“It should be easier than this,” I think to myself as I collapse into the cool Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Fuerteventura, for what seems like the tenth time that afternoon.
I’m learning to paddle board, which should be relatively easy: take a large flat board, stand up, paddle. But the activity’s simplicity is eluding me, while everyone else in my learn-to-paddle class seems to have it sorted.
Perhaps it’s the gash on my foot that I picked up the day before that’s throwing me off. I cursed myself at the time for not wearing sandals while climbing over sharp volcanic rocks. But in this laidback Canary Island, it seems common practice to wander around barefoot.
Naturalism rules in Fuerteventura, both in beach attire and the environment. The island was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2009, and the local government is determined to preserve its beauty through sustainable tourism. Here, you’ll find far less tack than the resort-lined beaches that populate other islands in the Canaries archipelago.
The sparse, rocky landscape, sandy beaches and deep blue ocean would make an ideal setting for a movie. Ridley Scott obviously thought so, as much of his blockbuster movie Exodus: Gods And Kings was filmed here. So taken was the Oscar-nominated director with Fuerteventura’s beauty that, according to the locals, he’s considering buying a house here.
Lying in the sun at the Pierre at Vacances’ Origo Mare resort, I’m equally impressed by the island. With 323 villas, arranged around five swimming pools, a water park, restaurants, bars and even mini golf, I expect the resort to be a hive of activity. But I immediately notice how tranquil it is, and how easy it is to find a peaceful area just for myself.
I head to the poolside bar where barman Marco is mixing drinks. He tells me he will soon compete against mixologists from around the world in a European cocktail competition, and judging by the drinks he prepares for me, I’d say he’s in with a good chance of winning.
Enjoying the twilight warmth and sea air as I return to my spacious villa on my courtesy bike, I wonder if I too am feeling the lure to stay in Fuerteventura.
I wouldn’t be the first to come for a visit and remain. The following day I meet Louisa at the island’s Aloe Vera Museum in the village of La Oliva, where she shows me how people cultivate aloe, a plant which is grown widely across the island. Like many of the locals, she came here for a holiday but ended up making the island her home.
I leave the museum and head towards the Calderon Hondo volcano in the north of the island. In the heat of the day, the climb looks an arduous task, but it’s neither too difficult, nor too long, and the views from the top are certainly rewarding.
As the island unfolds below me, I look down at the 200m crater and wonder how loud the explosion must have been when the beast blew, creating part of the island, many millions of years ago.
I soon discover Calderon Hondo is also home to many Barbary ground squirrels - friendly chipmunk-like creatures. One seems particularly taken by a banana stuffed in my camera bag for the hike.
With no trees, the wind on Fuerteventura can certainly pick up, making windsurfing, kitesurfing and sailing popular options for visitors.
But here I am on my last day, still trying to master the art of balancing on water. Suddenly, I find that sweet balance spot, that perfect position - not too close to the front, not so near the back, and the proximity of my feet to the sides allows me to manage the slightest of waves.
I slowly rise from my crouched position, beaming with pride at having calculated the perfect formula for paddling success. I stand as a champion - a paddle board champion, until, splash, I’m in the water again.
But this time it’s just for fun.