Adam Bird

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Monday, 25 September 2006

Birdy introduced to the Canaries

Having now been back in the country for two days I am in a better position to look back and write about our week in Fuerterventura, which overall was a resounding success.

I had never been to the Canary Islands before, unlike Steph who had already visited Tenerife and Lanzarote. One of the reasons we chose Fuerterventura was purely because we knew that it would be fairly quiet and sedate, perfect for two parents to be looking for a rest before the excitement of imminent parenthood.

The week did not get off to a perfect start however! Stephanie being the victim of sunburn after the first day, ensuring that she spent the rest of the holiday with bright red legs and applying a cocktail of creams, yogurts and other remedies in order to stop the stinging. Added to that, she spent the most of the week covered up and under an umbrella!

Neither of us were going to let that beat us, after all, we have several years experience of coping with these little pickles!

We were staying in a timeshare accommodation in the resort of Calete de Fuste, which was given to us as a Christmas present from Steph's parents, but it soon became apparent to both of us that the standard of accommodation was not what either of us expected.

The complex in which we were located was on a road halfway up the hill that dominates over the main town of Caleta, and we were staying in a little white bungalow at the end. Both Steph and I made comparisons of the road to Ramsey Street, albeit a smaller version.

The complex itself was lovely, with the 4 pool area's kept immaculate, the bar well decorated and the onsite restaurant serving amazing food. The only downside for us was that within the idyllic looking white bungalow we found so charming from the outside was not so within.

The upkeep of the building had obviously been very poor, and the decor had not been maintained very well at all. For example we found a rusty plug hole in the bath and the oven in the kitchen was nothing short of disgusting!

Despite this disappointment which both of us felt, we decided that it was only the four walls in which we slept and that we wouldn't be hardly 'home' for much anyway. As we both said, the surrounding environment was really so lovely it seemed a minor inconvenience, and so we carried on regardless.

We quickly explored the surrounding area, which being up on the hill meant a walk down and a taxi back!

The walk into Caleta took around twenty minutes, but for a non pregnant couple it would only be ten. Half way between us and the town centre, still on the hill was a small parade of bar's, restaurants and shops which gave us a nice alternative if we didn't want to walk down into the town or if we wanted an early night.

Caleta itself seemed to be a fairly new development of shops and restaurants, certainly newer than some of our neighbours on the hill. From leaving our little white bungalow we could walk on the same path, all the way down the hill, under the main road via an underpass, into the town centre, past the bars and restaurants and straight onto the beach, which itself was fairly wide and very well looked after.

After two days of rest and relaxation our friends Stuart and Aimee arrived from the UK on one of those "accommodation on arrival" holidays, meaning that they could have been placed in the little white bungalow next door, or 30km away on the other side of the island. Luckily for us they were placed 30km away on the other side of the island.

I only say luckily as it opened up an opportunity for Steph and I to explore a little and have a little adventure.

On the Wednesday morning we got up bright eyed and bushy tailed and took the walk down the hill in order to catch the 9.00am bus, which would take us to Puerto de Rosario, the capital. Once there we would catch another bus to take us the rest of the way to Corralejo, where we would meet with Stuart and Aimee.

The bus journey was efficient, on time; the buses were air conditioned and clean of litter and graffiti, although the old aged pensioners still remained! The total journey to Corralejo was roughly 30km (18 miles), and it cost us, for two people £4.50!

The best part of the bus journey was the trip across the national park of Fuerteventura, which consists of miles and miles of sand dunes! The road itself weaved over the middle of it, with sand on either side. To the right-hand side of us we had the ocean literally two metres away from us at places! Slightly surreal, but definitely an experience! I felt quite jealous of people in the cars in front of us who were pulling over at random places to take photos, have a swim or something equally touristy.

Once in Corralejo we met straight away with Stuart and Aimee who walked us back to there apartments, just in time for a sizzling breakfast!

The resort Stuart and Aimee stayed in was amazing, Steph and I felt a little jealous seeing as they had this modern, spacious and well looked after apartment which they had booked blind, and we had the little white bungalow which we spent looking at for ages in the book!

We spent the day relaxing and swimming in the lagoon of a pool and Stuart and I spent a relaxing hour in the Jacuzzi coming up with a battle plan. We decided that we would stay the night at Stuart and Aimee’s apartment, have a meal in Corralejo and hire a car the following day for a drive around the Island and stop off at some random places which took our fancy.

Whilst in the Jacuzzi Stuart and I mentioned the possibility that perhaps two hot bikini clad girls would come and join us, which would have really made our days. Our wish nearly came true, except that the two women who DID join us had a combined age of one hundred and twenty and nearly weighed the same amount in stone! One nearly helped herself to a seat on Stuarts lap - young man indeed!

After a truly excellent meal in the evening and a few drinks in a local karaoke bar we retired to bed after planning a route for the morning which would see us visiting most, if not all of the island.

The following day we set off in earnest for a route across the top left hand side of the island which would follow the coastline all the way to Faro lighthouse which Stuart had read about in one of the guides. We had a slight disadvantage in that we could not actually find the road we were looking for on the map.

We soon worked out that the little wiggly lines on the map in black were actually dirt tracks. The lady in the car hire shop said that we wouldn't be covered by our insurance on roads like this, nor would we be for blown out tyres. The realisation sunk in that we had to change our route!

As it was we picked up a main road and were standing outside the lighthouse within thirty five minutes! It would have been thirty, but we spent five minutes trying to get Aimee out of the back of the car! She had somehow slipped and wedged herself between the driver’s seat and her own!

On final approach to the lighthouse we had a further example of the erratic nature of the Fuerturventurian roads. The main road through the town from which we had come continued across the dry and arid ground and stopped suddenly, but continued in the form of another dirt track. We continued, but only as we were following a car in front whom we presumed was going to the lighthouse too.

We meandered on for a short while, slowly to avoid the rocks and other things likely to puncture our tyres, when suddenly the dirt track became a solid tarmaced road again! Not only was it a road, but it could have potentially carried four lanes of traffic. Result we thought, as Stuart hit the accelerator and continued in earnest. Two miles later, as suddenly as it started the road stopped and turned back into a dirt track! Incredibly bizarre considering we were in the middle of nowhere, the nearest town a further three miles back!

After a spot of photography against the vibrantly coloured lighthouse, some paddling in the rock pools and some hanging out with mad German fisherman telling us his name was "Johann, and his fish's name was 'Beerhaus' ", it was time to turn all the way back again across the dirt-track/motorway/dirt-track combo.

I loved it at the lighthouse, I could have spent the day there, the waves were really impressive, battering against the hard volcanic rocks, it was really rugged and I felt like I was on the edge of the world!

After a quick pause in El Cotillo where we took a quick peek at the harbour, we noticed the words "Virgin de Buen Viaje" written on the side of the cliff face about half way up. I thought at the time 'how strange', but this is apparently well endorsed and means 'Virgin of good travel', which brings me nicely along to the second leg of our adventure.

We couldn't help but notice in the brochures that were floating around in our resorts, the story of the shipwreck lying of the coast. The stricken ship SS American Star had sunk in the late 90's and when looking for a hire car I asked one of the ladies in the ship about it.

She said that it was well worth visiting, but was an hour off road, across a dirt track, but visit now as it won't be there much longer. After hearing her sales pitch, I was sold and wanted to visit this shipwreck, so our itinerary was set out with this in mind. All we needed to do was follow the main road down through the island, driving through the old capital Betancuria on the way, which we thought would give us our cultural fix for the day.

One thing that basic maps don't highlight very well.... mountains, or in this case large hills (when does a hill officially become a mountain?). With Stuart at the control of a small three door Seat with two very scared women in the back, the Virgin of good travel was about to become deflowered.

To say that I was nervous was an understatement! I am sure most people reading this have been on the odd dodgy road abroad, but this one was up there with the best of them. Tight 180 turns with nothing but a piece of flimsy barrier separating you from certain death, manic local drivers who ooze with overconfidence and take the same bends we took in first gear at 10 miles an hour taking them at 60 and leaving us closing our eyes in fear, which is not good when driving!

Aimee was incredibly nervous in the back, Steph felt sick and I kept giggling nervously! When we got to the top of the first hill/mountain/whatever we pulled over at the viewpoint to take a look down at what was quite an impressive view. Amy even said to me “You are going to have a lot to write about when you get home!”

At least from here we were only ever going to go down. Which we did - with gusto!

The former capital lay back at the bottom, which was a slight disappointment as there was nothing there! When I read, former capital I presumed it was recently former, within the past 50 years, but it was nearer 500! We kind of concluded that people must have been too scared to drive there in the olden days over the mountain road which we just came, that they decided to move it somewhere safer!

Once again we were on our way and again the map let us down! The damn thing forgot to mention that there was another hill/mountain and this one was going to be higher. Nor did the map highlight the fact that blocking our path was a low flying cloud ready to burst whatever it was carrying right on top of our shiny but very scary Seat.

However scared, nervous, excited we felt after the first part was now definitely heightened by our journey over the second! Luckily we managed to beat the cloud, or it beat us, either way we scrapped through the edge of it and continued our weaving way, around, over and down the mountain into the village of Pajara, which I am certain roughly translates as "Hallelujah".

Pajara did however mark a landmark on our journey to the SS American Star, as it was from here we needed to look for the dirt track that would lead us there. It was easily found and we started to slowly follow it.

We had to take it slowly and Stuart had to keep his wits about him in order to avoid the many, many rocks or jagged stones that could have punctured our tyres and left us as stranded as the poor ship I was dying to see.

It was this part of the journey which didn't come recommended to us in the NHS 'Parents to be guide'. Poor baby bird sitting in the back in Steph's womb which was bouncing uncontrollably this way and that over the very, very bumpy dirt track, for what was roughly an hour. It also meant that for however long it took us to get there, it would take us the same amount of time for us to get back.

So baby bird, if you suffer from short term amnesia when you’re born, I am sorry, but I really wanted to see a real life shipwreck!

The shipwreck itself was a bit of an anticlimax, but was still worth the effort. The sea has taken its toll and what was left was not how we saw it in the recently published guidebooks. In fact, I don't think it will be there this time next year, although looking around the internet for more information, others have been saying this every year since it sank.

This webpage has a good animation of the decay of the ship, scroll to the bottom and then compare it to the photos in my photo album.

Still, the location couldn't have been better! The beach in which was ideally situated next to the shipwreck had lava formed rocks to one side which Stuart and I were eager to climb over, and the sea was really powerful, with big waves and looked really inviting.

We headed for the rocks and from the walk to them it looked as if there may be a tunnel carved out of the cliff face, and we both wanted to 'check it out'. When we finally got there we both became rather awestruck as these big powerful waves crashed against the other side of the tunnel causing the water inside to crash around and make a ferocious noise. We wouldn't be taken a swim or a walk up there!

We did carry on climbing over at our much 'safer' side, although I was a bit foolish in climbing without anything on my feet! Stuart nearly wet himself when he found a small rock covering a very large crab. Stuart then decided to play a game of catch the crab, but couldn't quite muster the courage to pick it up before it ran to safety. I decided at that point that I prefer the more traditional way of catching crabs.

On our way back to the girls who were waiting patiently at the beach, albeit Steph was rather uncomfortable, having a lifelong displeasure of all things beachy! We headed into the sea, which was really throwing some water about. Steph may hate the beach with a passion that even she cannot explain, but I am not too good in the sea. I think it stems from a deep fear of drowning because of not being a particularly strong swimmer. I was only in the sea for a little while, and did not venture out as far as Duncan Goodhew look-alike Stuart who was out chasing the dolphins and talking gibberish to the whales.

He came out of the wash with a big grin on his face like a little kid who had just had a brilliant time, he wanted to go back in, but Aimee was worried about creatures and losing her bikini, whilst I was a big girl’s blouse. I felt sorry for Stuart really because he had driven all that way and was having such a great time I didn't want to burst his bubble!

By the time we had dried off it was pretty much time to head back onto the dirt track and face the arduous bumps and rock dodging and head for home.

It struck me whilst writing this how very Enid Blyton I have come across! All we needed was some ginger beer and treasure and we would have had an even more jolly adventure!

After the terror and tribulations of our outward journey the home leg was without incident. We arrived back at Ramsey Street and showed Stuart and Aimee out apartments. To be honest both Steph and I were probably slightly embarrassed after viewing their palatial alternative earlier in the day.

After a quick drink in the local Zanzibar it was time to say goodbye. For Steph and I it had been the best day of the holiday, and we would be going back to our relaxation therapy the next day!
The rest of the time we were on the island we spent our days around the pool and Steph was found moving away from the sun all day. In the nights we would either walk into town for a meal and a few drinks in Piero's or another one of the bars, or we would stay more locally in one of the places a few minutes walk away.

Both of us loved Fuerteventura and would definitely recommend it to families or couples looking for a relaxing time with a hint of adventure if it takes your fancy. If we had a bigger budget and Steph wasn't pregnant we would have taken either the quad bike tour of the island, or one of the Jeep safaris, as these would have taken the quick and easy route over one of the many dirt tracks that inhabit the island.

One thing that struck me whilst we were away was the amount of families and children who were having such great times, kids who were playing in the sea, or in the pools. It really hit home for me what would be happening to Steph and I over the next few months, and I started to get really excited and mentally plan out where we would take baby bird and his/her siblings, what we would be doing during the day and the many adventures we would get up to.

Back home in Britain with the rain and the dark night's at 7.30, the week we had in Fuerteventura seems to have been already such a long time ago! But with this blog, and the photographs hopefully I can keep the memories a little fresher.

If you have read this far I salute you! Leave a comment to prove it!

Thursday, 14 September 2006

The final trimester

Steph and I are now well into our final trimester of her pregnancy, and things are really starting to build up momentum.

On Saturday we are flying out to Fuerteventura, which I have been holding as some kind of benchmark as to where we are within the pregnancy cycle. When we come back it will be the final countdown to welcoming Baby Bird™ into the world!

As we look forward to a week in the sun, things back at home are changing rapidly. The nursery is starting to take shape with all new furniture and furnishings for the baby. Mum and dad very kindly brought the baby some new wheels in which the baby can travel in style and comfort - thank you Nanny and Bampy! Also, lots of little bits and pieces have started to litter the kitchen and elsewhere around the flat.

The week away comes highly recommended in a lot of the pregnancy books I have read (well one!), not only because it is possibly the last chance you will get away with peace and quiet for 18 years, but will be a chance for Steph and I to lay down our "battle plans", meaning that we can talk about parenting and how we are going to be as parents.

One thing is for sure, we are in for an exciting few months the three of us, and speaking for myself, the nerves are already well settled!

Before I sign off for another day, I want to wish Will, Gareth, Stuart, Anthony, Foordy, and Tommy all the best for there row on Saturday. It is for a very worthy cause, but even if they were doing it for a bet I would wish them luck. It is going to be a long slog, but they will be grinning from ear to ear when they (hopefully) cross that finishing line sometime on Tuesday! For more details see the Oarsome 4Some website.
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