Jessica at Maspalomas Dunes

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.

12.12.14

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 2brittany hat

Kitiara in Wanderland

Alex

group photo, Sailor's Bar

Kit slacklining

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 slackliningMatt 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!

Kit & Matt at Playa Canteras

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)

Kit & Matt

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

Old Town, Las Palmas

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