Writing on and photographs of diverse subjects - often travel inspired.
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Fuerteventura, the Canary Islands
A Modest Proposal....
We are sitting in the
plaza, sipping Dorada beer. It’s not
late, but it’s dark, and a motley crew of northern European pensioners mirror
me around the bars. A balding man with a
beard and a pony tail clicks his karaoke machine and fingers his guitar, then
breaks into Dire Straits’Walk
of Life. Children jig around the
lamp-post; my wife does a discreet soft shoe shuffle in the shadows; and
somehow the atmosphere is absolutely fine….
He got the
action, he got the motion
Yeah the boy can play
Turning all the night time into the day
Welcome to the Hotel Canarino.....
Such a lovely place
(Such a lovely place)
We are in Fuerteventura, second largest of the Canary Islands. It’s early December, and notwithstanding the celebration
of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception as the child of Saints
Joachim and Ann, it is a quiet week.
Winds scour the barren landscapes, whipping volcanic dust into the air,
and skimming spindrift off the tops of the breakers.
It’s warm and even under high clouds the air
Like Everyman, we
braved the four hour flight south to get that extra sun, a touch of
exotica. We were Canary virgins, unsure
of what to expect.
I don’t even know now
why we ended up on Fuerteventura and
not on Tenerife, with its
spectacular Mount Teide (at 3,718
metres the highest mountain in Spain,
and the third tallest volcano in the world) or on the relatively green La Palma in the
Instead, we have
desert expanses and hardly a tree in sight.
There are a few neatly trimmed palms by the roadsides, and then dry
stretches with agave and aloe vera punctuating the dust. There are farms in the south, with a few goats.
There are swathes of arid land, burnt by the
sun and carved by the rare rain storms that rage down gullies, sculpting the
Little seems to live here,
though the shy Houbara Bustard is one species that has made Fuerteventura its
home. Occasional kestrels and buzzards
can be seen scanning for lizards or Barbary
ground squirrels. Berthelot’s pipits hop
about in the scrub, spanish sparrows twitter in the eaves of roofless
survive looking glossy and bright, and
along the shores egrets, whimbrels and sanderlings make a living among the rock
And as for canaries…. Well,
I didn’t see any. The domestic songbird
is a form of the little finch that does come from the Macaronesian Archipelago
(which comprises the Azores, Madeira and the
Canaries) but the name Islas Canarias originally meant Isle of
Dogs, and the birds were named after the islands, rather than the other way
We explore. From top to toe, the island rises from the
sea in crumbling cliffs or basalt lava flows, with some attempting hexagonal
forms not as neat, but not unlike, the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.
A few tiny villages remain, and one group of farms have been restored as the ecomuseo la alcogida:
And on the west coast, Puertito de los Molinos even retains something of its raw simplicity as it faces the pounding surf.
Inland there are modest settlements, some,
preserving a past that has been covered in concrete along the
eastern and southern stretches of the coast.
I was thinking to myself,
"This could be Heaven or this could be Hell"
It is here, in Betancuria, just by the ex-Franciscan convent,
that I discover a key to the island’s attraction: a worn wooden door in a white
wall, with, on a wooden plaque above, the words Bazar El Diablo!
Now I know where the Devil takes his
holidays! And perhaps I understand why?
In the Inferno,
in the Second Circle
of Upper Hell, DanteAlighieri and his companion Virgil find people who were overcome by
They are punished by being blown violently back and forth by strong
winds, preventing them from finding peace and rest.
Strong winds symbolize the
restlessness of a person who is led by desire for fleshly pleasures.
dance to remember, some dance to forget
where Dante placed many notable people from history and mythology including
Cleopatra, Helen of Troy and others who committed lustful sins, such as
are all just prisoners here, of our own device
Fuerteventura, the Island of Strong Winds, with its cindery landscapes and its relentless wind, is just the place for Satan to relax…..
We visit Lanzarote, which beckons us from our
In some ways this island is beautiful,
perhaps because of the genius and inspiration of César Manrique, who, in
the 20th century, transformed traditional buildings into architectural
masterpieces, combining old structures with modern, many of which buildings now
house art galleries and museums.
A website tells me that With his brilliance, bizarre volcanic forms – testimonies
to Lanzarote’s volcanic history (some of which was as recent as two
hundred years ago) – were adapted and converted into pieces of art in harmony
with their origins. Wind chimes and mobiles,
some of them like colourful giant toys, and stunning sculptures can be found
spread over the island.
César Manrique undoubtedly had an enormous influence on the regional council who gave him a free hand.
According to his guidelines, no building – and there were very few exceptions in his lifetime (he died, aged 73, in 1992) – should be taller than a palm tree. He banned roadside hoardings
as well as the tipping of rubbish, and electric cables had to be buried. He also recommended that buildings should only be painted white with
green woodwork – though those with sea views could use blue - so there is a considerable degree of homogeneity on this island.
is the ancient capital of Lanzarote, and it only lacks tumbleweed. A waft of cigarillo smoke and it would be no
surprise to see Clint Eastwood laying his poncho back across his right
shoulder, with Eli Wallach just round the corner.
extraordinary thing on Lanzarote is the cultivation of vines, many of which
pre-date the European disaster of phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th
Each vine is individually grown in
a sunken pit (up to 3 metres deep) and about four to five metres wide and then
a dry semi-circular rock wind-break called a Zoco is added. The vines are
planted directly in the barren soil which is then covered and protected by small
black lava stones called Picon. Again,
the black landscape with these low-lying vines has something devilish about it…..
At the northern tip of
the island, less than eighty miles from the coast of Africa,
a Mirador has been set up, with extraordinary views of the sea and the coast.
At the southern tip, however, the views are
more mundane, and the exponential growth of concrete cells is like the
frightening progress of an incurable cancer.
a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
You emerge from the blackened fields of the Parque
Nacional de Timanfaya and Montañas del Fuego (FireMountains)
into the dazzling whiteness of Playa Blanca,
ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
where batteries of apartments are ranged in row after interminable row.
to the less ordered sprawl of Corralejo,
and the Aberdeen Steak House, a bare
four minutes in a wheelchair, I pause to consult a menu and overhear, You can have grilled rabbit for ten Euros! - Ten euros? The poor thing!
We repair to Gregorio El Pescador, where paella is more to our taste, though the
next table is drunkenly requesting baby
cabrito, with chips, while the patient waiter tries to explain that a cabrito is a baby goat, so you don’t
need to call it a baby cabrito…..
Afterwards, back in the
plaza, sipping Dorada, another middle-aged troubadour is serenading the masses:
all the violence and double talk
There's just a song in all the trouble and the strife
You do the walk, you do the walk of life….
Hotel California was, for me, one of
those wallpaper songs, always there, the worn flock beginning to shine in the
dark reflecting the zebra crossing or the ambulance lights.....
I never really paid attention to the words,
though the couplet,
you can check out any
time you want,
but you can never leave,
followed by guitar, drilled into
the permafrost that once was my mind, on an island where there are no
resurfaces. I am sipping beer on the
devil's own island, and The Eagles
are circling, spinning their multimillion dollar magic over my gossamer brain,
between the devil’s surf school and the deep blue sea.
An idea comes to mind.
A modest proposal. Perhaps Beelzebub has been whispering in my
ear. Here’s an idea for our beloved
Chancellor….. Ship old age pensioners
out to the Canary Islands to end their days in
little concrete cells by the sea, a diet of pills replaced by Canarino potatoes
and yellow beer, their entertainment a mix of international football on giant
TVs and endless renderings of Dire
Straits' songs by street performers with paunches and bandanas…..
Johnny singing oldies, goldies
Be-Bop-A-Lula, Baby What I Say
Here comes Johnny singing I Gotta Woman
Down in the tunnels trying to make it pay
He got the action, he got the motion
Yeah the boy can play
Turning all the night time into the day