Friday, February 5, 2016

Mogan, Venice of the Canaries

We have explored the south coast looking for somewhere to stay on a more permanent basis. Driving east one day we visited the coastal town of Mogan. At first glance it was quite lovely with the pedestrianised development of two-storey apartment buildings with roof terraces and gardens bursting with bougainvillea, palm trees, bird-of-paradise flowers, hibiscus and other gloriously colourful plants. All this is built around a marina and fishing harbour, which gives the bars and restaurants lining the quayside interesting views and a special ambience. Many of the bars seemed to cater to Germans.

We stopped at a restaurant specializing in Canary Island cuisine and had a Canary Island sample plate with mussels, chicken dishes, local olives and the small round Canary Island potato served with a delicious sauce.

There are channels between the marina and the fishing harbour, passing under arches in the buildings and between the port and the beach. This led to Mogan being dubbed the Venice of the Canaries in a publicity campaign. Since many of the channels were completely dry it didn't really live up to its image.

Within the last ten years the area behind the beach has been developed, with luxury apartment buildings looking out over the beach of golden sand imported from the Sahara, and beyond to the port and the Atlantic Ocean. This all sounded quite lovely until we saw the endless rows of deck chairs for rent crammed into the beach like sardines. Interesting though Mogan might be for a visit, it isn't somewhere we would like to stay.

As we wound our way back to Meloneras, we stopped to look at some beach towns while driving straight through others. We saw many more examples of beaches packed with rental chairs. This is not for us. This is high season now with not that many people on the beach but you can only imagine what it must be like in August.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Up into the mountains of central Gran Canaria

Our first foray into the interior of Gran Canaria was a drive to the village of Fagata. We left the populated costal area with its beaches and suddenly found ourselves in an unattractive rocky volcanic landscape. Fortunately, this changed quite quickly and there was lots of scrub and cactus. The road climbed steeply with many sharp switchbacks. Usually this doesn't bother me but I was certainly sitting up taking notice. The number of professional cyclists we had to drive by with not much space added to the thrill. There are thirty-three microclimates on Gran Canaria and we were to experience several on this trip. We encountered many changes in the landscape passing orange orchards and even some market gardening as well as areas full of pine trees.

Eventually we arrived in the hamlet of Fagata. Aboriginal people lived in this lush ravine for many years before the arrival of the Spanish. In the valley below us we could see an oasis of palm trees, flowering shrubs, spurges and juniper bushes. There was even a dense reed bed. We stopped for lunch overlooking the valley before wandering around the narrow streets with their whitewashed houses. The church was at the centre of the village and it was the first time we had heard church bells since arriving on the island.

We drove further up the road to the next town, San Bartolome de Tirajana, before retracing our steps. We stopped at some spectacular viewpoints on our return journey. From Mancizo de Amurga we looked out at rock lava flows 500 meters thick. These were the result of the final phases of the first volcanic cycle in Gran Canaria, 11-12 million years ago. The material is highly sought after for the production of concrete and Tarmac, which explains the wonderful roads on the island.

The surrounding semi-desert vegetation included sweet Tagalog, which produces a sap used for chewing gum. The bottom of the ravine features the Canary Palm tree whilst the Gran Canaria Dragon tree, not found anywhere else, grows on the surrounding cliff areas. The view in every direction was quite dramatic.

It was quite a day and gave us a greater appreciation of what we would see in future trips around Gran Canaria.

Getting to know Gran Canaria

We have settled into a routine in Gran Canaria. Every day the weather in the south has been nearly 30 degrees with not a hint of rain the whole time we have been here. There have been some interesting discoveries. When we took possession of our townhouse we were told emphatically not to put toilet paper down the toilet. This seemed a bit odd and frankly I didn't pay any attention to it. The mamma of our Italian neighbour, who is living in the basement of their townhouse told us the same story and they take their toilet paper to the garbage each day. The complex isn't that busy. We wonder if they have problems with their pipes or problems when a lot of people are here in the summer or is it a local urban myth. I have images of every place being full in the summer and everyone trotting off to the garbage with their toilet paper. It doesn't really bear thinking about.

Each day we go for long walks along the promenade that reaches from Melonerass right to the sand dunes. Walking along the beach with the dunes behind you and the mountains beyond is quite magical. Today we walked up a promenade at the side of the dunes and only went in to the dunes to visit the camel park, where people go for camel rides. While we were there, there was a long line of camels but no takers for the rides.

We have our morning coffee on the promenade below us, at a restaurant owned by Calabrese from Italy. There are loads of Italians in the area, as well as Germans, Scandinavians, Brits and French. It is fun listening to all the languages and seeing what  the various nationalities wear or even how they look. The Germans and Swedes, strangely enough, are the most rotund.

We can swim in the sea or in the 50-meter pool in our complex. A few minutes away at Pasito Blanco is another beach we want to try - secluded and quiet. We like that area very much. There are no chair rentals on the beach and there is another roped off swimming area on the other side of the marina by the Nautica. The area is very special.

We still haven't quite mastered shopping at the local markets. On Wednesday we get our fruit, veg and nuts at a market in San Fernando. The choice isn't huge as most of the market is about tourist tat from China with ‘made in Italy’ labels. However, the produce we buy is quite nice. There is another market held every second Sunday in San Fernando. What a place! There were probably hundreds of stalls selling everything including the kitchen sink. It was like a giant garage sale. I'm not really a fan of this kind of thing, although I did like one stuffed toy tiger whose whiskers were waving in the high wind. Eventually, we found the fruit and veg area but I didn't think the quality was all that great. It was interesting to watch a man crush sugar cane for drinks on a quite old fashioned looking machine. Our next market exploration will be in Las Palmas. Tomatoes, bananas and even coffee are grown on the island.