A Continent in Miniature

Sunday December 14, 2014

rainbow rocks - Gran Canaria

They say that the island of Gran Canaria is a continent in miniature.  That by visiting various places on this island can give you the feeling that you’ve traveled an entire continent, based on all the diversity offered.  With many micro-climates encased in only 1,560 square kilometers, I can see how one would get that feeling.  From the sprawling sand dunes of Maspalomas to the cave homes and hotels of Tejeda; from the rocky cliffs plummeting to the shorelines of the west coast to the damp forests of Santa Maria de Guia and the picturesque beaches and metropolis of Las Palmas,

forest Gran Canaira

Santa Maria de Guia.  Image taken from here.

Tejeda

Hostel built into the mountains of Tejeda.  Image taken from here.

To us, this island needed to be explored as best as possible and for a multitude of reasons.  For starters, rental cars start out at only 22 Euros a day.  That’s less than we were paying for scooter rentals in the Azores!  Secondly, with a continent in miniature that’s fairly exploreble in a single day there was no way we could only confine ourselves to Las Palmas.  And thirdly, our 10 year wedding anniversary is creeping up on us in a few days and what better way to celebrate? The rental service we used was extremely helpful, replying to our emails within an hour and even running the rental car out to the marina in the morning so we not only get it in our hands as early as possible, but we wouldn’t have to hunt down the agency in these sometimes confusing streets.

Thursday morning we were getting our bearings straight as we pulled out of the marina and tried to place ourselves on G-1 South.  The plan was to get to the dunes of Maspalomas on the south end of the island with a stops Telde in Agüimes on the way.  The guidebook that did such a good job of leading us around the Old Town of Las Palmas listed too many nice things to see and do in these areas to pass tem up.  Once more, I foolishly listened.

Not realizing how quickly you travel through the island on the major expressways, we missed our first exit toward Telde and had to backtrack our way up from the next available one.  With the gas gauge on empty, mind you.  I don’t know how we managed to find an open station out in the middle of nowhere on the county road we were traveling on, but once the tank was topped off we merrily made our way on towards Telde and it’s beautiful squares and churches.  Since this ended up being such a full day I won’t go into detail of exactly what happened for the next 45 minutes, but here’s a quick synopsis:

  • Drive right past it because these roundabouts are confusing as hell.
  • Don’t know the road we’re supposed to be on to get to the square, so just start looking for tall steeples of churches.
  • Try to follow our map to the big i for information.  Pretty sure it doesn’t exist.
  • Look for a McDonald’s so we can get wifi and research a little better.
  • Don’t find one, so we park the car and wander for 20 minutes, through cute shops and streets, but come up empty handed for churches.
  • Decide that Barrio de San Francisco must not exist either.
  • Get back in the car because we still have a lot of island to cover and this was just supposed to be a quick stop.
  • Curse myself for relying solely on my pocket guide book and not researching more on my own.

 

  • Take the county road down to Agüimes and find sign directing us toward the Historic Center.  Woo hoo!
  • Find that for some reason we got the one rental car that you can’t lock the doors from the outside.  F&*k!
  • Discover the key has to be in the door while you’re locking it.  Ahhh haaa!
  • Walk up to the historic center to find the plaza and the church.
  • I think it’s an adorable town that I would love to backpack through and spent a few nights here in a hostel.  Lots of cute streets and restaurants.  It reminds me of a mix of Trinidad, Cuba and Horta, Azores.
  • Matt is a little less than impressed.
  • We snap a few photos of the church but are not allowed to go in.  The plaza is empty and most shops and restaurants are still closed save for one or two cafes.
  • We get back in the car in search for sand and beaches.

church at Agüimes, Gran Canaria

plaza at Agüimes Gran Canaria

Back on the main road of GC-1 we zoom to the southern end of the island and make record time getting there.  Having had the car for only two hours now, we allowed ourselves to slow down a little and enjoy a proper beach again.  Starting at Playa Ingles we took the steps down to the dunes that stretched as far as you could see.  Unlike the Sleeping Bear Dunes of northern Michigan where my heart will forever belong, from here we could easily see to the water and that it was only a 15 minute hike to get there.  Superior to my dunes back home though, the ones here did get those cool ripples in the sand that you’d expect to see in the Sahara from the wind constantly moving it around.

Today was not an afternoon for those winds to be dying down anytime soon and even though we had been cursing Las Palmas lately for it’s chilly days, things weren’t much better at the southern tip of the island.  A quick stroll on the beach turned us around and we were back in the car, hunting down Melonaras and it’s lighthouse.  Not only did we eventually come across it, but we were also able to spot all the mega resorts and where those with loads of money vacation in Gran Canaria.

dunes at Maspalomas, Gran Canaria

Jessica at Maspalomas Dunes

dunes Maspalomas, Gran Canaira

By this time of day we were more than hungry and we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford a lunch in Melonaras unless we sold our boat to be able to pay for it.  Just a little further up the coast was another tourist town of Puerto Rico and we were 90% sure we’d be able to find at least some sort of fast food joint there.  What we did find was indeed a McDonalds, and also that Puerto Rico is the tackiest town we have ever seen.

As far as the eye could see were condos built into the hillside with every cheesy restaurant and shop you could think of it’s valley below.  If I planned a vacation here based on brochures alone I would be one pissed off person once the taxi pulled up to this area.  We said screw it to even stopping here for food and just picked up some Doritos and a Pepsi at a grocery store in the next town over.

puerto-rico gran canaria

 The aerial images lie, this is what it looks like once you’re inside!  Image found here.

It’s a good thing we didn’t waste any extra time on sitting down for lunch as we realized how much our pace slowed down just after Puerto Rico when the roads began to wind through the mountains. Slowing down to 30 mph we took all our corners blind.  Half the time another car would be coming around the corner and we made a little game of screaming as if we were going to collide.  There wasn’t a lot of quiet time in the car for the next few hours.  We unfortunately crack ourselves up.

colored rocks, Gran Canaria

hillsides of west Gran Canaria

The slow going on the roads though was well worth the views.  Everything outside of our window was gorgeous and we wished we could spend the rest of our afternoon in this area.  There weren’t many towns to distract us and other than almost running out of fuel for the second time that day, we had no reason to look for one.

Along the winding road were a few signs for scenic overlooks that we couldn’t pass up.  The views looking over the ocean on the west side of Gran Canaria were stunning and reminded us exactly of being in the Atlantic Islands of Portugal.  Something we’d been looking for ever since we got to the Canaries.

West Coast of Gran Canaria

West Coast of Gran Canaria

Jessica, West Coast of Gran Canaria

 Trying to beat the clock of the sun going down on us we raced toward our last sightseeing stop of the day.  Arucas.  This town is a main draw for many tourist that make their way to Gran Canaira solely for it’s church.  A neo-gothic structure that covers every postcard or brochure pertaining to the island.

Spotting the church as you come into town is incredibly easy, but finding parking is a completely different story.  Only for us though because we kept missing the turn we wanted and had to follow the narrow one way streets by it’s plaza until we could get ourselves out and head another direction.  This happened three times.

While still freaking out that the sun would go down on us and we wouldn’t be able to make out the great details of the church at dusk, we eventually found a meter and hastily shoved some coins in before running across the street.  We quickly found we weren’t allowed inside, but the views from outside were spectacular. For 30 minutes we wandered the premises in awe, astounded at the structure before us.  Having just Googled some photos of how majestic it looks all lit up at night though…I kind of wish we would have stayed a little longer.  Oh well.  Ikea and major grocery stores were still calling our name.  When you have a rental car for only a day, you do have to get the most use out of it as possible.

 

church of Arucas, Gran Canaria

San Juan Bautista, Arucas, Gran Canaria

Church of San Juan Bautista, Arucas, Gran Canaria

Renting a car and exploring the island is one of the best things we could have done with our time here.  It truly is a continent in miniature.  And that’s just from the parts we had seen.  Given us a car here for a week…we’d probably never leave.

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Sailor’s Bar & Almost Good-byes

Friday December 12, 2014

12.12.14

The time has come already.  At least, we thought it had.  For our group to say good-bye that is.  Kit and Alex were all set to ship off tomorrow, having spent the past two days rushing around Las Palmas.   Filling water tanks and diesel, stuffing every nook and cranny with food, and almost sinking the boat with all the extra weight added necessary for an ocean crossing.

We hadn’t seen either of them in days, Kit not since our slacklining exercise on Wednesday morning, as we’re finding that ocean voyages come with a pretty hefty prep list.  Even just checking out of the country is a 45 minute walk each way to the port police and back.  We did find though that their passports were not even glanced at which is good news for us since no one in this country ever wanted to check us into it in the first place.

The plan had been for our Gran Canaria boat buddies to depart tomorrow….until the weather forecast kept making it’s daily changes, as it does.  Matt and I had been spying 20-25 knot winds (which means 25-30 in actual real world wind) and 2-3 meter waves, which is just a little heavier than we wanted to depart in and why we were not ready to race out ourselves.  As the forecast progressed to 25-30 knots of wind and waves bordering on 3-4 meters, our buddies decided that this was just a little heavier than they would like to travel in as well.

A night out at Sailor’s Bar had already been planned so we could get our last good-byes in, and when plans changes we decided to change it from a bon voyage party to ‘Yay, you’re stuck with us for a little longer!’ party.  Trying to find an open table at this establishment at 8pm on a Friday night is no easy feat, but after sliding into a ‘reserved’ table and getting mixed answers on if it was indeed reserved or not, and then finally stealing a table from someone who found it necessary to take up 4 seats to Skype, we sat down and downed a couple of cañas.

Our boats may not be headed across any oceans just yet, but personally, that’s just fine with me.  I have no problem spending a few more days in this cute and colorful down, drinking draft beers with new yet close friends.

beers at Sailor's Bar

Alex & Jessica

Jessica & Kit

Trying to ‘make love’ to the camera as well as Kit….and failing horribly….

Jessica & Kit

…So I settled for a plain old smile instead.

brittany hat 2 brittany hat

Kitiara in Wanderland

Alex

group photo, Sailor's Bar

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Slacklining at Playa de Las Alcaravaneras, Gran Canaria

Wednesday December 10, 2014

Slacklining Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Those slackliners that we saw on the beach our first Sunday of wandering through Las Palmas?  It must be a weekly thing for them, their own type of Sunday-Funday, because we saw them once more whist walking to Play Canteras a few days ago with Kit and Alex.  Mentioning to them that we had seen the same thing last week, they casually mentioned that they too enjoy this sport.  What’s more, they even carry their very own slackline aboard Berwick Maid and said they’d bring it out sometime for us to try.  Which was kind of perfect for us because we would never admit to ourselves that we’re beginning to slide further and further into that hippy-esque lifestyle and won’t go out of our way to join others already participating, yet still wanted a reason to try it.   This gives us the option to say “Well…ok.  If we must“.

Planning on an early time to meet at the beach (10 am for us, this still gives us time to get in our full 9 hours of sleep and inject ourselves with a bit of coffee) we all rendevoused at the small strip of sand right in front of our anchorage, or Playa de Las Alcaravaneras as most people would know it.  Unrolling the heavy duty slackline, or a giant ratchet strap as it looks like, we picked two palm trees to walk between and went ahead setting the line at an appropriate height and tautness for beginners.

Oh, and if I forgot to mention exactly what slacklining is, it’s is similar to slack rope walking and tightrope walking as you try to cross from one end to the other of a line that is held under tension.  I guess it’s become very popular and people do it on places other than the palm tree lined beaches we’ve seen.

As soon as it was tensioned, Kit jumped up and began slowly walking from one end to the other while using her extended arms for balance.  Although her concentration wasn’t solely on the task at hand she did mention that she wasn’t yet up to the level of carrying on a conversation while walking the line, so we observed as she made her way across the bright orange fibers.

Jumping off she gave us a few pointers such as it’s best not to hold any sort of tension at all in your body, to relax it as much as humanly possible, and never to watch your feet as they walk across the line but instead to keep your gaze straight ahead.  After a few brave attempts and tumbles on our part she also explained that a perfect way to practice, while still on the ground, is to try and take one foot off the ground and extend your opposite hand over your toes, holding them about one inch off the ground.

While in theory that’s some very good advice that I’m sure we’ll be practicing later, we wanted to get walking on that rope right away.  Matt was a bit more stubborn than I was and made his first few attempts solo, not even making it one step before succumbing to gravity, before literally taking a hand that was being offered to him to keep him on balance.  We both found that walking next to a person on the ground while holding their hand, even very lightly, was enough to keep us on the rope for quite awhile.  Sometimes even from one end to the other.

It was a great morning on the beach, surrounded by palm trees and sand, and even though we may not be experts in the field now I think we have the gist of the basic principles of it.  Who knows, the next time we see those unicycle riding, baton juggling hippies as they run a slackline from one palm tree to another, we may ask them to join in.  Not showing off any skills I’m sure, but at least having a hell of a good time trying.

Kit running slackline

Matt doesn’t look too sure about this whole thing.

Kit slacklining Matt falling off slackline

Matt’s first attempt….and he’s off!

Kit slacklining

Matt slacklining

He’s keeping his balance with a little assistance.

Jessica preparing to slackline

Getting instructions from Kit before preparing to stand up.

Jessica slacklining

CON-CEN-TRATE!

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Sundays at Playa Canteras

Sunday December 7, 2014

Sand Sculptures, Playa Canteras

Since our friendship with Kit and Alex was cemented right away and all of us not only wanted, but needed some time out of the marina and off our boats to wander around today, we thought we’d bring them out to Playa Canteras.  The trip was of course, for us, an excuse to get back to Montanditos and enjoy their little sandwiches and cheap drinks, but you know, the beach has it’s draw too.

Even though the daily highs have been hovering at or just above 70 degrees, and I don’t think the water temperatures are much better, Alex decided it would be the perfect occasion to take a dip in the Atlantic.  While that crazy Brit dove in and out of waves and surfed them back to shore, us three sane people stayed in the sand and alternated between putting layers on and taking them off and the sun slid in and out of cloud coverings.

Kit did tell me that, compared to summer weather and water temperatures you’ll receive in Great Britain, this was actually quite a treat and why you’ll find so many Brits in the area walking around in thongs while the rest of us are slowly pulling on layer after layer.  I’m glad my blood has become accustomed to a Caribbean feel where anything below 80, in the water or the air, feels a bit on the nippy side now.

Kit & Matt at Playa Canteras

Alex surfing waves at Playa Canteras

Playa Canteras, Las Palmas Gran Canaria

sand sculpture at Playa Canteras

sand sculptures at Playa Canteras

After a little surf and sand, the four of us made our way down the boardwalk where we introduced them to the magic that is Montanditos.  Instead of ordering off the pre-set menu this time Matt and I went crazy and looked through their 100 sandwiches, deciphering ingredients here and there, to put together our own little mix of foods that did not disappoint.  They even have dessert ones which I made sure to try out this time.  Holy crap.  Chocolate bread with a cream and strawberry filling?  Absolutely to die for.  As was the cream cheese, basil, prosciutto, and tomato slider.  Gahhhh…we need to open one of these in the States!!

view in front of 100 Montanditos

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Matt & Alex at Playa Canteras

More random roaming followed our late lunch, and after getting lost on the streets of Las Palmas we eventually found our way back to the marina and to an open table at Sailor’s Bar.  Enjoying a couple of cañas we all dreamed of the Caribbean with it’s warm sunny skies and clear temperate waters.  Anchorages as far as the eye can see and afternoons filled with snorkeling and sunsets in the cockpit.  While we have absolutely loved being in Europe with all of it’s cities and conveniences, we are definitely ready to get back to some tropical island living.

12.7.14 (9)

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Beer Buckets with Kitiara in Wanderland

Friday December 5, 2014

bottles of tinto verano

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  I’ve been a little lonely here in Europe ever since we arrived.  Ok, like very lonely.  It’s basically just been the two of us now for the past six months. We just don’t see the outgoing cruisers we did in the Caribbean, and forget any young people to hang out with.  We’ve seen a few more in the Canaries than Portugal, usually with a French flag flying, but being a little shy as well as knowing there would be a language barrier we never do more than wave as we pass by and half the time get a wave back.

Now that we’re in Gran Canaria there definitely are more people gathered in one spot and sometimes we can even get a wave from a passing boat or a dinghy…and even though there are a few bars in the marina’s grounds that are always full of sailors throwing back a few beers and having a good time, again, I’m still always too shy to go up and make first introductions.

So when I found out that an online blogging friend Kit and her boyfriend Alex were going to be making it over to Gran Canria, it was like someone threw me a lifeline.  Finally someone to hang out with that I’d already been chatting online with for a few months and I knew wanted to hang out with me as well.  At least, I hope that was the case.  I might have been just a little obsessed with Kit’s arrival, constantly looking out the port to see if I could make out their little Camper Nicholson among the boats arriving in the harbor.

My friend Jackie was joking online with me that I should call Kit up on the VHF as soon as I saw them coming in and say ‘Thank god you made it, my eyes were getting sore from staring through binocculars all day’.  Matt, getting the full brunt of my obsessive measures, went even further and joked that I should meet her at the dock with a homemade banner that featured the two of us Photoshoped in together with BFFs written next to it.

I did miss Kit’s arrival last night, even though I was tempted to leave my VHF on just to listen for when they called into the marina, but even my stalking has it’s limits and I tried to busy myself with blogging instead.  As I was enjoying my coffee this morning though, I did see their boat Berwick Maid pass us by, and a petite blonde at the bow.  My new BFF had arrived!

A little bit after that Matt and I thought we’d try for an afternoon at the beach since the sun had actually been out all morning and we wanted an afternoon there admist all the rain we’d been getting through the week.  Taking the dinghy in to the marina we passed Berwick Maid at the reception dock and took a chance that someone might be aboard.  Knocking on the hull we were promptly greeted by Kit, or Emma Stone’s doppleganger.  The resemblance is astonishing.

Kit was very friendly and I immediately fell in love with her cute British accent.  She told us that Alex had been busy trying to check them in for the past hour, and while she waited for him to come back, invited us onboard to chat.  The sun had suddenly disappeared again and the wind was building so it looked like our day at the beach might have to be aborted anyway.  For the next 45 minutes we shamelessly took up space on her boat as the three of us got to know each other better and swapped stories of our travels thus far.  Knowing that she would eventually want to get back to resting after their trip over from Tenerife though, we left, but not after inviting them out with us that night for whatever music festival we found out was going on at the Santa Ana Plaza.

We we got back together a few hours later we grabbed a quick beer at one of the marina’s watering holes before making the 20 or so minute walk to the Old Town.  Having been there once now ourselves we fell into immediate tour guide mode, pointing out all the interesting things we’d found the previous day.  Such as the most stylish clothing shops, the most interesting looking bars, and of course the McDonald’s.

The cool evening air was refreshing, and along our walk we made the normal cultural difference jokes as Kit and I talked about how a door in Europe may be labeled as WC, but you never ask where the water closet is if you’re trying to find one. You just as for the toilet.  Or maybe the shitter.  Apparently ‘loo’ isn’t very common which depressed me just a little bit.  We were still on this topic as we wandered into the plaza and found it was not quite what any of us were expecting.

Because the person I originally asked about the event spoke very little English, all I knew was that there would be music at 8:00.  We thought there might be bands or chiors performing live on stage, either would have been fine, but this was just a few speakers playing terrible Spanish hip-hop music.  Tents were set up throughout the plaza as vendors peddled their goods, much like what we saw at Horta’s Sea Week.  It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t exactly the scene we were looking for either.  Grabbing a Heineken from one of the vendors we took a spot by the church just to see if things got any more interesting the longer we stayed there.

pedestrian walkway, Las Palmas

Plaza Santa Ana, Las Palmas

Plaza Santa Ana at Christmas

Kit & Matt drinking Heineken

It turned out the answer was no.  Luckily for us I had taken note of a bar earlier that had cheap buckets of beer.  Who would say no to that on a Friday night? No one in our group.  Apparently not a lot of other people either.  After we tracked down this specific bar we had to wait for a table to open up and even then we had to squeeze the four of us into a spot meant for two until another opened and we could pull it alongside.

Through the next few hours we enjoyed three buckets of beer and some great company.  Even though Kit and Alex have only started cruising a few months ago, we all have that impending Atlantic crossing coming up so there was never a shortage of things for us to talk about.

Alex & Jessica

Kit & Matt

 And who would have guessed that on our walk back we would have passed a movie poster featuring Emma Stone.  There was no way we couldn’t force Kit to stand next to her doppleganger and get a photo.  What do you think?  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her fend off unknowing fans during her stay here.

Kit aka Emma Stone

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Old Town Let Down

Thursday December 4, 2014

homes near Old Town Las Palmas

As you’ve probably found out by now, I’m terrible at planning excursions.  My preparation barely goes past Google Images and how to get to the most interesting ones I’ve found.  I can plan a great party…but anything travel based my brain can’t strategize past ‘I want to go to there’.  So I had been so proud of myself when we checked into the marina here and were handed one of a dozen leftover information packets for the ARC that contained maps and guide books, and gave a full run down of things to do in town.

One of the items that held a lot of interest was a tour through Old Town Las Palmas.  It even gave names of specific squares and streets to start on and where to head from there.  I thought all my planning had been done for me, and so one afternoon this week when the sun had come back out and we were feeling in a touristy mood, I dragged Matt off the boat and toward this area of town.

Since we had only been the opposite direction of the marina up until this point, we were astounded at all the shops and stores we stumbled across had we only traveled two blocks in the opposite direction.  Pedestrian walkways decorated for the holidays and filled with upscale stores just begging to be browsed.  We had no problem popping into Zara Home and looking at sheets, decorative pillows, and even placemats for the new boat..trying to plan our decoration theme before we’ve even laid eyes on it in person.

Matt in Las Palmas

building under construction, Las Palmas

If this road was any indication on what the Old Town was going to be like, I was extremely stoked.  Forcing ourselves past all the other shops and cafes that I desperately wanted to stop at, we pushed on toward our destination.  Following the oversize map I had stuffed in my purse, we followed side streets past more cafes and one amazing theater until we had been deposited right at the heart of Old Town.

If I didn’t have my maps agreeing with the plaques in front of me, I would have thought we were led to the wrong place.  Everything was completely abandoned.  Aside from one or two other wandering tourist there was not another soul in sight.  All of the buildings were closed up and most looked like they hadn’t been occupied in years.  Based on how our guide book was touting this place as a ‘Must see with lots of boutiqes and cafes to wander for hours’, I was quite disappointed.  Were they talking about the pedestrian walkway we just left a few blocks ago?

Don’t get me wrong, the building here were still pretty.  I just thought it would be much more lively and I was looking forward to all the activity and people watching..along with a historic and beautiful backdrop.  Instead we walked through vacant streets and looked at one hollow street and it’s buildings to the next.  All my ‘hard planning’  for our exciting afternoon out was leaving us despirited and even a little bored.

Old Town, Las Palmas

Old Town Las Palmas

Old Town Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Things got a little better as we wandered out to the front of Plaza Santa Ana.  The church had a beautiful facade from both back and front, but front let me find the canine statues that actually represent how the Canary Islands got their name.  Did you think it was the bird?  I always thought that too.  Nope, turns out it was derived from Latin meaning ‘The Island of Dogs’, originally applying to Gran Canaria alone, as it “contained a vast multitude of dogs of very large size”.

Canine satue Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Santa Ana Church, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

As we wandered in front of the plaza we could tell that an event was being set up, with a stage surrounded by large speakers being assembled.  Asking one of the guys working on it what was going on, he let us know there was going to be a festival of music the next night at 8:00.  Well good, now we have plans for tomorrow night.

Since there wasn’t much more to see in Old Town, every street seem to have been discarded by locals and tourists alike, we walked past the plaza and into what seemed to be an upscale residential area.  For some reason these zones always seem to interest us just a little bit more as we daydream and visualize ourselves one day living in a place like that.  Once we win the lottery, have four different boats spread all over the world, and need a weekend retreat.  You know, something small, like under 3,000 sq feet.  Not that we’d ever even know what to do with that kind of space anymore.  Do cartwheels through the living room?  That’s about all I can think of. Ok, I guess we can scale down to 2,000 sq ft.

cafe in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

home in Las Palmas de Gran Canria

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

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Montanditos

Sunday November 30, 2014

Playa las Canteras

I have a new love.  They are called Montanditos.  I’m not sure if I’m in love with the sandwich or the chain…it’s just too hard to separate the two in my mind.  Probably because in my mind there is no separation.  But let me go back to how we got here.

Obviously we had a not so fun few days on the boat during a bit of bad weather, so when we woke up today and the sun was shinning, mission number one was to get out and do some real exploring.  The kind that leads to you more than just a grocery store.

The morning started out beautifully with a cup of coffee enjoyed out in the sunlight and surrounded by local kids practicing their sailing.  Masses of them engulfed our boat as orders were barked out in Spanish, and as Serendipity split them down the middle, they continued out into rising sun and the chaos of the harbor.

sailing dinghies in harbor

sailing dinghies in Las Palmas harbor

Slipping on a sundress and flats since we’re still in metropolitan civilization and these items always feel slightly out of place on the dusty dirt trodden paths of the Caribbean, we brought the dinghy into the marina to hit the town.  It turns out that even though the marina here has a ridiculously low price tag of 7€/night, we can enjoy being at anchor in the harbor for only 2€/night.  And since the marina is stern-tie only with no finger docks, it was a no brainer for us.

Strolling the sidewalk next to the harbor we came across a group of people slacklining on the beach between a few palm trees.  We’d also seen this happen on the beautiful Playa Norte in Isla Mujeres, but these people were serious about it.  Jumping onto the line without any assistance of hands and then bouncing over 5 feet in the air, we had to wonder if they earned their keep on whatever random island they happened to be inhabiting at the moment by either putting on shows or asking for tips.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if they did well for themselves by either of those means.

slacklining Las Palmas

 As we wandered the blocks and blocks of this large city, we realized that even in a big city, everything in Europe still shuts down on Sundays.  Except the Burger King.  That was still open and calling my name although it was nowhere near time to eat yet.  I memorized it’s location for our walk back.  Surely I wouldn’t be forced to eat sandwiches on the ‘Dip just because we’d finally found the Hiper Dino chain that was basically staring us in the face during our grocery store hunt on Thursday yet we somehow still missed it.

Following the helpful street signs around town we honed in on the way to Playa Canteras, my main destination for the day and one of Gran Canaria’s most famous beaches.  The sun kept deciding to play hide and seek with us and every few minutes I’d go back and forth between shivering and sweating.

As we finally came upon the beach the sky was still embedded with clouds, not normally the grand unveiling one hopes for…but this beach was so amazing that even an overcast sky could not hide all of it’s beauty and possibility.  Cruising the boardwalk for less than five minutes, both of us were throwing out what could now probably be considered to be our catchphrase of “I wanna live here”.  The beach had large crashing waves and yet was protected by a reef that sat a few hundred feet out.  Dark rolling hills surrounded each side and lounge chairs and umbrellas dotted the sand while colorful buildings provided an eye catching backdrop.

Instantly smitten, we took off our shoes to traipse in the sand and see what else this coastline had to offer.  Apparently one major thing that was coming up there was a grandiose sandcastle building competition.  Maybe not so much a competition as an event?  And maybe not so much sandcastles as just things built from sand?  I’m still working on my Spanish, but the banner in front of one large sand-item under construction gave the dates of December 5th – January 4th or something, so we should be here to see it in it’s full glory.  We’re allowing ourselves at least 10 days in Grand Canaria before we jump on the first weather window across the Atlantic.

boardwalk to Playa Canteras, Las Palmas

Playa las Canteras, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

sandcastles on Playa las Canteras

Just when the sun seemed to be poking it’s way out from behind the clouds and my stomach was going into full grumble mode, just before it gets to I’m going to pass out unless you feed me now!, we started searching the strip for a place to eat a late lunch.

I’m not sure what caught my vision first, the golden rays reflecting off the draft beers of the patrons outside, or the golden rays shinning off the poster showing the 0,50€ coin, but my attention had been grabbed.  Matt loves a good deal and I love a good beer, so this place was definitely worth checking out.  As we wandered closer and looked at the banners with more detail, we could see that Domingos, todos montanditos solo 0,50€.  Well, it was Sunday and we were sure we could eat montanditos, whatever they happened to be, for only 50 cents.

Trying to make sense of the menu was still like trying to read Greek to us, we had no idea the protocol on how to order a group off the offering of 100 different options, but luckily the chain was there to save us once again.  They had put together four different categories of five sandwiches, leaving me only to have to go to the register and point at each one.  I had been able to decipher enough of what each sandwich included to know that I wasn’t getting something I didn’t want to put in my mouth.  Like that time I went for sushi with a few of my girlfriends and almost ended up with a nori roll including eel because I liked the name but never bothered to check the ingredients.

After sitting at a table with our tall drinks and waiting to hear “Yessica, por favor” over the loudspeaker, I went to pick up what would come to be my new obsession.  I’m still trying to figure out and even remember what came in each of these little treasures, but let me tell you…they were all delicious!  If the five of them hadn’t stuffed me to the point of almost having to be rolled out of the restaurant, I would have gone back for more and more.  Both of us were in love with the food and and I even had to agree with Matt that the price was unbeatable.  For 8€ we had gotten 10 montanditos and 2 tall drinks.  But more than that, it was soooo gooood.

Montanditos, Las Palmas

Add in some more beach strolling to work off all the food we’d taken in and finding the pedestrian mall on the way back to the marina, and we’re pretty certain that we could actually live here.  Maybe we’ll just put Serendipity for sale in Gran Canaria and wait around here for her to sell instead of sailing her back to Florida to do it?  I think that plan is sounding better every day.

Las Canteras boardwalk

Matt riding toy sailboat Jessica on toy sailboat

kid's sailboat ride

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The ARC is Gone, Time to Invade Las Palmas

Friday November 28, 2014

11.28.14

We made it to Gran Canaria. It’s crazy to think this will be our last stop before our Atlantic crossing. I still have mixed emotions about going back across since it seems like we just got to this side of the ocean. Part of me wants us to get delayed to no end so that I can enjoy land based time for as long as possible. The other part of me wants to get it over with as soon as possible, not only putting our long crossings behind us, but also getting to spend more time in the Caribbean with friends and tropical climates before throwing ourselves into major boat overhaul mode for the rest of 2015.

When we left Playa Quemachia on Tuesday I was still a little apprehensive of the 25 kt winds and 3 meter seas as the last time we had those conditions was going from Sao Miguel to Maderia, a passage I’d still like to block from my mind for so many reasons. But as we raised the main and glided out from the anchorage and into deep waters it was actually a pleasant sail. The wind was coming on our back quarter and the waves were gently lifting us up and pushing us forward. I laughed to myself and though, if this is what our crossing back to the Caribbean is going to be like then sign me up, I can totally handle this!

As usual Matt was down in bed basically as soon as the sails were raised and we were on course, preparing himself to stay up late for the first night shift. I spent the afternoon alone in the cockpit, snacking on Maria cookies and watching the volcanic peaks of Fuerteventura disappear into the horizon. All of the shifts passed incredibly quickly, neither of us had any issue falling asleep right when we were supposed to, and before we knew it we could see the lights of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the dark. Not even one of those situations where you can see a glow in the dark, but we could actually make out lights even when we were 30 miles offshore. The sail had actually gone so well that we had to slow ourselves down in order not to arrive in the dark.

Based on the insane number of ships showing on our AIS we did not want to get anywhere near shore without full daylight on our side. Matt even had to wake me up early to try and figure out all the lights in the water that were surrounding us in the dark. Trying to figure out what tankers were anchored outside the harbor and what ones were still moving, if the tri color light in the distance belonged to a sailboat, and if so how far it was from us, and if that ferry running up directly behind us knew we were there. The only way to describe this harbor is controlled chaos. I don’t think we’ve ever been to such a busy port. It seemed like all the vessels knew what they were doing for the most part, but the number of them was completely astounding.

When the sky eventually grew light and we could make sense of everything we were seeing, it was a mad rush to the harbor to beat out all the other sailboats that had obviously been waiting on the same weather window we had to make the crossing here. Assuming that the marina would have limited space even now that the ARC had left, we did not want to get turned away and literally have to travel all the way to the other side of the island to find another marina. Punching down the throttle we literally raced in another boat that was trying to pass us and caught the right side to be on of a departing tanker, while the other boat had to slow down and wait for it to pass.

Alligning ourselves with the hundred masts in front of us we pulled up to the marina and saw the numerous boats anchored out front. Confused on why they were all out there, we thought that the only available anchoring here was directly in front of a set of breakers and that these boats must be out here because the marina was overfilled and there was no other place for them to go. We figured that as long as there were numerous boats at anchor versus the marina, we would join them until a staff member came out to let us know we couldn’t be there. May as well steal a few days at anchor if possible.

Somehow even though this was an incredibly short passage, both of us were completely drained of energy for the rest of the day. We slept away most of it and barley woke up in time to make dinner before going right back to bed for the night. Yesterday we did get off the boat long enough to wander a few blocks and find a grocery store to stock us up for the weekend. We also tried to make a stop in the marina office to check ourselves in, but after taking a number and sitting in a set of plastic chairs for 45 minutes while not a single new person was called up to the desk and we were fifth in line, we decided to put it off for another day. Completely forgetting that it was Thanksgiving back home we did nothing special and enjoyed our normal nightly routine of a movie from our hard drive while eating dinner.

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Today we had wanted to get off the ‘Dip and do a bit more exploring except a terrible front was moving through the area and making conditions unbearable. During the afternoon it was just cloudy skies and winds around 30 knots, nothing to cause worry but enough to keep us on the boat. Through the evening and into the night though, things only got worse. Much, much worse. Even though we were inside a very protected harbor, the winds blowing through were so intense that I shudder to think of what conditions offshore were.

While I tried to settle into the settee with a bowl of popcorn and a chick flick on my Android. Even with earbuds nestled tightly in my ear I had to pause the movie a few times to check the howling winds outside since they were becoming deafening. Turning on the instruments we watched the wind gust up into the 40s….and then stay there. Through the next few hours it kept raising and raising until we were getting sustained winds in the 50s. At that point panic started to set in as we just waited for our anchor to drag or for one of the boats ahead to drag back into us. The winds were so powerful that if our bow even started to fall a few degrees off of direct wind, it would catch our hull and start to push us beam in. Back and forth we twisted from one direction to the other, all the time thinking of the strain on our anchor and chain.

There was one boat next to us that dragged further and further out of the anchorage and into the shipping channel, but unlike the storm we experienced in Play Francesca, it would be suicide to send Matt out in the dinghy to alert or try to help them. Luckily they became aware of this problem very quickly and began to move themselves back into the anchorage. For a period though they were fighting winds so strong that even though I’m sure they were motoring at full power, they weren’t even able to move forward, only keep themselves from getting pushed backward.

Chatting online with my blog friend Kit that’s in Tenerife and experiencing even stronger winds according to Passage Weather, she relayed that what they were receiving was sustained winds and gusts into the upper 60s. Jealous of the fact that they were in a marina instead of at anchor like we were, I quickly was comforted with our location as she told me that on the way to the showers, sheet metal was peeling off buildings and flying into the anchorage. Her and a visiting friend had to literally drop to the ground to keep from being hit by one. Not anything I would like to experience.

Both Matt and I were kept up by this storm until 4 am when we were no longer able to keep our eyes open and the winds were just beginning to subside. So…suddenly that Atlantic crossing isn’t sounding so appealing anymore. I think a plane ticket and hired crew to sail Serendipity to the Caribbean sounds much better. Now if only I could find a trustworthy crew to do this for free…..

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Last Days in Lanzarote

Tuesday November 25, 2014

Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Leaving the marina on Friday we had a bit of an issue of where to go next. We didn’t want to continue to pay to stay there although conditions hadn’t settled enough yet for us to go back to our old spot. With few spots that give protection from the SW winds we were encountering we thought that we might just have to sail up Lanzarote to a cheaper marina although that didn’t sound very fun either. Luckily Matt had gotten on Active Captain and found an anchorage on the east side of Lanzarote that I had been completely unaware of. I guess it’s not used very often, and only three miles or so from one of the main towns that does hold a marina (with cheap rates), so most everyone passes it by.

There was a very small town accompanying the anchorage, something I can’t even remember the name of but somewhere along the lines of Playa Quimacha. As we sailed around the peninsula and up the coast, past an enclosed fish farm and into the anchorage, we noticed a few small homes and restaurants by the shore as well as what looked like a resort jutting out of one of the hillsides.

We expected to quickly get our anchor down and enjoy the rest of the afternoon with a Wuld beer and a sunset. Things didn’t go quite as planned. As we’ve been finding with just about every anchorage in the Atlantic Islands, the only shallow water (as in 35 ft) is butted right up against shore and then takes a dramatic drop off. As we puttered closer to shore we saw that what would have been a perfect anchoring spot in front of the resort was blocked off with buoys, probably a partitioned swimming area. Changing direction we had to head off to the far corner of the anchorage by a grouping of rocks and another boat. We didn’t want to be ‘that boat’ that anchors directly next to the only other boat in an anchorage (the sheep issue), but it was the only spot left that would be shallow enough to get the anchor dug in.

Trying to stay a fair distance from them we let the anchor down and went through our usual process of letting it set and backing down on it, when all of a sudden Matt was making frantic motions for me to switch to neutral. It turns out that our chain had gotten itself wrapped around a gigantic boulder sitting at the bottom and we were more or less screwed until it came free. The first and most obvious answer that went through my mind was to have Matt simply dive down on it and let it free. He doesn’t have much of an issue getting down to 30 feet, and if we were in tropical waters that’s probably what he would have done. A quick check of our gauges though showed the water temperature had now dipped from 72°, which is bad enough, down to 67°. Not impossible to swim around in for a few minutes, but definitely not pleasant either. That was now a last ditch resort.

If we did have a saving grace during this debacle it’s that the water is still crystal clear, even at 35 ft, so we could see exactly what was happening below as we looked down from the deck. Scratching our chins and just staring for a few minutes, we decided the best course of action would be to find out what part of the boulder the chain was coming up from, and then gently motor further in that direction and hopefully loosening it. With me behind the wheel once more and Matt at the bow giving directions we would make small movements in different directions to get the chain to unwrap. Forward, neutral, run up on deck to take a look, back to wheel. Reverse, neutral, take another look.

Not that I minded the act of having to do this to free ourselves, we had plenty of time before the sun was to go down and I knew we’d become loose eventually, but I hated to imagine what the other boat probably thought of us. Look at those silly Americans who have to anchor directly next to us in this wide open harbor, and can’t even properly get their anchor down. I almost wanted to shout over to them, “This isn’t normal, we’re usually very good at this process!”. But instead I kept my head forward and awaited further instructions.

In the grand scheme of things, the time to free ourselves from the boulder was actually much quicker than I thought it would be, or could have been. 10 minutes after we had originally got ourselves stuck we were free and off to find a sandy spot. Which did happen to be only a few hundred feet from the other boat since there happened to be a shoal that jutted out from shore and didn’t leave many other options. Once it was deemed that we would not swing into this other boat or into the shoal we let our guard down and went to enjoy the last 90 minutes of daylight with a Wuld and a new radio station we just found that pumped out electronic music all day.

The anchorage itself was very beautiful, with tall rock formations, dark sand beaches, and a cool dark teal color to the water which reminded me glacial areas that one would find near Alaska. There were a few terrible swells that rolled through during the rest of the evening, the kind that could send plates sliding off counters and shattering on the floor (we actually have had that happen to our Corelle dishware before), but somehow my seasickness seems to have departed for the moment, so instead I glued my eyes to the deadlight to watch how they were affecting the other boat and laughing in surprise when a few of them threw the boat far enough on it’s side that I could see the beginnings of their keel.

Yacht WinWin by Fuerteventura

Lanzarote, Canary Islands

sailboats at Lanzarote

We ended up spending the whole weekend in this spot as we waited for a weather window to open up that would carry us the 100 or so miles to Gran Canaria. We figured that during one of our afternoons sitting around we could run to shore and visit one of the little restaurants and use their internet while enjoying a beer or coffee to find out when we could make our escape. There were two issues with this plan though. One of them was that after our first night there we could not find a period of more than an hour where it wasn’t raining on us. Every time we’d start prepping ourselves to get in the dinghy and motor in we’d see a huge rain cloud coming over the horizon and then tell ourselves that we’d wait for it to pass and then try again. This happened for three days until we couldn’t take it anymore and were ready to go in, rain or shine. Never escaping the rain storms, we landed the dinghy on shore just as a new shower was starting and became soaked as we walked up the road to where the few restaurants were situated.

Sitting down at a table and ordering two steaming cups of coffee, we talked to the server and found out that not only did that particular place not have wifi, but it wasn’t available anywhere in that town. To get a signal you had to go to the next town over, three miles away. Bummed out and a little confused about what we’d do for the weather, we enjoyed the rest of our shore excursion while watching the dishes come out to the other patrons of the restaurant. It seemed that one very popular item was a large fish that was coated in salt and then lit on fire at you table before the server put it out after a few moments, scraped off the salt, and placed it’s toasting insides on your plate. It looked and smelled delicious, but no amount of persuading would get Matt to order it. He really is only into fish when it’s fried. And preferably freshly caught by us and therefore free.

In the end we were able to send out messages to my dad through our satellite phone and let him know the path we needed to take and what kind of winds we were looking for. Although we wouldn’t have been able to move all weekend anyway because of some very strong winds between the islands, a window finally came up for us to leave today. Our first overnight passage in a month. Instead of whining and complaining about having to spend a night at sea like I probably would have a year ago, all I could think of this time was ‘We’ll be there tomorrow morning. I can actually sleep about half this passage away. This is going to be so easy!’. Oh how things have changed.

storms over Lanzarote

Lanzarote, Canary Islands

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Stuck in Marina Rubicon

Friday November 21, 2014

Besteaver 18 in Marina Rubicon

Although we could have stayed in the Papagayo Peninsula forever, or at least until the madness that is the ARC leaves Las Palmas and we can move ourselves there, mother nature seemed to have other plans in mind. On Wednesday morning we were commenting how the wind was coming out of the south and kicking up a bit of swell, making things on Serendipity just a bit more uncomfortable than they had been even the few previous days. It became a bit of a game through the morning, to see how much we could tolerate. The only other option other than to put up with it would be to move ourselves to a marina and we were on a kick to see if we could go our whole time in the Canaries without having to enter one.

We were enjoying our second cup of coffee out in the cockpit, watching the waves coming our way starting to form cresting white tops, and both of us knew the game would be coming to an end as this was not only becoming unbearable, but possibly dangerous to stay. Calling Marina Rubicon on the VHF we asked if there were open slips and told them we were on our way and to expect us shortly. As Matt made his way up to the bow to raise the anchor it was diving in and out of the waves and splashing water all over him as I had to rev up the rpms just to get us moving far enough forward to bring it up. When I finally got the hand signal that I could start making my way to the marina I looked at the instruments in time to see the wind gusting over 40. Fully exposed to this as we were, we were grateful that we didn’t wait any longer than we had to try and get out of there.

Navigating the narrow entrance to the marina with waves now rolling on every side of us, we tucked into a slip just in time to watch the sky grow completely black and the winds really take off. Rains bucketed down and I had the satisfaction of enjoying this tremendous storm from somewhere safe now. When conditions settled down a little later we found our way up to the grocery store, something we were going to have to come to this side of town for in the next few days anyway, and stocked Serendipity back up with breads, meats, and even some cheap wine and sangria. For the rest of the night we let the rain rocket outside while the pressure dropped significantly, as we sat calmly at the dock enjoying a nice dinner and the use of internet. Hot showers followed which was almost, almost, worth the trip into the marina itself.

Conditions were not expected to improve the following day, in fact there were signs posted everywhere about the low pressure system moving through the area and mariners should take caution and put extra lines and fenders out to protect from possible damage. One night at the marina turned into two, and although we tried to enjoy our easy access to land again, nothing but dark skies and rain followed for another day, forcing us to sit on the boat, computers on lap, glasses full of sangria. Well, for me anyway.

Marina Rubicon, Lanzarote

storm over Marina Rubicon

Today the clouds finally broke lose and let the sun out again. Being the guests who stay just until the moment of check-out, we used our morning for a nice leisurely walk back to the grocery store to stuff our bags with everything we couldn’t the day before, and take one last hot shower. It is a little sad that bad weather had to force us in here as the grounds actually look very nice for when you can get out and enjoy them. There’s a nice pool surrounded by lounge chairs, an outside market set up two days a week, and a lovely path that runs from the marina almost all the way to where we had been previously anchored. The marina is in fact set in a community, full of white washed condos and apartments, which is probably why the cost to stay here is twice as high as any marina we found in Portugal (or that you can find in the rest of the Canaries, so we hear).

We tried to get as much out of our sunny morning as we could, wandering all the paths and looking at the much more expensive and better kept yachts on the far side of the marina. Matt even found a Besteaver sitting in one of the slips. A certain type of aluminum boat that he’s been drooling over for a few years now. And not only that, but it happened to be the same exact one that he has multiple photos of downloaded to his computer, of this particular boat floating through icebergs in the Arctic. I think these photos are meant to show me what our aluminum boat might be capable of, although I still have little to no desire to see ice floating by me from the deck of my own boat. Stick me on ’18’ as crew or charter for a few weeks on a trip to the Arctic  though and that’s something I might be able to get into.

Marina Rubicon, Lanzarote

Besteaver 18

paths around Marina Rubicon

paths around Marina Rubicon

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