One thing that became abundantly clear when I finished college was that I had to travel. For some people, diving straight into university is easy, but I didn’t feel nearly ready enough to pack my life up and move to London for three years of study. What I was ready for was three months in the sun. Strange. The prospect of moving to another country didn’t faze me one bit, and so it was rather spontaneously arranged: I would take the annual holiday with my family, and then stay on to do not much at all with no one at all.
Fuerteventura is a tiny Spanish island, part of a group called Islas Canarias – or, to us Brits, the Canaries. Most likely you’ve been to one of its neighbours – Tenerife, Gran Canaria, maybe even Lanzarote. Curiously, Fuerteventura is less-established as a tourist destination, but every year the visitors multiply, and soon enough it may just be another Costa Blanca. But, in 2014, it was perfect.
The uninhabited nature reserve island of Lobos.
I first visited the island with family when I was 16. We holidayed in the northern town of Corralejo, a former fishing village and a sun trap that lay right next to the deserted island of Lobos, a nature reserve. After years of holidays in Portugal, one of the first things I noticed about Fuerteventura was the lack of – for want of a better word – Britishness. It hadn’t reached that point where, like so many other holiday destinations, you couldn’t walk for a minute without seeing something inherently British, some place that Karl Pilkington would happily frequent. As with any sun trap, the inevitable karaoke bars, Irish pubs and garish cafés started to pop up more and more frequently, but in general Corralejo was still a Spanish haven.
The morning after my family had left was one I doubt I’ll ever forget. I had rarely, if ever, been without people, and was constantly surrounded by my tight-knit family and a group of friends that I had had since childhood, but I was finally getting the chance to be on my own. No distractions. Just me, a few cheap notepads (and one beautiful one that my mum got me, presumably not realising I would never be able to ruin it with my shit handwriting) and an empty stretch of time. Ok, I’m being dramatic. I had just read Eat Pray Love and was certain that my summer abroad at age 18 was comparable to Liz Gilbert’s epic journey of self-discovery. Nevertheless, in my self-indulgent mind, I was undertaking a ground-breaking adventure. It began the same way all good ones do: on a bad note.
Convinced that living in the sun would make me the picture of health (à la those Visit California adverts), I immediately stopped at the supermercado by the beach and picked up an aloe vera health drink. If you’ve ever tried one, then skip ahead– no-one should relive suc torture. If not, then allow me to thoroughly put you off. The thick goop was tainted with unexpected pockets of aloe vera gel, a substance even the steeliest of stomachs will reject and a solitary sip of Satan’s green juice left me retching on the pavement of a beautiful beach town, ruining the selfies of loved-up travellers and permanently tainting any illusions I had of becoming a chic beach gal, complete with oversized sunglasses and aloof attitude. Once I made the switch back to trusty ol’ water, things were finally smooth sailing.
They say time flies when you’re having fun, but despite my contentment, I found the days to be endless. They were long – I’d wake up early to get to the beach before it got busy and leave well after the sun had gone down – and similar, and they now blur into one sunny montage of snorkelling and writing on the beach, stopping only to make a sandy lunch and explore the rock pools. Even after a couple of months, when the novelty had truly worn off, I was still unshakably happy. I didn’t need much anymore. With no television or WiFi, my trusty Kindle became everything to me, and was the one thing I always carried – you know, alongside my phone, money, notepad, back-up money… Safety first. It came with me to the beach, on the long bus journey to a nearby town, even when I went to get groceries. Sure enough, I read Eat Pray Love a further three times that summer.
Corralejo from above.
Remember that Greenday song, Wake Me Up When September Ends? It’s really the only reference I have for the end of my time in Fuerteventura. These particular types of experience have an expiration date, one that I always had in the back of my mind. Being able to spend a few months not working, exploring a new country and exploring myself is as privileged an activity that I can think of, and these days it’s not something I would even contemplate. But, for a teenager in need of some serious space and an itch to do something “different”, it was pretty fucking great. I may never go live in another country all on my lonesome ever again, but that’s ok. I did it when I was 18. I got to connect with one of the most beautiful islands on the planet. And, you know, myself.
Words, Ria Newman
Pics: Wiki Commons