Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
We decided that we wanted to avoid the cold winter back home, so booked ourselves on a winter holiday somewhere warm. Being among the few places that are relatively close, easy to get to, and not rabidly homophobic, the Canary Islands beckoned, but we didn’t want to go to the gay friendly but somewhat clichéd island of Gran Canaria; instead, we went to Fuerteventura, a little closer to Africa, and a little more desert-like due to that fact that it was created from volcanic eruptions.
One of the highlights of our trip was to be a cycle ride round the small island of Lobos. Measuring under two square miles, it’s a 15 minute boat ride from Fuerteventura. It has not been permanently inhabited since the lighthouse was automated back in 1968; a series of trails around the island lead you either all the way around, or through the centre (going round the main volcano, which you can climb if you want).
The island was once home to large populations of seals – lobos del mar, in Spanish – but they’re sadly all gone, after the first explorers killed them for fur and meat. An exhibition in a small museum beside the pier on the island has a quote from one such explorer, who documented how friendly, inquisitive and intelligent the animals were, before going on to explain that the snout was the most sensitive part of the animal. ‘Aim for the snout,’ he wrote, ‘in order to swiftly kill them.’
Seals are now rarely seen on the island, but happily, other animals were more able to avoid being dined upon; seabirds such as la pardela cenicienta (Cory’s Shearwater) Calonectris diomedea, la pardela chica (Little Shearwater) Puffinus Assimilis, el paiño commún (Storm Petrel), Hydrobates Pelagicus, el petrel de bulwer (Bulwer’s Petrel), Bulweria Bulwerii, el guincho (Osprey) Pandion Haliaetus ssp. haliaetus, and the gaviota patiamarilla (Caspian Gull) Larus Cachinnans all nest in the cliffs and rocks.
The island seems to be a place where birds come to die; perhaps because there is no soil to consume them, we spotted many carcasses and even more bones; the fresher ones were surrounded by hundreds of tiny lizards, which were enjoying tasty meals of fresh flies.
Over 130 species of vegetation can be seen, some of which are unique to the island, including La Siempreviva, Limonium ovalifolium canariense, which is endemic on the island, along with La Uvilla de Mar Zygophyllum fontanesii, the saltmarsh Sarcocornia fruticosa and other siemprevivas Limonium papillatum & L. Tuberculum
Although the island is easily walkable, we decided to hire bikes, and were given a breathless introduction to both Lobos and the island of Fuerteventura itself from Stefan at Easy Riders bike centre. A Brighton native, he bought the bike shop some five years ago, and invested heavily in both mountain and road bikes – the mostly gentle inclines to the roads and investment in cycle paths beside the roads make it a perfect place to enjoy riding.
The main island of Fuerteventura was a little bit sad, though; all around us was evidence of a booming economy which came to screeching halt a few years ago. Partly finished buildings and roads are everywhere, and ‘for sale and ‘for rent’ signs are ubiquitous.
More than once, we were cycling along a perfectly smooth, obviously recently made road, twice as wide as it needed to be, and complete with street lights, which stopped and turned into a dirt track when they obviously ran out of money. In other places, roads and pavements are well surfaced, but the bike path is gravel. There are also street lamps mysteriously missing.
On one day, we went for a drive through the centre of the island, a 1½ hour journey along gently rising and falling paths as we wound our way along volcanic trails; the scenery was amazing, and although not for us, it also seemed to be the perfect place if you’re up for winter cycling competition training. The paths took us hundreds of metres into the clouds – driving through thick cloud, so visibility was down to a few metres, was all a bit too much for one luckless fellow driver, who ended with his car on its side in a deep ditch.
Weather hovered around 20º, and since November-January are winter, we managed to catch the last of the storms: windy 60kmh gusts in our faces as we cycled back up a steep incline along a busy main road were unwelcome!
We think Fuerteventura is a place worth visiting once, to enjoy the spectacular scenery and vast sandy beaches; but the gay scene is pretty much non-existent – the nearest totty we could find was on the neighbouring island of Lanzarote. Visit once, enjoy it for a few days so you can tick the box to say you’ve been there, then try another of the beautiful (tax free!) Canary Islands.
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