25 September 2014

Canary Islands - Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria - an island where you can be whatever you want to be! Lose your inhibitions and allow yourself to become one of the 2.5 million tourists that visit this, the 3rd largest island of the Canaries every year. Maspalomas is the biggest of these tourist areas with Playa del Ingles being the area with the most incredible beach and sand dunes. The beach is sandy and just goes on and on....! Whist the area has nightlife and hundreds of restaurants, it also attracts the kind of tourists who do enjoy walking. One just has to view the beach from above, to see them like little ants, walking in their hundreds.  We walked at a brisk pace for over an hour and did not get to the end of the beach.
The views are mind-blowing!!!! Whilst you have the mountains behind the resorts and sand dunes,  one also has the human species - quite an eye opener to somebody who comes from Cape Town where nudity is not the norm on most beaches. One has to wonder what makes both male and female want to display the wrinkled, sagging, sometimes small, sometimes large, boobs to all and sundry. I have never seen so many sagging boobs - even the 80 year olds with boobs down to the waist line or wrinkled like crisps, waltzing along in the sunshine! Or the boob job ones that stand to attention no matter what - not a sag or wrinkle in sight. And then there are the men - oh my goodness, bending over their towels exposing their butts or breezing down to the see with their bits dangling in varying sizes like prawns - some extra large king or others like tiny shrimps! Luckily, I did not have my camera with me as I am sure I would have been arrested trying to build up a portfolio of body parts! I did see a husband trying to pretend he was taking a photo of his wife, while really aiming at some of the nudes for his holiday album! It made for an interesting morning with a cool temperature of approx. 21 degrees.

To escape all that bare flesh, we took a drive around the island to view some scenery of a different sort. Our first stop was Puerto de Morgan. This is a much smaller resort area with a yacht basin, a man-made beach (Sahara Sand!) very pretty apartments lining narrow, pedestrian streets, loads of bougainvilleas, a waterfront with many restaurants and the always present, tourist shops. We stopped here for a light lunch and enjoyed the waiter and his sense of humour. When I asked for the toilet, he pointed towards the beach with a deadpan expression on his face. For a minute, I just froze, thinking, OH NO! The he cracked up laughing, together with the neighbouring table, before pointing me to the toilet at the back of the restaurant. In my state of shock, I nearly dropped my hat down the loo - only a very quick flick of the wrist saved it from a dunking! 

The road starting winding up away from the coast towards Mogan. With many twists and turns, this mountain road just goes on and on. The mountains are not quite as spectacular as those on Tenerife but well worth the drive. As one heads down the valley, you see a huge farming area. The green houses cover just about all sides of this valley and the farmers apparently grow bananas, mangoes, avocados, papaya and oranges. As most are covered by shade cloth, it is not easy to peep inside.  There is also a cactus park here, Cactualdea but we did not stop as we had visited the one in Lanzerote. 

A stunning stopping point is Mirador del Balcon. The cliffs are spectacular and about 500 m high. The views are over the northeastern part of Gran Canaria and truly beautiful. From here the road was very steep and winding until we eventually reached  Puerto de las Nieves. Parking all over the Canary Islands is a problem and this town was so full of locals enjoying a Sunday out that we could find nowhere to park so we just drove around  before heading upwards again. The port here services the ferries to Tenerife. It's a pretty fishing village with a number of restaurants, craft shops and art galleries.

At this point, we decided to join up with the highway to get us back to Playa del Ingles. Doing this half of the island, without stopping, took no time at all  as the highway is quick and fast. Those mountain roads really take forever, so do give yourself enough time to enjoy them.
Playa del Ingles is a wonderful spot so swimming and walkng are taking up much of our time but we will venture out again soon. 

The mountains on Gran Canaria are calling for us to investigate their beauty so off we set for a full day of driving around the  incredible roads. One has to admire the engineers who designed these roads, cut away with solid rock on one side and sheer drops to the ravines on the other! And the rest, twist and turn, twist and turn with barely a straight stretch anywhere. So the short distance is a fallacy as it takes forever to negotiate these mountains.
We set off towards San Bartolome de Tirajana where there are orchards of fruit trees such as plum, cherry and peach. Apparently, the fruits are used to make vodka and liqueurs! There are view points along the way where everybody gets out to admire and take some photos. The next stop was Roque Nublo which is a 60 m tall monolith. It is thought that this peak was held sacred by the Guanches. We stopped, along with many others, in the parking area thinking that the 100 m sign would take us to the view point. Ha, Ha!!! The start of the trail maybe.....so off we set, up and up and up. It's a long hike and, unfortunately, I had to stop as my Rockies were coming adrift and I did not want to fall. Yeah right - pathetic excuse? But I did get high up, not just high enough! Most walkers had walking shoes and some also had their hiking sticks. Our hiking sticks are sitting comfortably in the suitcases still as we did not realise this was such a steep climb.
But I did enjoy the magnificent views into the valleys below so all was not lost.

The next point was the highest peak on Gran Canaria called Pico de las Nieves (Well of Snow) at 1949 m. Luckily, no hiking required!!! The mist comes in rather quickly so I managed a few photos as the mist was enveloping the peaks. This is a military area with many warning signs not to touch the electric fence. There is a huge radio station here.
Views down to the valley and Las Palmas show that this area is very well populated with many villages. We continued round and round the bends to view Roque Bentayga which rises to 1412 m and is also regarded as a holy places by the Guanches.. Views, views, views - totally mind blowing and a really great way to spend the day. People are always drawn to mountains - splendour that is not man-made. Gran Canaria certainly has these in abundance. 

Feeling rather peckish by now, we stopped at a very pretty village, Tejeda, where we enjoyed a large Waldorf Salad and some thirst quenching San Miguel!
One thing that does amaze me here are the many cyclists. How they can ride up into these mountains without appearing to be struggling to breathe, is beyond me - they must all be super fit. Perhaps training for the Tour de France? Nobody should be riding up these torturous roads just for FUN???? Tough Spaniards!

The only negative is the amount of litter at all of the view points - I do not understand why people must leave dirty tissues and tin cans when they stop. It spoils the area and leaves a sense of disgust towards the litter bugs. The mountains are so beautiful, why spoil them with muck?
Local drivers always toot when they intend passing so that's OK. We have found the driving most pleasant 95% of the time. Our biggest scare of the day was meeting a huge blue bus around a blind corner - he nearly took us out and should know better than to go careering around a blind bend at that speed. The local buses do this route around the mountains as there are so many little hamlets scattered all over in the most inaccessible places. I would hate to suffer the bends on one of those buses - puke material!  

A lovely walk from Anfi Beach Club takes one to Arguineguin - approx.  1 hour walking at a slow  pace. There are a number of Blue Flag beaches along the way, always great for a cooling swim. Some even have Smoking and Non-Smoking areas! Great for both groups.If peckish, many restaurants also! The resorts are numerous until you reach Arguineguin which is a local village. The market is held here on Tuesdays and either bus,ferry or your own car will get you there.

We passed an area where the lizards are protected. An elderly gent was throwing them some food and they popped out of their holes to come dashing for the nibbles! Very prehistoric looking - at this stage I am not sure what they are exactly but they appear to be a protected species as we also passed huge art piece lizards mounted next to the road a few days ago.

The so - called glass bottom boats ply their trade between Arguineguin, Anfi, Puerto Rico and Mogan. Charges start at 6 euro return for a short hop of 10 minutes. We did the ferry to Puerto Rico which is a huge resort. Buildings creep right up the cliffs to the very top and the wide beach has hundreds of deck chairs. This resort appears popular with the British folk and we saw a number of lobster red bodies on sun loungers in the blazing mid day sun. Having caught the sun briefly myself, I shudder to think how those lobster tourists will feel later. Rather silly to burn to such a degree and perhaps spend the balance of one's holiday with sunstroke.

Water sports are very prominent in most resort areas and especially in Puerto Rico where you can try many different sports. The town has hundreds of restaurants so nobody will go hungry! The catamaran cruises appear very popular as they also give their guests bumpy rides in circles around the yacht on a banana boat. Going by the screams it appears a fun activity! The other favourite is the parascending - hanging from a huge parachute which is pulled by a speed boat. It looks extremely genteel except when the pilot of the boat lands the people in the water instead of back on the boat!
By contrast, Anfi is a quieter, more placid area despite a busy beach. The nightly entertainment at the Anfi Plaza is great and varied enough to suit all tastes.
There are many German tourists in this area plus other Europeans. The British tourists appear more concentrated in Puerto Rico.

We love the dunes of Maspalomas so much that we headed back there today. Parking is a nightmare unless staying in the area and we had to drive around for ages before we spotted a Parking Garage. We started our walk at the end of the dunes where the salt water lake is situated. This area has many posh hotels with swimming pools overlooking the sea. Simply stunning! We started our walk on the dunes in order to take some photos. The area is vast - over 4 Sq km so only the very fit can walk the entire area. If you are male, stay away from the small trees in the dunes - this is the gay cruising area so enter at your peril unless you are looking for some alternate fun!
The nudist beach area is also clearly marked and well used by both sexes. There is no such thing as being prudish at all on this vast beach - you see human figures at their worst or at their best. Anything goes and then some! 

After a great swim, we walked the boulevard which passes most of the expensive hotels. The Mime artists and the Sand Castle artist were all brilliant. We especially liked the couple who could hold a kiss until somebody dropped some money for them. Beautifully made up, they were a pleasure to watch.

On the way back to the car park, we stopped at a small Italian restaurant where they take great pride is telling their customers that all their pasta/pizza dough is made by hand. Called "Time" the service was great with a very friendly waiter. Whilst eating on the beach front is great for views, sometimes the smaller places hidden on corners offer better food and service.

Las Palmas is a well laid out city and is easily reached via the main highway. It is best to opt for a parking garage as parking is always at a premium. We chose to do the open top bus to get a feel for the city. The harbour is huge and also includes a marina which is the starting point for the annual Canary Islands to Santa Lucia race, ending in the Caribbean. 

We found that the taxi drivers were very courteous in offering advice re the starting point of the Red Top Bus even though their English was not the greatest. The huge square called Santa Catalonia Park is where we found the tourist office and Number 1 stop  for the bus.

I love the architecture of the high rises - with so many different facades and colours, these tall buildings look elegant. We stopped to have lunch in a side square - very reasonable and peaceful, watching the locals go  about their daily lives. 

There was a P & O liner in the harbour so many of those tourists were on the bus, seeing the sights!
I got wacked on the head by a palm tree branch and my "OH SHIT" had the other passengers turning around but none offered any sympathy! My head still hurts....!

The famous beach is Playa de las Canteras and it certainly is lovely. Stretching around the Bay for approx. 2.8 km, this is surrounded by many side walk cafes and lovely  views. Many of the posh hotels border this beach. However, as we has been approached by at least 3 beggars, we decided that it would not be safe to leave our wallet, camera etc on the beach while we enjoyed a swim. Maybe we were too cautious but better safe than sorry!

The roads in Gran Canaria are excellent and the 3 lane highway is great. We got back to Anfi Beach where we enjoyed a great cooling swim after our outing to Las Palmas.
I love a local ad by an estate agent " We know the market and have a register full of frozen Scandinavians who dream of a life in the sun" The weather is simply fabulous here! It was much more windy along the coast to Las Palmas but that spin off is that the wind turbines keep going for electricity of all these crazy tourists! 

A swim at our local beach and now a Micheal Jackson show to round off the day.
Gran Canaria is all about sun, sea and sand with the incredible weather that the Canary Islands enjoy. Gran Canaria has about 80 beaches. Too many to explore! The North coast is mainly rocky hence most of the good resorts are on the south of the island. 

Today we chose to visit Playa de Los Amadores; this is close to Puerto Rico but much more laid back with crystal clear turquoise water. The promenade on one side leads to the posh Amadores Beach Club and Spa. VIP Lounge is 40 euros, champagne area sunbeds are 40 euros, double solarium sunbeds are 30 euros and if you want to be cheap, then the beach front double sunbeds are 24 euros. Of course you can get the beach ones for 3 euro - 9 euro for 2 plus sunshade. Many people choose the sand - it's FREE!.
The other side of the bay leads to Puerto Rico if you are energetic enough to walk the 1 km path in the heat.

For lunch we stopped at Los Amigos. Lovely cool spot with draughts at 1.95. The service was very friendly, the one waiter kept winking at me! But oh so slow! To be fair, they had advised that their Indian Chef would be in later if we wanted samoosas. It was entertaining watching a couple on their sunbeds below us. The guy kept chewing and taking sips of water. He then turned around and hung his head over the end of the sun lounger. Perhaps he was trying to bury his head in the sand?
The water at this beach just invites one in - it was like a milk pond; so smooth and silky. Yum Yum!!! 

Entertainment at Anfi is pretty good and El Cafe had a Blues band playing last night. The amazing drummer is from Arguineguin, together with a great Spanish bass guitarist, and 2 British chaps. The leader of the pack is Bob who LOVES his beer and seems to get better the more he drinks! He is amazing with his guitar despite his love of much beer!  Drinks at El Cafe are not cheap so be prepared! The Blues band made for a lovely evening.

Friday in Puerto Mogan is market day. Parking is best in the Parking Garage which is well signposted. The stalls are all over town, including the harbour wall area. There are some fantastic clothing stalls, then the millions of belts, watches, handbags, hats and t - shirts. Many of the stall holders are African so you can get some of their souvenirs without setting foot on African soil! But that would be a missed experience....!
There are some local goods on sale such as embroidery, pottery and foodstuffs. The entire area is well worth a wander as you will find underwear in all shapes and sizes next to fine 18 carat gold jewelry!
Once the market palls, just head for one of the many restaurants, some water sports or the beach. Puerto Mogan is a great little town and the narrow pedestrian streets with their bougainvilleas are so cute and also offer much needed shade.

Besides the main, sandy beaches there are also little hidden coves which can only be reached on foot. One such is Playa de Tiritania where the hike down is ok but coming back up in the heat would make one so hot and bothered that another swim somewhere would be a must. Parking at many of the beaches is at a premium so it is always best to get to them fairly early unless travelling by bus.

After lunch we decided to drive around the coast from Anfi to San Agustín. We eventually found a parking spot near the beach and set off on our walk.

The area from San Agustín, Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas form a region known as "Costa Canaria". San Agustín is a more low key area although it has a number of 4 star hotels. The apartment blocks are low rise with some being in need of some TLC. The beach here has dark sand and is fairly quiet compared to Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas. So if you are wanting a quiet holiday, perhaps this would be a good choice. However, there is much maintenance going on with the walkways etc and, personally, I did not really like the beach. 

One can walk all the way from San Agustín to the lighthouse at the end of Maspalomas. ....If you are very energetic!
There is a promenade for most of the way to Playa del Ingles and then you have that glorious beach walk which goes on and on!
The good news is that one can cool off at any of the beaches before venturing forth again. Near the Euro Palace Hotel there are a number of restaurants overlooking the ocean. Great for a pit stop and cooling sea views 

With a temperature of 33 degrees today, it was rather a hot walk. However, as we live in our bathing costumes on this island, a swim is never far away unless one is up in the mountains!
We walked to Playa del Ingles before turning back. So although we have not done this walk in one go, we have completed it in stages.

There are black cats all over the island - however, they appear to be well fed by the animal protection services who ask that members of the public do not feed them.
Supermarkets are easy to find with Spar being the most available but also the most expensive. Super Dino and Hiper Dino offer good value with Unide being the cheapest on some items.

Driving on the island is the best way to see all the sights and to explore the various beaches. Drivers are courteous and are well versed in both the roundabout system and the pedestrian crossings. In fact, most people don't even wait for cars to stop - they are well aware that they all will! In the beginning we stood like idiots waiting for drivers to stop! One soon learns to behave like a local!
So the day dawns that we have to leave Gran Canaria. It is a beautiful island and it is ideal for an amazing beach holiday with some mountain scenery thrown into the mix. After some swims in the crystal clear sea, we had to pack up and leave.

Bye Bye Gran Canaria - you have treated us well!
A rather sour taste was that our flight to Madrid with Air Europa was supposed to leave at gate 35. Just before boarding time, we went to stand at the gate only to be told that the gate was moved C 05!!. So off we dashed only to find that the gate had been moved to C 13! We made the check in just in time. But then the flight was delayed as some of the passenger's  had obviously not seen or heard the announcement of the gate change! Air Europa staff blamed the airport for the 3 gate changes. All rather confusing when this does not happen in many International airports.
Food on Air Europa is not free....so make sure you have your wallet handy. The flight itself was fine and the passengers clapped loudly when we landed in Madrid. Perhaps they have many bad landings
Anyway on to Madrid .....! Good Bye Canary Islands.

© Judelle Drake

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