Empty nest syndrome
The end of a phase. A terribly painful letting go. Energy that seeps away. Back to sleepless nights and gloomy mornings… Redirecting our minds to stay on course, because no matter what your mental state is, the world keeps turning and life potters on. Staying busy helps to keep your head above water. Cleaning, reorganizing and preparing the boat for the next phase. Distraction is an ointment for the soul.
The emptiness the boys left was buffered by the visits from friends. Ann & Pepijn joined us in La Lajita, a small peaceful village in Fuerteventura. They are keen divers and sailed with us before. They sailed along for 2 weeks, first hopping to Morro Jable and then on to Gran Canaria. This was followed by another two weeks of small chores and improvements on the boat before the visit of our friend Isis. She stayed onboard for 9 days until our crew for the crossings arrived and it was time to go to Cabo Verde… We spent a total of 6 weeks in Gran Canaria, not because it was that great but rather because we could find the things we needed over there. Here are a few of our impressions.
Our first view of Gran Canaria was the sun setting over the simmering beach of Playa del Ingles. This was creating a minor fata morgana effect. It seemed like people were walking on top of the water. Playa del Ingles, as its name suggests, is mainly reserved for tourists. It is one of Gran Canaria’s most known and frequented beaches. You can easily stroll for a few hours on this very long beach with big sand dunes as a backdrop. It would be quite pretty, were it not for all the people packed on top of each other, lying on or next to beach chairs. Each hotel or area has its own specific color of chairs (yellow, red, blue, green, …) which always immediately puts us off. Not only hotels put their marks on this elongated beach but also the kiosks that are numbered in a way that only the Spanish could come up with e.g. 7 is followed by 3 and preceded by 4. Look closely and you will see that the kiosk number is associated with a specific crowd. Some random examples: 12 are naturists, 2 is reserved for gay and bi, 3 attracts families, 5 is frequented by young hipsters and so on. Like the Clifton beaches in the Cape but without the models and movie stars. In between the kiosks and the hotel chairs there are large vacant areas, taken up by roosting cockerels. They build their nests as a semi-circle of stacked stones, strip off all their clothes and proudly guard the entrance to their sanctuary, standing upright, averting unwanted visitors.
The whole bay area consists of one tourist complex next to the other, ranging from hotels, holiday villages, apartments, cottages, bed & breakfast, and backpackers. There are a few shopping malls, plenty of restaurants and bars. Year round tourism and semi-resident pensioners are targeted. Bright neon lights advertise the services of GPs, dentists, physiotherapists to ageing immigrants in their own language: Real German Doctor, Svensk tandläkare, Dansk gynækologi, …
Even though this is not really our scene, we did enjoy the long walk in the hot sun along the cooling water, and coming back through the dunes. Strolling through the sand dunes was a bit like clambering up dune 45 in Namibia’s Sossusvlei, although our excellent timing might have something to do with that. We were clever enough to endeavor in this in the middle of the day, when the sun fried our brain in sitio and the sand was scorching hot.
At the end of the bay is the Faro do Maspalomas. The lighthouse area boasts casinos, malls and tourism complexes. All with bright flashing lights at night, the mini Las Vegas of the Canaries. Needless to say we observed all this from afar and did not stay in this area too long.
On and in the water
Apart from sailing along the coastline the object of our visitors was to explore the underwater world. Unfortunately, scuba diving is very regulated in Gran Canaria. Not only are you obliged to use a dive operator, a bit of research thought us that the dive spots are not that exciting. Dive boats go out on a daily basis to specific spots, a few wrecks and reefs outside of Pasito Blanco, and a wreck close to Arguineguin’s cement factory. Divers walk in and out of the sandy beach of Puerto de Mogan for their shore dive along the breakwater, the roman steps, and a marked dive spot. Most of the spots are no deeper than 17m, great for freediving. Even snorkeling on the surface would give you an idea.
The better divers amongst us saw ray, moray eel, bream, wrasses, gobies, blennies, sea urchins, crabs, starfish, and sponges. When we crossed from Fuerteventura to Gran Canaria, we saw a shark’s fin next to the boat. One of our visitors spotted a sea otter while we were anchored in Arguineguin.
The most interesting encounter, however, happened just outside the Puerto de Mogan breakwater. Arthur and Pepijn went freediving to explore the dive spot marked by buoys. It turned out not to be a wreck, but a specially designed dive spot, with statues and art work in the water, attracting sea life of all sorts. Well thought out, pretty. And privately owned, as they were about to find out. Arthur and Pepijn had been up and down a few times, enjoying the scenery and were busy playing with the fish when a sudden movement caught their eye. Big and yellow, looming up behind them. They found themselves face to face with a yellow submarine! The dive spot is owned by the same company that operates the submarine. No other visitors allowed.
Puerto Mogan in itself had some charm. It is a fishing village converted into a touristic town in the 80ies when fishing became insufficient to sustain the local economy. A marina was built and the fishermen’s house bought out. These quaint white houses lace the marina and give it a nice feel. Most of them have bars, restaurants, shops, or guestrooms in it, but all within the original contours and therefore quite enjoyable. The beach has soft imported sand and is protected by breakwaters to prevent it from washing or blowing away. It is quite shallow, ideal to give Gitane swimming lessons.
In the beginning of September, the Mogan bay still accommodated watersports assorted: party boat catamarans, glass bottom ferries, yellow submarine, pedalos, jetskis, and jetskis towing bananas, huge inner tubes or other inflatables. All with screaming people on it and causing major wake. The water traffic was that bad and chaotic that Arthur preferred to drive Winnie and Gitane by dinghy or kayak to the snorkel zone along the mountain shore and caves. Even though it is only a few meters to swim, the jetskis and other water sporters seemed completely oblivious of their surroundings and could not be trusted to evade slow swimmers. Exodus was bobbing in the whirlpools and boiling frothing sea soup all this traffic left. This was in sharp contrast to the second time we visited. After schools started, most of the water madness dissipated.
A taste of our life
Our friend Isis came to stay with us end of September, in dire need of a break after the busy touristic season at work. She looked forward to staying on board and getting a feel of our daily life. We are not sure if that is exactly what she meant when she woke up the first night in a gale force wind. We were lying on anchor but Exodus was riding circles around it at high speed. Big eyed she found both of us on deck with the wind meter on. It showed 40 knots and up. Asking gently: ‘Is this normal?’. Next morning we put out a stern anchor to stabilize rolling Exodus. The following days the damage to the boats in the marina was very noticeable. Parts of the stern and swim platform ripped off, chipped bows, GT stripes on the side… Lying on anchor has its advantages, especially if you have proper ground tackle. Hail Rocna anchors!
What’s a WaWa?
As we stayed in Gran Canaria for a while we relied on public transport to discover some of the inland. When asking a local woman for the nearest supermarket, we discovered that the bus service is referred to as WaWa. It took a split second for our overheated brains to link ‘WaWa’ to the ‘Estacion de Guaguas’ written on the main bus stations.
Apart from receiving visitors we also had a few items on our to-do list in preparation for the crossings. One of them was mission ‘kayak paddles’, the sequel to mission ‘kayak’. Internet revealed the city of Telde hosts a Decathlon where we could get the foldable kayak peddles we were looking for, and is accessible by bus. Finding the right bus connections online was no easy feat. Just like Fuerteventura, the time tables hanging in the bus station are very much open to interpretation. In Fuerteventura each bus stop has exactly the same time table, listing departure and arrival from Puerto del Rosario. Local knowledge is required to guesstimate how much time to add for the bus to reach your stop. Gran Canaria is slightly different, where the individual time tables list approximate stop times at that specific spot. Very approximate times. As in give or take 20 minutes before or after… Better lie back and enjoy the wait. The bus ride to Telde lasted 1,5h and followed the coastal road, through small uninteresting towns, along a bleak landscape, mostly made of fissure vents. This creates a crumpled cookie look. It is written that until the conquest, Gran Canaria had extensive forests. Continuous logging, land divisions, agriculture and so on made Gran Canaria the most deforested of the Canary islands. It took till the 20th century to start replanting on the summits. Add onto that some forlorn greenhouses covered in dust, the canvas torn in tatters. Clearly deserted for a while. Desolate… Telde itself held little appeal. We finished our Decathlon shopping and went back to where we came from.
A more interesting ride was the bustrip from Pasito Blanco to Puerto de Mogan. Driving at high speed over the winding coastal roads, wondering when the driver is going to miss a turn and send bus and passengers straight to the bottom of the ocean. It crossed our minds that in times of terror it might be wise to verify that your bus driver is a local Spaniard and not an ISIS convert on a suicide mission. As ISIS always seems to be looking for new strategies to lash at Westerners, taking out a busload of unsuspecting tourists on their well-deserved holiday in a seemingly safe European holiday destination, would really achieve that aim…
The bus ride took us past touristic coastal towns, with one holiday resort stacked on top of the next. No local housing, only huge white high rise buildings, with or without swimming pool and fake grass, but all rooms offering a clear blue ocean view. From the sea it looked like the barren volcanic landscape developed a unique skin cancer in the last decades. Proliferating white growths everywhere, mountains and bays completely covered in huge tourism complexes. Mass tourism at its best…