By William J. Furney
In a year marked by the loss of my father, whom I had lived with and helped care for during the past decade of his ill health and whose funeral I could not attend, as I was abroad and there were covid restrictions, I decided to go-off grid and escape everyone and everything. It was the middle of August, and if I couldn’t exactly unplug myself from electricity and other grids, like wifi networks, I’d at least pull the plug on my life as it was.
And so I ended up, after a brief spell on the sandy and windy island of Fuerteventura, in a remote village on the northeast coast of Lanzarote. Here in a bungalow on the volcanic edge of the majestic Atlantic Ocean, the views were spectacular and you could almost see across the stretch of shimmering water to the mysterious African mainland.
There was one shop, which opened for a half a day and had few items, including decaying fruit and vegetables. A few restaurants and one bar were closed.
I didn’t watch TV, listen to the radio or podcasts, keep up with the lastest breaking news — mostly about the travesty in Afghanistan — or do much other than write and listen to jazz on Spotify and the roaring sounds of the churning sea as frothy and hypnotic waves bashed into the centuries-old lava rocks that characterise this visually dramatic part of the world. I read, meditated and did yoga. I cooked — wholesome, earthy, vegan food. I drank: coffee, nut milk, green and red tea, sparkling water, Spanish red wine. I made popcorn (see TikTok below, which starts with a sailing from Fuerteventura to Lanzarote, a trip of about half an hour), with Marmite and then spicy paprika.
I ran, for miles so long and hot, in the morning and again in the afternoon, until my legs ached and I had blisters on my toes. I plunged into my complex’s swimming pool and, later, a picturesque tidal pool in front of my place, to cool off.
I also didn’t have any need for clothes, as it was a nudist village, called Charco del Palo, established by a German in the 1970s. And now run by a German, Alexander Ott, a friendly if curt individual with a scraggly beard and long, unkempt locks.
Naked here as the day you were born, and for all the world to see: a kind of rebirth that also bares your soul to the world.
There was nothing here, and nothing to hide, and yet it had everything.
Messages bleeped on my phone (on for work), from friends, colleagues, lawyers, former lovers who wanted constant updates on what I was doing and leaving gifts at the door of my flat on another island. All went unread; and I had told some of these people I would be unplugging, switching off, tuning out and tuning in to a different, lower frequency. I ignored the frivolity of social media — apart from one TikTok post that told my followers I was off-grid.
Parched people came to my door seeking water — one a black, Spanish-speaking man who told me I was “handsome” and I told him to get lost (after giving him several glasses of water he didn’t thank me for); the other a Spaniard running in the midday heat, and having ran out of liquid he was carrying in a plastic bag, which I refilled (“Agua con gas o sin?” “Sin”.). I told him I run twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, but he didn’t seem interested — only pointing up to the blazing sun and saying how hot it was. It’s possible he was delusional with dehydration, but at least he had reached a life-saving oasis.
A young and beautiful Spanish woman stopped me as I walked to a rocky outcrop to leap into the broiling sea to ask if there was anywhere calm to swim. The lovely rock pool in front of my bungalow, I directed her.
Apart from these brief interruptions to my silent summer sojourn, it was blissful, serene and filled with beauty and joy. I had achieved a level of serenity that made me never want to leave.
But then, just as I was savouring this delicious tranquility, needy neighbours moved in. Both single men of a certain vintage, one was from Ireland; the other, France. Staying alone in bungalows either side of me — about six feet away — they immediately they had one thing in common: they were morbidly obese, with gargantuan stomachs that would do an octuplet-carrying woman proud.
And, also unlike me, they were lonely and seized any opportunity to chat, which is why I came to know where they were from and other details I’d rather not know (“I got scalded yesterday because I didn’t wear suncream.”). Opening my door to the morning sunshine and there was one of these giant human specimens hovering for a chinwag. Even on morning runs there they were, hobbling about (one said that, given his vast size, he could “barely walk, let alone run”). I thought about changing bungalow, but settled for avoiding this enormous and emotionally desolate pair — one of whom smoked (the French one) — as best I could, but it wasn’t easy.
“I didn’t catch your name,” the Irishman said as I sunbathed on a lounger outside my door.
Because I didn’t give it.
So, out of basic politeness and manners, I had to tell him, and he told me his, and every time I stepped outside my door I heard him calling my name.
All of this self-absorbed minutiae was crushing my plugged-out zen; my hard-won peace and silence continually broken; my creative process, of writing and painting; my thought experiments, on gravity, the nature of space-time and how our planet and other massive bodies (ahem) bend it; and my evolving perceptions of our existential existence in this vast universe that may not be one but part of a multiverse (how even more inconsequential would you feel then?) disrupted.
I needed time to be cut off, to think, to be alone — not the endless blather of bored folk.
I should have spoken Bahasa Indonesia — the language of my former home — and let on I didn’t speak English, or French. Or I should have pinned a sign to my otherwise bare chest saying I was in the midst of a vow of meditative silence — so please do not speak to me, because I do not wish to make friends or listen to a diatribe of vacuous verbal diarrhea.
People just cannot leave you alone.
Now I’m toying with the tantalising idea of going off-grid for real and for good — very far from the madding crowd.
- Main image is of people enjoying the calm waters of a tidal pool in Charco del Palo, Lanzarote, one of two along this stretch of coastline. Photography by William J. Furney