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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