Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands 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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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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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 : 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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After the Storm

IMG_20130305_070535Yesterday I left the house three times. Once I wore a waterproof  jacket, and the other times just heavy sweatshirts. Guess on which occasion it did not rain! C’est la vie!

So this morning I poked my head out of the window to sniff the air before I stepped out. The streets looked damp, but not wet, but there was still that smell of rain in the air (that exists, although perhaps if you live somewhere like England it’s possible to be so accustomed to it that you no longer notice), so I donned waterproof and beenie and we trotted forth.

An incandescent blue was beginning  at the end of my street as we turned left for Playa Cabezo, and in the couple of mintes it took to reach the Paseo Maritimo the clouds on the horizon had a distinct yellow edge, a happy sign that the storm was passed. We stolled slowly past the junipers which obscure the beach, Trixy doing that which a dog’s gotta do, and when we could see the horizon again it had adopted a much rosier hue. It was shaping up to be a glorious sunrise, and so we stood and watched, as the remnants of the dark storm clouds succombed to the sun’s greeting.

DSC_0033

DSC_0027There is a point at sunrise where the colors fade, between the peak of their intensity (above) and the actual appearance of the sun, which is a whole other vista, and so at that point we turned for home, because there were chores to do, before my first class at 10.

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In Celebration of El Día de Canarias

Today I should have been out celebrating and enjoying myself, quaffing some local wine and no doubt stuffing myself with traditional foods, whilst listening to Canarian musicians and learning more about “my” island. However, I wasn’t, instead I am lying on my couch, amusing myself by writing this to distract myself from the constant urge to empty the contents my stomach. All is not perfect, you see, in paradise. I seem to have food poisoning.

In lieu of joining the celebrations I thought I might do one of those boring posts which really belongs in a tour operator’s webpage,  but which will relieve both my  boredom and my self pity by reminding me how much I enjoy being here.

Traditional Tenerife: You would be surprised at just how many folk possess and wear with pride their traditional dress. There is said to be a different variation for every municipality on the island.

El Día de Canarias

The first parliament of the autonomous region, Canary Islands, sat on May 30th 1983, after a long wait. The creation of autonomous regions had first been undertaken by the government of the Second Republic in 1931, but by the time the Civil War broke out in 1936 nothing had been implemented in the political bickerings which preceded the Civil War  – and of course everything then went on hold during the war and the consequent iron grip which Franco had on the country.

With his death in 1976 many of the reforms and projects which had been abandoned or iced began to resurface, and the new (and current) Constitution, drawn up in 1978, provided for the establishment of autonomous regions and some decentralization of government, and so the Autonomous Parliament of the Canary Islands was born.

May 30th was declared a fiesta (bank holiday) in celebration of its birth, and the day is marked throughout the islands with displays of traditional crafts, sports, costumes, foods and music.

Historical Tenerife:  The original capital of the island, La Laguna. An UNESCO World Heritage Site and seat of the province’s university, it is both charming restoration and vibrant hub of the island’s creativity.

Tenerife

Tenerife, for anyone who is new to my blog, is just one of the seven main islands which make up the Canarian archipelago. It’s been my home base now for over 20 years. It has an image in some European circles of being merely a mass-tourist destination, but it is so much more, and if you need proof then just check some previous posts.

Since I can’t give you a first-hand report on the festivities to which I didn’t go, I offer you, in honor of this day, a photo essay of this island of Tenerife, showing its different faces, its variety and perhaps an understanding of why it fascinates me so much.

Musical Tenerife: Two things come to mind when you combine the words Tenerife and music – folk music and the salsa of Carnaval, but there is so much more for lovers of all kinds of music. This photo was taken at the annual Santa Blues Blues Fest in June. July sees a prestigious jazz festival, autumn an opera season and year round classical music lovers can listen to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.

Coastal Tenerife: tanning addicts swarm to the resorts, but there are also plenty of quieter, more natural beaches to be found.

Gourmet Tenerife: In recent years the standards and aspirations of restaurants and hotels have simply soared. You can now find cuisine from almost anywhere in the world, and quality equal to big city eateries. This sushi at Restaurant 88 in La Caleta, Costa Adeje.

Mountainous Tenerife: The island’s mountains actually come in all shapes and sizes from lushly forested ones on the north east tip to the surreal volcanic landscapes of the Teide National Park, home to Spain’s highest mountain, El Teide.

Wine Lovers’ Tenerife: Canarian wines were famous as far back as the 17th century, and were famously (for we English-speakers) mentioned by Shakespeare on more than one occasion. Tenerife boasts no less than 5 regions. Oh, and I throw in here cheese too, because the goats’ cheeses are the perfect accompaniment!

Hiking Tenerife: Volcanic badlands, lush forest, coastal trails a walker’s heaven, in other words.

Tourist Tenerife: This is, believe it or not, the only Tenerife which some people know. I am a beach addict, but this is my least favorite face of the island, which is not to rubbish it. It’s just that sharing a beach on this scale is not my thing, but clearly it is for thousands, and the municipalities of the south, mainly Arona and Adeje cater for mass tourism, leveling rocky stony beaches, building hotels (the more recent ones of very high standard) and generally attempting to cater for every whim of the sunseekers. Tenerife does not have the prettiest beaches in the world, but they are some of the sunniest.

Agricultural Tenerife: OK the photo is just a bit of a stretch, and may have been more appropriate under the “traditional” heading, but it’s just that I love oxen. These days they are, so far as I can make out, brought out only for fiestas and other traditional events, but were an important part of the island’s history at one time. There are none of the huge farms of the US prairies or even the big farms I’ve seen in Scotland here, but thanks to co-operatives bananas, tomatoes and the famous Canarian potatoes are still exported, though not to the extent they were in history. Did you know that London’s Canary Wharf was named for the islands? So great was the volume of exports to England alone at that time.

Shop-till-you-drop Tenerife: Neither the Via Veneto nor the Champs Élysées, nevertheless shop shopaholics can have a ball in the swisher parts of the southern resorts and in the island’s capital, Santa Cruz, these days.

Sporty Tenerife: Surfing, windsurfing, hiking, cycling, paragliding, sport fishing, running, golf, kite surfing, climbing, trail running, triathlons, tennis…….that’s just off the top of my head, the sports which immediately come to mind.

Delicious Tenerife: Fine dining apart, Tenerife has a wealth of simple and traditional dining too, with fresh ingredients sourced locally from mineral-rich farmland, the variety of the ocean and locally raised goat and pork. Go inland to find small bars and restaurants, or to the kiosks at the fiestas.

Cultural Tenerife: Santiago Calatrava’s magnificent auditorium in Santa Cruz is symbolic of the wealth of island’s Cultural (with a capital C you note) events. An icon of modern architecture it is home to the symphony orchestra and scene of ballet, opera, jazz, world music, modern dance and many other events. In addition the capital has the historic Teatro Guimerá and La Laguna is home to Teatro Leal. Then there are museums, art exhibitions, photo exhibits and other events galore. Granted, you may need to speak some Spanish for some of these, but a little can take you a long way.

Romantic Tenerife: They tell me we have the best sunsets (and I would add sunrises) in the world. Since I haven’t been everywhere yet I can’t confirm that, but, well, they are pretty amazing.

Quirky Tenerife: I suppose everywhere has its quirky side, but I would put money on it I could snap a photo every day of something out-of-the-ordinary here!

Floral Tenerife: This was the hardest photo to decide, so in the end I chose two. Bouganvillea, hibiscus, geraniums, marigolds and heaps of other domesticated flora decorate the towns, villages and cities of the island, but only in the mountains will you find the tajinaste, indigenous to the island and found in the wild no where else on earth.

The almond trees, on the other hand, were brought by the Conquisadors, their flowering marks the beginning of a new season in January, and the nuts are the base of many artisan sweets.

Travelers’ Tenerife: Finally Tenerife as gateway to the archipelago, the launching point by ferry or by local airline to the other islands in the chain.