Living as we do now
you must concentrate all that which you should always have
into the short time that you can have it.
– Ernest Hemingway
After a year of eventful travels in Africa , the transition back to Europe was sweet and easy. The seven Canary Islands feel like seven lovers, each with a different character and charm. If Gran Canaria is flamboyant, Fuerteventura is wild. Lanzarote is artsy while Graciosa feels intimate. Tenerife is all sun and fun next to misty and austere El Hierro. And La Gomera, the most untouched, is the absolute fairytale. Then there is the eighth, La Palma, the youngest and most powerful, exploding as I write… Imagine this was a fiesta típica española, à la Ernest Hemingway, where all seven jealous amantes were invited… Welcome to this autumnal moveable feast!
#1 Nudist “Spanish Sahara”: Las Dunas de Maspalomas, Gran Canaria
The dunes…! There is something irresistible about the dunes: the purity of the undulating sand, the absolute silence, and utter solitude. In this past year of travels, the Sahara was by far my favourite photo series where I tried to capture the subtle shades of shifting sand and the minute movements of desert wildlife. The first morning upon my return to Europe, without hesitation I head to Maspalomas, known as the “Spanish Sahara”, in Gran Canaria in a celebratory mode. Bypassing Playa Ingles flooded with overweight European mass tourists, I walk from the lighthouse along the beach where morning fishermen are trying their luck. Inching closer to the dunes, I harbor the illusion of finding a lone spot where I might be able to catch my fleeting shadow. Instead I see those of roaming nudists invading the sacred space! Oh, I am fooling myself; this ain’t no Sahara! But it is a consolation, for my transition back to the old continent. The real, one and only Great Desert would have to wait, post-Covid…
#2 Wild Fuerteventura
It is early September and sun-loving Europeans are far from ready to return to school or work. Gran Canaria proves to be too much for my system after a year of solo travels. I hop on a turbo jet to the neighboring island, the name of which alone sounds inviting: Fuerteventura/“Strong Wind”. Dry and desolate, it attracts a specific returning crowd who seeks wild landscapes but still within comfort zones. I walk in some more dunes in Corralejo (stay away from German nudists who look for quick beach sex!), feeling the magical pull of Lobos island next door for an athletic day trip. I hike along its quiet coastal trail, climb a tiny collapsed caldera with magnificent views over Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, and wrap up a perfect day snorkeling in the azul water of El Puertito. In the remaining days in Fuerteventura proper, I chill in El Cofete, a stunningly beautiful beach with a massive cliff backdrop, and sunbathe topless next to hippies who sit perfectly still to meditate!
#3 Artsy Lanzarote in the heart of volcano land
Just a short ferry ride from Fuerteventura, subdued Lanzarote immediately strikes one with its good taste. No more party crowds of Las Palmas or tiresome mass resorts of Fuerteventure. Instead, minimalist white-painted houses with green/blue windows, and happy islanders enjoying old-timer Spanish ballads while gazing longingly at the sea. Here, a visionary artist-activist, Cesar Manrique, leaves not only his voluminous output throughout the archipelago, but also his priceless legacy on strictly controlled development of his native island. No one would ever forget Jameos del Agua, one of his most well-known projects. A flight of stairs opens into a grand dining room in a lava tube before continuing to a pond – with a perfect reflection – into the second compartment, then extending out into a pool surrounded by a cactus garden, and ending in an auditorium with cave acoustics! What sublime visual and aural effect of his poetic imagination! Lanzarote is equally famous for the gorgeous Timanfaya National Park where one steps back in geologic time. A hike through Caldera Blanca is every photographer’s dream to marvel in the light and shadow amidst delicate shades of orange, brown, and black in the heart of volcano land! And after all these artistic and geographical explorations, there’s always the beach. Famara, with a permanent surfing community, is an absolute gem!
#4 Love at first sight: Graciosa!
In Orzola in the Northern tip of Lanzarote, I take a spectacular sunrise ferry to meet my next lover. Graciosa is love at first sight! I hug along its coastline, passing picturesque caldera after caldera, before reaching stunning Playa de la Conchas where everyone drops everything else to be in the moment with massive awesome waves. A white house here, a cactus garden there, and long, empty, meandering trails. Helas, just as I grow more and more intimate with my new lover, like Cinderella, I have to bid farewell to endearing Graciosa at the stroke of the last ferry bell!
#5 Out of reach: Mt. Teide, Tenerife
To climb or not, that is the question! For the entire week in Tenerife, Mt. Teide, the highest peak in Spain, stares down at me, daring me to a date! At 3720m, this tall, handsome fellow is the crown prince of the pack, so often out of reach. One has to go through an elaborate system of gatekeepers – permits, reservations, and strict time limit – to even get near. If you take a shortcut (a far too convenient cable car), you aren’t allowed to summit. No cheaters, please! And if all appointments with this totally elusive guy are already snapped up, the only way is to grope your way through its massive body at midnight, in time for a sunrise embrace over morning tea. It’s worth the effort for sure, but I chicken at the thought of venturing out into such unknown territory. Instead I console myself with a distant but frontal gaze, by climbing Mt. Guajara. Sulking at my lack of initiative and boldness, I go for long soul-searching walks in the Anaga Forests and dip in the natural pool of Los Gigantes. Next time, I will summon my courage to kiss you, Teide!
#6 Austere El Hierro!
After the Teide challenge, most disappointed admirers just quit. I heard though there is a very moody fellow out there in the Western group of islands that’s worth giving it a chance. Never one to stop trying, I hop on another turbo jet to see what the hype is all about. El Hierro has recently become a famous TV celebrity through a thriller series! Only an hour’s flight from sun and fun Tenerife, Hierro feels like a different planet. Misty and austere, this tiny island isn’t your regular destination of choice. I hike up the steep Jinama trail the first day, huffing and puffing, only to realize Mirador de la Pena, magnificently designed by Cesar Manrique, offers the same sweeping view of almost the entire Western half of the island. My favourite spot is the natural pool in la Maceta where, for a while, I could forget about this austere lover, dreaming of the next escapade!
#7 La Gomera: a fairytale
It’s a girl-meet-boy fairytale that makes the Garajonay forest a legend. Princess Gara from Gomera and Prince Jonay from Tenerife fell in love, but a fortune-teller predicted tragedy in the form of fire and lava, and the lovers end their lives in the mystic forest. One has to be in this impenetrable biomass to fully feel its incredible lushness and power. With Laura and Anouk, fellow adventurers, I walk bare feet along an ancient path deep in the laurel forests and become mesmerized by the shifting forms and shapes of dangling branches and giant trees disappearing in the mist. Somehow, la Gomera escapes the mass development of its sibling islands. Quaint, sleepy villages lie in valley bottoms with the backdrop of massive rocks and cliff faces. And there is a very enticing natural pool near the pretty town of Hermigua. On a calm day, one could just while away an entire sunny afternoon there, oblivious to the volcanic eruption in nearby La Palma.
What a stupendous month being nourished by seven spectacular Canary Islands! I have never been as polyamorous and still could not make up my mind to whom to return…! Maybe it’s too early to settle. Only time will reveal their souls. Quizas, quizas, quizas! For now, I continue my adventure. Next: Madeira!
To be absolutely free to create
without fear or formula
heartens the soul, and
opens the path to the joy of living.
– Cesar Manrique
All Content © 2023 by Jennifer Chan