I kept waking in the night, feeling like I’d had a massive sleep and it surely must be morning. My eagerness to have survived the night was no doubt playing its part in warping time and making two hours feel like eight.
In the pre-dawn I woke to a damp tent. Fat beads of condensation were threatening to create a rain shower if I accidentally touched the sides. I was cold in my flimsy sleeping bag.
Morning came and the sun began to rise as a fat ball of hazy orange. It was a welcome sight; I would be warm and everything would be dry in no time. The sun drenched Canary Islands are a good place to camp with the weather cooperating more often than not.
I went down to the sea, skipping and leaping around on the sand. I was amazed that I’d slept here and had it to myself. The waves felt softer in the morning light and two fish followed me as I paddled.
Going back to my campsite to make breakfast I challenged myself to only use two firestarters and the rest driftwood. This constituted a challenge in the early days. Success came in the form of a cup of green tea and a pan of porridge.
It was immensely satisfying. Cooking over driftwood by the beach and eating from the pan definitely makes things taste better – like you are tasting them for the first time.
I packed and it seemed to take forever, rolling and folding and packing away my bedroom, kitchen, clothes and personal things.
I got out the dune the same way I got in, taking the bags and then the bike a good way up before attaching everything and then hauling/dragging it down the sandy track. If I hadn’t been such a newbie I would have just reattached everything back on the track but a newbie I was and I gained even more bruises to show for it.
I was pleased to get on and cycle for a bit. It felt more restful after all the exertions of packing and reaching the track again.
The track was winding along the coast and passing some incredible bays. I was meant to be going to get water but had to stop as I reached a jaw-dropping beach.
A white sand-bar curved gracefully into the middle of a shallow lagoon with water so completely clear it revealed the seabed of rippled white sand. The water was sheltered from the deep blue sea by natural sea walls of volcanic black rock, glistening in the morning sunshine. There was nobody there.
I dropped the bike, stripped off to my bikini and ran in, eyes wide at the stunning scene and cold water. The Atlantic Ocean is cold in February .
After swimming I wrapped myself in a sarong to practice yoga, feeling inspired but also ridiculously decadent, as if I was on a $$$$ retreat holiday in the Caribbean, not just cycling around and wild camping in the Canaries.
The only thing that shifted me from the lagoon was the need for water. I was unimpressed to have to head back to civilisation (I was about 20 minutes ride from the overgrown fishing village of El Cotillo) but the need for water and to let people know I’d survived my first night out alone won out in the end.
After stocking up on water I went for coffee and electricity overlooking the old harbour. I sent exuberant messages to friends about my survival skills. It might all seem a little OTT, but I was genuinely blown away by the excitement of having a clandestine adventure in the midst of a touristy island.
El Cotillo undoubtedly has some of the most beautiful beaches on Fuerteventura. Feeling a tad lazy I decided to stay another day and make the most of the gorgeous weather with a day at the beach.
It didn’t quite pan out like that. I got talking to a cyclist – a veteran of bike tours and now on the island for some road cycling on a race bike.
He surveyed my bike with interest, noting its gearing and suggesting that I might like to get some clipless pedals. I was more into the flip-flop than the click-clack; the experience of simplicity and (almost) bare-foot freedom, not muscular efficiency and sporting prowess.
Besides, Fuerteventura is pretty small – I didn’t want it to be over in a couple of highly efficient wheel revolutions. I was far more interested in having a rawer experience of being in nature, learning about myself and other people, and being open to whatever the road held for me.
Today the road held a windmill for me. It’s simple form of white curves on blue sky called me over and I left the coast to take a different track, smiling at the freedom to take it.
The day rolled by like that, exploring, taking different tracks, and chatting to people who seemed confused but interested to know what I was doing with all these bags on my bike. Suddenly it was late afternoon and I needed to buy supplies and head to the beach to set up camp.
As I left the shop there was a young surfer guy standing with his dog, directly in front of my bike, looking at it intently. They practically had their heads cocked to the side. ‘Nice set up’ he smiled at me with raised eyebrows.
Having complete strangers talk to me was becoming normal. I liked it.
By the time I left the wind had picked up but I enjoyed the opportunity to cycle into it and actually exert some energy after a lazy day of cruising and chatting. I blasted along the empty tarmac to the lighthouse before taking the sandy track back along the north shore.
Stopping at my beach I ran around like a loca, lapping up the golden light, leaping about and only slowing when some top rate driftwood caught my eye.
It felt like those endless summers playing outside as a kid, with no one calling you to come in for dinner.
Finally I settled to gaze at the sea. I felt blessed to be in the wild, with the birds and the waves and glistening pools encircled by jagged volcanic rocks, all changing in shades and intensity as the sun glided down into the sea.
Everything seemed intensely alive around me. My senses were alive to the life that is always there when we’re not too numb or busy or distracted to feel it.
This natural meditation was interrupted by a primal stressor – the need to make a shelter for the night – and now that the sun had set I felt I needed to hurry. It was only the second night and I wasn’t confident enough to put the tent up in the dark. Ahhh those sweet, nervous early days.
I hurried back to the sandy track – as much as you can hurry with a fully loaded bike on a sandy beach –and found the track was busier this evening with cars full of surfers and sunset gazers heading home.
I pretended to take photos, waiting for the perfect moment to make a break for it. When it seemed like the right time I sprung into action, my lungs and legs almost bursting within moments as I half lifted, half dragged the bike and tried to keep low as I rushed up and over the dune.
I made it over and quickly hit the ground as a car came round the bend, its headlights swinging round towards me. I lay there, my breath short and heart racing.
I set to work putting the tent up but it was windier than the previous night and I had to abort my first two attempts because the weak side of the tent was taking the force of the wind and would be blowing onto me.
It was dark by now and I took off my reflective jacket as I could see more headlights tracing the tracks. I felt stressed, my shoulders tight, my back aching as I tried to go as fast as I could, just wanting to know I had my shelter up. Damn sunset gazing natural meditation bulllshit.
Finally it was done and I quickly made some soup on the day’s excellent driftwood haul. The soup was called ‘sopa de maravilla’ – the marvel being just how salty and horrible it was.
Just to make it a bit more disgusting I couldn’t find my spork (a spoon-fork combo) and had to suck the soup off chunks of bread whilst worrying about the fate of this ingenious implement which I had clearly become very attached to already.
I climbed into the tent feeling utterly exhausted and wondering how anyone ever manages to combine camping with some actual cycling. Just the camping alone felt like an endurance trial. I would probably need to cut down on the fugitive amateur dramatics as that frittered away quite a bit of energy.
I’d remembered to open all the air vents this evening and realised I could spy on the stars from bed. A plane went overhead. It felt bizarrely out of place. The idea of all those people up there, cooped up together in a metal container eating shit food and little me down here, also eating shit food, but in the expanse and open, with the sweet smell of desert plants, the sound of rolling waves and a sky full of stars. It felt unreal and magical – an actual maravilla.
Surely it wasn’t really me doing this? Surely all this was for a much braver person? I felt gifted by the experience and rode the feelings of gratitude into a contented sleep.