Monday, November 23, 2015

Gran Canaria Day 2: Roaming with Rumi

"Beauty surrounds us, but it takes walking in a garden to know it."

A map of Gran Canaria. We are starting all our hikes from 9 o'clock on the map: Aldea de San Nicolas. Haven't seen Santa yet!
Paul and I are really enjoying our walking vacation here on Gran Canaria. We are staying in Aldea de San Nicolas which on this map is at about 9 o'clock. We started at a saddle of the mountain in an area called Tasartico and walked to Mogan which is at about 7-8 o'clock on the map. The climate at Tasartico was chilly with a driving wind and slanting hard drizzle and we put our jackets on and rain gear and gritted our teeth for the journey ahead on this island of "near perfect temperatures year round." The island isn't extremely large, so the distance seems big on the map, but in reality was only about 9 miles total between the two locations, moving up and down between two mountain passes and through valleys and hamlets. Fortunately, the sun began to peek through the peaks after only about 15 minutes of walking and came full on in sunshine glory by lunchtime.
We walked over the landscape of volcanic rocks mostly interspersed with farms and plantations of bananas, mangoes, limes and squash, but also amongst yapping guard dogs (every small house has at least two) and through the village of Veneguera, where we enjoyed our lunch. While we cannot really claim to be walking in a garden, as Rumi suggests, we can claim to be seeing some interesting plant life.

The agave plant. It uses all its energy at the very end of its life to produce this seed stalk. The guide called it, "The last erection." These seed stalks are well over 8-10 feet tall. When Bert pointed them out today again, one of the British blokes on the trip commented, "It's really quite daunting."
Gotta love a Pommy wanker for understatement. :)

Canarian wildflowers.

Prickly pear cactus
Most of the flora is succulents and cacti. But there's a good bit of tropical fruit. Gran Canaria is also quite famous for producing most of Europe's winter supply of tomatoes...which are SO delicious.

Our guide Bert calls these finger cactus and I guess you can see why! They are over 8 feet high.
One thing that is very different is that except for a few birds such as crows, pigeons and the occasional sparrowhawk, the wildlife supply here is really sparse. We would rarely hike at home, even downtown, without at least seeing a rabbit or an insect, but we haven't seen anything more than a snail or a spider. No mosquitoes. No horseflies. Nada. So that is strikingly odd.

Also, we love our Smokies but it is difficult to get a vista except at the highest points or at the occasional pass. Here, the view is 360 nearly all the time and we can frequently see the ocean from the mountaintops. 
Sky, ridge and palm trees

Paul smiling because he is nearly to the end of the hike which started at a saddle in the mountain you see behind him.
Today we passed around the village of Tasarte, through Veneguera and over the next pass to Mogan, which is a  bit of a touristy town. This side of the island is not known for tourism, but Gran Canaria is trying to earn a reputation as an ecotourism hotspot for hiking. We certainly haven't been disappointed by their new direction.
He's happiest on vacay!

Our Dutch guide, Bert, points out the pine trees of the cloud forest. We haven't hiked there yet, but we are told we will in two days.
This morning we started our walk in a rain and high wind in Tasartico in the mountains and ended in sunshine in the beach town of Mogan. Lots of diversity in weather, plants, landscapes and terrain.

Henry David Thoreau said a walk started in the morning is a blessing for the whole day. I wholeheartedly agree!  Another walking bugger, John Muir, said that nature always gives us more than we seek and that's very true here on Gran Canaria. Very grateful for this opportunity to see a stunningly different part of this planet.

Chickens in a pen with cactus. Apparently PETA does not have a chapter here.

Paul's Ponderings:  A great day out....three valleys and three summits.  We had the full gamut of weather from rain to chill to sun to heat.   We are the only folks from the USA here, mostly people from the UK and Canada,   That said, it is a strong group of hikers and the day would put no one to shame from the view of being strenuous.   Even though it was "only" about 10 miles, it was a full day out.   Both the ascents and descents were tough at times but the view were well worth it.  These are volcanic islands with serious peaks and associated scenery.   We are always near ocean even if it is not obvious.   Lots of arid plant life, including cactus, orange trees, bananas, papaya, palms, and more.  This is Spain though, so the village life and food aligns with the mainland of Europe.   

Weirdly, wildlife here is pretty limited.   We've seen one horse, no cows, and a lot of dogs, cats, and birds.   

Why are these named the Canaries?  The theory is twofold.   One is the obvious one is that there are tropical birds.   The other is there are lots of dogs, which in Latin translates to "cana" or "dog".   No one really knows apparently.

Hiking-wise, so far so good.   I've been using low hikers and a pack with water built in and it has worked so far.  Some of the walk has been very loose rock, so it has been a bit challenging at times and I have sometimes wished I had higher boots for ankle disasters so far.   

As mentioned before, Europe often uses these islands like US residents use the Caribbean islands...generally warm, scenic, and cheap.  However, the interior and non-beach areas are totally unlike the Caribbean....huge peaks and valleys.   

As many folks know, we like wine and this is a low production wine area, but quite unique.   My take on these wines is they have an interesting heartiness to them, which has a bit less fruit and a bit more "vegetable" which is a unique quality.   So far, I would not put them as world class, but pleasurable and intriguing and unlike anything you will taste from the normal wine growing areas in the US, Europe, or Australia.   That alone makes them interesting, putting aside wine-hound comparisons.

This is a remote and unique is a bit of a slog from the US, but worth it.   Much more to come over the next several days!

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