I was recalling the other day what an Irish friend of mine told me the first time he heard I was from Fuerteventura: ‘do people actually live there? I thought it was just a tourist destination!’ He was joking of course, but the point remains. Over the last couple of years the number of tourists has skyrocketed. I am now willing to bet that during high season there are more tourists than there are locals. I therefore decided it was time to share some insider knowledge on things that should be avoided if you want to blend in with the shrinking local population.
1. Drive slow where you should…
It is very easy to drive around Fuerteventura. The main roads are wide and well mantained and there is never a lot of traffic. I am always glad to see rental cars around because that means that tourists are getting out of their all-included resorts and exploring, which to me is a positive thing. With that said, I don’t know a single person (including myself) who hasn’t lost the plot behind the wheel because of a rental car. And I get it. I feel like a tourist myself, particularly when I am driving from the airport towards my beloved Corralejo in the north. You go from driving through a rather boring desert to suddenly find yourself cruising through white sand dunes surrounded by some of the most crystal clear blue waters there are in the world. You always feel the need to slow down and take it all in. In fact, you should: the speed limit is 70 km/hour not 90 km/hour. However some people take it one step too far. I’ve seen drivers at literally 20-30 km/hour. Here is the problem: you cannot overtake on this stretch of road, so you have no other choice but to wait it out. And remember, people live there and there are some lucky individuals that get to drive through that road every single day a couple of times as part of their commute. So control yourself, and instead of slowing down to turtle speed to take pictures, just pull over.
2. … and don’t where you shouldn’t
I know… make up your mind Silvia, should I be driving fast or slow? We have a problem in the north with tourists driving too slow, and yet inexplicably, the opposite happens in the south. Tourists drive like crazy down there, which is definitely way worse and a much serious matter! For instance, there is a particularly winding road going from Morro Jable to Cofete, right at the edge of the mountain, with only space for a single car at the best of times. The road features in the movie Exodus – it is the road they take to get to the sea, and the road where some of Ramses’ carriages fall off into the abyss, precisely due to the speed they are going at. So that should really give you an idea. Ok, I’m exaggerating, the road isn’t that bad, but it is a road that needs to be driven slowly. Take your time. Drive at 20 km/hours if you need to, take in the amazing views, nobody will mind – except maybe the odd bastard, but they can’t be helped. And very importantly, beep when you are approaching a turn. The last couple of times we have driven down there, there has always been a rental car driving at some crazy speed, nearly crashing into us when taking a turn. Like I said at the start, it is really easy to drive in Fuerteventura as long as you use some common sense!
3. Do not cycle on the road
This wound is still raw… I’m going to be honest: I lost count of how many cyclists I nearly crashed into while driving the last time I was home. Cyclists are on the rise in Fuerteventura, and I’m glad. It is actually a great way to explore the island and in fact, I have plans to do some cycling routes next time I go back. Most of the routes are through unpaved rural roads, but there are also some cycling on the road, which up until recently, were mostly people training for triathlons and other competitions. They are not a problem. They are cycling at a considerable speed, and as long as you are paying attention when you are driving all you have to do is slow down and wait until you can overtake them. However, there is a new kind of cycling, one that needs to be exterminated and soon. They are the ones that take city bikes, much like those you would find in european capitals, and without even a helmet, decide to drive right in the middle of a main road, where the speed is 90 km/hours. And that is not even the worst part, wait for it: most of these roads have cycling lanes right along them!!!!! I was absolutely flabbergasted. If that is not asking for trouble I don’t know what is.
4. Use sun cream (or sunscreen)
This is the absolute most reliable way of telling a local apart from a tourist: the use of sun cream. The sun is out in Fuerteventura 364 days out of the 365 days of the year. We have all grown up extremely aware of it and have grown to respect it. We all have childhood memories of being absolutely drenched and covered in a thick layer of the annoying white stuff before being allowed to go to the beach. Then we grew up to meet people that had to get skin tumors removed and it somehow became less annoying to put it on. It is literally painful on the eyes to go to the beach and spot the white-as-snow tourist applying tanning oil on top of an already burnt skin. I always struggle to contain the urge to run over and bath them in factor 50 while giving them a lesson on skin cancer (the inner scientist talking). Seriously now, if you are on your sun holidays you are looking to get a tan, I get that. But you can get it better by putting sun cream on! Without it, what you think is a tan, is just red skin that is going to go away in a couple of days. Please do yourself and my eyes a favour and just put it on. You will get a better tan, trust me.
5. Don’t assume you can go swimming everywhere
I saved the most important one for last. The beaches are without doubt Fuerteventura’s best feature. You will be spoiled for choice. However, please don’t make the assumption, no matter how experienced swimming in the sea you are, that you will be fine. If there is one thing a local knows is how to respect the sea. If it looks fine but there is a red flag, don’t go in. The flags are not there to annoy you but for your safety. Also, a lot of the beaches don’t even have lifeguards (you can thank the government and their cuts for that one), and actually, if there is a red flag, a lifeguard reserves the right to not go in to save you. Most of the beaches are actually extremely safe, and free of sharks and other unfriendly animals. However, all of the west coast of the island, with the exception of one beach in Cotillo, should be avoided altogether. Take your time to go in and get a feel for the currents. Respect the sea and you will have a fantastic time!
Final disclaimer: this is intended as a sarcastic humorous post. Locals are extremely friendly and helpful and will usually go out of their way to help tourists, since they are their bread and butter. And here is my best kept secret: I’m happy every time I have to slow down because of a rental car, it gives me more time to take in the views. There, I said it!