Saturday, 15 March 2014


We were picked up from Fuerteventura Airport, on the second largest and oldest of the Canary Islands, by the arty surfer and guesthouse owner Franco, whose very cool, 300-year-old farmhouse he has restored using re-purposed beams from the original building and being as 'green' as possible. That means solar panels on the roof, collecting rainwater and re-using the household water for the garden, and growing organic vegetables in raised beds, both for his and guests' use. All the rooms of the house lead off an inner courtyard and, as it's in the middle of nowhere, there is no light pollution to interfere with star-gazing. Also, as he is an artist, everything is done with a creative eye, so there are things to look at wherever your gaze falls. He and his Chinese wife have been planting olive trees and aloe vera, and the garden is a welcome oasis of green compared to the barren landscape beyond.

In fact, if I'm honest, my first thought when I saw Fuerteventura was that it was ugly. I know - what a thing to think! But where were the trees? The lush tropics? Nowhere, was the answer. This is a dry place. If it rains 10 days a year it's remarked upon – and people did, as it has been a wet winter and we even experienced an afternoon downpour. But, as the days went by, I started to see it with different eyes. I found I liked the stark contrasts between the volcanic black rocks and the white sand; the bright blue of the sky and the brown of the islands.

We stayed in Corralejo, in the northern tip, which meant we had views of both Isle de Lobos, which is uninhabited and has been designated a nature park, and Lanzarote, which sometimes looked close, sometimes far away. As well as the ever-present reminders of old volcanoes – the calderas; the volcanic rock, both black and white – the other defining element of this island is the wind. It blows so constantly that it feels cool, but underneath, of course, the sun is baking down. At any event, over the centuries, people have built round enclosures out of the rocks for protection from this wind.

More recent ones are ranged along the white sand of the Grandes Playas and these are maybe 10ft in diameter, so that a couple can lie inside and sunbathe without being battered. But we had the experience of going inside a much older one, built to contain animals, way on the west coast of the island at Los Molinas.

It was a fairly big circle, maybe 30-40ft across, and would have held – most likely – goats, which are probably one of the few animals that can forage enough food in these conditions. To get into the enclosure, the walls of which were roughly 6ft high, you needed to duck through a small square left open on one side. On the opposite side was an opening that led to a smaller enclosure, which might have been used for sectioning off part of the herd, and it was into this we went on our last night, led by the infectiously perky Karen, who runs Stars by Night.
Along with Karen was the uber-knowledgeable Enrice (I think I've spelled his name wrong but I will fix this when I find out), who brought his telescope and showed us the moons of Jupiter, the star factory of Orion's nebula and the moon's craters and mountains; and Simon, who was there to take night photographs.

There was a wonderful feeling of being on the edge of the world with enthusiastic folk who wanted to share their passion with us visitors and it was a great night that will stay with me.

What else? Well, there was an extraordinary bicycle ride, again along the western edge of the island along an unmade, dirt road. Although we were passed by the very occasional car and other cyclists, again there was the feeling of being somewhere unexplored and empty that was exciting.

One day, walking back from the beach, we passed a house whose roof was covered in sculptures and whose walls had all sorts of things sprouting from them, like legs, colored fish and surrealist objects. As we were admiring it all, an older man with white hair and beard opened the gate of his driveway and came out. We asked if we could see inside and he said to come back the next day as he was going out. So, the next day, off we went and rang the doorbell and he invited us in to his garden. It turns out he is the artist Carlos Calderón Yruegas. An architect by trade, he told us that when he works as an architect, he must do what his clients want and follow certain rules and regulations. But with his art, he is free – he can do as he likes. I liked this idea very much – that there is a realm where you can do anything you feel like because you are only pleasing yourself. And, if it pleases others too? Then it's doubly good.

I ended up buying a print from an etching of his, and we sat in his garden and talked about art and he was so welcoming and kind – it was as if we were old friends. He asked where we were going next – to the beach, maybe? We said we were going to do some painting and at that he very kindly gave us sponges and a container of water to wash brushes out, as well as paper towel to dry them on. He invited us back and said we must return and he would teach us how to do etching. A lovely man and a wonderful artist. I felt very at home with him and in his space – there was something about it that reminded me of childhood and the homes of my parents and their arty friends.

So, by the time we were leaving, rushing along in our airport shuttle van, I looked out at the volcanic mountains, the endless shades of dun and brown and black and white and blue, and thought, Actually, I like this place very much. It's beautiful.

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