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ISLAND DISCOVERY – GRAN CANARIA

Many years ago I visited the south of the island of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa. I tried to catch some rays on the Playa del Ingles but was driven inside by the strong trade winds. I also remember the vast sand dunes of Mas Palomas which seemed strangely out of place on an island known for its flora. As Mas Palomas is as barren as the Sahara, I imagine a camel back safari would be the ‘must do’ excursion for this unusual location.
Today I had the opportunity to visit the Northern-most part of the Island, which boasts a huge crater 200,000 years old and a tropical coastline where there is a dearth of bananas growing (but, sadly, no sandy beaches). Fascinatingly, the climate in the north is very similar to California where I grew up. Every day of the year it is either sunny or cloudy, with almost no rain and a mild temperature. All vegetation grows in the north of Gran Canaria and only because the evening dew, caused by the cool Atlantic water, allows enough moisture for plants to grow. The local people swarm to the mountains (the highest being 6,400 ft.) when it snows. It may only happen one day out of the year so they all go to experience ‘nice’ weather.
The first stop on our tour was the Casa de Colon (House of Christopher Columbus). Interesting for the artefacts but, particularly for the information on Columbus, as so little is known of his early life. The refurbishment of this house has created a wonderful space with a courtyard, full of greenery, which is charming. There were also two enormous colourful parrots showing off and preening for the crowd.
After leaving the city of Las Palmas, we headed towards our first volcano, the Caldera Bandama. One person by the name of Augustin, an 84 year old monk, lives and farms at the bottom of this ancient caldera. He is completely alone and no one else is allowed to live on this land as it is now protected. Someday soon, I will go down and interview him. Time for me to bone up on my Spanish!
Our group then headed for Tejde, the ancient volcano that erupted a couple of thousand years ago and created an enormous valley. In recent centuries the bottom of this valley was filled with water but has since evaporated. Normally at this elevation, there would be mist covering everything from our vantage point but we are fortunate; it was clear enough to see down to the coast. The rock formations were tremendous.
Next was lunch at El Refugio Restaurant by a stone cross which marks the geographic top of the island. We were served traditional Gran Canarian fare of potatoes, fish and chicken with the oregano seasoned tomatoes being the most flavourful thing on the menu. Probably all fresh vegetables benefit from being grown in lava infused soil.
There were huge amounts of information about the flora of this part of the island on the tour. The huge dragon trees in Teror were fabulous but my favourite place was the garden of Marchesa de Arucas, a member of the island’s aristocracy. We saw everything from huge Ficus to Avocado trees, Bougainvillea to Bird of Paradise and much more. A colourful end to a great day on Gran Canaria.