Day 5 Ajuy – Las Salinas
This morning we did not know for sure where we would be spending the coming night. The villagers had told us that Playa de Garcey, our next initially-planned-stop, was a 20 minute jog away (yeah right..) and that this was the last beach suitable for camping before the large military zone started. The access to this zone is restricted to military excercises, and the hiking routes we had seen online avoided the area by making a long detour through the inland (something we were not very keen on doing). We decided to keep on walking south and see how far we could end up.
At first we had to go a bit inland in order to avoid a large tilted area next to the coast known as ”tierra mala” meaning ”badland”. The area got its name since it’s sloping slighlty towards the sea and is full of loose rocks of the kind that crumble when you step on them. So to avoid getting caught in a landslide we took the villagers´ advice and continued further inland until we eventually returned to the coast and reached Playa de Garcey.
In 1994 a famous ocean liner called the American Star was stranded on the west coast of Fuerteventura and it has remained there ever since. By now, looting people and storms have taken most of it and when we passed playa de Garcey during high tide we only saw some rusty tips sticking out of the water.
Until this point we had used maps in order to find our way along the coast. Since a military zone is occupying a large stretch of the west coast of Fuerteventura there are no maps of the area. Surprisingly though, you can still look at the area on google maps and it looks quite inhospitable with high mountains, deep ravines and steep cliffs. So without maps and without knowing what kind of terrain was ahead of us we continued south into the unknown. Soon after we saw some fishermen down by the water. They had their own cave in the sand stone formations where they sat avoiding the strong afternoon sun. They were throwing quite a party with barbecued goat, beers and rum and they invited us to join them several times but we politely declined. ”Is that what you’re going to tell your grandchildren, that you were offered food and said no? Come on and join us! Are you vegetarian or what?”- they said, (Well, we are indeed…). We agreed on having a couple of beers while they explained to us how to continue the route. If we continued walking glued to the coast until we came to a beach known as Las Salinas we would meet one of the fishermen´s cousin who would explain the rest of the route. Great! We thought, and continued walking on the sandstone through some of the most impressive cave formations we’ve seen, sandstone stalagtites hanging from the roof giving you a sensation like you were in a gothic cathedral.
The landscape changed and the coast became dominated by black volcanic rock in the inter tidal zone followed by a flat stretch of sandstone and then sand dunes. This was the hottest day so far on the hike and the trail-less landscape gave a sensation of remoteness and inhospitality. The melancholic feeling was enhanced by the intense sun and its reflections on the sandstone. We kept on walking and walking and walking, we never seemed to reach the beach “Las Salinas” that the fishermen had told us about. Suddenly we heard a dog bark and we saw a sign of life. An old man and his dog were building a shelter made from volcanic rocks, driftwood and trash that the sea brought. We asked the man about direction but he just said we should continue south, guess he didn’t walk all the way to this remote place in order to socialize with people.
By this time Brenda’s lips looked like they were going to fall off, the sun had done a good job burning them. Exhausted we continued further, but behind every bend and every rock that we climbed we just saw another long stretch of sandstone beach. Finally, we saw a cape located high up on a cliff, and we thought that the beach with the fisherman’s cousin just had to be behind this cape. But instead what faced us when we went around the bend of the cape was tall black mountains, steep sandstone and the brutal pounding of the waves against the cliffs. We started to doubt, there was no trail and the terraine looked completely impossible. The sun was going down and the mountains gave a feeling of wild beauty as well as respect and some fear. While questioning if it was even physically possible to continue along the coast, we turned back. Going down the cliff and coming around the cape the same way we had come, we saw a person. We had missed the fisherman’s cousin the first time we passed by. The look on his face was priceless when he saw us with our big backpacks coming straight out of Mordor.
We explained we had met his cousin earlier on, and the hermit we had met building a shelter proved to be the man´s uncle (everybody in this area seemed to be related). The man had entered the area on his quad bike and was going to spend the weekend there fishing. After offering us a bucket full of crabs he explained how to continue the route to the next settlement but only half way, since he had not been hiking further south. It was not going to be easy, he assured us several times that this was the most difficult stretch of coastline on the whole island. We told him we had already passed some quite sketchy parts including a passage so steep the fishermen had put a steel wire on the side to compensate for the lack of grips for the feet.
”Yeah, I know that passage. That’s what we call ”the pass of the donkey”, around this cape however, you find ”the pass of the cow” which is another extremely steep stretch, only longer.”
”If you have fear of heights, don’t go there. I once had a friend who froze and cramped in the middle of the stretch and two persons had to drag him back to safety.”
After this passage, he explained, we would have to either pass the intertidal zone by the cliffs (only when the tide was at its lowest) or we would have to climb the mountains further inland in order to avoid the steep cliffs and ravines. He suggested us to follow the second option, because the first option was quite risky (we had to cross exactly in the moment of the lowest tide) and it would just be safer for us to go inland instead. Later that night, we were lying wide awake the whole night thinking about the horrible ”pass of the cow”.
Day 6 Las Salinas – La Pared
We woke up before the sunrise, ate a good portion of oat meal and packed the tent. We needed all the time we could get since we had no clue about the length and difficulty of the coming stretch. All we knew was that we had to climb several steep mountains, until we would arrive to a black sand beach with a rock, Playa de Amanay. This was the furthest place the fishermen had walked from the site we camped. After that, the unknown again, without neither a map nor a tip for how to cross the second part of the day’s hike.
We climbed the cape and found that there actually was a small trail continuing on the side of the sandstone. Soon thereafter it came, the notorious ”pass of the cow”. It was a stretch of about 20 m of sandstone covered with lose sand sloping towards a cliffs edge and the furious sea 50 m further down. Once we were walking on it, it did not feel so bad, hey, we had passed a lot sketchier parts earlier on the hike to be honest.
After conquering the ”pass of the cow” we regained our confidence and it felt like anything was possible again. Climbing up and down two black mountains made up from loose rocks, we eventually reached a small shelter, probably made sometime by goat shepherds. We knew we were on the right track by looking at the landmarks the fisherman had described to us and eventually we reached a deep ravine that when it met the sea it formed a spectacular black beach with a big black rock. So far, so good. After crossing the ravine the really high mountains started and we started going up, up, up all the way to the summit, then down in the valley, and up the next mountain again. Going up a mountain you’re always excited about what you will see from the top and if you’ll be able to find a way out. Every time we made it to the top, there were more mountains. We had not seen anyone the whole day except the dry skeleton of a goat and thousands of seabirds. The ground on the mountains were full of nests with large beautiful green eggs. The parents were not happy to see us invading their territory but circled around making a deafening amount of noise.
Circling the steep side of a mountain on an extremely narrow goat trail we entered an area of large rock formations with sharp edges. This was the real Mordor and the seabirds kept on screaming and laughing while we found our way through the hostile landscape. Finally we saw an opening in the mountain side and we steered our way towards it. From the opening we could finally see the houses of La Pared in the distance. No more high mountains finally. On the other hand the landscape was very scarred, full of ravines to cross. Way down in the valley we saw a gravel road leading to a small collection of concrete houses. After following the concrete road, we arrived to the small houses wich were empty like a ghost town with fabrics hanging from the windows. In these houses the military excercises combat in populated areas. The area gave us an uncomfortable, a bit creepy feeling and we continued south crossing the ravines. After crossing countless ravines we made it to the edge of the military zone. Exiting the military area proved more difficult than entering we find out since we had to jump the barbed wire fence, which was luckily not very well maintained but very rusty and broken.
After walking the whole day without seeing a soul, we finally saw some fishermen on the beaches as we continued towards the steep cone shaped mountain that was in between of us and la Pared. Thinking it was over, we found ourselves climbing up once again on the steep goat trails with the sudden gush winds coming in from the sea.
Finally we had made it back to civilisation and it was a relief, but it was with mixed feelings that we went swimming in the pool and ate a luxurious fish platter in a local restaurant of la Pared.
The coming day we would cross the isthmus that joins the Jandía-peninsula with the rest of the island. The isthmus is mostly made up by sand dunes and sandstone, we thought it would be a piece of cake but…
Continued in – Hiking the west coast of Fuerteventura. Part III