Friday, February 18, 2011

Hola! Bus Tour of Gran Canaria

Day 19

No pix today due to minor technical glitch. I'll recoup asap.

Actually, I’ve lost track of the days, but my camera thinks it’s Day 19, so I’ll go with that. Took a bus tour today. After bludgeoning the tour people until they confessed the location of the pick-up point, we were collected on the highway, not far from our hotel and taken up the coast road. The way led past the Aeroporto de Gran Canaria to Las Palmas (home to half the island’s 800,000 people) then branched off onto twisty mountain road to wander south across the middle of the island. The road, though narrow and serpentine, was in excellent condition and everyone honked before entering the numerous blind curves, so the bus didn’t have to pause too many times for oncoming traffic.

We climbed 600 meters to the town of Arucas to visit the modern gothic cathedral of St. John the Baptist there, made entirely of blue Basalt, a volcanic rock common in the region. Boasting a 60 meter high tower, it was built in the 1900s by a protégé of the great Spanish architect Gaudi who started the famous church in Madrid, it’s style is rare in modern churches.

Thus blessed, we forged on to the nearby Arehucas rum distillery, with the biggest vaults in Europe. You could tell that this was the highlight of the tour for some of our fellow riders. Our guide explained that this was the factory outlet, so prices were good AND that there is no Value-Added Tax in the Canaries. This tax, akin to GST, is the bane of Europe with rates ranging from 19 to 28%, all hidden in the price tag of the items for sale.

Made from sugarcane, rum is popular here, particularly the one infused with Palm honey. Apparently sugarcane was grown here at one point, and when the Spaniards developed their interests in the Caribbean in the 16th century, they introduced it there and discontinued growing it here because it is so hard on the soil. Wild canes still grow here, but no sugarcane. Nonetheless, the rum is excellent and available in vintages of 1, 3, 7 and 12 years. We saw some barrels (made of American oak) that had been brewing for over 20 years, but they had family names on them and were private reserve. They make a variety of other spirits, including Tia Maria, Triple Sec and a delightful banana liqueur. Reggie (a non-drinker) overcome by the endless sampling, bought four bottles of assorted booze and since we can only take two home, I’ll have to buckle down and do my part to uphold the rules.

After staggering, clinking back to the bus, we ploughed on to a quaint little mountain village, ominously named Teror. Turned out it was a pilgrimage site in honour of Our Lady of the Pines, so named because she appeared atop a pine tree. The church was lovely and bedecked with silver and gold (no doubt plundered from the New World). Beside it towered a 300 year old Norfolk Island Pine. No idea how it got there.

Lunch followed, at what appeared to be a tiny roadside restaurant clinging to the cliffs. It was much larger inside than anticipated and easily swallowed up three busloads of tourists. We were treated to our choice of soup or salad, fish, pork or beef with wine and ice cream or fruit desert for 10E.

Then on through the arid interior of the island to the lookout point at Roque Nublo from which the 12,000-foot volcano on nearby Tenerife Island could be seen, the road topping out at 1700 meters altitude. More hairy road followed with what looked like 1000-foot deep chasms ever near, to the interior of the southern chaldera of the island. Surrounded by a ten-mile ring of peaks, the chaldera was formed by the collapse of the volcano rather than an explosion, and the interior is so jumbled that it needs to be pointed out. The dry country abounded with almond, lemon, orange and plum trees, cacti of all description including the century plant (although no Tequila is produced on the island), pine trees (they’ve been planting 200,000 a year for fifty years to solidify the soil in the highlands) and of course, palms. There’s even a Canary date palm, though the dates are inedible.

Home at last to tuck into the honey rum and prepare for an early pizza night, the regularly scheduled event being upstaged by tomorrow night’s Tappas Night with Flamenco guitarist. Yee-Haw!

Oh yes, the translation of Gran Canaria? Big Dog Land.

Buenos Tardes

1 comment:

  1. Hello good people!

    Sounds like an interesting day! Basalt, as you may know, is a fine-grained "mafic" (composed of the heavier, darker magnesium and iron silicate minerals), and is a volcanic "extrusive" rock, having cooled quickly, resulting in fine-grained crystals. Very durable....

    Tequila, of course, is name-protected by Mexican regulations (wow!- they have regulations?) and can only be called "tequila" if it is produced in the state of Jalisco from the blue agave plant. This is why "mesquite" is so-called - it is produced from blue agave but comes from a different state and therefore can't be called tequila....

    OK - I'm even boring myself now... LOL!

    Plus 10 here today. Slopping around in the slush trying to clear the driveways before we go back into the deepfreeze tonight... ahhh, winter in Canada!

    Enjoy, you rascals!