Friday, 13 March 2015

Coconut cream

Get home - smooth flight, interesting seat-neighbour works for Xerox which is no longer a photocopy company (oh no, just look them up).
Unpack cases.
My new coconut body-cream, which I so nearly put into a plastic bag for the flight, but left unwrapped because it looked so safe - well, it wasn't. There is now coconut cream over almost everything in the case. It doesn't seem to wash off either.

at the airport

At the airport, checked in to fly home. That sense of nostalgia, time passing, barriers which can not be re-passed. The strange plastic air and sound in the terminal, the bright air outside - real sunlight, stone buildings, rocks, plants.
I think of the hundreds of super fit cyclists powering up and down the hills, the acned houses, the cafes...
At home, the commitments, appointments, terrors, normality.
We buy food in a vain attempt to eat something nicer than the menu offered on board, but we are buying from Upper Crust, an old Britsh Rail brand irrevocably associated in my mind w Victora Station. Those baguettes!
Time to go.

Thursday, 12 March 2015


Last day. Very hot. We went this morning to the Parque Palmita, which is up a very pretty protected & unspoiled valley, and is a cross between the Eden Project & Howletts. €30 each to get in, and beautifully kept… Masses of trees, palms, cacti, orchids, bougainvillea etc and rare and/or endangered beasts in pens – storks, caimans, lizards, gibbons, parrots, butterflies, fish, even dolphins. The free-flight display of eagles was wonderful – they went far out of sight, engaged with a wild eagle, eventually came back to home comforts.
The drive back down the glen was enlivened by a near punch-up between a bus driver ( in the wrong, we thought), and a taxi driver. It involved an awful lot of people standing in the road arguing, and lots of arm-waving (palms upwards).
Lunch just now was in the fishermen’s caff in Arguineguin, which we like because it seems to be at least partly a real place. Fish, salad, agua con gaz, €31.
Altogether it’s been a nice little break. Too many houses, too many valleys stuffed with buildings when we crave ‘nature’ and solitude (I know, I know…). But friendly, with this amazing landscape and more than everything else the astonishing history.
The N African people who settled here 2,500? years ago must have been like pioneers settling on Mars. They had some knowledge, some skills, but basically they had to rely on the resources of the islands – ie. not much. No metal. No horses. No backing. No trade. No technology other than what they could create for themselves – and no access to change, politics, development…. They used caves, the rocks, woven rushes and grass, such fish as they could catch. They divided the management of the lands into tribal areas, and built roads which lasted a thousand years…. Must have thought they owned the place. When the church/colonisers/explorers/slavers arrived from Europe in about 1478, it took less than 5 years for the whole lot of them to be wiped out… There is a haunting myth that somewhere, up in the impenetrable heights, a small group of them survive. (I don’t think).
They made remarkable images of a mother goddess, or fertility in the form of a female… Here on Gran Canaria they made little hand-presses, carved or moulded with geometric designs, and the museum shows these used to print patterns into the human body. There is an insistent pubic triangular design, a concentric half-H which looks like a woman’s thighs, and an intricate interlinked diamond design which reminds me of the ‘hooked diamond’ found across the entire pre-Islamic world, as a rug-weave emblem (meaning ‘the life-giving vagina’).
The colours used in the cave-painting, and on ceramics and stone-ware were red, white, black and ochre.
Their dead were mummified in dry caves which were plundered in the 19th C so that the museum in Las Palmas has a truly vast collection of skulls, skeletons, mummies, etc. Those on display seem to be mostly the males which presumably reflects the instincts of Victoran academics.  They were tall, slender, with good teeth, and could survive trepanning. So, not bad for a people who emigrated to the Stone Age, only to be obliterated in due course by Christians. The whole of the landscape is haunted by them.
Now it’s hot, sunny, breezy, quiet. We’ll go in search of a working wifi shortly, as it’s crashed again here in our ‘village’. The Guanchos didn’t have the internet…..

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Can they fake squid?

We went for lunch to the windswept cafe by the coastal cement works, thinking it seemed so workaday and honest. We had to take a ticket for the queue. We admired the display of family history explaining how the resto had prospered since the 1950s, complete with dashing photos of the main cast, and we finally got a seat near where we had sat on the first morning here. A cat crept down to watch the waves. The wind had died down. The plastic wind-shields were all packed away. The place was packed. 
Now, I am prepared to learn and even accept that epicures have pronounced that the paella in this joint is renowned for its authenticity, but I just wonder if someone, somewhere in this land of 10,000,000 restaurants has invented a way of extruding rings of 'squid' to put into mish-mashes like this? Such rings could be battered and deep-fried too, of course. They need have no taste, and no tendency to toughness.
I just wonder......

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


We went round the whole island yesterday,  not as a predestined route but as a series of decisions, starting with a wish to see Firgar and its remarkable water engineering. In the early days of ownership of the islands, the Spaniards who came here bought a vast treasury of ideas, technical knowledge and tools so they were able to achieve extraordinary things, the aboriginal islanders must have been awestruck as well as enslaved and massacred, seeing guns, gunpowder, steel, sailing ships, etc etc.  At the place now called Firgar, in a relatively gentle valley on the island’s north face, a steady abundance of precious water prompted the Europeans to construct a series of aqueducts to channel it nearer to where they wanted. The water flows in a square-ish sectioned canal, about 2 feet wide and maybe 3 feet deep. The flow is perceptible but slow, and the canal runs near to or under the roads and pavements, sometimes behind a parapet, sometimes channelled through a tank or a diversionary weir, to bring fresh supplies to laundry spaces, or into a mill for grading grain.   The water is clear and fresh. Despite rising demands and increasing encroachments on the sources, they calculate that there is still more than enough for the needs of every modern inhabitant. The whole thing is – was – so successful that a water-bottling company was established and now 200,000 bottles a day are shipped out by lorry. Access remains difficult in these mountainous regions. The roads are not terrifyingly steep but they are very tortuous and everywhere is a long way away. Road signs show you may not proceed if it’s  raining!
The town celebrates its watery history by having a cascade running down the main  street, the whole thing set off with a series of brightly coloured ceramic benches and tiled hatchments on the sunny side. The effect is slightly marred because the water here is not part of the sparkling crystal-clear stream in the Royal Ditch, but some sort of sequestered and frankly foul-looking soup which they pump round and round.
Lunch was another cafĂ©-thang…. The local salad tradition gives you (on one plate) lettuce, asparagus, beetroot, sweet corn, raw onion, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, peaches, pineapples, cucumber, melon, apple, olives, etc etc.   This is not a crise de buffet, but very satisfying and fun. You don’t really need to eat again all day.
Breads have varied from disappointingly boring to utterly ravishing. The artisan baker can still be found.
We had called in to a place called Arucas before Firgas because we saw its parish church in the distance – a fabulous concoction of black stone Gothic work with many spires and twiddles.  It is roughly contemporary with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but not so cranky. Like the mountain ranges we saw in the afternoon, it’s hard to gauge the scale and size of some of the landscape features here – this church looked huge from a distance, and is certainly large, but it shrinks slightly as you go in, this being compensated for by the crisp black-and-white interior, with the dark grey-black basalt lacing between the smooth white walls.
The place names here (apart from hamlets called Maria’s bend, Foot-of-the-slope, etc) are all mess-ups of the Guanches names. A frequent little place-name is El Hornillo, or little oven, which offers a hint of how lives were lived between 1500 and say 1950, with communal cooking-places or kitchens. 
Our choice after lunch was to press on the north-west, to the Sardine Lighthouse, a land’s end kind of place. Through the mountains, winding on and on, down to a veritable bananrama with hundreds of hectares of the dull brown netting which keeps the winds off the banana plantations. These flat netted roofs frequently shred to tatters, but where they remain robust they offer a runway-like smooth flat surface. I think any alien spacecraft looking for a good landing place would have a shock bumping down on one of these roofs – they would crash through into a strange seried monoculture jungle of huge-leaved palms, their monstrous burdens of clusters of small green fruits waiting in polite silence for the day of reckoning.
The lighthouse is a fine old-fashioned red-and-white striped phallus standing alone in a blackish carpark, with the brilliant blue and white Atlantic bashing onto the rocks a few metres lower down. Someone has built a new holiday terrace there. Quite smart, but a VERY long way from anything else, and a bit contradictory – if you want solitude, fine, but then why would you buy a tiny house crammed in with its neighbours? If you want society, why would you choose somewhere an hour’s drive away from the nearest bar? OK – it’s not finished yet……
The drive home down the western coast was – in plain language – gobsmacking. Here for 30? miles of precipitous well-made road, you follow the line of some ancient tectonic collapse, high above the sea. This volcanic area is/was the oldest bit of the present island, but at some point, a massive slab of it slipped into the sea. All at once or but by bit? Sorry, don’t know. But a map will show you this great concave arc, and it’s only by going along it you realise the sheer engineering genius of the people who made it (1930s – 1950s). The actual route has to zig and zag in and out of massive valleys and around headlands, about 80m above the sea. The rock is of varying colours which show up where the road slices through, but it’s of a relentless hardness and almost malice. Each kind of ‘metal’ has different weathering characteristics, some faces give you huge squared boulders, some are narrowly striped and almost conversational, some are reduced to dusty-looking clinkers or ash, some are sheered into smooth faces or curves, some look like fudge or custard. Again it’s hard to estimate the size of the great walls which tower up above you. They look like the Himalayas till you see a few trees showing over the top in some places. But it goes on and on, and it’s impossible not to be awestruck. I thought of how the Romantic Poets used to go to the Lake District and Scotland for this same sensation – a thrilled dread and respect for Nature. 
We were helped by having the sun ahead of us, so that the huge stark headlands all looked black or a misty distant grey, and the sea a shimmering silvery brilliant white, as we went south. Then inland when the road finally gave up, over more (blessedly green) mountains, and eventually back to our little house. Here we are the only English among many Scandinavians and Germans, but they are all very British and only greet us with a silent nod. Today we are hanging around here, and the sun shines, and the wind is bashing through the palm tree fronds high above us.  

Sunday, 8 March 2015


Just back from a day in the mountains, particularly to see the Caldera de Bandama, which is a pretty-near perfect volcanic relic, one kilometre wide, 200m deep and utterly awe-inspiring. A huge bird (eagle?) was being harried by some sort of rook. Everything was so quiet, misty, far away, but with a great wind blowing through the peaks, so that even the sturdy and beautiful Canary Pines had their 12cm fronds sucked into a horizontal position.  We went up to the mirador for a coffee but it was all being renovated.  Fantastic fantastic views.
Another section of the tops has been designated as a special nature zone, planted with more of these pines, and with lots of happy families picnicking with tents etc. It was damn cold. No lights in the ladies lavs because someone had nicked all the bulbs, and no paper - till a girl took pity on me and gave me a tissue. NB - always have some loo paper with you up in the mountains.
In the morning we had zigzagged our way to Vega de San Mateo for the market - reputed to have such a strong agricultural tradition that farmers bring pigs, goats, hens etc.  This turned out not to be the case, but the drive up was fabulous, and the market filled with beautiful plant produce. The hall is about the size of 2 football pitches - and there were at least 10 stall selling all sorts of dried herbs and remedies. These were very variably labelled as to the benefits of each plant - sage, oregano, and many things I have never heard of. The complaints they purported to heal or their effects were to be seen in each stall - rheum, arthritis, expectoration, etc - but ascribed to different herbs. It was all very pleasant, and we bought papaya, prickly pears, and local bananas which taste extraordinarily delicious. (Why can't we get bananas like this at home?)
Our lunch was another wonderful find - we had tried several routes into the Jardin Botanica, where they have a snazzy resto up at the top, but our only way in (led by a kind man who was buying bread but diverted to show us the route) was at the bottom of the park. All paths leading to the top seemed to be out of bounds due to 'works', and although this garden is a treasure-trove of wondrous plants, we were getting hungry. Reluctantly we went back to the car to try once more to find the top entrance, but the valleys are deceptive, the roads very contrary... We ended up far away, but found a cafe stuffed with jolly (old) people, who were making a sort of quiet roaring noise which was the only advertisement for Josefina's bar. No signs outside at all. Amazingly she had a table free, and swiftly brought us fantastic bread with a garlic/mint mayo dip and a dish of cottage cheese. Then came a huge salad complete with smoked tuna, pineapple, peach, and every kind of greenery. Then came fried calamares and some perfect chips. It was all divine, and we couldn't finish any of it.
Our drive home has been past stupendous basalt cliffs, through more cool pine forests, past miles and miles of slopes covered with dragon-tree shrubs and almonds, and orange groves, and tiny villages with happy families wandering about. It is a kind of paradise, with the sun softened by this strange mist, and the howling winds just in some zones - enough to remind you about how nature can be terrifying as well as tranquil, and in very close proximity.
This is written in haste on the iPad one finger at a time before the lobby is locked up & I lose internet access. I meant to describe our trip last night to the Playa des Ingles, which has a wonderful beach, and 70,000? restaurants, some of which look ok.  There must be 210,000 Spaniards working in catering.   We also saw a little triple shrine made of sand, about 7' high and covered in niches,  decorated with dozens if candles in glass jars. The artist who made it says he makes a new one every day.
That's it for today. I will try to find a plant nursery to buy a small Canary Pine plant, or some seeds, while we are here.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Funny stuff

I should explain one of the funny things about where we are, this tourist village. It sits in a district called Maspalomas, beside some natural sand-dunes which are protected as a heritage site - we will go and see them shortly.
When they developed this territory, the money must have come from all the various European tour operators, and so the new roads - avenidas - which were laid out were named for these companies. Hence there is this remarkable map, with the following names emblazoned: Avenida Touroperador Neckermann, Avenida Touroperador Tui, Touroperador Intamu, ..Lufthansa, Vingresor, Lineas Aereas Finnair, Kuoni, Tjaereborg, etc etc. It is remarkably difficult to navigate round this district as the roads are very windy and have no obviously distinguishing features apart from the occasional dry gulch, or bus-stops which look pretty well identical.
Today we went west along the coast road, past a bay with a cement factory beside some scruffy cafes, one of which gave us a marvellous cortado, while we sat in a terrace protected from the howling wind by a scratched plastic sheet. The family have run this place since 1952 and seem to ascribe their success to Ste. Rita, the patron saint of fishermen (as we know from her marvellous rocky shrine in the parish church at Wissant near Calais), and also to Jesus. Images of their patrons adorn the walls beside the brilliant photographic menu displays, and very attractive they are too.
We reached Playa de Mogan by way of the winding road carved into the face of the cliffs, where the layers of volcanic rocks are utterly fantastic, with lurid colours and very dramatic textues showing how the different expulsions from the bowels of the earth have fared very differently under the weathering and erosion of millions of years. Really, the rocks are the hero of this place. You get huge slabs of purpley brown, interspersed with streaks of glittering white, or sandwich-fillings of massive rounded boulders which presumably rained down onto the ground long ago. Some of the layers are massively thick - maybe 4 or 5 meters - and some are just little papery slivers, but all have left their mark, and no doubt the geologists of the world have all been here to measure and cogitate. It is very exciting.
Playa de Mogan is touristy, with a tidal waterway leading into a prosperous harbour. They have made some pretty footbridges over the canal, and shifty 'Chase-the-Lady' teams have set up to fleece the tourists, using half-potatoes as cups. 'No photographs!!! No photographs, lady!!!'
There are enough cafes, restos, sandal-shops, beach-wear boutiques etc to keep anyone happy, and some lovely bougainevillia trellised overhead.
All this under a strange mist or sea-fog, and a fierce wind blowing from the south. All the palm trees and awnings and lines in the harbour have been whipping about in this wind. A young man from Heathrow (been here 13 years, came with his parents, now pimping trips in a schooner on the harbour wall) said, this is not usual weather. He hopes it will be gone by Monday.
We had lunch overlooking the water, tootled a bit more, then came home as we are tired!!! Sitting about now, in this domestic setting, with fresh-squeezed orange juice to hand and maybe going for a swim in a moment.


When I was a student I went to Sicily where I met a family who lived in a cave. It had a normal-looking front door and lace-curtained windows, but the interior was an ancient cleft in the tall cliffs overlooking a bay. From their small patch of hot earth they had a modest but sufficient harvest of potatoes, grapes, tomatoes etc, and from the sea they had their fish. It struck me very forcibly how this modest way of living was fantastically successful in terms of longevity. People had lived in that cave for perhaps tens of thousands of years, and though perhaps none of them had been kings, they had survived as an example of a way of existence. It was the lowliness which worked. Cave dwelling was in fact a kind of high-tide-mark for human culture.
Coming to Gran Canaria reminds me of that Sicilian visit. Modern life has impacted on an ancient culture so that you can see the glories and dismal failures of late 20th century entrepreneurship and the vestiges and disasters of the peasant life. So the mountains are stripped of their forests and the bare rock looks dead and difficult. The old fields marked out with piles of rocks are perhaps abandoned, and new plots marked out with concrete and plastic, waiting for the banks to splosh more dosh into the tourist trade.
You can see tiny mouldering farmsteads surviving in steep valleys which will never be of interest to the property developers.
We are staying in a hilarious holiday village, free, with breakfast, for one week. The deal is that we listen to a presentation about putting even more money into our timeshare scheme, but luckily for us the presentation is on Tenerife which is a fair distance away across the sea. I don't think they are doing a presentation on Gran Canaria. The village is called Green Club Oasis or something like that. Built in the 60s, with terraces of small duplex apartments which are now rather tired, but actually very well planned. It's free, it's in an interesting place, and it's ok.
Last night we went out in the car to explore... Andrew chose Mogan Port as our destination and I, not knowing there is a Mogan as well as a Mogan Port put the wrong one into the satnav. So we went up into the mountains, quite a long way winding up a V-shaped valley to a pretty and prosperous village, where a German guy at the cashpoint recommended a new resto called El Tomate, recently opened by two German women. 'Very economical' he said. 'But very good'.
It was. It was also hilarious.
We sat in a courtyard partly hewn out of the rock in near pitch-dark till the German owner brought us first a tea-light in a red glass, then a tea-light in a clear white glass, and ultimately a dazzling solar-powered table lamp. She advised us what to eat, from a wonderful menu of tapas and traditional dishes.
The food was spectacular and absolutely delicious. I predict this will become another one of those legendary places to eat, weird, poetic, arty, international. Don't forget, you read it here first. Cave dwelling is very attractive.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Hotels are getting it

Our cunning plan is to stay the night at the airport to avoid the M25 in the morning. We fly out from the S terminal, but have booked into a thing called the Hampton by Hilton at the N Termjnal, because we'll arrive back here next week.
The hotel is just one year old, looks pretty-well brand new, and it's cool, bright, welcoming, dotted with people of all ages and types, and our room on floor 6 is spacious, quiet and very pretty.
The only thing is, all the floorboards squeak.
Along the corridors - squeaketty squeak. Into the room, squeak, squeak, squeak.
Want to get your thingy from the chair - out of bed - squeaketty squeak squeak.
It's like hotels used to be across Europe, with sloping floorboards and quaint old oak beams. But those places had the reasonable excuse that they were a few hundred years old, or had come through a few wars. This place is stylish, gleaming, international new.
It matters not one jot, but I grieve for the future. It can only get worse. Sooner or later they'll have to take up the carpets and either screw all the boarding down more firmly, or replace it.

Is it a dog or a little caged bird?

Tomorrow we go to the Canary Islands - this time to Gran Canaria, which we have not been to before. The name of the island means Great (island of) Dogs, because when Europeans reached this archepelago in the late 15th century, they found the inhabitants were using dogs to help them manage in the rough volcanic landscape.
(So - 'Canary' means 'dogs' and not 'little caged singing birds').
It has been a matter of some debate where these aboriginal islanders came from - but the consensus is that they were from the Barbary Coast in North Africa, and it is known that they were blue-eyed. Only a few words of their language survived the apocalyptic onslaught they faced when Christianity decided to take them in hand, but there is enough surviving genetic evidence to confirm the earlier speculations.
This island is not as high as Tenerife where we went before, and it is smaller, but it has its own interesting volcanic history and beautiful landscapes, and we are looking forward to some warmth and sun, excellent food, swimming, walking and exploring.
I am particularly interested in that settlement period, when the various colonising countries of Europe piled into this useful group of workable lands as a staging post to reach the Americas. Here they could get water, timber, food, shelter, etc., and of course they could grab chunks of territory for themselves, which they did.  Hence the arrival of the various Christian orders, who also vied for a place - we have seen rival monastic palaces set up under the different orders, right alongside each other, on Tenerife.
Please do follow and comment, if you can, on our reports. We love to hear from you!  The plan is to publish a book of our modest travels in due course, so interaction could be a really good ingredient for that part of the project.