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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Anecdotes

Part 2 of my account of Christmas in Gran Canaria

Edit (January 9, 2009): I've uploaded more pictures in Multiply but completely forgot to link them. You can view Day 1 and 2 pictures here; Day 3 and 4 pictures here; and finally Day 5 and 6 pictures here.

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Yes, my dears. Still more Gran Canaria, I'm afraid. But before you jump to the next blog, let me assure you that this is easy, reader-friendly reading.

I don't read my previous travel blog entries all that often, but I would guess that I've mostly written them in themes – talking about places, history, food, activities – or chronologically. Somehow, I just don't think that style suits this case very well, which is why I have been taking days reflecting about how to blog about this experience. Everything in this trip could be characterized by a word: spontaneity. Last minute booking, no specific plans... Heck, we didn't even know what hotel we would end up in (nor part of the island we would be shuttled to) until we got there! The lack of expectation surely contributed to the fact that we were pleasantly surprised with the whole vacation, but it's not enough to explain why Gran Canaria really made an impression on us.

How to blog to reflect the positive in the unplanned and spontaneous? Like when we talk about our stories, not – at least not completely – as we would write about them. ("Anecdote", from Green an- and ektodos, incidentally literally means "unpublished"). So I opted for this freer form, mostly of short and funny incidents, seldom chronological and never consciously with a overarching theme – or any full sense.

Here goes!

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1) A lechón in the bush (recycled from a family e-mail)



The Sahara sand in Maspalomas is very, very fine. I'd say it was even finer than Boracay sand or any white beach sand I've been to (we had to clean the camera after our trip there by blowing sand from the crevices of course). It was very windy on the day we visited the dunes, which is very unusual for the island. The sand was like a thin mist in the air, making some pictures there blurry. The sand in the air gets into our clothes and shoes without us even sitting on the dunes. I can just imagine how eye-irritating a real sandstorm in the Sahara would be and how much sand you get into your clothes after that!

To our surprise – clothed from top to bottom as we were with a sunhat and socks, no less; it's the desert after all – there turned out to be a lot of (I'd guess Norwegian and German) nudists by the edge of the dunes, in the half-desert area where bushes grew. Each of them would find his or her little thorny bush to hide in. They hid quite (but not totally) effectively, since you don't actually see them until you come close enough to the bush to notice a sunburned lechón-colored body. I swear some were really so bright red it looked unhealthy for them to sun some more, but that's their own business. Anyway, they must all be partly exhibitionist since a walking path actually goes through this half-desert half-bushy area – the only existing walking path if you want to avoid walking through the dunes. Marcus and I would walk and talk some and then turn our heads each time we saw these "white aborigines" appearing from nowhere, sitting in strange positions, trying to tan their butt crack or armpits. Of course we never moved close enough to invade on their privacy – they were more like 25 meters away from the path – and neither did we take pictures. Still, funny to have to turn your head suddenly away in the middle of a conversation at the sight of a lechón-person in the bush. Crazy sun worshipers!

According to an article Marcus read, it turns out that, aside from nudists, there were a lot tourists making out in the desert bushes. It's a common enough incident that the local government had come out with a statement frowning upon this. Not so much because it bothers the pedestrians in the path but because it scares the wildlife.


(2) "Agua! Agua!"




The southern part of Gran Canaria boasts of 350 sun days and a mere 15 days of rain. Just our luck that we got to experience four out of those fifteen days. On the third day of our trip, when we were about to go and walk up the mountain near our hotel, we woke up to heavy rains. "It's the worst weather we've had in the island in a long while," the receptionist was telling us days later. Our scheduled trip inland had to be canceled completely, which is why we held ourselves to the somewhat sunnier coast instead.

As it turned out, it wasn't just the occasional heavy shower; there was a storm passing through the Canaries. Beaches had red flags denoting that bathing was at one's own risk, and waves that splashed the rocks reached several meters high.

On our last day there, when we took a bus to Puerto de Mogán. Bus rides there are, by the way, a thing to experience in itself. The highway has two narrow lanes that twist along the mountain's edge. Though it differs from driver to driver, the buses usually go precariously fast. And some turns are so sharp, the bus driver has to honk while taking the corner – a car and a long bus can't fit in the same turn. Pure roller-coaster sensation.

Since it has been raining on that morning we went to Puerto de Mogán, the bus driver seemed to take it (too) easy. He was talking to a female passenger (possibly a friend of his) in Spanish, laughing out loud; turning his head to reply to her, and from time to time looking at the road. Somewhere along the road, he stopped on a bridge and seemed to jump in his seat, pointing at something. "AGUA!", he cried, pointing at the canal. His confusion to find water gushing from inland caused him to miss the next stop. A local passenger blurted out what seemed like curses; the bus driver said something back and stopped in the middle of the road; the passenger was let out jeepney-style. I understood then. It must really be true, what they say about the fifteen rain days a year.


(3) "Kaere Cristina og Marcus," or Our room smells like old toilet


On Day 4 there, when it has been raining for two mornings, the strong smell of sewage seeped from our bathroom (Hey, alliteration!). I'm a deep sleeper, so typical of me, I didn't really notice until Marcus woke me up. The smell was already kind of lingering there before we went to sleep, probably caused by the unusual amount of rains, but now the odor seemed suddenly... sharp. Alarming. We decided to change clothes and alert the reception upstairs.

The Spanish receptionist had his eyes pinned on us from when we left the elevator. "Tell me."
"Our room... it smells like sewage," Marcus explained.
"Eh?"
"It smells like, uh, sewer."
A confused look.

I racked my brains for sewer- and sewage-like synonyms. I thought of 'trash smell', which isn't quite the same thing, so I tried the next thing that came to my head.

"Our room. It smells like old toilet."
"Aaaah!"

We slept again with the bathroom door closed and we tried to avoid our apartment that morning. As promised, when we came back from our shopping tour, the technician had already done something to fix it, and the smell was gone. Someone rang the bell – another receptionist – and she presented us with a bottle of the hotel's wine and a letter in Norwegian thanking us for our understanding. "Kaere Cristina og Marcus," it introduced, addressing me by my first given name. Well. All's well that ends well, and in the end, in pseudo-Spanish, no problemo!


(4) Beware of gift-bearing salespersons, or how we took a free taxi

The Canaries strikes me as a very safe place, but if there's one thing that smells of a scam there, it's pronounced "timeshare". We were pre-warned not to be lured by timeshare salesmen, but we didn't realize it was that common until we met the salespersons.

In a nutshell, the salespersons try to sell you "membership" to a hotel or apartment, which is "yours" for one week a year. There are variants of the offer; some offer discounted stays in luxury hotels around the world for a week a year, some offer a cheaper stay in the hotels if you buy the "membership". They cost an arm and a leg, and they want you to pay on the spot, without time to think about your purchase.

We met X, a salesperson for a timeshare somewhere during one of our excursions. Actually, he realized after he tried to smalltalk us, that we weren't really the type to buy timeshares. For one thing, we're not in their age group target. For another, only one of us is full-time working. And, thirdly, neither of us are really impulse shoppers. Having no money that amounts to an arm and a leg is only one more guarantee that we can't get talked to signing anything.

"But here's the thing," he said. "You – pretend you're 29. And you – tell them you're working full time. This is only really for my points, you understand? Then you get a free taxi from here to hotel X, they give you free soft drinks, tour you there for 90 minutes and get a free gift at the end of the tour. You don't even have to say yes or sign to anything. These are only for my points. You know, my points. Okay?"

He knew from our smalltalk that hotel X was just a couple of hundred meters away from our own hotel, so what he was really trying to say was that, for getting him points, we could get a free taxi ride home to fool his colleagues into thinking that we were potential customers.

Poor, desperate guy. He was nice though. As for us, we got our taxi ride, our soft drinks, some bottled water and coffee, and two free tickets to a whole day jeep safari, all for free. Just remember never to sign anything (not that you'd buy something for 200 thousand on impulse, right?), and not to disclose any contact details. Anything they give you for free as bait to their hotel doesn't bind you to say yes to their sales offers.

The jeep safari was canceled because of the storm, but that part's not really their fault.


(5) And Christmas?


So, you must be wondering after all this: How was it to spend Christmas in the Canaries? All these stories don't seem especially Christmas-y to me. Well, you're right. Actually, Christmas seems to pass almost unmarked in the island. I say 'almost' because... well, what's the yardstick? Who said that Christmas everywhere has to be spent with shopping to intrusive music, living up to the Christmas stress, trying to beat traffic – for a fancy dinner? I'm not trying to defend my lack of Christmas socializing, but anyhow, it seemed comforting there to realize that Christmas can be spent in a somewhat – for lack of a better term – understated way.

There were some Christmas-y things, but all in kind of underplayed in comparison to how I remember it to be at home. We lay notice to locals carrying big golden boxes of something that I imagine could have been cake (in my mind, fruitcake). In the big grocery in Arguineguin, the Spaniards seemed to stock for Christmas dinner. They too decorate their houses (Santas climbing windows were the most common), and they play Spanish versions of American Christmas songs. Aside from this, the everyday pace didn't seem to change much from one day to the next. I just remembering thinking one morning, "Oh. It's Christmas eve!"

The day before Christmas eve, we walked to the summit of a nearby mountain in the morning, and in the evening, ate a huge platter of locally caught fish and seafood in the town. Everything was really good – just grilled plain, with two dipping sauces. My mouth still waters thinking about them. The service too was unbelievable – with three people serving us – and this was a mid-range restaurant! In the corner, the owner was toasting to friends, mixing business with his pre-Christmas get-together.

Christmas eve itself was spent in the quiet of our room, eating a very simple light dinner and drinking a small bottle of sparkling wine with our chocolate. Then, direct to sleep. The flight back home was on Christmas day.

2 Comments:

Anonymous sapphire said...

Wow, smells like toilet always seems to work. It's nice that reception apologized with a bottle of wine.

How was there service there in general?

And too bad about the jeep tour!

12:33 PM

 
Blogger Ahoy! said...

Smells like OLD toilet, that is! Haha! Yeah it was nice of them. The hotel was small and simple, all the rooms have a kitchen and a living room. It's also probably already seen its best days, but it was always clean and the hotel staff was really helpful with booking dinners and trips, and helping us find things in the map. They were pretty helpful people! Next time I want to try living in the capital Las Palmas, but this hotel ain't bad if I ever want to stay in Arguineguin again.

11:32 AM

 

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