Fuerteventura: Scaling the heights

Fuerteventura, one of the islands in the Canarian archipelago, seems to be one of the least known. But on my first sortie this morning on a hired mountain bike, I discovered that this is a favourite place for the cycle training camps. I pass (or should I say, they pass me!) countless groups of ´roadies´ wearing their full lycra kit, riding the latest carbon fibre frames. I am puzzled. I discover later, talking to one such rider, that there is a large training camp to the south of the island, and they are all out in force today.

Dromedaries

I have come over for an indulgent week of cycling and, instead of paying the exorbitant Ryanair tariff for carrying a bike (80 GBP return), I opt for hiring a bike from a local business in Caleta de Fuste (50 euros for six days, including all the extras like helmet, pump, SPD pedals, puncture repair kit). It´s a good deal, and saves the infinite hassle of transporting your own bike.

My route today took me from Caleta de Fuste, on the eastern coast, over to Antigua in the west, and then over a huge climb (600 metres) to the oldest city on the island,

Betancuria

Betancuria (founded in 1404 when the French arrived and ousted the two remaining Guanche kings). Most of us simply look on the Canary Isles as an all-year-round holiday destination, but these islands have a fascinating past. The

Two Guanche kings

indigenous people, prior to European occupation, were the Guanches and, like so many indigenous people of occupied islands, they were coerced into slavery and their ethnic line gradually disappeared, through a combination of premature death and intermarriage.

Why were they called the Canary Islands?

Betancuria Cathedral

Well, not because of the famous little bird that sings endearingly in little cages. They, in fact, were named after the islands. The name “Canary” probably comes from the days when Pliny wrote (2nd century) about the archipelago, and made reference to a breed of dog known only on the islands. The word “canary” is likely to be a corruption of the latin word “canis” (from which we get the word ´canine´).

Why is the island called “Fuerteventura”? The most likely explanation is

One of the myriad windmills

that it is a combination of the two Spanish words “fuerte”(strong) and “viento” (wind). This might be confirmed by the popularity of the island amongst windsurfers, where international competitions take place at the south end. And, as you would expect, if there is a lot of wind, there are likely to be windmills. There are so many of them that I expected to see Don Quijote, alongside his faithful valet Sancho Panza (Sancho the belly!), jousting with the odd one.

What do you think this sign is warning you about? Deer jumping across in front of you? Well, that seems an obvious answer, but not in this case. These are warning you of goats! Why? Well there are only two internationally recognised signs warning of roaming animals: the cow and the deer. So they have to use one of those! The island is “infested” with goats, hence the typical cheese of the island is goat´s cheese. And delicious it is too, especially when it is the soft variety.

Being on Fuerteventura, where the average rainfall for March is only 2mm, I might rightfully expect to have a dry week. The clouds loomed large all day, then in the afternoon I was caught in a deluge, and was tracked by the rain all the way back to base.  I reckon the island is set to break all records for March on the strength of only one day´s precipitation!

Distance covered: 70kms

About Frank Burns

My journeys around the world are less about riding a bicycle, and more about what happens when I get off the bicycle. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on March 10, 2011, in Cycling Fuerteventura and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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