Hiking the west coast of Fuerteventura. Part I

We had been talking about doing a longer hike for quite a while when Brenda found this route on wikiloc.com (http://en.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=4073652). Wikiloc is a website where people all over the world upload their own hiking trails with GPS-coordinates and descriptions on how to do them, very useful for hikers!

The east coast of Fuerteventura has all the major towns and it’s famous for its long sandy beaches with great surf. We thought the route we found looked very interesting since it crossed Fuerteventura north-south going along the lesser known west coast of the island. This coastline is still quite wild since strong winds are constantly whipping the coast and its rocky beaches are quite inaccessible. Because of this, the construction boom with its massive concrete boxes and hotel complexes has not reached it just yet. The treacherous weather and the lack of ports makes the coastline dangerous so there are few boats passing the coast.

The planning…
We set the lighthouse in El Cotillo (on the the northwestern tip of the island) as our starting point and the lighthouse in Punta de Jandía (in the south west tip) as our finish of the hike. By looking at maps we estimated that we should be able to hike an 10-16 km north-south distance per day, considering the heavy backpacks, deep ravines and the zigzagging nature of our trails. We estimated that it would take nine days to walk the approximated 140 km between the northwestern and the southwestern lighthouse without having to stress too much. After examining the map we decided it would be best to spend the nights on the protected beaches where the ravines meet the sea, in that way we would avoid pitching the tent on the wind exposed rock. There was no place to buy food supply on our planned route, so we had to pack food for 9 days in our backpacks before leaving. The most challenging part of the planning however was to make sure we would not run out of water. We planned that we would reach a human settlement every two days where we could refill our water supplies. So every time we left a village we would have to bring all the water needed for drinking and cooking for the next coming two days. By using sea water for parts of the cooking we could reduce water consumtion and we estimated that packing 7 litres for the both of us would be sufficent.

Day 1 Lighthouse “Faro del Tostón”, el Cotillo – Playa de Esquinzo
http://www.sportrouteplanner.com/?id=15085#map
With clouded skies and light winds we set out from the lighthouse in El Cotillo fully equipped with backpacks, tent, spirit-stove, food, water, first aid kit and a fishing rod. After hiking about 20 minutes hiking south on the dirt road going from the light house to town we arrived to the center of the beautiful little fishing/surfing village of El Cotillo. Impressed by our own accomplishment so far, we decided it was time for a well deserved pause so we stopped and ate some artisan german ice-cream while fishing a bit in the bay.

The starting point at the lighthouse "Faro del Tostón" in the northwestern tip of the island. Together with the lighthouse there is a museum of traditional fishing .

The starting point at the lighthouse “Faro del Tostón” in the northwestern tip of the island. Together with the lighthouse there is a museum of traditional fishing.

Houses on the beach, in El Cotillo. The peculiar architecture, a mix of arabic desing and bio-construction style drew our attention.

Houses on the beach in El Cotillo. The peculiar architecture, a mix of arabic design and bio-construction style drew our attention.

The fishing port in el Cotillo. This is the only real port you find on the whole west coat of the island.

The fishing port in el Cotillo. This is the only real port you find on the whole west coat of the island.

We mostly saw the first day as a warm up, we walked without any hurry and tried to get used to carrying a heavy backpack. The sandy beaches south of El Cotillo were full of surfers catching waves and we passed them following the very nice trails made by the municipalty marked with stones every meter or so. While walking on the trail a bit further south on the cliffs, we saw how the trail lead into thin air and ended on a cliffs edge. Appareantly the sandstone cliff had cracked and a huge chunk of it had fallen and was now lying a few meters out in the sea. We could see how the marked trail continued on the huge piece of cliff now lying in the sea, separated from land by a deep crack. This taught us a valuable lesson on what can happen when you are following marked trails, so after this we stuck to our own improvised paths or the ones that goats and fishermen have made all along the coastline.

In the afternoon we started feeling the weight of the backpacks and we were happy to make an early arrival to our planned destination of the day (Playa de Esquinzo). After exploring the birdlife in the closeby ravine we spent the evening picking seafood in the intertidal zone. We made a decent catch of seafood, so we were able to cook delicious paella over an open fire made from driftwood on the beach.

Exhausted after the day’s hiking and the evening’s slipping around on wet rocks collecting seafood, we fell asleep quickly in our green tent. However, the sleep did not last long. It was abruptly inerrupted by loud alien like noises which were echoing over the beach. When we went outside the tent we saw silouettes of large birds passing very close over our tent. It was like being in a mix of the films ”Ronja Rövardotter” and ”Mars attacks!”. The sounds we heard belonged to of a colony of Cory’s shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea), large seabirds nesting in the cliffs. The first time you hear them it’s difficult to know whether they are birds or if they actually are extraterrestrial life forms invading our planet. By the time we woke up the birds and their sounds were already long gone, probably out on the open sea eating fish.

We had the opportunity to enjoy clear skies during the night, making the almost full moon very visible.

Day 2 Playa del Esquinzo – Los Molinos
http://www.sportrouteplanner.com/?id=15086#map
We admired the beach and the ravine one last time before we took down the tent, packed the bags and wandered further up in the ravine. Ravines, or “barrancos” in Spanish, are crucial elements in the landscape of the Canary islands. They are deep scars in the mountains and volcanoes which have been shaped by erosion caused by both wind and water running through them for millions of years. Many times, the water is no longer present or it’s only running certain periods of the year. While hiking there were a few ravines where we actually found drinkable freshwater, but most water we found was salty or brackish.

In order to continue walking south we had to get out of the ravine where we had been camping. We could either walk around it, which would take and unknown amount of time, or choose to climb up the southern edge and continue. We chose, like we would most times later on, to climb up the edge of the ravine. It proved quite challenging with the backpacks on the back and hiking boots on the feet but we managed to climb out eventually. Quite exhausted by the effort and the heat, we reminded ourselves that we had only just started the days hike which was going to be considerably longer than the first day’s passage.

The hike went through dramatic rocky volcanic cliffs and peculiar sandstone formations, and the backpacks started to get heavy by now. We were still seeing quite a bit of people on the coast, mostly fishermen fishing with their traditional canes with goat horn tips, trying to catch colourful parrot-fish locally known as “viejas”. It’s also very popular for the local families to stuff the car full of people, tents, food, barbecues and refrigerators and go camping on the coast for the weekend. By following the rocky and dusty gravel roads into more remote coastlines, you can be sure to find a sheltered sand or pebble beach when you arrive to the coast, and most of the time you are the only one there.

In the late afternoon we arrived to the first of the four villages on our route; Los Molinos. It’s a small settlement with a fish restaurant located by a pond full of waterfowl. The owner of the restaurant proved to be very helpful and refilled our water supply for free while giving us many tips on which route to take and which ravines had water. After going for a quick swim, we had some pasta salad on the black pebble beach while watching the sun go down in sea. The owner of the restaurant assured us that we would have no problem erecting our tent on the beach so after cleaning a patch from large stones, that’s what we did.

Los Molinos, a cosy little settlement with a black stone beach and a fish restaurant. The personnel at the restaurant were most friendly and refilled our water supply.

Los Molinos, a cosy little settlement with a black stone beach and a fish restaurant. Few people live here permanently and most houses belong to people who have their roots in the area but nowadays live somewhere else in the island. It´s common to gather in the un-paved streets to watch the sunset together, have some drinks or just chat loudly.

Day 3 Los Molinos – Playa del Junquillo
http://www.sportrouteplanner.com/index.php?id=15087
Continuing south along the coast we started realizing that the weight of the backpack was actually not so bad anymore, we were getting used to it. The intense sun and the heat on the other hand was starting to take its toll on us and despite using liters of sunscreen, we still managed to get impressive sun burns. We soon realized that the heat was worse when we were forced to walk inland in order to avoid the ravines, instead of following the coastline. Because of this we started to prefer walk on the narrow goat trails glued to the coastline, so called “costeando” in Spanish. This way we were always getting the cool breeze from the sea, and the dramatic landscape was constantly changing and we got a more impressive view for every ravine we passed.

Joel sliding down in a stream of lava. Good that it was already solidified!

Joel sliding down in a stream of lava. Good that it was already solidified!

Brenda walking along a trail probably made by some local fishermen and semi-wild goats.

Brenda walking along a trail probably made by some local fishermen.

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Tiny sheltered pool. We found many places like this along the way, like little private paradises.

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The trails going along the coast were not always so easy to find, but the landscape was constantly changing and the breeze from the sea kept our heads cool.

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The intertidal pools always looked very inviting with their crystal clear waters.

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Joel walking on the typical coastal trail.

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The landscape got increasingly dramatic and the trail kept winding close to the edge of the cliffs.

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The coastline was changing from pale sandy colors to dark basaltic tones. The contrast of the dark rocks with the blue waters was marked by the white foamy edge of the waves.

We arrived to the mouth of the ravine in El Junquillo and found a large stony beach sheltered by a large rocky intertidal zone. After putting up the tent in the ravine we went to explore the natural pools in the volcanic rocks and had a refreshing swim. We washed our sore bodies in the calm warm water while watching the waves bashing the cliffs in the sunset.

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Our camping spot in El Junquillo. We found a well, just as the fishermen had told us. The water was good, with only a slight hint of salt.

Day 4 Playa del Junquillo – Ajuy
http://www.sportrouteplanner.com/?id=15088#map
After leaving the stony beach of el Junquillo, the coastline was becoming increasingly dramatic with steep cliffs, deep ravines and empty black stony beaches. All cliffs and little islands seemed to be full of caves, and in many places we could see that the local shepherds and fishermen were using them for shade and storage. Outside of these places we usually found shell-piles from mussels and limpets which have been accumulating in the same places for centuries or more. We found some of these shell-piles quite far from the shore and sometimes they were several meters (!) thick. It must take centuries to make such thick piles of shells. Maybe they are actually remnants from the pre-hispanic era when the aboriginal people was still living in the Canary islands as hunters and gatherers?

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Steep rocky coastline with plenty of caves while walking towards Ajuy.

While looking back and admiring the long coastline (at Barranco de la Herradura) we had walked so far something large and white passed over our heads. What was that? A plane? An eagle? Superman? It was the majestic Egyptian vulture flying over us and it lead us to its friend sitting on a hill in the interior. The vulture couple had a mission: to attack the barbary falcons who were nesting in the coastal cliffs close by. They came gliding in together along the coast while the falcons were going mad attacking them repeatedly. We sat down on a cliff and watched the falcons make spectacular attacks towards the vultures for about 40 minutes until the vultures finally gave up and returned inland. It was a beautiful show, displaying the falcons amazing skills when it comes to flying and diving. After a quick lunch on the top of a hill next to the falcons nest we continued towards the settlement Ajuy. We thought we were practically there already when we found a great barrier to cross. We had an extremely deep and steep ravine in front of us. We started improvising and zig-zagged our way down on the side of the ravine until we finally reached to the bottom which was full of Canarian salt cedars, Tamarix canariensis (finally something that vaguely resembled a forest!). The beach at the end of the ravine called el barranco de la Peña, had a rock formation looking a like a moray eel and an impressive rock arch.

Best to tie those boots on properly while on these trails.

Best to tie your boots on properly while on these trails.

"El paso de la burra" or  ""The pass of the donkey". The fishermen had attached some metal wire on the side of the cliff to hold on to. Deep down below the  path, waves were crashing against the rocks

Brenda passing “El paso de la burra” or “”The pass of the donkey”. Not for those afraid of heights. The fishermen had attached some metal wire on the side of the cliff to hold on to. Deep down below the path, waves were crashing against the rocks

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Goat trails on top of caves!

Sandstone formations

We saw peculiar sandstone formations both sticking up from the ground and coming down from the roofs inside the caves we sometimes had to cross.

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The atlantic lizard (Gallotia atlantica) is endemic to Fuerteventura and neighbouring island Lanzarote.

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The different layers of volcanic rock is a dream come true for geologists who frequently arrange excursions to this area.

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Brenda walking glued to the coast while watching how the trail continues on the cliff on the other side of the bay.

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The perfect storage room for the local fishermen and shepherds

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Since there are few boats on this coast, the fishing is still performed in the traditional way with rod and line. Note the practical backpack for storing the catch.

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We made the walking sticks from wild tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) we found growing in the ravines. The walking sticks proved essential when going up and down in the ravines.

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Our best friends and guides during the hike. These semi-wild goats run all over Fuerteventura and many times their trails are the only ones present.

In the bottom of the ravine there were plenty of salt cedars (Tamarix canariensis) forming what could almost resemble a forest.

In the bottom of the ravine there were plenty of salt cedars (Tamarix canariensis) forming what could almost resemble a forest.

We were getting closer to the next settlement. The surroundings of Ajuy is a popular tourist attraction because of the many large caves. Geologists from all over the world also visit the area to see fossil beaches and volcanic sediments that have been left exposed due to erosion and changes in the sea level. When we walked into the village with our big backpacks and faces full of sun cream, the local fishermen came out to greet us and invited us for cold beers and fish soup. The villagers were very friendly when they heard we had walked all the way from El Cotillo and they helped us plan the route of the coming days. Although, not all the fishermen were impressed. After more than a few drinks one of them stated he could run the same stretch we would walk in one day, in 20 minutes. The fishermen all said we had to go visit a friendly hermit called Waldo who lives in the caves making art, unfortunately we never saw him, but if we return one day we will have to remember go greet him from a fisherman known as “the sardine”.

Continues in Hiking the West coast of Fuerteventura. Part II

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