Pretty only gets you so far.
Whitewashed walls, tumbling flowers and blue skies guarantee a nice shot but Gran Canaria has a dark side which I couldn’t avoid.
The Spanish on conquering the islands in the late 15th century, renamed it Land of the Dogs~ Las Canarias.
A quick tour around the island would show that it is a mass of volcanic rock and a pretty barren one at that. Living here would be tough unless they put good systems in place for the care and irrigation of plants.
Which of course, they duly did. I hadn’t seen plants grown in shade tents before. There is a swathe of shade tents behind the vans in the photo though you’ll probably just have to take my word for that.
But why go to all that effort for such a difficult piece of terrain? As the real estate agent would tell us, location, location, location.
Straddled between various trade routes from and around Africa, and later on towards the New World, merchants and traders made their fortunes here from the 15th century onwards. And even Columbus dropped into Las Palmas on his way to discover the New World.
As part of it’s dark heart, Las Canarias was also a handling centre for the slave trade, in less enlightened times. No doubt the native goanches, as they were known by the Spaniards, along with human cargo from Africa saw the Canary Islands as a place of great suffering for them.
But the Spanish brought prettiness too, in the form of their language, food, culture and architecture.
And they even managed to make the most of that volcanic rock by incorporating it into the building of their homes. You’ll see such rock scattered all along the flat roofs of houses. I am not sure why, however. A quick google suggests its for keeping the houses cool but is that right?
Time rolled on, and with changes in world demand for the supply of various goods, the Canary Islanders hit on hard times over the 20th century. In a theme common to us Irish, they headed off to other countries to seek their fortune, principally Venezuala and Cuba.
But the islands fortunes were to change once more. And once more because of its location.
In the 1980s, the advent of cheap flights from Europe meant more people could afford to travel abroad and were keen to explore beyond Spain’s Costa Brava. The fortunes of the Canary Islands were on the rise again.
Puerto Rico in Gran Canaria is an example of this. There is very little here to tell you that you are on Spanish soil.
And everything that says you’re probably from East London on your two weeks off to tan all your tatoos and drink as much beer and eat as many bacon butties as you can stomach. So the Lord Byron pub is about as poetic as it gets, and when that’s done you can head over to Fryer Tucks.
You won’t find museums and art galleries here. Or any clue about the island’s past. Instead, at the heart of the town is a mini-golf park, a very tacky shopping centre and a McDonald’s.
But, generally speaking, the people have come here to lie. All. Day. Long. On the beach or..
…beside the resort pool. Oh, and if they’re not lying there, they leave their towels on the loungers see? Just so you won’t take their spot…
But each to their own. I lay for an hour and had enough. Laying-despite my moniker-just isn’t my thing.
Obviously I am missing out on something. Everybody else was happy just to lay there and tan. And the Canary Islanders know there are big bucks in laying tourists and so they continue to build onwards and upwards.
I couldn’t help but wonder how the Islands are managing to cope with the water demand for both the building and the catering for the tourists, especially in such barren terrain.
Even to the point of sustaining a golf course in the middle of it all.
But the Canary Islands has its roots in survival at any price. Who can blame them? Surrounded by all that rock they know they are pitched between exploiting all that is there now, and having a better strategy to see them through the future.
Yes, it’s all very pretty. But at what price?