The Freedom of the Horizon: A New World on Ancient Volcanoes
For me it means: a new winter, a new Canary Island. This time I went to Fuerteventura. The first thought that many people probably have about this island is rather: dusty, rocky, barren. And that is absolutely correct. This island offers only a sparse selection of variety in vegetation. And yet after a month I fell very much in love with this island.
An island rediscovers itself
Fuerteventura is about 120 kilometers from the Moroccan coast in the middle of the Atlantic. With a length of almost 100 kilometers, it is behind Tenerife the second largest island of the Canary Islands. In the past, Fuerteventura was primarily popular with bathers in summer. Especially on the south-western coast, hotel complexes and holiday resorts are lined up along the coast behind the white sandy beaches. But a lot has changed here in recent years. During Corona, this island was a retreat for many people who were lucky enough to be able to do their work remotely. Since then, a constantly growing community of digital nomads has formed, who call the island their new home, especially in the winter months. New coworking spaces are springing up on all corners of the island, like small succulents on the rugged rocks after a rain shower. But what makes this island so special?
Even before I came to the island at the beginning of January 2023 to do my online training in the field of sustainability management, I was in contact with Matteo "El Parce" from CoCoWorking. This is located in El Cotillo, a formerly sleepy fishing village on the northwestern tip of Fuerteventura. I told him a little that I am currently looking for new challenges and tasks and would like to reorient myself professionally. He promised me that this island with its very own energy would have an almost healing effect on people.
So at the beginning of the year I decided to set off. First of all, this won't be a Best Off blog post, but more of a homage to this island with its very own energy.
Three worlds: passion, nomads & package travelers
So I got off the plane, together with around 200 other Germans, looking for warmth. Of course, I can only guess and I don’t want to open drawers either, but most of the people who came here with me corresponded more to the usual package tourist cliché and probably didn’t think too much about the 600 kilograms of CO₂ that every and every single one of us blew up in the air for the almost five hour flight. According to calculations, this corresponds to Organization Earth Overshoot Day i.e. about a third of the annual budget that we all have to stay within the planetary limits of CO₂ capacity.
The island also has a bus that runs once an hour from the airport to the northern towns, but like most people I decided to rent a car. So we first went to the north of the island to the small town of Lajares, which is right in the middle of the northern tip between El Cotillo (west), Majanicho (north) and Corralejo (east). From here you need about 10 minutes by car to all sides. As I drove slowly along the winding roads through the barren and rocky roads with the lukewarm wind blowing in my face through the open window, a feeling of bliss filled me. I did it again, a new adventure awaits.
The life of surfers
For the first week I had booked a room in a small hostel run by a couple who lived in the same building with the guests. Just like the whole family, the rest of the guests were all surf enthusiasts from different parts of Europe, some of whom had been coming to this place in winter for many years. For her the most important topic was: waves. In the morning at breakfast, the current conditions in the Windfinder checked. In the evening, the successes of the day were discussed over a beer and other luxury foods. Where do the waves break best, which spot is better tomorrow, what was the worst injury you had while surfing.
Since the hostel was rather basic and was intended for those looking for peace and quiet, I visited the nearby coworking space of surfescape. The vibe here was a complete contrast. You felt much more like in a modern Berlin hipster café just under the palm trees. And of course with a view of the pool, at the edge of which one or the other coworker used to sunbathe at lunchtime before the next call started. The whole thing was rounded off with fresh Açai bowls and yoga classes in the morning and afternoon. The people here were not so much looking for good waves, but above all looking to upgrade their everyday work routine with a little vitamin D and fresh sea air.
New Perspectives in Suburbia
For my second and third weeks I lived in a house in Orio Mare, which is near the northern tip. This place is what was once an attempt to create an American suburb. Each house looks exactly the same, as if someone built the city in the well-known computer game SIMs. Without a car you are lost here.
That's why I use the free time together with Dina, a friend from Berlin, who visited me to make a detour to Lanzarote at the weekend. The ferry crossing takes just over 30 minutes and costs €20 per person (about €25 by car). The ferries run regularly at least once an hour. There we could one night in the Finca Mimosa spend. Lanzarote differs above all through its younger volcanic activity and impressive lava structures, which can be admired above all in the Timanfaya National Park. For those who would like to try their hand at surfing, Famara Bay is the perfect destination. The pros on the water cavort on the waves at La Santa, which we were able to observe from a safe distance.
Back in Fuerteventura and after saying goodbye to Dina, I lived in the house with a young French woman and her friend. She gave me a whole new perspective on the island. She has been living here for a year and works in a surf camp. She described the recent development of the rapidly spreading digital nomads as rather problematic. In their eyes, these people do not see the true beauty of this island. In addition, the prices for rental apartments have shot through the roof as the demand for apartments, especially near the coast, has increased significantly. It is almost impossible for locals to lead a normal life with the local salaries, as rents have more than doubled in the last two years. The digital nomads also bring money to the island, are mostly young, professionally successful and earn good money by Canarian standards, but they also create a completely new target group to which this island is not yet properly adjusted.
The other side of the island
And then there are the “normal” tourists, who certainly still make up the majority of the people who arrive here. The young people flood the surf camps in the north of the island, which can be found on every corner, especially in Corralejo, and try to win some of the enthusiasm for this new trend sport. All people, mostly elderly or families, who are looking for a little more peace, are mostly found on the southern part of the island, where the waves are smaller and the shore is sandy.
After a month on the island I was now wondering what does this island give you?
And above all, how can such an island manage to deal sustainably with new needs, new interests and demands?
Finding the energy of serenity without searching?
For me personally, all expectations have been exceeded. There weren't many, because I usually try to discover a new destination with an open mind – others call it without a plan. Above all, I learned more about living in the moment. Whether it's the planning of the sports program, the living situation or the activities with new people that you get to know on the island. It's also okay to not have a plan, to let go and see what chance or fate has in store for you. I can't know exactly what the waves are like tomorrow, whether I really want to go to a bar tomorrow night, so why should I plan it today or even a week in advance. This is the mantra of the island, which I would like to adopt more for myself. Maybe then also in my everyday life in Berlin.
Perhaps it is precisely this serenity that opens up completely new possibilities. You get involved more in the moment, in encounters and spontaneous coincidences. Life goes on by itself. Every day. And every day I have the opportunity to do something exactly on that day. And in my opinion, all the different characters who end up on this island are united in this way of thinking. The work-life balance of the digital nomad mostly consists of the need to get as much out of the day as possible. Surfers succumb to the current and wind, and short-term visitors get a place where the clocks just tick a little slower.
Every decision can make a difference
On site, I have the opportunity to support small local businesses in particular. In many corners there are small boutiques - like this Limpet in El Cotillo. Cafes, like this amiga mia in Lajares or Triton Coffee Lab and restaurants with fancy recipes like in Tsunami in El Cotillo, who source their products locally, produce them locally and are increasingly avoiding plastic. If you decide to stay in accommodation, there are now bike rentals in many places, which are great for day trips. If you want to go a little further and are up for an adventure, you could just try sticking your thumb out and hitchhiking. between locations this usually works quite well. It may take a little more time, but you will definitely always get to know exciting people.
Last but not least there is the wonderful initiative of Clean Ocean Project, which has been campaigning for a clean island on Fuerteventura for over 20 years. You can visit the project in one of the three shops in El Cotillo, Lajares and Corralejo. When I visited the shop in Lajares, Laerke told me – who is involved in the project “Women and the Wind” also works globally for plastic-free oceans - that they are with the initiative clean business are already in the process of making more and more shops aware of the relevance of the topic. In addition, there is already a selection of sustainable products in the shop: from clothing to coffee mugs, hygiene items and cleaning agents that you can fill up yourself. In addition, there are so-called all over the island Playa Pallets, where you can also collect rubbish. There is a joint clean-up campaign once a month for this. Last year, 30 tons of plastic were collected on the beaches of Fuerteventura. The easiest way is to always have a bag with you and take a few things with you on every walk or hike. Of course, this applies to all places in the world where you are traveling.
Even though I'll be staying here on the island until (probably) the end of March, the trip has definitely been worth it. In the end, it is precisely the barren, untouched and little overloaded that helps to clear your head, especially in contrast to a city like Berlin. Just the evening view of the seemingly endless Atlantic while the sun sinks behind the waves is enough to make you happy. The whole atmosphere on the island is like a kind of permanent meditation. At the same time, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in new worlds. Pursue your sporting passion and face new challenges, let the creativity of others work on you, or just do nothing when you feel like it.
The combination of all these things and the growing awareness for sustainable tourism, through initiatives like Clean Ocean Project, gives new strength and energy for a new exciting year 2023.
Photos: Kai Meier