Poznań, 2 a.m., after a 6-hour journey from Gdańsk and a stop at a hotel.
We don’t need an alarm clock, as because of stress, I haven’t slept for an hour – that is, since I went to bed. I wake up Lena, my 7-year-old daughter. We put on our clothes in 3 minutes and, semi-conscious, get in the car. 10 minutes later, we reach the airport parking lot. It’s -4°C and the wind speed is about 40 km/h. Lena struggles with her small rucksack, and I use a tie-down strap to connect two bike boxes and our suitcase. After dozens of such flights, you could say that we’re both already used to small excess luggage. The check-in and flight are trouble-free. Fuerteventura!!!
I don’t know how many times we’ve been here before, but this is a new situation for us – I admit that I had moments of doubt. Marek Ogień, photographer, and Kuba Gzela, film-maker, have already been waiting for us for an hour. They flew in from Katowice. Their flight also started at a killer hour and they packed 2 bikes and a huge amount of equipment too. I think that the main reason for taking all of these things is that they just wanted to look professional at the airport, because later they took pictures with small cameras. They look tired, but happy. I spend the next hour in a queue in front of a car rental company office, which seems to stretch across half of the island. The formalities don’t take long, but getting all of the stuff to the car does. At last, we drive away. I feel almost at home, Marek knows the island perfectly (he took kitesurfing photos for Xenon a few months ago), the place is new only to Kuba. We are in the northern part, so immediately after leaving the airport, we grab a pizza in Corralejo and then start scouting, as well as taking some test photographs on our way to the house in Costa Calma.
We reach the cottages in the late afternoon. We unpack and buy a lot of things our crew will need during the week. In the evening, we quickly eat dinner in a restaurant nearby, where we develop the plan for the week. Szymon Kobyliński, Ania and Maks arrive in the late evening. Now I’m in a slightly better mood, as they are a kind of a second family – to me and to Lena. Szymon is as tired as a refugee – he transferred to another plane in Pisa, where he stayed long enough to see the monuments of Tuscany, carrying his bikes on his back. Ever since we met, so for something like 20 years, we’ve always looked like emigrants loaded down with our worldly belongings when at airports! A short conversation and a two-day migration stage comes to an end.
We take the first photographs south of La Pared. La Pared is a small settlement benefiting from tourism and surfing, located on the west coast of the island. You can find roughly as many surfing equipment rental companies and surfing schools as houses here. It’s a quite cool place to learn. We’ve swum here many times and we very frequently come here with our children to admire the sunset.
From a historical point of view, La Pared constitutes a primary border between two tribes that inhabited Fuerteventura in the past. It’s the place where the island is narrowest - the east coast is only five kilometres away from the west coast. This is why the wall dividing the territories was built here. The wall is slowly decaying, but its remains are still visible. However, the name, La Pared (the wall), was given for one more reason. In the village, there are many natural rock overhangs protecting it from the might of the ocean. Even today, its inhabitants argue about the correct etymology of the name.
South of La Pared, there are beautiful sandy dunes mixed with volcanic rocks, and the entire area is located in the immediate vicinity of the ocean. Every second we can see Keep Out signs, warnings of violent death etc. but come on, man – we are from Poland – to us, it’s like a blaring invitation! The views are incredible. They’re so incredible that some time ago, in the area where we’re shooting, Han Solo’s ship landed – seriously, look up “Star Wars Fuerteventura”. Really, could it be any more awesome? Supposedly, when Lucas’s crew did here what we’re doing now, flight paths above the location were changed in order to prevent people from taking pictures from above.
I’m modelling for the first time, and I must admit that it’s extremely hard work – riding up and down in one place 20 times, then a quick change of place and the same thing again. Turn around here, ride fast here, ride slowly here, do it again here, hey, don’t lean so much, why are you making such a weird face, come on, smile, come on, don’t smile – it’s crazy! And I thought it’d be a day of resting from biking, a day where I’ll get to drink coffee and eat cookies.
Bedazzled with the desire for epic shots, we trudge on and on. It gets increasingly harder – the rocks get sharper and sharper, the sand deeper and more powdery, the slopes that end at a 30-metre cliff get increasingly steep. As I’m the worst driver in the world, I’m chosen to drive a certain risky and hard part of the route. That was it – after a daring and exceptionally technical 2-metre drive, I made the car hit the ground so hard that the back was practically pointing upwards. Every attempt at digging it out just made it sink in deeper, getting closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. After three hours of struggle, barely alive due to hunger, thirst, cold and fatigue, we give up and call for help. This is also not so easy, as there’s no reception and we don’t know who to call. Eventually, we manage to have a short phone conversation with Szymon, who’s staying in Costa Calma, and he finds the dirty work specialists. Rescuing us takes another three hours and costs so much that it would actually be cheaper to push the van off the cliff.
That’s a hard day, but we have really great shots!
The next day, Sami arrives – our brightest star. We’ve worked together before. Working with her is always a great pleasure and a dose of positive energy. I think she’s the most hard-working girl I know! Get this: after the shooting wrapped, she had to shorten her stay at Fuerte by 2 days to return to Girona and work! Respect!
One of the cool facts about Sami that no one knows is that she is an awesome surfer! Really awesome! She gets everything, she immediately sees whether a spot is good or bad, that it has potential, but the swell is too small etc. One day, we recorded her just packing her wetsuit in a Triglav bag, attaching her bags to her RUUT ST and going swimming. And she swam really well!
Sometime later, Adam gets here by ship. Adam is an incredible guy – he currently lives at Tenerife, because it’s warm there and he can ride his bike – that’s enough reasons for him. He didn’t want to fly; he came here by ship together with his bike, which he uses every day of his life, and EVERYWHERE. If he’s in Poland and needs to do something in Portugal, he gets on his bike and goes. At the very beginning, Rondo did the first Everesting on gravel in the world with us – he grabbed the first prototype RUUT and spent 24 hours riding up Teide. Oh, and while coming here by ship, he stopped on Gran Canaria long enough to ride around it. The funniest thing is that his surname is Kolarski (“kolarski” means “cycling” in Polish)!
The next day, we shoot in the south, near Cofete. A while ago, on our way, Marek noticed some extraordinary filming locations and as a result got a ticket for parking in the middle of a roundabout. Marek and Kuba are a little bit like predators – they are constantly seeking visual “game” – when they notice a sunset, offset, breach, road, rock – something that would just look great as an element of a shot – nothing else matters. They stop doing whatever they were doing, stop the car in the middle of a roundabout and start their hunt.
There are a few extremely dark and mysterious stories related to Cofete. However, first of all, this place looks as if it’s on another planet. It’s located in the pure wilderness – about a 45 minute drive over crushed stone roads from the closest town, Morro Jable. People spending time on this beach frequently drown – there’s like a 50% chance that if you get in the water, it’ll happen to you. It’s partly the result of the currents, because the water flows very quickly and doesn’t care about some protruding part of a small island, but there’s a legend explaining why it happens too… There’s also a mysterious Villa Winter – according to legend, this building, built by the German architect Gustav Winter, was a handling point for war criminals escaping from Europe. Supposedly, it’s where they were subjected to numerous plastic surgeries. According to a different story, an underwater lava tube under the villa was used as a U-boot base. Reportedly, two submarines are still down there, but you’d better not look for them – remember story #1: there’s a 50% chance that you’ll drown.
We also shoot in the far north, near the capital city, Corralejo, close to beautiful, sandy dunes. Corralejo is small and lively; we can eat fresh fish in the port and the best ice creams in the world in Heladeria Artesanal Italiana (ice cream placement). It’s a typical day on Fuerte, which means that the wind is so strong that those driving with the wind travel ultra fast, while those trying to drive into the wind move backwards despite their efforts. By the way – Fuerte is the most windy island of the entire archipelago. If your hobby is kitesurfing or windsurfing, you should definitely come here during the summer – there are great freestyle spots in the south, around Sotavento, and the most hardcore wave spots in the north, in El Cotillo, at your disposal.
After the end of shooting, we have 2 days off before coming back to autumn Poland. Marek and Kuba do some sightseeing and rest a little bit; we spend some time repairing the damaged cars. Sami travels to Girona to work, Adam gets a ferry to Tenerife, the children spend half day in the ocean, treating this situation as something that happens every day. Together with Szymon, we pack the RUUTs before the return journey, and leave 2 HVRTs and 4 sets of wheel to play with. And now, magically, my perspective changes – until that moment, for a few years, I’ve explored and treated Fuerte as a perfect road bike playground. The HVRT was a great torture device, a tool used during interval training, tempo runs, bagging and losing KOMs, killer rides up and wild rides down. However, on the last day, it turns everything upside down… in five minutes… That’s the time needed to replace the wheels with “road plus 650b” and to open up the doors to the hidden face of the unknown roads of the island. How much time will it take to explore them? It seems that at least quite a few years…