How NOT to Do Surf Camp in Fuerteventura

Turquoise water on Isla de Lobos, Fuerteventura

That blue though.

Some trips turn out perfectly, everything goes as planned. Better than planned. You discover jaw-dropping scenery and magical places off the beaten track, make local friends who introduce you to delicious authentic local dishes. Come home with a tan, great photos, and a renewed energy and perspective on your life.

Some trips don’t go as planned at all.

My trip to Fuerteventura was one of the latter.

View across the barren hills of Fuerteventura.

Fuerteventura is the second largest of the Spanish Canary Islands in the Atlantic. Not far from the coast of Africa, it’s a true desert island—in the sandy sense of the word—with vast dunes and over 150km of beach. A reliable destination for pasty Northern Europeans to top up their vitamin D levels during the winter, myself included.

Inspired by this post by Spencer over at Whisky Tango Globetrot, I headed to Fuerteventura to try surfing. I’d fallen in love with sailing and figured this passion would naturally spill over to other watersports, so I booked myself some lessons at Aloha Surf Academy and planned to island hop before flying back from Gran Canaria.

THIS IS NOT WHAT TRAVEL MOJO LOOKS LIKE

Mistake #1 LOSING MY PASSPORT

There are some people who plan as if every disaster is going to happen to them. Not me. I was damned surprised to discover that my passport was gone. And a bit flummoxed because, to be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to such a scenario. It probably involves embassies, right? But what if you’re on an island? And you have no money? I had no idea (mistake #1a).

My flight had been diverted to Lisbon thanks to a broken toilet. A couple I met on the plane kindly gave me a lift to Corralejo, the town I was staying in, as the last bus had long since gone.

Soon after, I realised the absence of my wallet containing my bank cards and passport (rookie mistake! #1b), although thankfully not my small wad of spare cash. Hopefully the wallet had fallen out of my bag in the back of the car, however, I hadn’t thought to take the Kind Couple’s contact details.

A fraught day of face-palming ensued.

Thankfully the travel gods were smiling upon me that day. Just as I was preparing to knock on the door of every villa on the island, I saw them marching down the street towards me—passport in hand!

I was lucky.

By this point, though, I’d already cancelled my bank cards. My budget had just got substantially smaller.

Waikiki Beach, Corralejo, Fuerteventura

Mistake #2 NOT WEARING SUNCREAM

Passport safely locked away, cortisol levels returning to normal, I knocked back a piña colada and promptly fell asleep on the beach. With no suncream on.

Hey, at least I blended in with my fellow Brits abroad.

Boat on a beach, Isla des Lobos, Fuerteventura

Mistake #3 INFLATED EXPECTATIONS

The expectation

I’ll be honest, getting to know Fuerteventura wasn’t my top priority. It was the end of winter and I was in search of sunshine and #surflife.

I had envisaged an incredible week catching my first waves, feeling close to nature, taking yoga classes on the beach, drinking smoothies, and chilling out around campfires with new friends. Isn’t that what surfers do? I even compiled an amazing playlist.

Tiny wave at Corralejo, Fuerteventura

The reality

Everyone in the surf lodge just wanted to talk about surfing and go to bed early, which is kind of boring if you don’t catch the bug. There was no drinking, no campfire, no music. I had a few lonely wanders in search of smoothies and other things I could no longer justify buying.

The yoga sessions all seemed to involve unrealistically early mornings. I was so beat from the waves and the wind and the sunburn that I didn’t feel remotely healthy. All I wanted was beer and a sofa and my pyjamas.

Surfboards on the beach, Fuerteventura

Mistake #4 NOT TRYING SURFING BEFORE I BOOKED SURF CAMP

Now, Whisky Tango Globetrot did make this sensible recommendation, but I didn’t want a little thing like inexperience to get in between me and #surflife.

If I had tried surfing beforehand would I have signed up for a camp? Maybe not.

Surfing is HARD. It’s exhausting being pummelled by waves all day. It’s nothing like sailing, where you sit around on a boat a lot of the time, sometimes with a beer.

Aloha surf camp van, Fuerteventura

Mistake #5 BOOKING ACCOMMODATION AND LESSONS SEPARATELY

I chose to stay at Billabong Beach House as it had dorm rooms right on Waikiki Beach, but I took my lessons with Aloha. With hindsight, it would have been a more sociable experience if I’d booked accommodation and lessons with the same outfit.

Sensibly though, I had only booked 2 days of lessons in advance rather than a whole week, planning to extend if I enjoyed it.

(Not that I would have been able to pay for extra lessons anyway without my bank cards. Oooops.)

This turned out to be a wise move, because . . .

READER, I QUIT

I’d love for this story to end with my triumphant first wave, but it doesn’t.

After the first day, I consigned myself to bodyboarding (which is fun!).

After the second day, I gave up. Let’s just say I’m not structurally built for surfing. Plus, I was really sunburnt.

This is no reflection on Aloha, I was impressed with the quality of instruction, but ultimately surfing was not for me. I’m not afraid to change my plans, and I wanted to make the most of my remaining time and money.

Time to tap back into my modus operandi—cheese-exploring, tiny islands, hammock-time, cheap sangria, ancient civilisations, abandoned convents, and long winding bus journeys with a driver intent on teaching me the Spanish names for every animal that we pass.

#stephlife, not #surflife!

THINGS TO DO IN FUERTEVENTURA

Corralejo Sand Dunes

Fuerteventura may the second largest Canary island but development is fairly restrained compared to Gran Canaria and Tenerife. Resorts are modest and family-friendly, with the north of the island popular with Brits and the south with Germans.

The island is an intriguing blend of intensity and nothingness. More rugged and windy than it appears in photos, but with a noticeable gentility and contentedness amongst its inhabitants. People come to Fuerteventura for the elements and simplicity of life.

I stayed in Corralejo (pronounced ‘coral echo’), a relaxed resort town in the north with the tourist tat mainly confined to one strip. I found it a little lacking in atmosphere, but it is conveniently located and has plenty of cheap accommodation options, beaches, and watersports. The famous sand dunes are a 30-minute walk as long as you can brave the wind.

The more interesting accommodation options seem to be inland, near the villages of Lajares and La Oliva which are popular with surfers who can hit the coast in three different directions from this prime location.

Not wanting to aggravate my sunburn, I bought a sunhat and hit the road instead.

EL COTILLO

Street in El Cotillo, Fuerteventura

El Cotillo is a quiet fishing village on the west coast with an offbeat feel. Much smaller than Corralejo, it can feel like the edge of the world when the wind is howling.

The Clean Ocean Project is a cool little NGO which organises beach cleans and initiatives around the reduction of plastic use. Their shops in El Cotillo and Corralejo sell incredibly fluffy bamboo t-shirts and hoodies, ideal if you’re under-dressed for the sometimes chilly Atlantic winds.

BETANCURIA

Gardens in Betancuria, Fuerteventura

The first capital of the Fuerteventura, Betancuria has a refreshingly different character to the seaside resorts and is the best bet for getting a taste of Canarian history and culture. Located inland to protect from invaders and still sporting some traditional architecture, as well as a few interesting museums, the first convent on the island (now abandoned), and some green things that aren’t aloe vera for a change, Betancuria is now a prime day trip destination.

The little archaeological museum gives a clue as to why there is so little on the island: goats.

It wasn’t always so. Known in classical times as the Fortunate Isles, Fuerteventura was once green and fertile, but goats and logging resulted in desertification and the island went into decline until the tourism boom in the 1970s.

Relatively little is known about the indigenous period of the Majos, before the European conquistadors arrived in the 13th and 14th centuries, as few archaeological sites have been excavated.

Casa de Santa María, a restored 17th-century house, has lovely gardens and demonstrations of traditional textiles, and there’s cheese-tasting available at nearby Finca Pepe, a working farm.

Street in Betancuria, Fuerteventura

Gardens in Betancuria, Fuerteventura

Gardens in Betancuria, Fuerteventura

ISLA DE LOBOS

Jetty to turquoise water, Isla de Lobos, Fuerteventura

My highlight in Fuerteventura was Isla de Lobos, a tiny volcanic island just off the coast at Corralejo.

There is nothing much here which is precisely why I loved it.

Lobos is a protected ecological zone so visitors are contained to walking trails. The only settlement is at El Puertito, a few simple cottages and a restaurant with one item on the menu: fried parrot fish with potatoes and red pepper sauce.

The water is an astounding turquoise here. Lobos is just big enough to nip over on the ferry, read about the flora and fauna, walk a circuit of the island, eat a fish, have a swim, head back.

It’s the perfect day trip.

Walking trails, Isla de Lobos, Fuerteventura

Turquoise water, Isla de Lobos, Fuerteventura

Upturned boat, Isla de Lobos, Fuerteventura

Blue bench, Isla de Lobos, Fuerteventura

FOOD

A feast for one, El Cotillo, Fuerteventura

Canarian cuisine is simple and big on fish, goat, and goat’s cheese. There is no shortage of local cheese in the supermarkets here, I particularly enjoyed the smoked variety.

Potatoes here are cooked in salt water, boiled away to leave a salty residue on the wrinkly tatties and called papas arrugadas, and served alongside a red mojo picon or green mojo verde sauce.

My favourite find was almogrote, a spread made from peppers and goat’s cheese.

I was delighted to discover lapas (limpets) on the menu in Fuerteventura.  Not commonly eaten in the UK but considered a delicacy in Portugal, I became a fan whilst in the Azores, where I watched locals pluck them straight out of a bucket and eat them raw. But they’re also good cooked with garlic, lemon, and herbs.

Lunch for one, Corralejo, Fuerteventura

Foodies might want to check out this food tour which takes in various agricultural stops and tastings.

STARGAZING

My biggest regret was not taking the opportunity to stargaze with local astrological outfit Stars By Night, who also run astrophotography sessions. Alas, my funds had disappeared on almogrote.

As well as holding UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status for land and sea, Fuerteventura is also a designated Starlight Reserve, meaning it is committed to preserving the quality of light.

Turquoise water in Corralejo, Fuerteventura

GETTING AROUND

It’s best to rent a car in Fuerteventura if you can—the roads are easy and uncrowded. Tourism here is mainly geared towards package holidaymakers so there’s no shortage of organised trips, but locals seemed perplexed by an independent traveller not in search of a wave.

The Tourist Office is simply a shed for tour leaflets, and I found it difficult to get food recommendations by asking around.

There is a bus route which links Corralejo with Lajares, La Oliva, and El Cotillo, and less frequently with to Betancuria.

Inland Fuerteventura

I was just getting into the groove of this weird and intriguing island when I started to seriously worry about my lack of money. Then somehow I managed to score a last-minute €20 flight home. How often does that happen?

So last minute, in fact, that my name wasn’t on the flight list when I turned up at the airport. I got home in the end, but my plans to island-hop in the Canaries will have to wait for another time.

Just not for surf camp.

On the road in Fuerteventura

HOW TO AVOID A PASSPORT PANIC

  1. Travel with more than one set of bank cards, stashed in different places, plus emergency cash, spare passport photos, and a photocopy of your passport
  2. If you do lose your passport, find the number for your consulate in the country that you’re in
  3. File a police report
  4. Use your backup card/emergency cash to get to your nearest consulate (in this case, Las Palmas on Gran Canaria)
  5. Apply for an emergency travel document

Beach in Corralejo, Fuerteventura

Have you also tried—and sucked at—surfing? Should I give it another go? Got a story about misplacing your passport? Please keep me company.

Fancy yourself as a surfer? That time I quit surf camp in Fuerteventura in Spain's Canary Islands, and what I did on the island instead.
Fancy yourself as a surfer? That time I quit surf camp in Fuerteventura in Spain's Canary Islands, and what I did on the island instead.
Follow:

16 Comments

  1. April 21, 2017 / 3:50 pm

    Oh my goodness, I’m so happy to have found your blog! Your travel style sounds SO similar to my own (no plans, not thinking things through entirely before just going for it…I’m willing to be you’re a fellow Aries soul?), and your writing makes me want to travel with you. Expectations are funny, aren’t they? I had the opposite experience with surfing. I never thought I’d like it and so I was never eager to try. But last summer I was in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and decided to give it a go (plus I scored a free lesson with the Tico my sister was dating!). I stood up on my first try (which completely shocked the hell out of me) and on my second lesson I actually rode some white water. Needless to say, I was utterly hooked. I’ll have to look into Aloha if I’m ever there!

    • May 2, 2017 / 4:00 pm

      Ok, I’m jealous, although perhaps I have enough expensive hobbies already.

      My sun is in Capricorn (planner) and my moon is in Libra (flexible) and I like to think that they balance each other out nicely. Research everything but commit to nothing!

  2. April 23, 2017 / 2:02 pm

    Your photos are so beautiful! What do you use? I only have a rubbish iPhone whose photos look awful when I put them in my blog. I really loved this post btw, I would have totally given up too. Surfing and me are just not natural bed partners and the sea kinda terrifies me haha.

    • April 23, 2017 / 8:42 pm

      Thanks Lauren. Actually a few of these photos were taken on my old iPhone 4s, which just seemed to really get on with the light there (the dunes photo turned out particularly well), the rest were on my Fuji X-E1, all edited in Lightroom.

  3. April 23, 2017 / 6:40 pm

    This is so funny! I felt the same way when I tried SUP Yoga without really knowing what I was getting into. Sorry your trip got off to a rough start but $20 flight home? Score! Looks like a beautiful island, hope you enjoyed!

    • April 23, 2017 / 8:44 pm

      I love SUP (well, on flat water) and I love yoga, but pretty sure I’ll never successfully be able to combine the two. Sadface!

  4. April 23, 2017 / 7:21 pm

    I just on Tenerife a few weeks ago! Looks like a different experience. I’ve never tried surfing! I also left my passport on an airport shuttle on a prior trip to that in Chamonix that went back to Switzerland! At least it is a trip you’ll never forget and one that doesn’t just blend in with “Oh, what city did we do that in?”

    • April 23, 2017 / 9:03 pm

      I’d love to visit the rest of the Canaries – they all look so different. Yep, Fuerteventura is definitely burned into my memory now!

  5. April 23, 2017 / 7:54 pm

    I think this is my favourite post I have read this week! I recently went to Australia to surf and I made a few of those mistakes. Suncream is always vital but is mostly forgotten because I could never tell how long I’d been on the board. I’m glad that the passport situation was figured out. Happy travels!

    • April 23, 2017 / 9:06 pm

      Thanks Sara 🙂

      Thinking about it now, I probably didn’t have the right kind of suncream anyway. *research fail*

  6. April 23, 2017 / 8:37 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about all your troubles but at least it seems like Isla de Lobos made up for it! Gorgeous photos!

  7. April 24, 2017 / 3:55 am

    Wow, the Canary Islands look BEAUTIFUL! I’m so glad I read this – I was considering signing myself up for a surf camp in Bali but I’ve never surfed before. I’m a big baby when it comes to being bad at new things and so I know I would probably end up hating it, haha. Also, thank you for introducing the word cheese-exploring to my life. That’s exactly my kind of travel!

  8. April 24, 2017 / 6:03 am

    It was so refreshing to read this post, not everyone is so candid about their travel fails. Thanks for sharing.

  9. April 24, 2017 / 6:23 am

    I’m really scared of the water. I’ve had a number of ‘I’m going to die!’ situations. Two of which are probably not just related to paranoia. My hubby on the other hand is a water baby. (By now you know how I land up in those situations!!! The paranoia ones !) He wanted to learn to surf. So he headed out into the waves just to see how it felt. He got tossed around a bit and said he would try it at a later date. Me? I still need to learn how to swim properly!

    • May 2, 2017 / 3:53 pm

      Funnily enough, I learnt some really useful things about how not to die in the water from my surf instructor! 🙂

  10. September 3, 2017 / 5:42 pm

    Haha, very good points (especially the sunscreen one… )!
    But you should definitely give surfing another go! Ok, not as a surf camp right from the start, but a few half-day lessons with one day of rest in between to recover will get you up on the board and that’s when you’ll start enjoying the thrill of catching a wave in spite of how tiring it is (it will probably be a tiny one at first, but the excitement of doing it will be far larger!). You also need a great teacher! I took a few surf lessons last year near Lisbon, in Costa da Caparica, and it left me with such a positive impression and I had such a great time that I fell in love with surfing and I’m now looking forward on doing it again as soon as possible! (if you’re ever heading to Lisbon, let me know and I’ll recommend you the teacher we had)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *