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Fuerteventura: Whether the weather be hot!

Whether the weather be hot, whether the weather be cold………………. my sympathies (only just) go out to all the turistas de playa (beach holidaymakers). The weather has really cheated them this last week.

Snow in Gran Canaria!

Weather warnings went out across the Canaries, especially to Gran Canaria, where temperatures have plummeted and rain and snow have disrupted timetables, but brightened up the lives of children! The mountain gods were only just on my side today. They helped me avoid one downpour, but I was caught by an

Caldo gallego

almighty shower on the way back to Caleta. But who cares? It´s only water, after all!

Caldo gallego. Back in Puerto del Rosario, I warmed through with a piping hot bowl of Galician stew in a bar owned by a gallego (Galician). Like the Irish, the gallegos have populated many countries in the world with their emigration over the centuries.

Baby theft in the 1970s

Fuerteventura seems to have been a popular destination, especially when tourism took off and work was freely available.

Local news. I´ve had more time today to catch up on local news via the local press. Here are a few remarkable facts:

Baby theft. The suspicion of some local parents has brought to the forefront some apparent abuse during the 1970s. Babies were born and then died in mysterious circumstances, without the parents being able to see their bodies before burial. It emerges that throughout Spain, in Maternity Hospitals run by a certain order of nuns,

Burial of the Sardine

babies were being stolen from their parents and sold on for adoption. There appear to be over 700 cases. This mother in Fuerteventura had given birth to twins when she was only 17 years old, and they both mysteriously died within days in intensive care. They were buried in a common grave for infants, but she always suspected that the truth was not quite what it seemed.

Carnavals. The period of Lent is always heralded by the famous Carnavals, and they are celebrated here with gusto. Everybody dresses up, there are competitions and processions, and the star acts nearly always include preposterous drag queens. The whole period of festivity is concluded with the ceremonial burial of the Sardine (look it up on Wikipedia!).

Boom in Canaries tourism. The last few months have seen an extraordinary boom in tourism, due almost entirely to the crisis in North Africa. Every cloud has a silver lining! (well for some).

International windsurfing championships. There is a danger these will be taken away from Fuerteventura, if the regional government concerned cannot honour the debt it accumulated with last year´s championship. If it loses this, it will be an enormous blow to the local economy.

And in case you need to prepare for it, you should know that Spanish Father´s day is on March 19th. If you believe the press and advertising, children all over the country will be rushing out to buy their Dads the very latest in iPods, iPhones, iPads……………….  Oh dear!

Distance covered (some under rain!): 55kms

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