If you read my last blog, you’ll know that after an interesting few days on Fuerteventura, I’d covered the first four sections of the GR131 walking trail, ending in Betancuria at the end of the final day.
It’s from here that I resume my story.
Stage 5: Betancuria to Pajara.
A 200-300 meter climb out of Betancuria and back up to 600 meters above sea level, led me along a ridge which descended through a large recreation area and into Vega de Rio Palmas (at about 200 meters). It was through a small tunnel, followed by a bit of a fight with the overgrown trail, before another 450 meter climb took me up, and another descent brought me down into into the small village of Toto. The final section of today’s walk was down a dirt track which closely followed the main road.
Overall, there were a few decent views from the high points on today’s section, but very little to shout home about. The last half of the trail was on very well built and managed trails, with wooden bridges across the barrancos, stone gullies to re-direct rain water and even sections with steps cut from the rock. Highlight of the day was almost definitely the lengthy conversation I had with Gunleik (the Norwegian dude from the previous day) as we crossed paths once again.
Stage 6: Pajara to La Pared.
I don’t care what you say, but the distance markers on this section of the trail were wrong. I thought so, Gunleik (who I met again the following day) agrees, as does anyone else who has ever walked this route (presumably).
I left the town of Pajara and headed back into the mountains, climbing up about 250 meters and following a ridge of mountains south. I was in a really good mood as the trail ascended and descended over several summits, almost dancing along to the music blaring through my headphones. It’s rare that I spend the majority of a day walking listening to music, preferring to take in the sounds of the environment I’m walking through – today was an exception. After taking a fair few photos (read: selfies) as I was hit by the full force of the wind, I continued until I reached an imposing rock formation. It was time to drop the pack and spend half an hour bouldering. While this undoubtedly accounts for some of my time, it still does not explain why it took so damn long to get to Cardon – which was only supposed to be about 14km from the start. Having eaten up the best part of the daylight and with 13km left to go, it was time to turn up the pace.
The first couple of kilometers out of Cardon was real easy walking, following the base of Mount Cardon on a path cut through the rock left by a previous eruption. Then came the most infuriating few minutes of the entire trail so far. A steep descent, on rugged, uneven ground, made for some slow going. Almost immediately this was followed by an ascent of equal height. It was probably over a kilometer of steep walking, which ultimately brought me up less than 100 meters up the road from where I began. Fuck you.
Anyway, the next 3 or so kilometers followed the side of the road, making for thoroughly uninteresting walking. As the sun was going down, darkness was creeping in and I had not eaten (nor did I have any food for tonight), I decided to cut my losses. With about 2 kilometers to go until I reached La Pared, I decided to stick my thumb out and try and get a ride. The first car that went passed stopped, I jumped in and we drove the 5 minute drive to La Pared. I even got some tips on where to lay out my sleeping bag that night. I found a small bar in town (the only one) which was open, and ordered a beer and some meat which was barbecued outside. I took this opportunity to get some battery into my phone before wandering down to the beach under the cover of darkness to find somewhere to sleep.
Stage 7 & 8: La Pared to Playa de Sotavento to Morro Jable.
I had a surprisingly good sleep curled up in my bivvy on the cliffs above Playa Pared. Since it was pitch black when I set up camp, when I woke I was surprised to find out that I was actually further away from the sea than the sound of the waves suggested. Annoyingly, as I knew that today’s stage of the GR131 was almost entirely through El Jable desert, I had to hang around until the shop opened at 9am to buy some water before continuing on my way. With water (and breakfast) bought, I got moving.
Initially, the walking was quite easy. A gravel track wound its way out of La Pared, offering views of the vast nothingness. Eventually, I began to glimpse the tourist resort of Costa Calma across the vast swathes of sand – thankfully, I would be avoiding it completely, travelling the other side of a hugely imposing wind farm. On a couple of occasions I had to move out of the way of large dump trucks which were rolling down the gravel track, ruining the feeling of solitude which I would be granted once they had passed. Slowly, the sand increased, the temperatures raised and the walking got harder. It had been a couple of hours now and it was getting increasingly difficult to spot the trail markers against the sand that had been whipped up against them.
As the route changed to a southerly direction, I became aware I was getting increasingly close to the south coast of the island. Rejoining a gravel track, I passed a car park full of cars whose occupants had headed off on day walks into the surrounding mountains. Eventually I reached the FV-2 highway, where I was unable to find the correct route across marked on my map. Rather than wait (or probably walk off in the wrong direction), I decided to just bounce down the steep sand dune instead, rejoining another gravel path and ultimately ending up in Playas de Sotavento – a beach which, judging by the sheer volume of people partaking in the sport, must be famous for windsurfing.
This was supposed to be the end of today’s stage, but since it was only about 2pm and I was still feeling pretty fresh, I decided to push on another 13km and try to end as close to possible to the tourist town of Morro Jable. This section of the GR131 alternated between walking along the beach and climbing up and down onto the cliffs. It also passed several half-built now-derelict apartment complexes whose backers had taken a hit in the financial crisis of 2008. The further I walked, the more tired I got of the constant ascents and descents and decided to just push on down the beach for as long as possible. (Because walking on sand is much easier… or not).
Picture the scene. A fully clothed, backpack-laden hiker, wandering between the towels of the naked, middle-aged German sun-worshipers hidden in their stone-circle wind defenses. Excellent. Whereas I normally spend all my time looking at my surroundings, eyes darting left and right and taking photos of anything I deem photo-worthy, my eyes were firmly fixed to the sand and sea as I made my way through kilometer after kilometer of nakedness.
I continued to play cat and mouse with the sea as I continued down the increasingly touristy coastline. Huge hotel complexes were becoming more and more common, as were the vast swathes of sunbeds and sun-worshipers. At one point, I took a wrong turn up a stone staircase only intended for hotel guests. Realizing my mistake, I turned around – only to be chased by a drunk German hotel guest who offered me a place to sleep in his room. Was he being nice – or did he want to eat me? His increasingly firm protestations that I should stay, that he was not gay and that he would not sleep in the same room as me was enough to make me continue on.
As I joined a concrete road (and took a ridiculously indirect route) into Morro Jable, I decided to shoot out a couple of couchsurfing requests in the hope of a bit of comfort for the night – I was in luck. A Spanish dude called Christian replied, offering me his spare room for the night after he finished work – all I needed to do was wait, which is what I did by grabbing some food, a couple of drinks and lying out on the beach in the darkness. Nice.
Stage 9: Morro Jable to Faro de Jandia.
So… it turned out Christian was a total legend. The following morning we grabbed some breakfast together and he offered to drive me to the end of the trail – it’s a 20km walk to the very tip of the island, but as far as I was aware, there was no return transport to/from the end. We set off and it seemed to all be coming together nicely – that was until we discovered the road was closed because a marathon was on. I wouldn’t be walking today. Instead we drove back along the coastline I’d walked down the day before and found a couple of nice places to stop. It was while we were pulled up that I noticed a green speck slowly walking along a familiar part of trail – it was, once again, Gunleik. I ran down and we had a chat about the last two stages of the walk and about the stage to Faro de Jandia. He mentioned that he hoped to walk the entire length of the island again, this time in the opposite direction, before possibly heading to Lanzarote. I gave him my suggestions and we parted, fully expecting to see each other on the trail the next day – we did not!
Anyway… Perhaps the marathon was a touch of divine intervention, since a bit of research that night led me to discover that there was ONE off-road bus a day to and from the end of the island. The next morning I caught the bus and was pleased as it drove through a beautiful landscape, crossing the mountains over to Cofete and finally down to Peurtito de La Cruz and Faro de Jandia.
As I hopped off the bus, I wandered around the lighthouse among a number of other tourists who had driven their rentals down. The walk back was relatively simple – I would follow the coastline for most of the day, passing a spent graveyard of campers and vans in the ex-fishing village of Peurtito, before cutting inland slightly and repeatedly crossing the road which carried me down to the lighthouse earlier in the day. Finally, I’d have a short climb providing some unique views over the port and into Morro Jable before meandering through the streets and back into town. Overall, it was an excellent days walking through a barren moon-like volcanic wasteland, with a rugged coastline, imposing cliffs and crashing waves.
As I returned to Morro Jable, I was too late to catch the ferry out of town. Christian was kind enough to give me a third and final night in his spare room before I left to Gran Canaria the following day. That night I got to reflect on Fuerteventura – an island which I will remember for its wind, rain, desert, barren volcanic beauty, rugged coastline and drag queens (see previous blog). I had completed my crossing of the longest Canary Island and my second (well, actually fourth) island of the trip. Still, I had longer ways to go. Until next time.
This blog features as part of my 900km+ walk across the Canary Islands. Click here to read more.