Fuerteventura: If Mars had Water

There’s an ongoing experiment in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where six imitation astronauts bunk together in a small dome for one year. They aren’t allowed to interact with anyone but each other, and they’re not allowed to explore the outside world without the protection of a noisy space suit. A journalist from Gimlet Media followed the astronauts for one year and documented their trials and tribulations. As you can probably guess, the companionship and close quarters led to love and heartbreak, boredom, hatred, and a deep longing to be back in the outside world. The experiment replicates what life would be like for the first settlers on Mars. What would they have to do to find happiness?

Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco, serves as a Mars-like utopia. It acts as a destination that feels outer worldly, but still has many of the comforts of Earth. In town, you’ll find a cluster of bars, restaurants, surf shops, cafes, cultural performances and hotels. But once you venture from asphalt to dirt, you’re in a place that’s virtually unregulated and exposed to the elements, much like Mars would be – if it had a large body of water. (Of course, I’m talking from an elementary understanding of Mars topography and weather patterns, as we instinctively imagine Mars.)

One side of Fuerteventura is exposed to a near-constant battering of wind, hence its name which translates into “strong wind.” This attracts kitesurfers, sailors, and windsurfers from all over the globe. Meanwhile, on the west and north coast of Fuerteventura, you’ll find surfers paddling out in near-perfect conditions. In most parts of the world, strong winds and prime waves don’t exist simultaneously.

The Mars-red sand seen on the island was blown over from the Sahara, though most of the island’s geological makeup is the result of 20 million years of volcanic rock and grated coral reef. An aerial view of Fuerteventura reveals its volcanic craters, spaced evenly across the landscape like a string of pearls. With few cars to get in your way and endless paths to create, many cyclists venture to the island to train and explore as they please. Rarely, if ever, will you be stopped by a policeman for trespassing or venturing into closed territory – most of the island is uninhabited. Beachside parking lots are accented with nude surfers and swimmers, who take a few moments to stretch in the sunshine before throwing on a T-shirt and shorts.

Occasionally, you might see a hitchhiker walking with his thumb out and a board under his arm. In a small community like those dotted around Fuerteventura, it’s sacrilegious not to help someone in need.

I wonder how the successful astronauts of the HI-SEAS experiments would fare in Fuerteventura, where the Mars-like landscape has been modified into playground for sunbathers and adventurers. Would they be excited to experience something so geologically similar to another planet (and the trappings that would come with inhabiting it) or do they dream of something much different?

If Fuerteventura is a microcosm of Mars hundreds of years after inhabitation, I’d consider being put on the list.


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