That was going to be the first of my cycling tours and I had been thinking on a plain and not really long-distance trip. Simply a little adventure in order to test if the experience of touring thanks to your own energy and on a simple economical and amusing mechanical invention as a bike, was so exciting and attractive as shown by the many trip reports already read on the net and also as my mind used always to imagine.
On the other hand I haven´t seen too much material on the net about cycling in the Canaries, therefore I thought that a trip report would be a reasonable and refreshing contribution.
I neither had time nor budget to travel away from the Canary Islands by that time; and otherwise my 6 months pregnant wife wouldn´t definitely like an idea like that neither, so I found too many reasons for planning a local tour.
The problem you´ll find touring in the Canaries is that most of the times you won´t find a flat terrain. Also you´ll find plenty of problems for free-camping, this is truly forbbiden and I could say. Once during a previous trip in Fuerteventura the Police found me three times during a night and two of them they asked me to take my tent and go away!!!, only one of the couples showed a bit of compasion allowing me and my wife to sleep in my car but under the condition of leaving the place early in the morning.!!!
San Bartolomé, a little village in the centre of the island of Lanzarote (Canary Islands) where I do live now, was thus the point of departure of a short three-day solo tour. As planned, I was really light-touring, so few clothes were required. I also carried out our CAMPING GAZ little stove; a very practical individual tent (purchased in Montpellier (France) some years ago) and a sleeping bag together with my camera and the elemental tools usually required in case of emergency or little setbacks.
27/08/2001 (8:45 Start-13:00 Stop 37 Kms.)
The first kilometers of the day were really a new and exciting experience, loaded with panniers and with some more kilos on my bike than usual. I hit the road a little bit late but the aim of the trip would be to take it easy and live a nice and pleasant experience. Nevertheless I have to say that my Kilometers´ average per day is not really common; quite few as I´ve seen even for a quiet ride, but it was my first tour and I didn´t want to exterminate the idea of practising cycloturism in a future with my whole family and going for a little bit longer distances and extension of time.
It was a fresh and quiet morning with excellent conditions for cycling. There were some clouds but it wasn´t windy, (a constant in Lanzarote as well as sun); so I was facing an ideal morning that was even better when I started to face truly outstanding landscapes. As I passed by an area called "La Geria", I started to smell the fresh fragances of the countryside (figtrees, vinyards...), there were people working on the fields picking up grapes and I found a really nice setting while tripping through this area; the most important wine area of Lanzarote.
They say that vulcanic ground gives a special taste to the wines of the area. It is really a misterious landscape with the predominance of black colour. A contrast is given by such a ground and the green vinyards and white and green houses found there (style imposed almost in the whole island by the local and famous artist Cesar Manrique dead in a fatal car crash some years ago).
I stop at "Bodegas La Geria", one of the famous wineries of the island. I go to the toilet, drink some water and eat some figs picked up from trees at the shoulders of the road, they still guard the freshness of the morning´s dew and they really taste sweet and nice. They say that those pecked by birds are the best ones. It seems birds know what they do because it´s true!!!
I arrive to Uga and then I head to Yaiza and finally Playa Blanca, where I find the port where I plan to catch a ferry that leaves at 13:00. Something really strange happens before arriving to Playa Blanca. On a dry bush called "hulaga" by the locals I see something that seems to be a bank note. I stop, go back, and find out that it really is a bank note (1000 ptas./6). It was funny because as it was stucked to the bush because of the wind, it seemed to flourish from it... I arrive to Playa Blanca at 11:07. I have time to wander around the port a little bit and I purchase some food at a supermarket in order to eat before the departure of the ferry.
Playa Blanca was originally a little fishing town till tourism arrived and the subsequent transformation began. Several hotels are been built and the famous white "calas" of Papagayo beaches are now crowded and beginning to loose their wild and beautiful nature.: taxi boats, crowded campings, motor-cars etc... The little port of Playa Blanca retains some of its nice fishing origins but tourism is making a violent and ferocius progress. Local people see how many shopping centers and "fish & ships" locals emerge with foreign costumes and styles of life. Recently on the entrance of a disco, a Maroquian was killed by a Colombian with a kitchen knife...This seems to be the sad beginning of something very negative for this quiet lands. Lanzarote´s economy was originally based on agriculture, fishing and tourism. The last fishing-related factory closed its doors quite recently; there is a crisis in agriculture (recently the official government building of Lanzarote (the "Cabildo") was crowded by farmers with their cattle as a protest) , so tourism seems to be unstoppable; easy money instead of the traditional quietness and slow and plain style of life...Some say that if one day tourism fails in the island everybody is going to eat the concrete ...except canarian politicians obviously.
I take the ferry to Fuerteventura, the other island where I will be touring. It´s a 45 minutes trip. The sea is quiet. I take the panniers out of the bike, sit and relax in the main lounge of the ship. I´m not really tired and everything works right; I feel really glad and excited to be here with another different island in front of me.
The ferry arrives at 13:54 and without incidents I start looking for a hotel that I some time back saw in Corralejo, the town where the ferry ends the short trip. I remember that such hotel wasn´t far from the port and in fact I found it quite easily after some minutes of search. To stay in a hotel seems to be kind of luxurious but here there are no youth hostels in the Canaries (at least that I know). I´d got a room for 7875 ptas.(47.33) breakfast included.
I wanted to walk around this town because I found it attractive for its original new buildings but, don´t be mistaken; I´m not talking about a wonder: The main avenue is a touristical net conceived only to catch the attention of tourists and their money. I only say that it seemed to me attractive because though touristic, some buildings´ line seems to me kind of attractive. In Lanzarote, as I said, houses follow a fixed pattern, and the lack of it is something that shocks me of Corralejo; this town seems to be the door to an island full of architectonical disorder. Here it is also interesting the combination between the backstreets in the old part in the first line on the coast, and the modern part towards the interior of the town.
I spent the rest of the evening washing my clothes in the bathroom of the hotel, walking and "windowshopping" finally having dinner on a little burguer. Loneliness is something that sometimes I like to experience; it´s really odd to be on a strange place being a outsider. Knowbody knows you; who are you, where do you come from, what do you do, what do you think. You can go wherever you want to; inmerse yourself on a strange coffee shop sit down there and observe the costumes and the rythm of life of locals and foreigners; and there you are, knowbody knows anything about you but you are in their place; somehow locals are attached to the place; they belong to but you don´t. That´s something that really fascinates me of travelling. There´s something special in the fact of being in a place that you know you are going to leave and maybe you won´t see again in your life. That makes you live, taste, and enjoy that place with a feeling that those that belong to couln´t ever experience as a foreigner does; at least in that place. I´ve thought many times that I have some kind of nomadic sense of life. There is something romantic in the fact of travelling. If you are in a place that you like you love to be there but at the same time there is an urge to carry on and discover some other beautiful places and atmospheres. Thus you take what you like from that place and go on with nice feelings and memories as well as some kind of sadness and an exciting expectation for what is next...
(28/08/2001 34 kms.)
Next morning I had breakfast (orange juice, a peppermint tea and bread with jam) in the hotel and had a late start after a generous hot shower. I headed South by the mainroad and arrived to Valleverde, a town that seemed to me to be kilometers long, but as nearly all the towns in Fuerteventura very quiet and plain. I wanted to purchase some typical local cheese from Fuerteventura. I tried in a museum where they said on a sign that they sold it. There were also some camels there for boys to have a short ride on them.
It seemed to be a beautiful museum but nobody was at the reception desk. I decided to carry on arriving next to "La Oliva", a bigger town but still little and quiet. It has a beautiful old church but closed. I wonder a little bit around the town and end up in a petrol station that I remember from a previous trip. Chocolate milk and a croissant in its coffe shop. I head Northwest after having the point of inflection of my tour. I´m coming back but through the west of the island. I arrive at "Los Lajares" at 13:07. I stop beside a little church square. At 13:40 I arrive at "El Cotillo", a little town on the northwestern coast of the island. This area is full of surfers and of white-sand beaches with little coves where the water is still and warm. I feel like swimming a bit, and so I do, though I don´t have a bathing suit. My rooled-up cycling pants work as a beautiful bathing suit. Anyway I´m so much tired and willing so much to have a bath that I chucked all my aesthetical principles and my shame in. Besides, some other people go naked (though I believe they aren´t exactly as Adam and Eve before the Fall) and they couldn´t care less!!! The water level slowly descends; little by little at the shores so I lay down on the sand while water covers my whole body except my head which lays on a rock that I previously procured myself for that purpose.
It was so nice a feeling of warmness and quietness that I remain for at least two hours!!! I almost fell asleep and I´m not kidding!!! After 1 hour I gradually started to feel something strange on my right elbow under the water. I felt at times a little and sharp pain. There were some seaweeds there so I didn´t mind; that was the reason... At first, it was even unnoticeable; but when the tenth or eleventh of them happened I glimpsed and discovered strange little fishes wondering around my elbow. I remained quiet but looking at them and realized then that they were there because now and then the bravest ones were biting me. At first it wasn´t painful; neither at last but was kind of annoying!!! it´s not nice at all to feel that you are some kind of food!!! I thought that maybe they considered me a moribund animal (so much time there, little movement...). These fishes didn´t respond to my waves (the same as some tedious flies do) so I faced the end of my wonderful bath-rest. I took my bike and looked for a good place to pitch my little single tent. It was a hot evening and there was not much to do down there so I went into my tent to spend the rest of the evening reading till it was dark I cooked then some chicken cream with my stove and ate some fruit before going to sleep at 21:00.
(27/08/2001 70 kms.)
I started at 8:45 having finished to pick up everything and leave the place as I found it. I was going to have breakfast in El Cotillo; I didnt expect to find a nice place, but after some ridind in the streets of the town and the answer "no donuts or any kind of pastries here yet today" in a bar, I really found a nice place whose name I don´t remember. It was really surf oriented but it was a nice place runned I suppose by Germans because of the magazines in German and the delicious pastries they had there. Everything was wooden even the floor (something not really common in the Canaries); and I ate a very nice strawberry cake and took a white coffee.
I hit the road and started to move my legs slowly and with care but hoping to make progress and get little by little to a higher speed in order to catch the ferry that leaved at 11:00 from the port of Corralejo towards the so called "Island of the Vulcanoes" that is to say Lanzarote. Today I feel fit and I really do a very fast progress, so I have time to stop in order to insist on the search of the typical cheese. I ask in a village that is full of surf shops in a shop of souvenirs and traditional craftwork. "Have you got goat cheese here?" I ask to the shop assistant...No, but if you go back there is a particular that sells it." I quickly go back and find the place because there is a person waiting outside the door of the place, there were no signs there. I ask that man for the place and he says that certainly he is waiting for a cheese but after looking at my panniers he also tells me that the cheese has to be previously ordered. I didn´t want to waste more time with the deal of the cheese so I faced to Corralejo inmediately.
Already in Corralejo I only had time to take a coffee and to get some money out of the bank in the main avenue heading then to the port terminal. It is there when one of the most stupid and absurd situations of the trip happened to me when I put my bike inside the ferry terminal (obviously I didn´t wan´t to leave my loaded bike outside). It was a surprise when waiting to get the ticket an angry cleaning lady asked me why did I have to leave my bike there. When I explained that I had panniers on it and that they where better attended by me like that, she angrily yet asked me to remove my bike from the terminal and leave it outside; "that is not a place for it...!" she claimed. I took the bike outside. I didn´t want to be rude with her and carry on with that stupid situation. I also suppose that the effort previously done on the bike left me quite relaxed not to answer back any stupid thing. I understand that she could be tired of facing unpleasant situations everyday as I suppose many cleaning staff is; mainly because of thoughtless people, but I didn´t agree with her neither in the way she spoke to me nor in the reason to do it. Uncommon things in Spain (at least in the Canaries) are normally accepted (not always as in my case) with lots of problems and obstacles. Touring with panniers is something uncommon. Or you are stupid or crazy but you are definitely out of the rule. Only to illustrate it, one of the locals told aloud to his friends (probably thinking I didn´t understand him) as I passed by: "but...where is THAT going now...? I didn´t feel stupid but I´m afraid that his purpose was to show me as so to his friends. Anyway; I won´t say that the Canaries or Spain in general is a mess of a country but the truth is that something like the episode at the terminal was not surprising to me while I certainly was surprised once in Denmark but precisely for the opposite. By that time we were a group of 18 people travelling all through Europe by train and we arrived late to a station with no place to stay. The person in charge simply left us the key of the station and allowed us to sleep there!!! Mentality..? culture...? customs...? I suppose though that everything has a positive and a negative side in this world...
I took the ferry with without incidents and once in Playa Blanca I had lunch in a place really full of construction workers. I supposed that there was an unexpensive menu for them there when I saw so many of them there so I tested my reasoning and it was OK. But I´m afraid I ate too much since the way back from Playa Blanca to San Bartolomé was a torment. I suppose that three factors made it really unpleasant; really a suffering. First of all from Playa Blanca to Yaiza it was the abundant food that affected me together with the effort done in Fuerteventura in order to catch the ferry. Then from Uga to San Bartolomé it was all of this but with a new guest; the worst of things: a strong head wind. I started to stop with more frequency and the progress started to be really slow. I definitely wouln´t recommend going by bike from South to North in Lanzarote. Normally there´s wind in Lanzarote but if there is, it will blow most probably from North to South.
Little by little I managed to complete the journey and it was at 17:00 in the afternoon when I finally arrived to my final destination, San Bartolomé.
The experience was really great and the tour was not really hard except for the wind found in the way back. Maybe a more pleasant trip would be departing from San Bartolomé or the capital Arrecife going all the way down as I did but instead of turning back go through the island of Fuerteventura all the way South, take another ferry this time to Gran Canaria; expend a day or two in its capital Las Palmas (a big city) and return by plane. My wife and me have thought about something like this many times but this will be another story...