Thursday, 11 October 2012

First impressions of this fair isle

As early as 10am in Fuerteventura can feel like mid afternoon, a fact many travellers discover early in their trip; a combined result of the sun's already relentless power, and having risen at the crack of dawn to catch early flights.

It is worth watching the descent to the island out of the plane window (Top tip: sit on the right hand side if possible). The plane flies the length of the island, giving way to a spectacular view of the rugged terrain below, and allowing an extended view of the nearby land masses of Los Lobos and Lanzarote too,  before curving back on itself and starting its final descent. The landing itself is a nervy one, due to the proximity of the runway to the glittering ocean, and passengers with anything less than nerves of steel are better off looking away. Once safely on Earth, the full, breathtaking effect of the cliffside airport is revealed, as the heat haze from the tarmac becomes impossible to distinguish from the inviting glint of the sea beyond.

The airport itself, although small, is modern, far more so than the dated terminals of Gatwick which seem a distant memory the moment you set foot on foreign turf.

Leaving the airport, it slowly dawns that it is one of very few buildings nearby - hemmed in by the sea to the East, mountains to the West, and apparently uninhabited land to both the North and South, the airport suddenly feels very lonely. Thank goodness for Geordie tour reps, eh?

Empty shells of buildings
The resort town of Corralejo to the north of the island is a 40 minute drive from the airport, during which time it becomes clear that "uninhabited" is the default setting for Fuerteventura - the rule rather than the exception. Holidaymakers who find themselves in a post-flight daze and wondering what sort of a place they are visiting would not be the first - the landscape is outwardly hostile, with barely a tree for miles. The only major township on route is El Puerto del Rosario, the capital of the island. Although it appears very industrial, travel reps are often at pains to push it as a tourist destination, being home to the largest shopping centre on the island, and, apparently, a church with a bar inside ("You can say your Hail Marys whilst sinking Bloody Marys"). Other than Rosario, the only suggestions of civilisation are a scattering of isolated and uninhabitable cottages -whether they are in stages of construction or abandoned and derelict is unclear, but often the only sign of any human interaction in recent decades is graffiti.

The other predominant feature of the Northbound journey is the mountains- the arterial road skirts directly around the base of one of them, and the sight of the mountain overshadowing the route is thrilling, even for the most seasoned traveller. The approach to Corralejo offers a relief from the aching landscape, as the rocky coastline and monotonous landscape give way to postcard-perfect sandy beaches, and the blurry buildings whizzing past the window become more frequent.

However, even in the urban areas, abandonment is rife. This building site was intended as a shopping centre, we are reliably informed, but work was never completed and the site has fallen into a state of disrepair. It is clear that despite Fuerteventura's increased tourist appeal in  recent years, the recession has still hit hard.

Initial impressions of Corralejo town suggest an Arabic influence in architecture, with many arched windows and rooftops domes, although in hindsight this is likely to be a Moorish influence. A collective sigh of relief can be heard as every coachful of tourists arriving in the town realises that there is civilization to be seen. However, nature is never far away, as demonstrated by the looming shape of one of the mountains to the south of the town, and the vast expanse of wasteland lends an almost claustrophobic air to the town, as residents and visitors live in the knowledge that it's a very long way to the next town.

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