Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gran Canaria Day 9: False Start, Perfect Ending

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
Alan Bennett, The History Boys

8th century native Canarian carving
This morning, we rose literally in the dark and made our way to the intercity bus terminal. Destination: Playa de Ingles, the super touristy beach town overrun we are told by Germans, Scandanavians and UK folks escaping the cold of their native lands. Who can blame them? Guilty as charged!

Reason for going: There are some nice sandy beaches, theoretically the warmest year round in "Europe." But also there are some high sand dunes that apparently make for a lovely landscape. We were going for reason #2.
Did we make it? Yes. Did we see them? No.
Seems someone who will remained unnamed (like me, for example) did not read the final date on the final booking. Sigh. 
Choice: Stay and enjoy the Daytona beach in the middle of spring break atmosphere vs. go somewhere else...anywhere else.

So despite an early departure from Las Palmas, we got back on the bus and came to Las Palmas to visit two of the three museums we had earmarked to tackle during our time here. We had already seen the Museum of Modern Art, so that left Casa Colon (No, not a  giant version of your large intestine that you can actually walk through. Disturbly,  that also exists, but in the Canaries.) Casa Colon, ala Las Palmas,  is the governor's house which was present in 1492 when Christopher Columbus stopped in Gran Canaria. He is thought to have visited in the house and asked for help with final provisioning of the ships and also to repair the Nina, which had a broken rudder.  The governor himself, Juan Rejon, had been in command of the fortlike center city dwelling since 1478.  The Canaries were a frequent stop for ships after the discovery of the New World, because they are pretty much the last stop before the Caribbean on the trade winds. The Azores are out there, but they are more northerly and along different currents. Modern day Las Palmas has turned the house into something of an homage to Columbus and his voyages.

Entry to Casa Colon

A replica of the Admiral Columbus's quarters on the Santa Maria. Unlike the sailors who slept on the boards of the deck or below during inclement weather, Chris had a small room with a bed, desk and chair.

One of four open courtyards in Casa Colon.
The museum gave some perspective to the world in which Columbus launched from complete with incomplete world maps, beliefs about world flatness, an idea of the skimpy navigation equipment available, and some idea of how the Canaries were instrumental in making that trip a success. The ships would stop and equip themselves with fruit, potable water, hard tack, fat, and they would include cured meats and livestock, as they couldn't reliably get meat onboard.  All four of Columbus's voyages are well mapped out for one to marvel. As we recall from our grade school lessons, Columbus was trying to reach India and find a new way there for spices. The Ottoman Empire essentially controlled the spice trade at that point in history and the Spanish royalty was looking for a path AROUND the rulers of Turkey.  Columbus was a pretty ingenious guy, reaching the New World in a little over 6 weeks. Sure, the sailors grumbled and there was talk of a mutiny, but he prevailed. Without any modern navigational equipment.  He managed not to lose any of his sailors, however, which gives you some clue as to his experience as a captain and seaman. But also, he was stubborn. In some ways, this helped his cause. In others, it did not. Columbus died an embittered man in the Spanish city of Valladoid at age 55 still refusing to believe his discovery was anything other than India. His corpse has been exhumed and reinterred multiple times, but is now in Seville.

Paul enjoys a topographic map of Gran Canaria, one of many maps throughout the museum.
There were numerous exhibits pertaining to the New World, and even one section of the museum dedicated to the treatment of natives of the Caribbean. Although the Europeans virtually wiped them out, they did eventually grant them a bill of rights of sorts via Spain. I am not sure they have much to brag about overall regarding their treatment, but the same could be said for most "exploring nations." At least the Vikings never pretended they were being "fair."

There were also exhibits regarding the Spanish immigrants to and from  the Canaries. Initially, the locals in the Canaries were forbidden to leave to seek fame/fortune/whatever in the New World. Later, they were forced to emigrate to the New World, including to various US places such as Florida, Texas and Louisiana. At one point, it was decreed that for every 100 tons of provisions leaving the Canary Islands, five Canarian families were required to accompany them. And we complain about the government now! Apparently, immigration laws have been a sore spot for centuries.

We truly enjoyed this museum. They did not try to glorify Cristofori Colon, but they did point out some of his achievements, which were amazing for his time.

Paul threatened mutiny if I did not buy him a pizza between museums.

From this museum, we spent a while wandering about searching for pizza per Paul. We did eventually find it and it was tasty. We love the super thin crusts and skinny cuts of jamon iberico. We then strolled over to the Cathedral Santa Ana which was unfortunately closed. It is the "biggie" in town. We were lucky to have caught a glance inside during mass on Sunday. Our next goal was Museo Canario, a museum dedicated prinicipally to the original Berber inhabitants. This museum displayed many artifacts from the 20+ settlements about the island. The means of livelihood of the different settlements varied, as does the geography and microclimates of this small island. Some were farmers, others hunter/gatherers and most were along the coast and subsisted on fishing and some agriculture. There were an estimated 20,000 or so people living here when the Spanish arrived to "settle" it.

A replica of cave dwellings inhabited by the Guanaches. We walked past some on our hikes. There are numerous ones that are still in use by modern Canarians.

Ceramic ware. There were many items of this ilk, some beautifully decorated and suitable for use today.

They believe this to be a female fertility idol. There are many such artifacts in this shape found all over the Canaries. This emblem is ubiquitous in the form of replicas, Tshirts, postcards, and everything else known to man in souvenir shops.

Ancient porno??? This figure is fairly large, about 3 feet high and the female genitalia, which I intentionally pictured at an obtuse angle are quite graphic and carved from wood. Hugh Hefner would have fit right into the 9th century!

This room contained excavated skulls. There were hundred in this room as well as the mummies you see in the cases to the left. They were very good at mummification and placed many in caves, which help for preservation. They wrapped them in animal leathers and jute.

A case of skulls. We were fascinated by their teetch. Most had quite a few gone, but the top shelf third from the left had nearly a full set and we saw that sporadically.

Some of the bodies were buried in what amounts to a casket carved out of a log.

An attestation to their mummification abilities is this skull which still has intact skin on the nose and eye socket, despite most likely being from the year 900AD

We were very impressed with the mummies. They were often buried in caves and this helped to preserve them.
A replica of a funerary cave with real skeletons. The museum had this in the dark and you had to push a button to get the light to turn on for a few seconds. I have to admit it was somewhat eerie.
This museum is a must for visitors here who are history buff, anthropology lovers...or if you are nuts for Halloween. You will definitely get the creeps after hanging around with so many dead ancient Canarians who have been snatched from their graves.

From here, it was a long walk back to the beach area near our hotel, and a gelato. We figured we deserved it after about 10 miles of padding about. Here is the beach view.

Overweight Europeans in bikinis and speedos! Cracks exposed!
From here, we were off to dinner at a lovely restaurant called Asturia. This has, no surprise, Asturian cuisine. We ordered seafood paella. The ordering was funny because we asked for fava bean stew as an appetizer, then seafood paella. The waiter said, "No. If you order paella, you can only have paella. It takes an hour to make and if you eat the stew, you cannot eat the whole paella."  This was hysterical, but good advice.
Restaurant Asturia. Not fancy but very good food.

Seafood paella Asturia style
The seafood paella was delicious and absolutely worth the one hour wait. I don't know how they made the stock, but it was outstanding. Also, as you see this is a deep cast iron pot and not the usual this metal pan. It was also brothy as opposed to the usual dry and stuck to the pan versions we saw in Madrid.

By the way, the waiter refused to offer us dessert.  :)

Overall, a very good day with an unnecessary trip to Playa de Ingles, but all's well that ends well.

“If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ”
Michael Crichton

Paul's Ponderings:   A bit of a bust to start the day due to the problem with the dune ride schedule, but at least we completed our circumvention of the island of Gran Canaria!   Not quite a Columbus-like outcome, but we'll take a small victory!

The visit to the other museums was great and we had a sunny and hot walk back to our hotel to end up about 10 miles of walking for the day.   

The paella was a real treat and quite different than anything we are used to....certainly it's not like the paella we had in Madrid three months ago (see previous blog entries).   It was accompanied by a lovely white wine from Lanzarote, our first Canarian white wine of the trip.    

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