Thursday, December 3, 2015

Gran Canaria Day 12: The Finale: Burial Mounds and a Small Mound of Fish

“Whilst the wolflets bayed,
A grave was made,
And then with the strokes of a silver spade,
It was filled to make a mound.
And for two cold days and three long nights,
The father tended that holy plot;
And stayed by where his wife was laid, In the grave within the ground.”
Roman Payne, Cities & Countries

The native Canarian burial grounds at Malpeis. Such a beautiful setting beneath the volcanoes. Reminds me of where my dad is buried in Bledsoe County...peace in the valley.

Paul and I visited the northwest coastal city of Agaete about a week ago and were regretful that we did not know it held Europe's only coffee plantation in Valle de Agaete, a few kilometers north of where we visited. We were told the plantation and vineyards closed at 1:30pm. So it was too late to visit that day, but we were determined to come back. And today, we did just that by bus.

We caught a taxi in front of the church in Agaete (the taxis seem to congregate in every town just in front of the main cathedral) and hired the guy to take us to the coffee plantation and the Guanche native Canarian burial ground of Malpeis (it means badlands). The taxi driver was great and he was very proud of his town and his heritage. He was very good to us, just because we showed some interest in something besides the beaches of the Canaries. 

I'm posting this for two fold reasons. 1. This is the taxi we took 2. I had an uncle named Jumpy!

The Malvasia white wine of the plantation. It was really tasty. The wine tastings always include way too much food here.

Paul enjoys the rose.

Although Paul says the coffee tasting was great, we were never offered the opportunity to see the actual plantation. :(
The tasting was nice. We could see the vineyards on the drive up, but if anyone is hoping to go there and get the full tour of the coffee plantation, we never figured out how to make it happen. My advice: skip it. We are told there is another coffee plantation nearby that does offer an actual glance at the coffee plants, so with some research, that might be worthwhile. It was nice to taste the wines, so it wasn't a total bust, but it wasn't what we hoped either. 

The small chapel of the plantation.Yes, we prayed for that certain house to sell.
From here we proceeded to the highlight of the trip: Malpeis. This is a burial ground of the native Guanche and many of the tombs were up to 1300 years old.
The volcanic field of tombs covers several acres

The tombs were mounded stones around the bodies. You can see a round one at the middle left section of the photo, but there were numerous shapes.

Bones in the bottom of the tomb.
Ancient Berber Canarians buried most of the dead in caves, but this large necropolis is in a field of volcanic stone.  The bodies were wrapped in jute or leather or both, bound and then a vault of stone was formed around it. Above it, multiple layers of stone were laid, often is a circular pattern. However, there were other patterns as well. Some circular graves had a capital as well. Often graves contained multiple bodies. It is estimated that there were 700 bodies in this stone volcanic yard between the volcanic peaks.  Due to weather, insects and reptiles, these bodies were not mummified like the ones we saw in Museo Canario a few days back, but deteriorated. Some did contain long bones in decay.  The park itself is very impressive with many signs printed in English, Spanish and German to help you understand the sophisticated burial practices. Interestingly, early Spanish visitors stated that anyone who handled dead bodies, animal or human, were actually living on the outskirts of the community and somewhat ostracized. From a health standpoint, this actually makes quite a bit of sense, but it is a little sad as well. Eight bodies were found just outside the walls of this cemetery. It is not known why they were not buried within the entombments. Overall, though,  a really interesting visit. Not quite the pyramids of Giza, but a great anthropological find and well worth a visit.  We are glad we went back to see it.

From there it was lunch at the beach in Puerto de Nieves, back to the bus, and a rest in the hotel before dinner.

Food porn alert. We ate again at Hotel Santa Catalina at La Terraza. The chef here is very innovative and a lot different than most of his Canarian peers. This is probably the only "fine dining" experience we had, although all the food has been tasty.

Stuffed mushroom amus bouche

My hake entree

Paul's fish prepared in the Thai manner

Hot fudge sundaes bring a smile

The lobby of Hotel Santa Catalina. It's beginning to look alot like Christmas!

We have had a wonderful vacation here. We have seen mountains, beaches, valleys, big rocks, big sand dunes, nice hotels, nice people...the works. Gran Canaria has it all!


In this high field strewn with stones
I walk by a green mound,
Its edges sheared by the plough.
Crumbs of animal bone
Lie smashed and scattered round
Under the clover leaves
And slivers of flint seem to grow
Like white leaves among green.
In the wind, the chestnut heaves
Where a man's grave has been.

Whatever the barrow held
Once, has been taken away:
A hollow of nettles and dock
Lies at the centre, filled
With rain from a sky so grey
It reflects nothing at all.
I poke in the crumbled rock
For something they left behind
But after that funeral
There is nothing at all to find.

On the map in front of me
The gothic letters pick out
Dozens of tombs like this,
Breached, plundered, left empty,
No fragments littered about
Of a dead and buried race
In the margins of histories.
No fragments: these splintered bones
Construct no human face,
These stones are simply stones.

In museums their urns lie
Behind glass, and their shaped flints
Are labelled like butterflies.
All that they did was die,
And all that has happened since
Means nothing to this place.
Above long clouds, the skies
Turn to a brilliant red
And show in the water's face
One living, and not these dead."

— Anthony Thwaite, from The Owl In The Tree” 

Paul's Ponderings:  Our sojourn here is nearly over and we've had a great time.   We feel like we've really seen the island from all angles.   The burial ground today was pretty stunning and the pictures don't do the setting or the historical context justice.   It is quite stunning and unique.   I can't say I've seen anything quite like it anywhere I've visited over the has a slightly out of this world character in a dramatic setting.   

We followed that with a return to La Terraza to eat....of the places we've been here, it is by far the best, followed by Allende, Astoria, and Rio Minos in terms of interest in my view.   With respect to wines, we've not had a bad one....the "Crater" red we had both nights at La Terraza is oustanding.   Everything else is quite good and rivals quality tinto and blanco wines from other parts of the globe.   Too bad we can't get these at home.  We are managing to bring back nearly a case in our checked luggage (including some for you, Roy King, if you are reading this entry).   

I would highly recommend this island if you get the chance.   As our hiking guide Bert said, it has it all....mountains, sea, city, history, food, wine, etc.   And it is very affordable once you are here.   We hope to return to visit the other islands in coming years.  Todo esta bien....

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