artesans live, here the politics of the Left can be found, here the traditions of old are honoured, championed, preserved. The old German bakery with its sourdoughs and ryes, still sells at the markets. The French crepe stall is also still trading. Little moments in The Drago Tree that I’d inserted from memory, suddenly made real. Along with the ceramicists, painters, jewellery makers, all still here…

imageA small work by indigenous artist Domino Diaz Barrios

In a restaurant in Arrieta, down on the waterfront, we were introduced to a desert made from Gofio (toasted maize flour), ground almonds, sugar (not much) and cream. It’s a children’s desert, made in large batches. I had the idea of adding Brandy to the mix to create an adult version. It turned out to be so good we went back yesterday for more! Simple pleasures. How we like it.

For me, nothing has changed. The tiers of locals, Spanish and ‘the strangers’ from other lands exist in much the same way as they did when I was last here. The lumbering edifice of Spanish bureaucracy is more or less the same. Opportunistic ‘fat cat’ businessmen wheeling and dealing, greasing the hands of officials with brown envelopes – how is that any different to anywhere else? And the easy going, accepting, tolerant locals prepared to make space for the temporary colonisation that is tourism, mirrors the attitude adopted by their ancestors of millennia past, in the face of conquest and piratical attack. This, after all, is an island accustomed to invasion.

Shifting perspectives

Day 6 and my awe and delight at having returned are replaced by an acute awareness. Here are some of my observations.

Lanzarote is an island of contrasts. The everyday lives of the locals, with their tight knit family networks, their lives lived behind closed doors, and the tourists. Like almost all tourist destinations where the industry has planted itself in amongst a local culture and boomed, the people and their traditions, their culture, seems squeezed aside. At times tourism manifests like a sycamore in a foreign land, a eucalypt in Africa, a cane toad, a feral cat. Tourism, in essence temporary migration, fostered and serviced by a corporate edifice with no conscience.

Manrique Tahiche

I wonder, do the locals here hide? I would hide. I would be pleased the windows of my house faced an interior courtyard and not the street outside. For the island feels overrun. Only in the backstreets of the remotest villages, or the suburbs of the larger towns, can the people escape the invasion. The roads are busy, and anywhere remote is frequented by the more adventurous tourist, especially the cyclist.

It’s an impossible situation, on a small island formerly poor with a struggling economy, a backwater passed over in favour of it’s more stately sisters. Now the economy is dominated by tourism, and, just like Ann observed in The Drago Tree, there is no going back to the old days.

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Thankfully on Lanzarote much care has been taken to preserve the island’s natural beauty spots. The malpais (lava) making it difficult to develop large areas, especially in the north. And the artist, architect and ecologist Cesar Manrique set an example of how to cater to tourists without ruining the environment, one followed by many, those respecting the island’s status as a biosphere reserve.

Michelle and I have spent the last few days witnessing the tourist-local dynamic. On remote, winding lanes, we’ve been almost side swiped by cyclists riding two or three abreast. We’ve walked the gritty paths in the island’s hidden corners, only to find others passing us, heading off and up and round and every which way.

We’ve hung out in a bar in the main drag of one of the island’s quieter tourist strips, and spoken with a group of English expats, all of them warm and friendly. They are aspiring writers, and I was giving a talk. I was one of them, in my heart the same desire to live on Lanzarote. I can’t criticise their wish.

We’ve hung out in restaurants in the north frequented by locals and a few tourists, and we’ve enjoyed the exceptional service, the generosity.

We’ve walked through Manrique’s extraordinary house in Tahiche, created in a lava tube accessed by several small jameos (holes in the lava). An artist inspired by Gaudi and Picasso, his creative impulse evident in every corner.

We’ve been to the artesan market in Haria, and wandered around the backstreets, passing couples also wandering around. I was showing Michelle where I used to live. And we were on the hunt for an old friend, Domingo.

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We found him in his house on the edge of the village. I hadn’t seen him for twenty-six years but he’s the same. And our affinity for each other’s company was just as I recalled.

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For the first time since we arrived, I was forced to speak only Spanish. We were talking about the past, about our lives, about the future. How I could live here again. With a good internet connection I most certainly could. And then, what would I be? An expat, an English-born Australian author championing the values, the hopes, the dreams of others. A stranger.

No. I’ll have to leave the characters I created in The Drago Tree to live that life on my behalf.