Contrary to popular belief the canaries do not owe their name to the small yellow birds chirping cheerful songs from their golden cages in old age homes. It is the canary bird that got its name from the Spanish archipelago, from whence it originated. Roman history records the name Canary Islands as the islands of the dogs, presumably because there would be “vast multitudes of dogs of very large size” on Gran Canaria. It is unclear if they are referring to real dogs or “sea dogs” (in those days there was a large population of monk seals on the islands). Moreover, the aborigines of the Canaries, the Guanches, had a dog-worshipping cult, not unlike the Holy cows in India, or maybe closer to home, the dog-headed Egyptian god Anubis. Two facts that coincide with the Roman statement that the Canary islands derive their name from a link with dogs.
The archipelago consists of 7 islands and 6 islets. The main islands are (from big to small) Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. The 6 islets are grouped in the Chinijo Archipelago: La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este.
The economy is based primarily on tourism. The archipelago’s beaches, year round mild climate and its natural attractions, such as the Maspalomas dunes, the Mount Teide and four national parks make it a major tourist destination. Over 12 million tourists per year visit the islands. When we visited the Baleares, we had expected to find a coastline scarred by huge touristic complexes, and were pleasantly surprised. In the Canaries, we had expected spacious beautiful beaches and remote mountains with very localized touristic hotspots. Reality turned out to be the other way around, especially Gran Canaria.
The Canaries were put on the touristic map in the 1960’s when the construction of airports made them more accessible. They have been popular ever since for Spanish, German, British, French, Italian, Portuguese and Scandinavian tourists.
Tenerife tops the list of visitors. Further, she has the largest and most populated area. Best to be avoided according to our standards, so we gave her a skip. She is followed by Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. On Lanzarote and Fuerteventura tourism is focused on specific areas. Huge touristic complexes are therefore easy to avoid. There are still plenty of places worth a visit. Gran Canaria we will save for another post.
Apart from tourism there are those industries closely related to it: Construction for the ever growing tourist market and locally produced fruit and veg to feed them all. Tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cochineal, sugarcane, grapes, vines, dates, oranges, lemons, figs, wheat, barley, maize, apricots, peaches and almonds are all grown on the islands. In the arid islands we visited, most agriculture happened under huge tented areas, like the once we saw on the Spanish mainland. There is also tropical agriculture, bananas and tobacco, grown for export to Europe and the Americas. And one important industry that shouldn’t be left out is the peluquerias. Hairdressers slash beauty salons are found 3 to 5 a street in even the smallest village.
The archipelago has a subtropical climate, with long hot summers and fairly warm winters. A steady sea breeze makes sure the climate is moderated. Especially in summer the trade winds keep the ambient temperature pleasurable.
The individual islands have distinct microclimates. Depending on the island’s position in relation to the north-east trade winds, the climate can be very dry or mild and wet. The western islands are influenced by the moist Gulf Stream, guaranteeing lush vegetation and even sub-tropical laurisilva forest (as found on Madeira). The closer you move to the African coast, the more the influence of the Gulf Stream diminishes, and the dryer it gets. Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, which are closest to the African mainland are deemed desert or semi desert. Gran Canaria is marketed as a “continent in miniature” for its different climates and variety of landscapes found, with long beaches and dunes of white sand (Maspalomas), contrasting with green ravines (Roque Nublo) and picturesque villages.
Not only the islands have microclimates, but the weather in between them can be quite unpredictable. There are wind accelerator zones between the islands. On our weather maps the predominant color between the islands was yellow, bordering on red. This means a predicted 25 to 30 knot winds. Experience teaches that you can easily add another 10 knots to have an idea of the situation on the ground. You typically start out with no wind, and as soon as you hoisted sails, you pass one of these funnels where wind is pumping, blowing you all over the show. Not beginners sailing! To hop from one island to the next is perfectly possible if you choose your days right. Most of them are only a day or half day sail away from each other. But trying to make a nice round trip of the archipelago in a given time is lunacy. Going to the next island and trying to get back will mean that you will be motoring against heavy winds at some stage.
For the above-mentioned reasons we decided on a half tour of the Canaries in which we would visit La Graciosa, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria.
The last post left you at the Selvagem Islands. The Canaries are 135 nm further. Our first stop was the small island of La Graciosa. It is the smallest inhabited island of the Canaries, and the biggest islet in the Chinijo Archipelago.
We found anchorage in a bay in front of a beautiful sandy beach. The small harbor had some fishing boats. Small bright red ferries connect the spot with Lanzarote and other points of interest on the Graciosa coastline. The village itself was very small, situated in front of the dunes. It had sandy streets, and small one storey flat roofed white houses. The midday heat made the pale sand simmer. Strolling in the deserted dusty streets made us think of Mexico, or some type of spaghetti western. The only cars to be seen were beaten up 4×4’s. The beach seemed very popular with young backpackers and an informal camping ground was situated in between the beach and dunes. Quite an idyllic spot…