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How I remember Gran Canaria

Maybe I should keep this a secret ...

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They don’t know what they’re missing. The tourists in Gran Canaria who lie on their sun bed or the beach the whole day, baking their skin untill they turn red or a sort of brown black. Maybe we should keep it a secret that Gran Canaria is in fact a stunning island with lots more to offer than resorts, packed beaches, shops and casinos. So maybe I shouldn’t write this blog. Keep it to myself, the quiet and quaint villages, the green hills, fruit trees, high rising mountains, deep barrancos, caves and the wild coast in the north. The cliche goes that Gran Canaria is a mini continent in itself. And as it goes with cliches, they tend to be true. So if you’re not a hotel tourist and like to explore, Gran Canaria is perfect for a get-away. It’s the third-largest island in the Canaries’ archipelago and even if you have only a week (like I had), it has lots to offer if you’re willing to look beyond the holiday resorts.

If you like authentic accomodation outside the tourist areas, I can really recommend this agency: www.casitascanarias.com. They offer high quality holiday homes, mostly finca’s, all over the Canaries and mostly off the beaten tourist tracks. I called this lovely house my home for a week: Los Bermejales in the small town of Firgas, a 45 minute drive from the airport to the northern region.

You’ll find car rental companies in abundance at the airport and they will try to sell you extra insurance. Consider taking it, because chances are your rental car will have scratches and there’s no one there to document the state of your car when you pick it up in the parking lot.

But most of all, enjoy cruising around this beautiful island and seeing the ‘real’ Gran Canaria.

Related travel blog: La Palma (from my trip in 2011)

Posted by Petravs 05:44 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Dos chicas in a white Polo

Rescued by the neighbors

My friend Lesley and I arrive on a Wednesday evening in Gran Canaria. Most of the people on our charter flight head to the big holiday resorts in the south, but we chose the road of freedom and rented a little house (‘finca’) and car. The car is a white Polo Volkswagen and upon first inspection it has some scratches and even misses a hub cap. I take some photos just to make sure they don’t charge us when we’ll return the car. And I think taking the extra insurance (oh, how all these car rental companies are thieves, tricking you into extra’s you’re not sure you need!!) was a wise thing after all.

It’s a 45 minute drive to the little town of Firgas in the north, a green mountanous area, where the owner of finca Los Bermejales waits to hand us over the key. It’s a smooth drive and a young guy waves at us just outside the house. He directs us down into the steep drive way of the finca and at that point I already know we’re in trouble. “How are we going to get back out of here?” I say half laughing, half serious. We don’t think about the answer straight away and greet the guy who doesn’t speak a word of English (and we don’t speak Spanish), but he shows us around the house and says his sister is on her way. Los Bermejales is a beautiful authentically renovated Canarian home. There are several large terraces around the house, even a swimming pool and below the house grow orange trees. The sister arrives and repeats the explanation in a sort of English, and then she gets another sister on the phone to tell us some more stuff about the keys and the gardener who comes every morning on weekdays. In the kitchen they have a bottle of red wine, bread and a whole basket of oranges set up for us.

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We thank them in broken Spanish and then they leave us, with a list of local restaurants. We’re hungry. But there’s a steep drive way to conquer and then a narrow gate and a dangerous bend with busy traffic just outside the gate. Lesley has a first attempt to drive backwards on the steep track. It’s an accomplishment to shift the gear to rear with this car (something I will struggle with the whole trip). The engine howls, there’s smoke, but she’s moving... untill half way there’s a stand still and we have to go back forward. From that moment on it’s a lost cause for Lesley and I give it a go, only to notice right away that I’m not going to make it either and because I don’t want to crash the car into the terrace doors downstairs I desperately give up too. Feeling like an 18 year old who’s learning to drive.

It’s clear somebody will have to rescue us and we need to get hold of the telephone number of the owner. While I call the agency (I can almost see the man smiling – although politely - when I explain the problem and that I really need the number of the owner), Lesley spots the teenage daughter of the neighbours. We wave and somehow manage to explain the problem and ask her to send mum or dad out. At this point I feel like a complete fool, but all that matters is that rescue is on the way. The mother comes to the gate and sees the problem. In all excitement I hand her the keys of the house instead of the car keys, there goes the last little bit left of the reputation of the Belgian chicas! She starts the engine, the engine howls once more, halfway there’s a standstill again, but she manages to get going again and under big cheer from us she drives the car out of the nightmare drive way. Her teenage son and daughter look amused and they all wave at us as we take over the car again to drive to the restaurant. ‘Muchas gracias!’ we exclaim and we wave back, feeling very silly. Yes, dos chicas from Belgium, world travellers, have arrived in Firgas ...

We go to one of the local grill restaurants, they serve us a giant steak with papas arrugadas (small unpeeled potatoes boiled in salt water) and the typical mojo sauce. In the meantime I keep on getting phone calls from the agency and the owner to check that everything is alright. We’re about the only guests in the restaurant and you can see the waiter wonder what the fuss is all about. As I explain to the owner that the neighbours helped us out (literally), I can’t help but laugh again about the situation and I’m grateful for the concern. We wisely park the car across the road the next days, no more steep drive way for us. I’m knackered by the time we get ‘home’ and find our beds. What a memorable arrival ☺

Posted by Petravs 05:42 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Naked men in the Dunas

Maspalomas - Puerto de Mogan

On our first full day we first need to stock up some food and drinks and head to the local supermarket. Our first local exploration confirms that Firgas is a small village, non-touristy at all. The eye-catcher is the Paseo de Gran Canaria, a steep street with a ‘waterfall’ and colourful tiles depicting the different islands of the Canaries. We ask for directions to the supermarket (more practice for our Spanish ☺) and buy breakfast and fresh fruit. There’s a grey sky, the clouds don’t find a way out of the mountains, so after breakfast we decide to head south. As soon as we approach the coastline and continue the drive down the GC-1 to Maspalomas, we are rewarded with blue sky.

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We’re heading for the ‘Dunas de Maspalomas’, a nature reserve with miles of sand dunes. It’s right next to a tourist area, so we park the car, stroll down the boulevard and the first stretch of beach where the tourists are. And then … we enter a different world. You could be in the Sahara, miles and miles of sand dunes stretch out. The sand burns our feet. We spend some time walking in the dunes, taking photos, and then head back for the coastline. At that point we see a naked guy coming out of the bushes and he’s clearly in a certain state of excitement. I absolutely don’t want to know what he was doing there, but I’m sort of getting a different picture of the Dunas de Maspalomas when I spot another naked guy walking towards the bushes – well, he’s wearing a t-shirt, but no trousers. In the distance we can now see that the people on that stretch of beach are all naked. We’re about the only people with clothes on at this point. I try not to pay too much attention to all sorts of hanging bodyparts, but that’s kinda hard when you see people bending down to grab a towel. Young, old, … we are on a nudist beach, no secrets here. There’s this suntanned macho sitting straight up on his towel, clearly expecting to attract some attention, showing off, but we have no intention to stay here and walk fully dressed along the shoreline back to the center ☺ We have earned a fresh orange juice at a beach bar and do some people watching. Everyone is now wearing clothes.

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Next we’re heading to Puerto de Mogan, also called ‘little Venice’. It’s a postcard town with colourful houses, a small beach and harbor. A more ‘upmarket’ kind of place: next to the fishing boats are luxury yaghts. Plenty of restaurants and apparently some of the best places to eat fresh fish on the island. We’re not staying until dinner time though. We take some time for a stroll and then move on to Puerto Rico nearby in search of a dolphin boat trip to go on over the next days. One of the locals told us there are boats leaving from Puerto Rico, so we just have a quick stop there to check the times before heading back ‘home’ to Firgas.

To end this first relaxing day we head to a little bar in the village, another tip from the owners of the house. The bar is indeed tiny, about 5 people fit in, but it’s Thursday evening and the local singer is playing the guitar and singing Spanish songs with lots of drama and big smiles. He loves the extra attention and two other locals join in with singing. The owner of the bar welcomes us and we order tapas. The kitchen isn’t really a kitchen, it’s a corner behind the bar, but we have a wonderful meal. By now we’re called ‘chicas’ everywhere we go and we can’t wait to see more of the island.

Posted by Petravs 05:39 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

A pulso lento

Aguïmes - Barranco de Guayadeque

The small town of Aguïmes is situated in the south, land inwards, and away from the tourist crowds. It’s quiet in the historical centre, with its colourful streets, sculptures and even poetry on the walls. There’s a beautiful poem by a certain Joaquin Artiles, called ‘A pulso lento’. Even though I don’t speak Spanish I understand the meaning of it, if not word by word, I get the essence of what he wrote just by walking around here.

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The square in front of the church of San Sebastian where the locals meet, the bar with delicious fresh orange juice for a fraction of the price they charge you in the tourist areas, … We take the time to visit some craft shops. First stop is the workplace of a man making ceramics. He welcomes us in his workshop and tells the story of his craft. It’s in Spanish, but we understand each other. He learned the old techniques as a young boy and many photos from ancestors hang on the walls. It takes time and patience to do what he does, rubbing the material until it shines, there’s no oven involved here.

Next stop is a shop with leather bags, painted stones and some jewellery. And here too lies a story. The owner is an Italian who moved to Aguïmes to escape busy life in Italy where he worked as a graphic designer. He and his (also Italian) wife now run a little shop here and 3 days a week he also works at the airport. “I turned 40,” he says, “ and I wanted a different life. The first year here wasn’t that easy. The locals call us los Italianos.” I have sympathy for his choice to start a different life, a pulso lento, but I can’t help feeling this would be a bit too slow for me, away from family and friends. It’s a beautiful town, but not many tourists come by. Not good for the local economy, but at the same time that’s what the charm about this place is, it’s quietness.

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Close to Aguïmes is the drive through the Barranco de Guayadeque, a deep ravine that has been classified as a natural monument for its archeological value and endemic botanical species. This is where the aboriginal Canarians lived in caves before the Spanish came. There’s an Interpretation centre at the start of the route that explains more about life in the ancient days, the findings in the area and the eventual colonization. Even today there are people living in caves along the Barranco, with a bit more modern comfort, but nevertheless in a very desolate area. We have a stop and wander around a path leading to some modern cave houses. Looking up to the rocks you can see many caves, not reachable for us, but once the home of real people who lived here for centuries by the grace of nature until their way of life was violently disrupted. I regret not being able to see a proper archeological site, but it’s an impressive surrounding, well worth a visit.

There’s only one way in and out of the barranco, so we drive back to the direction of Aguïmes to head higher up this time to Santa Lucia. From the ravine we go to high winding roads with stunning views. This landscape is called cumbre, at its highest point reaching up to 2000 meters. Away from the tourists by the sea, life is still quiet and traditional here. A lot of locals still live from the land and village life stretches from their fields and homes to the pub on the central square.

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Santa Lucia has about 1500 inhabitants, the road leading up to this place is very well maintained, still the masses don’t come here. Well worth a stop in my opinion is the site of La Fortaleza Grande just outside the village. There’s no organization around this place, it’s even quite impossible to park on the very rocky ground, but the sensation of stopping there and walking around all alone on this place of historical significance is very special. In fact, la Fortaleza is a rock formation shaped like a fortress, which was where the Guanches (aboriginal inhabitants) made one of their last stands. Legend has it that in 1483, many Guanches refused to convert to Christianity and instead threw themselves off these rocks to their deaths. There’s no explanation on the site and I’m sure some tourists instantly turn their car when they see there’s ‘nothing’ there, but to me it was worth the stop.

Real close to the Fortaleza is a look-out point over the Presa de la Sorrueda, an artificial lake surrounded by palm trees. Not too much water in there, but still a pretty sight.

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Police escort for two desperate foreign females

In Santa Lucia we buy some freshly baked bread for breakfast the next day and then drive our way out of the cumbre, back to Firgas.
From the blue skies we’re heading towards dark clouds and by the time we’re nearly home a mild rain comes down and mist surrounds the mountains. It’s Friday evening and we notice an unusual amount of people and cars in the street. When we’re about to turn into our street we stumble upon a road block and a police man directing people away. We open the car window and in broken Spanish we try to explain that we really have to get through. The police man at first doesn’t really want to listen; He nods and tells us to turn around. Apparantly there’s a car race (what the hell????) and no traffic is allowed all along our road. He can’t tell us when the road will be cleared again. Maybe around 11 p.m. or maybe not at all.

We have to play the part of desperate foreign females in order to make him listen. Somehow we are able to communicate that our finca is just 300 meters away. Under escort of a police car we’re finally allowed to drive the last few 100 meters to our house. The road is full of locals walking towards a meeting point and they look curiously at the car coming through. Luckily we’re able to park across the road again and there’s nothing left for us to do but follow the locals and find something to eat within walking distance. About 1 km from the house there’s a restaurant and masses of people are surrounding it and ordering drinks and take-away at the counter. We force our way through the masses and somehow get hold of a table. I’ve never been so happy to get warm bread with aioli as appetizer! It’s clear that this is a huge event. Apparantly it’s ‘The Rally de Canarias’, the biggest car race, it takes several days and runs right by our front door – in a matter of speaking.

By the time we get our food, everyone is outside and we hear ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as the cars race by on the dark and misty winding roads. It’s crazy. Walking back to the house after dinner, we see cars parked in the strangest ways. And we got stressed over driving the car backwards out of a drive way! The Canarios clearly don’t get stressed about parking at all, hence the damages we see on most cars ☺

Posted by Petravs 05:36 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Selfie with a tortoise

Puerto Rico

Early morning the cars are racing again. We hear the engines roar in the distance and unfortunately the dog of the neighbours is also alarmed. He barks incessantly. Race or no race, we’re out of here, because we’re sailing from Puerto Rico to see the dolphins. We catch the 11.30 boat and again there aren’t too many people on board, so it’s all very relaxing (don’t you just hate it when everyone leans over to one side to get the perfect snapshot?). It’s an enjoyable 45 minute boattrip to the place where the dolphins are spotted. The crew hand out blankets and we fully enjoy being out on the water. When the first dolphins are spotted one of the crew members pulls us two to the front of the boat, the best spots where we can see the dolphin family swimming right along with us. It’s an amazing sight! I’ve never seen them this close. I try to take a few photos but mainly enjoy looking directly (the photos never turn out good anyway) and we have to hold on tight to keep standing in the front.

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Then we spot a lonely tortoise floating on the water surface and the crew gets him out of the water. I don’t really appreciate them taking the poor creature out and even letting people petting him and posing (imagine, a selfie with a tortoise). They put the poor tortoise back in the water, and only later they tell us that they wanted to check the condition of the tortoise because there was an oil leakage in the waters around Las Palmas (many oil platforms there) and a dolphin was already reported dead.

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After about 3 hours we arrive back in Puerto Rico and decide to have lunch by the harbor. The owner of the restaurant suggests us to drink Bacardi cola instead of normal cola, but we stick to the non-alcoholic version. He also offers to rub in my shoulders with sun cream while Lesley heads to the toilets, but I assure him I’m perfectly fine. And when we get the bill he offers us chicas a mini ice cream. We accept the ice cream and say adios! From Puerto Rico we walk along a boulevard to the next beach. The water looks amazingly turquoise there but the place is packed. We have a short stop there and walk back to Puerto Rico. It’s too early to drive back to the cloudy northern region, so we head out to the nearby Barranco de Arguineguin. It’s another winding road with a view but at a certain point it starts to get more narrow and we’re not sure where it’s leading to. You don’t want to meet too many cars on narrow curvy mountain roads, so eventually we find a point to turn and drive back down.

Takes us about an hour each time to drive between the north and south and the difference in weather is remarkable. As soon as we come closer to the mountains the clouds set in. And that’s no different today. There’s another restaurant to try in Firgas. We park the car and ask a lady for directions to a resto called Chiringuito. In very fast Spanish she gives us some directions, smiling and we nod and think we can manage. It’s a small village, so yes, we find the restaurant. We’re the only guests, but the food tastes good. The restaurant has many tables but only 5 other people come in, to drink coffee and eat dessert. We try a local dessert after the main course (grill), arroz de leche, rice cake. We wave adios and head back to the finca. Luckily the race is over, quietness has returned and we can reach the house without any road block.

Posted by Petravs 05:34 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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