Cat Easterbrook

Day 5: A night in a ruined convent

I woke early, getting packed up and picking up some rubbish from the surrounding land. It was a small gesture of thanks and I hoped the farmer would continue his amicable attitude towards strangers pitching tents on his land.

I was just about to leave when the sun rose above the volcanoes and the first light hit the mountain, painting a warm orange streak across its face. I felt grateful to be there to experience it, seeing it under starlight and at first light – a lot more magical than a gutted mountain.

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I rode away on the dirt track, picking my way through the bigger stones, eventually rejoining the tarmac road and beginning the long descent to Tefia.

I didn’t cycle for five minutes or so. I just flew downhill, mind temporarily silent as it enjoyed the freefall. I had barely even experienced cycling before this trip. Of course I had been on a bike many times, but I can remember very few occasions of flying down a big downhill. This first one was a mind-stopper as my heart soared.

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Afterwards I reached my first flat road and could just cruise and take in the wild west landscape and the big cloud-rolling skies.

I pulled in at a small bar to get water and saw a hiker standing by the side of the road, trying to hitch a lift. I asked him where he was heading and we started to chat.

Tomaz was Slovenian and buzzing with energy, leaping about under his evidently very light backpack. He’d walked all around the Canaries, biked across Asia twice and was currently walking with little more than a cheap foam mattress and a gortex jacket to sleep in. No tent, no sleeping bag and the freedom of being on two feet –  just drop and sleep.

I loved the minimal mentality. It’s easy to get bogged down by the gear. You could spend years researching and saving to buy tents and sleeping bags and multi-fuel cooking stoves and GPS and lightweight, sweat-wicking, quick-dry clothes… or you could just pull on your old trainers and head out the door.

Tomaz had pretty much just headed out the door. Having no tent at all seemed pretty extreme to me at the time. It was inspiring none the less and a reminder that we can make adventurous travel as simple or as complicated as we like.

We said see you later and I took the turn to Betancuria, actually feeling a bit nervous. Everyone had hyped up the hills of Betancuria so much I felt like I was doing Everest.

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“But you won’t go to Betancuria will you,” the mechanic in the bike shop in Corralejo had stated flatly when I told him I was planning on cycling round the island, not a hint of a question in his voice.

When I said of course I was going to Betancuria and I might even cycle the other islands too he replied “Well you must be very strong” whilst looking at me like he doubted that very much.

“No, not so strong. Just slow…and stubborn”. He raised an eyebrow by way of response.

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So there I was on the road to Betancuria and it was steep and I wasn’t particularly strong and I got tired quickly. Going too slowly was difficult because there was no momentum and it was hard to keep the steering straight but if I pedalled faster I couldn’t sustain it for more than a minute or so in some places. So I got off and walked.

It was very satisfying to use my arm muscles for a change and to lean forward as I pushed. When I got tired of that, or saw people in lycra approaching on their carbon race bikes, I got on and cycled and donned my ‘this is no big deal’ expression.

This was partly for ego purposes and partly for my amusement – as if my head had no idea what my body was going through.

Getting to the top was a bit of a surprise. I had been expecting this to go on for hours. I was enjoying it. I was ready to deploy some serious grit and determination. But there I was, at the top already. Huh. I’d been scared of this?

I suppose it was only 600m, not actually Everest after all, but it was a nice reinforcement of the fact that people should, by and large, not be listened to.

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I stayed up there for a while, realising that this was one of the nicest things about making a physical effort to reach somewhere. You are ready to rest and soak up the view for a good while. Arriving in a car it’s all too easy to just get out for a minute or two before continuing on to the next viewpoint. It all comes a bit too cheap.

But when you move, making a physical effort and getting the resulting hit of adrenaline, all that fast flowing energy is suddenly converted into wonder and awe when you reach the top.

I stayed to watch the light change on the ridges, the gentle flow of eroded lava popping out and disappearing and the green valley of Betancuria below as it suddenly became bathed in sunshine. Whoa. Hello beauty.

I stayed a long time, watching the landscape changing before my eyes. Only the need for sustenance got me back on the bike and free-rolling down to Betancuria.

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Just at the entrance to the little town I saw an interesting looking ruin. I went to investigate. I was amazed to find the ruins of an old convent and church overlooking the valley, accessed via a little bridge over the dried up gully.

There was no one there and I couldn’t help but think about camping potential as I explored, noticing a good spot with flat, weed-filled land off to one side.

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I continued down into town and attacked an enormous slab of tortilla and chunk of bread in a roadside cafe with friendly staff and cheaper prices than the cafes within the cobblestone section of the old town.

The waitress remarked on my Spanish and took it upon herself to make it more Majerero (Fuerteventura native) with some very specific phrases about rain which seemed a bit redundant given the lack of rain in Fuerteventura.

I explored town, happy that the tour parties had already left for the day. I left the bike locked up and walked into the green valley surrounding the town. I was having second thoughts about sleeping at the convent, thinking it was probably a bit cheeky, regardless of how discrete I was.

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In my wandering I inadvertently ended up back at the convent so I took the opportunity to check it out properly. I found a couple of uncultivated terraces below it with incredible views of the valley. To stay there would be incredible.

I headed towards the nearest house to ask for permission, feeling confident after my experience with the Tindaya farmer. There was no one home so I continued walking, looping back into town.

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Later I headed back to the convent. Surely there must be someone to ask? A caretaker, or maybe the farmer would be back by now? I went and waited, sitting on a rock chair (a vertical rock resting on a horizontal one) outside the front of the convent, reading and writing, enjoying the tranquil scene, and trying to imagine what life must have been like for the nuns that lived there.

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No one came all afternoon. How strange, I thought. What a beautiful place and no one seems to know about it apart from me. I didn’t want to be disrespectful but I couldn’t prise myself away. Surely the nuns would have welcomed me as a weary traveller?

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It started to rain almost imperceptibly. The tent went up in record time – nothing like a bit of precipitation to force a decision. I lamented the lack of majereros feeling like I was missing my opportunity to declare “it is barely raining”.

The wind had picked up but I was perfectly sheltered. The orange street lamps came on and lit up the area around me but I was nestled into an L-shape of the building and in perfect darkness. I couldn’t really have found a better spot and felt waves of gratitude sweep over me.

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I listened to the wind orchestra: a continuous swooshing sound as the wind ran through the valley, layered with the rippling of palm trees and the rustling of plants and shrubs.

Cradled in the nook of the convent, I felt the air still and quiet around me. It was a complete contrast to the orchestral crescendos I could hear in the valley. I felt my body sink and expand into total relaxation as I was enveloped into a peaceful sleep.

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