Islandmomma

Searching for Stories Around the Islands of the World and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Life’s a Beach: The Very Best of Fuerteventura

I apologize for the title. I know it’s unoriginal, but my weeks here have simply confirmed those snapshots in my head from visits in the 90s, which were of the breathtaking beaches of this island. However much I love the other islands, nowhere on the archipelago has beaches to compare with those of Fuerteventura. They are the very best thing about the island.

Sure, there are plenty of the black sand beaches, or pebble strewn coves typical of the archipelago, and many are really lovely; but there are also seemingly unending shorelines of white or golden sand, lapped by a turquoise ocean straight out of glossy travel magazine.

Footsteps on the Sand La Pared Fuerteventura

As you move around,  you constantly come across signs denoting that the area through which you’re traveling is a protected space. Whilst ugly cement covers sections of island, there seem to be huge areas where development can’t happen. Given the usual rumors of corruption which abound, it’s to be hoped that this lasts. The day I drove over to Cofete, for instance, I was getting pretty fed up of the bumpy dirt track by the end, but the moment I saw that stretch of unspoiled beach meandering before me, all the discomfort melted away.  This area is all protected, and the realization that no-one can ruin that view is quite dizzying. The day was hazy, so my photos weren’t good, but I hope it gives you an idea.

Cofete is, I guess, as remote as it gets here. I was told to go eat fish there for a real island experience, but the highlight for me was that first, breathtaking glimpse of unspoiled shoreline. The fish was fine, but so it is everywhere on Fuerteventura.

Cofete Fuerteventura Canary Islands

Slightly less of an endurance test to get to is the lighthouse at Jandia, where an inevitably rocky and quite spectacular coast awaits you. Sadly, because how much would I have loved to sit with that view to enjoy a cold beer, the museum/cafe was closed, as I had been warned, so was the bar in the tiny hamlet of El Puertito.  In both cases I’d advise taking food with you, and definitely water!

Punta Jandia Fuerteventura Canary Islands

 

El Puertito, Punta Jandia

El Puertito, Punta Jandia

Since I’ve begun in the south it seems like the natural thing to do is journey north, so hitch a ride if you like on this photo essay!

When you come off of the dirt track which forks  further down (one fork leading to Cofete, the other to El Puertito), you’re practically in the resort town of Morro Jable. I didn’t dislike the resort as much as I did others, mainly because the beach is so stunningly spectacular in a totally different way to the extreme southern tip of the island. Here the rocks give way to achingly perfect vistas of smooth, pale sand fringed by water the color of an Arizona gemstone. They weren’t over-busy either. I went back on Good Friday to see how crowded they were, and the answer was not much more than on an average day. Beware the prices in the beach bars though! I had a delicious smoothie, but was in shock when I got the check for €5.80 ….. ironic since, sitting there, I’d been reading a blog post title something like, “How to eat in Asia for $5 PER DAY!”

Morro Jable Fuerteventura Canary Islands

Alongside the beach in the El Saladar section of coast is a unique, small wetlands area, which is, for the most part, nicely looked after. Not easy to maintain a protected area like that right by a popular beach!

Walkway takes you over the small wetlands area to the beach at Morro Jable

Walkway takes you over the small wetlands area to the beach at Morro Jable

Traveling east the coast becomes rocky again in some parts, but is no less stunning, perhaps even more so. For the moment there are sections where development as been halted owing to the recession. This is the Jandia region. once the province of Guanche king Ayoze, and as you travel north on the excellent, modern equivalent of a freeway you sometimes get the feeling that you are driving through massive sand dunes, as the gentle hills are covered with white sand and scrubby bushes; hanger right to get closer to the coast, and you are, and there is that azure ocean taunting you to, “Come, take a dip,” again. From the beach known as Risco el Paso you can watch windsurfers perform, or wannabes tumble, as you admire the vista up to the Costa Calma area. Costa Calma is a concrete tourist resort, with some amusing hotel architecture, more suited to bus stations or shopping malls.

Costa Jandia

Costa Jandia

Risco de Paso

Risco de Paso

Jandia ends at the point where the island looks as if it’s been squeezed out of shape, with the area hanging on by a thread, so if you make a left to La Pared it takes only about five or ten minutes to reach the beaches of the south-west. La Pared means “the wall” in Spanish and there is said to have been a dividing wall between the two ancient kingdoms around this point. It is also said to be the sunset capital of the island. There were disappointingly unspectacular every time I went, and I returned a dozen times in hope, but they came close.

La Pared

La Pared

La Pared catching the rays of the setting sun

La Pared catching the rays of the setting sun

Last surf of the day La Pared

Last surf of the day La Pared

The beaches are rocky, accessed by dirt track, tramped mainly by surfers, boards atop their heads as they walk to the better beaches, leaving the closer ones to the surf schools and novices, and the odd hiker.

Surfers La Pared

Surfers La Pared

Surfers going home La Pared

Surfers going home La Pared

sunset La Pared

sunset La Pared

Back to the road and traveling north again, the rest of the beaches along the east coast are pleasant, often very quiet, but not so dramatically gorgeous as either south or north of the island. In Las Lajitas, Giniginámar, Tarajalejo, Las Playitas and Gran Tarajal you will find nice beaches, some grey sand, some pebbles, some rocky, and often there will be few folk with whom you have to share (I imagine that once school is out for the summer, this won’t be so true, but this Easter they certainly were not horribly crowded). I took to going down to either of a couple of beaches just south of Tarajalejo to work in comfort and peace.

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

I’m going to put my virtual foot down now, and whiz as quickly as possible past Caleta del Fuste. If you want to check it out, feel free, but the little I saw confirmed that it’s the worst sort of Canarian tourist hell. Not for me, thank you.

Past the airport, past the beaches around capital, Puerto del Rosario, which didn’t appeal either, though I do think it must be neat, if you are working there to be able to go to the beach in your (long) lunch break.

One last place which appealed to me, before getting to the awesome dunes of Corralejo was a wee village called Puerto de las Lajas. It was a bit forlorn I have to admit, clearly developers had begun to move in before the recession hit, and much seemed abandoned. When things pick up it may be nice or it may be ruined, who can tell?

Puerto de las Lajas

Puerto de las Lajas

And so to Corralejo. The first time you hit the dunes is really quite breathtaking. The road saunters through them. To your left they stretch to the low-lying purple hills on the horizon, and to your right you get tantalizing glimpses of the ocean. When you touch the sand here, it feels different, and it sparkles as you let it drift through your fingers. These are classic sand dunes. Think Lawrence of Arabia. Obviously, you can even get a camel ride – these guys crossed the road and headed towards the hills, presumably after a hard day’s work.

Camels going home over sanddunes Corralejo Fuerteventura

Lanzarote seen from sand dunes in Corralejo

On the other side of Corralejo I discovered a rocky beach with beautifully clear waters and hardly anyone around, save for a few surfers heading over the hill. There were clear views of neighboring island, Lanzarote – whence I head for a week tomorrow. Yay!

Corralejo Fuerteventura

From this northern tip you have to double back and head east to get to my very favorite place Cotillo. I visited Cotillo, twice,  early in my stay here & then stayed away, mainly because I liked it so much, and I’d contracted to stay two months in Las Playitas, so I didn’t want to be hankering to move on. I was right to do that. I returned yesterday, spent some time on the beach and had a quick shuftie around the town. I liked it. A lot. Especially the beaches.

beach Cotillo Fuertventura Canary Islands

Beach Cotillo Fuerteventura

This is a real surfers’ paradise, surfers as opposed to wind surfers or kite boarders, and it has the relaxed vibe which goes with all of that. Sure there is a fair share of surf schools, but not to the excesses I saw in La Pared. I chatted with a couple of lifeguards, who told me that, yes, there were incidents with beginners, but that surf schools were very co-operative in working with them to try to eliminate these. Experts catch the bigger waves along the coast to north or south of this spot.

Surf schools beach cotillo fuerteventura

Beach Cotillo Fuerteventura Canary Islands

The second time I went to Cotillo I followed one of those dirt tracks, almost getting stuck in the sand a couple of times (I’m told after exceptionally high winds it becomes impassable for a while). It brought me to the lighthouse (more of lighthouses another time!), but my journey began with one of those impulsive turns off a main road, which brought me to the tiny, tiny hamlet of Majanicho. I must have hit it on an exceptionally quiet day because it literally made me draw a short, sharp breath, so picture perfect was it. Around a small bay, a few shacks sat on the beach, looking half-abandoned but only half; waiting for their owners to return; certainly once fishermen’s cottages, now probably summer vacation homes. That day there wasn’t a soul around, and yesterday even, Easter Saturday, very few. Loved the welcome sign.

Majanicho

Majanicho

Backtracking again the north-west coast after Cotillo is rocky, more dirt tracks, dramatic cliffs, and some attractive, pebbly beaches like Los Molinos or Ajuy.

Ajuy

Ajuy

Los Molinos

Los Molinos

But the place I can’t get out of my mind is Cotillo. Certainly, if I were looking to live on Fuerteventura, I would definitely want to be by the beach (hell, I want to be by the beach wherever I am!), much as those interior landscapes have captivated me, and Cotillo is the place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Things I Am Learning from This Journey: No.1 I Am Addicted to Sunshine!

As I left the island of  La Gomera in early March the sun, seen throught the salty windows of the Armas ferry blazed a welcome, and then scurried behind onimous clouds. That was as much as I’d seen of it in that week.

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

The lazy, sunny, autumn days when I first arrived had given way to mostly bleakness in a valley famed for its lushness – so what do you expect, the green needs water.

Hermigua is quite breathtakingly beautiful, and certainly thoughts of coming back to stay crossed my mind. Every time I fell down that rabbit hole I was enchanted anew, and yet there was always this sense of  “making the most of it.” Granted, La Gomera was only the beginning of what I intended to be an indefinite journey, so I knew I would move on, regardless of how much the island tried to ensnare me. Yet the feeling was deeper than that too. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but I knew that I wouldn’t be back to stay - and here is where I admit that, although I see my travels as being infinite, I don’t see them as being unending. In the sense that one day I would like to find somewhere to make a small base from whence to travel as long as I am able. A retreat.

Lush valleys of La Gomera, but see how, mid afternoon, only one side of the valley is in winter sunshine?

Lush valleys of La Gomera, but see how, mid afternoon, only one side of the valley is in winter sunshine?

What I wasn’t sure about was just why, since I adored this valley, I didn’t see it in my long-term future. I pondered this as the dark shape of the island of  Tenerife came into focus on the horizon, outlined by that rising sun.

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Graveyard Tourism

Turns out that I’m a taphophile. That’s my language discovery for today. I love it when I learn new words in my own language.

I was wondering if I was alone in my predilection for visiting graveyards. Apparently not. Of course, I knew I wasn’t, because you only have to go to, say, Grasmere, in the English Lake District any sunny day, and you have to queue to read the words on William Wordsworth’s tombstone. What I didn’t know was that there is a word for it, but according to Wikipedia, a taphophile is what I am. I checked in dictionaries and most don’t imply it’s a morbid fascination with dead stuff, although one did.

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

It’s a fondness for visiting graveyards. I don’t think that I was so much of a tombstone tourist (another appellation Wikipedia sites) before I lived in Spain, although I may have been odd, if not unique, in heading straight for Les Invalides to view Napoleon’s last resting place on my only visit to Paris as a young woman.

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In Praise of Getting Lost

 

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It’s actually a little silly to talk about getting lost, by car at least, on an island the size of Fuerteventura. I speak not so much of getting lost in the sense of not knowing where you are, but in the sense of no-one knowing where you are, and being somewhere you didn’t intend to be.

It happens to me a lot. It’s happened a lot especially over the last couple of weeks since I arrived in Fuertventura.

My first intention was to simply drive around, find the places I remember from years ago, orientate myself, and decide what I want to explore further – but I keep getting distracted!

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Fuerteventura: 9 Days In

First impression? Sunshine! If journeys are voyages of self-discovery as well as discovery of other cultures, then the thing I have learned about myself so far in the last six months is that I am a sunshine addict. Truly, I wasn’t aware of it. I guess that living with the stuff for 20+ years made me take it for granted – until it disappeared! Somewhere mid December it started to rain in La Gomera; Christmas in northern England was bleak and full of dire weather warnings; returning to La Gomera for two months I think I remember four days of sunshine (But I’ll be charitable and say 5 or 6); back to England at the beginning of March to one sunny day and more bleakness – so it was delightful to wake up on my first morning on Fuerteventura to sun streaming through my window. Though some clouds have passed over, the sun continues to smile. The clouds rarely take up residence because this island lies so low in the ocean. Ask a local when it last rained and they squint into the distance and begin their answer with “Hmmm. Let me think…” Clearly whenever it was, it wasn’t too memorable!

Las Playitas, my current home

Las Playitas, my current home

Second impression? Beaches! The brilliant, white beaches of Jandia and of Correlejo, golden sands elsewhere and some black sand beaches. Something else I didn’t appreciate myself is how much of a beach bum I am. When my kids were small we went to the beach almost every weekend; when they grew older and became surfers, they still needed transport, and so I would drop them off and retire to an approved (by them) distance to enjoy the beach in peace (though sometimes there were other moms similarly banished to giggle with). I distinctly remember years ago thinking, “I love beaches. I love ‘em all. I love the quiet ones, the surfy ones, the sporty ones, even the posh ones at times.” Still do…..and it’s been a while since I really took advantage of living near them. I couldn’t fail to notice that in La Gomera, surrounded by the intense greenery and lush mountainsides, so many of my pictures were, still, of beaches.

 

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Tasca Telémaco: A Story of Wanderings and Food

I’d spent a month wandering and eating royally when I arrived on La Gomera in mid October. I’d eaten moules in France, game pie and pulled pork in London, Cumberland sausage in the English Lake District, and fresh seafood, fish and lamb in Ireland, and capped it off by scoffing the season’s first spiced pumpkin latte in Dublin airport. Safe to say I was stuffed, and not at all fazed by the prospect of living for a few months on a small island where I expected plain, sturdy country food.

Certainly, my expectations have been met. In Hermigua there is no Chinese restaurant, no pizzeria and definitely no sushi. There are excellent, traditional foods, cheeses to-die-for, meat and chickpea stews, palm honey and almogrote (more about those soon), and all the traditional Spanish and Canarian tapas, plus, I recently discovered in this chilly winter, watercress soup,  but my first eating experience was not what I’d expected.

On my second day, I wandered down to the tasca owned by the family whose apartment I am renting, and ordered a tapa of mushrooms. I expected what is usual in the Canary Islands, a small dish, reeking of garlic, in which mushrooms float in a sea of oil. It’s a greasy dish (albeit olive oil, so not as bad as it sounds), which you have to be in the mood for. However, what I got was a generous plate of sliced mushrooms, fanned out, and definitely not resting in grease. They were fresh and garlicky with an aromatic touch of cilantro, and each mouthful was sheer delight. I realized with both alarm (I’d planned on “dieting” whilst here!), and satisfaction, that I wasn’t going to be on a diet of cheese and chickpeas in Hermigua.

DSC_1787

In fact, sitting there on the outside terrace, in Tasca Telémaco, sunlight filtering through the bamboo shade, listening to the faint sounds of cocks crowing and goats’ bells along the valley,  it seemed like such a natural extension of the good life I’d been living that I’m pretty sure that I slipped into the sort of trance enjoyed by the lotus eaters.

 

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First of New Series: Expat Interviews: Chatting with Travelers: Val

Starting today I’m doing an occasional series of chats with people who choose to live, let’s say – not where they were born. They may be constant travelers, expats, snowbirds or maybe some combination, or even defy a label.

Living abroad, or traveling isn’t that unusual any longer. I’m interested in stories that are a bit different. If they are travelers: the reasons they chose an unconventional lifestyle, what they are learning from it, what they do along the way.  If they are expats: people who have begun a business they would never have dreamed of doing back home, launched themselves into new careers, or into relationships with challenges, or who have faced unexpected problems in their new country.

My friend, Val, falls into the latter category. I’ve known her since 2005 when we worked together. She’d been inviting me to come watch the choir in which she sings perform for, oh, must be a couple of years, but our timing only coincided for the first time last year. I was so impressed with their performance. I knew that Val had had to overcome health problems since living on the island, and it struck me how, despite that, she has carved out her own niche here.

Me and Val at a wine tasting last year

Me and Val at a wine tasting last year

I’ve had this post almost done for a while. Since it’s my first “interview” – although I think I like the word chat better – I’ve been editing it and hesitating but earlier today I found out that yesterday Val celebrated 10 years of living on the Canary Island of Tenerife ….. so it seemed like the perfect date to publish!

 

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Playa Santa Catalina: My New Office

I’ve been almost reluctant to write about La Gomera. My idea of slow travel is to gather information and get under the skin of a place, and even after 3 months here I wonder if I have done that.

In a sense I have, because I’ve been living a fairly ordinary life, working, strolling, shopping, getting to know folk, making bars my “locals”. In another sense, that works against me. Isn’t it just fitting into a predictable, day-to-day pattern, and isn’t that what I am anxious to avoid? I haven’t been doing nearly the amount of research I should have done, or at least that’s how I feel. Can sufficient research ever be done? Even after over 20 years in Tenerife I was still learning, and there is a ton of stuff I don’t know about my hometown back in England.

Of course this is how it should be. We should never stop learning. However, a cautionary word; master storyteller, Stephen King, remarks via one of his characters, that:

“ Al had taken away the scholar’s greatest weakness: calling hesitation research.”

Playa Santa Catalina from La Punta Mirador

When I arrived here in mid October it was to an idyllic scene, and I, floating on the euphoria of wonderful times in France, and London, and Ireland, embraced it, and continued to float.

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La Gomera’s Five Year Fiesta

La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Gomera, Canary islands

Legend has it that in the early years of the colonization of the Canary Islands, in the 16th century, a boat en route for the New World was passing by the coast of La Gomera, when the crew spotted dazzling lights emanating from a hillside close to the port of San Sebastian. Going ashore to investigate, they found the source of the lights came from a cave, and inside the cave they discovered an image of the Virgin Mary.

In awe, they took the statue aboard their boat, but found that they were unable to make any headway, that some strange, unseen force had them held captive. When they were overwhelmed by a huge flock of seagulls, one of which tried to seize the little statue, they decided that this was a sign that the Virgin wished to remain in her cave, and they returned her, and were able to continue the remaining miles to San Sebastian. The folk of that town, on hearing their story, made haste to the place, now known as La Puntallana, and in the Virgin’s honor decided to construct a sanctuary for her there – which is where you will find her today, that is, except for a period of about three months, every five years.

Statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe hermigua la gomera

The statue was declared Patroness of the island of La Gomera, and named for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and every five years she leaves her chapel to visit the other churches of this small island. It is a fiesta of some note. In fact, I had delayed my arrival back in October because I thought that port and capital, San Sebastian would be crowded as she began her journey from her sanctuary.

The Canary Islands are steeped in traditions brought or created by the first conquerors who claimed the archipelago, island by island, in the names of Spain and Christianity. The colorful fiestas and romerias of the islands all center around blessings from or homage to saints or the Virgin Mary. Even the spectacular and Disney-esque Librea de Tegueste features a stroll around the square by the Virgin.

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La Gomera : Two Months In

Hermigua ValleyYesterday I fell down the rabbit hole. As I fell, I turned and twisted in slow motion, so that the world became unreal, and I wondered about White Rabbits and Mad Hatters at the end of my plunge. Of course, it was my over-active imagination, returning from the south of the island, leaving behind blue skies and sunshine, the final tunnel of the five which scythe through the mountains felt like the rabbit hole, but when I emerged it was to a changed world; it was to ghostly brume wandering the perpendicular landscape. Again I had the feeling that I’d arrived in an alternative universe.

Two months have gone by already. Whilst I am aware of the slower pace, the relaxed mindset, the tranquillity, it still seems impossible that I’ve been here for two months.

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