Thirteen rugged volcanic lands, off the north-western Atlantic coast of Africa – faraway lands, forgotten by the European Kingdoms during the Antiquity period, until they were rediscovered in the 14th century by Genoese, Portuguese and Mallorcan navigators. Situated in the Atlantic Ocean, the Canary Islands remained an ideal stopover for merchants, or a target for raids by pirates and corsairs, whilst en route to the Indies. Following years of turmoil, this archipelago is nowadays an autonomous community of Spain embracing the mainland’s language as well as some of its traditions.
Having already visited some years ago the most populous ones, Tenerife and Gran Canaria, I knew what I was heading into. This time round I was more intrigued to explore the oldest and remotest ones, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. With their subtropical climate, sunny days remain the norm, making these islands an ideal winter escape for a mini adventure. Being told that they were much prettier and wilder than the mainland Spanish regions, I could not wait to set foot on these forgotten isles.
Despite weeks of packing and preparation, travelling to the Canaries felt like taking a plunge into the sea. And that was exactly what I did as soon as I arrived, after months of travelling in Iceland.
Passing through Fuerteventura, if not mostly to discover strong breezes, the peaceful sandy beaches or the tempestuous waves hurling against the rugged shores will certainly remain a long lasting memory. Initially I surrendered to the idea that there was nothing more to these lands except the unspoiled state of its nature – only to find myself to be quite wrong. Walking deep inside these barren lands that stretched out for miles before me, I started to visualise its times gone by, the struggles the locals experienced – hiding from piracy, resisting colonisation and the fight for identity. These are lands of lost borders, and perhaps also, of many souls.
Since it is more developed than the rest of the islands, it is not a place that offers much culture. Restrained development has maintained its niche market, keeping away mass tourism. Nowadays, the lack of structures and the rough swells attract new age style travellers, and experience surfers and windsurfers all year round. It is not difficult to realise when surf’s up, as all of a sudden the quiet roads start teeming with cars, all carrying surf boards stacked on top. Apart from a couple of majorero goats perched on the dry plains, this island is a place where the sea and windswept dunes are predominant.
After venturing around the southern and western sleepy traditional towns, with their picturesque, white washed houses framed by pink bougainvillea trees, I decide to continue up north. Although there is excellent sustenance in these tiny villages, two days were enough to see pretty much everything.
Whilst heading north to Corralejo, I could not help but notice the instantaneous change in the landscape. To the south, the dramatic red and ochre volcanic landscape starts to subdue. Sandy strands start to appear on the paved road carried by the wind from the left side, from the magnificent sand dunes covering a massive field of 2.5 by 10.5 km.
Nowhere epitomises the island’s character better than this northernmost town – with its magnificent stretches of sand dunes ending in deserted beaches, only disturbed by the distant hum of the main road leading to the town centre. One minute you can be dazzled by its turquoise beaches whilst attempting your first surf lesson or whilst diving a few metres below sea level – the next, you’re high up close to a crater taking pictures of the perfectly aligned volcanoes.
Corralejo Natural Reserve is indeed a protected desert beauty. Arguably the loveliest beach spot of the north, one can never get enough of its stretches of sand, as every other weekend there is a festival going on. During the last one, The Festival of Kites and Colours, incredible giant kites could be seen swaying high above the dunes in magical rhythm.
On approaching the beach, a few hundred metres away, I could initially spot a flurry of kites filling the skies to then discover that some were actually 20 times my size – from exotic and traditional Chinese dragons to sea horses, lizards, octopi, hamburgers, witches and even moles. With so many of them gracing the skies, I thought I would be lucky to also spot my favourite cartoon character. I immediately got absorbed in the enchanting atmosphere, and quite fascinated I just sat there, on the soft, white coral sand, staring at the kites dancing in the wind right above me.
The island invites you to also explore its underwater realm, to encounter manta rays as well as angel sharks, which can be easily spotted if one searches for the less popular dive sites. From a first dive just off the coast, I was able to closely observe a plump, dark brown fish, with splotchy markings from groupers family. I did not notice it right away since it was hiding under the rocks. As such, I learned that this kind of fish is very solitary and likes to hide in the shadows. Others, such as the trumpet fish, and moray eel were less shy and enjoyed the attention.
Exploring the underwater world of these islands seems to have gotten most of my attention and until then I shall wait for the next high tide to continue exploring the waters surrounding these isles.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Mandy Farrugia