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Posts Tagged ‘Gran Canaria’

Walking the streets of Puerto de la Cruz around midnight last night, you’d have been forgiven for wondering if some giant, flesh-eating plants had invaded the town leaving the streets bereft of its citizens. But there’d be two vital pieces of information you’d be missing. Firstly, much of the population were nursing the hangover from hell after a full day of partying at the Fiestas Del Carmen on Tuesday and secondly, those who were still capable of dancing were all being held hostage at Plaza Europa by a diminutive African woman named Angélique Kidjo.

After the excesses of Tuesday, it took a Herculean feat of will to drag myself away from the prospect of a comfy sofa and a night in front of the box last night, but someone has to do it…
Bitching about the fact that there was no break between fiestas at this time of year and sounding like Victor Meldrew in knickers, I headed down to town at around 9pm for the opening night of the annual Jazz & Mas concerts.
Arriving in Plaza Europa, some hundred or so chairs were laid out theatre-style, most of them already occupied. The stage was set outside the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) building, lined by bright green kiosks enticing us to piensa en verde (think green) and beyond the stage large Heineken banners fluttered in the sea breeze like prayer flags calling the faithful to imbibe.

Yul Ballesteros

Jack and I positioned ourselves standing a metre or so behind the chairs, so that we could easily access side of stage for photos, and berated the use of staid seating for a concert as we watched a more mature crowd jostle for spare chairs.

First up was celebrated local(ish) lad, Yul Ballesteros, fresh from the New York modern Jazz scene. Born in Gran Canaria, this young man has been wowing New York with his guitar prowess and last night, it was easy to hear why. His improvised style may not be everyone’s first choice of easy listening but he certainly pleased the jazz aficionado audience last night. His set lasted for over an hour and had Jack and I doing a U-turn on our earlier diss’ of the seating arrangements as our backs, still exhausted from Tuesday, began to register painful indignation at this abuse.
Feeling slightly guilty, I didn’t join in with the random cries of Otra when Yul and his quartet left the stage.

Angélique Kidjo

Muttering to each other about only staying to watch a bit of the next performance, we watched a small African woman with close-cropped grey hair; flared loons split from the knee down and ankle boots, take to the stage. Unaccompanied, she split the night with a voice so powerful and sweet that it brought tears to the eyes. She sang her song in Swahili, keeping time with a soft rhythmic tapping on her thigh; this tiny figure on a huge stage which she filled with her presence. In an instant, she had captured the 500 strong audience and held them in her thrall.

She ended her song to tumultuous applause and immediately went into a fast tempo African number, a fusion of funk and soul to the beat of African drums, her body gyrating and stomping in a dance display of pure vitality and joy. That was it. The onlookers from the back surged forward to surround the seating area, dancing like they’d just discovered how good it was. Soon the ranks broke again and a tide of dancing bodies swept to front of stage as Angélique lifted every single individual up and sent their spirits soaring through the night.

The fact that she spoke entirely in English, most of which would have been lost on them, did nothing to diminish Angélique’s hold on her audience as she told us about how her father had introduced his children to the world by bringing them music from all the places he could never afford to send them to; Europe, America, India – musical influences that she now melted and fused with her native African beats to produce her high energy, compelling songs.

Our broken backs now forgotten, we watched, sang, danced and laughed as Angélique held us hostage late into the night. By the time we left, a good percentage of the audience were up on stage with this incredible woman, helping her to celebrate her fiftieth birthday by dancing to the drums of her childhood which echoed through the empty streets and followed us all the way back to the car.

If you ever get a chance to go and see Angélique Kidjo – do it.  It’s not just a concert, it’s a life-affirming experience.

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A couple of weeks ago The Times Online picked up on a survey by the online travel agent sunshine.co.uk which stated that Brits were shunning Spain because it no longer felt ‘foreign’ enough and last week I posed the question ‘How far do you have to travel before you feel ‘foreign’?

Oddly enough, barely had that question left my keyboard when I found myself on the end of a commission that required me to travel to the capital city of Las Palmas on the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria, and I’m ashamed to say that this was my first visit there.
Sitting on the BinterCanarias inter-island plane as we skipped across the small gap that separates the islands, I tried to analyze why it was that, in over six years of living and working in the Canary Islands, I had become so familiar with the Western Isles and yet remained a virtual stranger to the eastern island of Gran Canaria.

Triana District, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

There has always been rivalry between the Eastern and the Western Canary Islands. Tenerife, once capital city to the entire archipelago, now heads up the four Western Isles while Las Palmas de Gran Canaria heads up the Eastern Isles of Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuertaventura. The Cabildo (Island Government) may divide its time and its residence equally between the two cities but there, the sharing ends. In terms of their populations, the 62km between them might just as well be 6,000km and for the fans of their rival football teams, that still wouldn’t be far enough.
So it seems that on some sub-conscious level, I’ve been sucked into this inherent division, always looking to the west and never to the east. Until last week.

The journey was so short that it didn’t feel as if I’d left Tenerife at all and yet, when I landed in Las Palmas, I felt I’d arrived in a foreign city.
The first thing that struck me was the shabbiness of its airport which was in stark contrast to the style and elegance of Tenerife’s North Airport. Even as the bus pulled out of the airport, the landscape was barren and unwelcoming. As first impressions go, this wasn’t a good one.

The old quarter of Vegueta

But by the time we reached the city, my impressions had been turned around.
The first thing that struck me was the vibrant yet laid back atmosphere and its multi-cultural and predominantly younger, more Bohemian population than the more business-oriented Santa Cruz.
Next came the diversity of snack bars, restaurants and shops. To me, it seemed like there was a reverse ratio of traditional Canarian cuisine to International menus with its neighbouring capital. Here, I could see a proliferation of Japanese, Italian, French, Belgian, Venezuelan, Cuban restaurants and many, many more interspersed with a smattering of traditional restaurants.
The sounds were different too. Instead of every doorway emitting Latino sounds, Jazz, Blues, Classical, Rock and even Indie joined the Latino ranks.

In the old quarter of Vegueta I found a city older than its years with more beautiful architecture crammed into one small space than I’ve seen in much of Santa Cruz. A maze of narrow cobbled streets lined with tall, grand houses spiral out from the Santa Ana Cathedral concealing hidden gems of boutiques and jewellery shops and joining leafy plazas like dot to dots.

Playa de Las Canteras - one of Spain's top urban beaches

But it wasn’t until I reached the 9km golden stretch of Playa de Las Canteras that I got a real feel for this exciting city as there, shimmering in the heat haze was Las Palmas’ pulsating urban beach. Like a mini-Copacabana, the sand thronged with city dwellers and workers enjoying the warm winter sun while behind them, the endless promenade buzzed with café life.

It seems to me that Playa de Las Canteras is one of the main factors that make Las Palmas feel so very different from Santa Cruz. The presence of a beach within the city itself gives the place an entirely different ambience; a place which blends work, relaxation and tourism in a way that’s not possible in Santa Cruz.

And it makes this city neighbour of mine feel very foreign indeed – a feeling I intend to rectify, even if my fellow Tinerfeños cast me as a traitor!

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It’s not often that I get assignments quite so glamorous as last week’s: fly to Gran Canaria for a day to interview rising stars of the Spanish Indie Rock scene and get photos of the city. I didn’t need to be asked twice.

I’m very used to seeing the small inter-island aircraft of BinterCanarias that pass by on the blue horizon out to sea several times a day between Tenerife North Airport and La Gomera, but I’ve never actually been on one, before last Thursday that is.

The first surprise for me was the ease of their online booking service; Internet-based services are still something of a rarity here in the Canary Islands and ones that actually work are even scarcer. I booked the tickets and even checked in online, printing off my own boarding cards.

The vast majority of visitors to Tenerife fly into its South Airport so most of them never get to see the elegantly sophisticated North Airport. Light and airy with panoramic views over the Anaga Mountains on one side and the runway on the other, the airport is mainly geared towards domestic, Spanish clientele. It’s a lovely place to linger over coffee even if you’re not flying!
We parked the car and headed into the terminal for the 10am flight to Gran Canaria. As I’d already checked in, we simply went straight to gate where, after a cursory glance at passports and resident’s certificates, we were onto the runway bus with the day’s assorted commuters, most of whom were glued to their mobile phones. Just before the bus arrived at the aircraft there was a chorus of jingles as mobiles were switched off.

Most seats on the small, turbo-prop aircraft were filled as we settled down and within minutes were airborne and heading out over La Laguna. The stewardess came round with complimentary daily Spanish newspapers, then a chocolate BinterCanarias biscuit which was possibly the best choccie biscuit I’ve ever eaten and finally a glass of water just in time before we began our descent. It felt like we’d only been flying for ten minutes and here we were, banking over Las Palmas on our descent into Gran Canaria!

Mission completed, we returned to the Gran Canaria airport (not a patch on Tenerife’s airports!) for the 9pm return flight which was filled with (mainly male) commuters. Once again, barely had we swallowed our lip-smackingly good BinterCanarias biscuits and glass of water when we were landing at Tenerife North Airport and transferring to the runway bus amidst a chorus of mobile phone jingles as personal communications were restored.

The only blip on the otherwise seamless and efficient airport experience came when we had to pay the €10.60 all-day ticket for car parking. The machine only took €5 and €10 notes and we only had a €20 so we had to pay at the cashier. Unfortunately, most of our fellow passengers were using credit cards to charge their parking to the company expenses account which meant we spent almost as long in the queue as it had taken us to fly back from Gran Canaria!

For anyone considering island-hopping in the Canaries this year, I can unreservedly recommend BinterCanarias; they’re efficient and friendly and twice as fast as, and only marginally more expensive than, the ferries.
I can also unreservedly recommend Las Palmas de Gran Canaria…but that’s another story.

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As the coach slowly inched its way through the police lines the crowd surged forward in a frenzy of excitement, many of them had their faces painted blue and their lips pursed against small blue trumpets that emitted a level of sound far beyond their size; klaxons in cardboard disguise. From where I was standing I couldn’t see the occupants of the vehicle as they disembarked and hurried into the side door to the stadium. All I could see was the sea of arms rising and falling as if the coach was Mecca.
Moments later a second coach arrived and the crowd surged again to greet it. From somewhere behind me an egg was thrown which hit the windscreen and exploded against the expanse of glass. Behind the wheel, the coach driver calmly pulled back on the washer lever and the giant wipers moved over and back in the jet stream, clearing all traces of the offending missile. The horns grew louder, accompanied by jeers, and small plastic water bottles began to fly over my head as the first of UD Las Palmas’ players climbed down the steps and walked defiantly slowly towards the stadium door.

I was beginning to wonder if I’d made a wise choice in deciding to pay my first visit to watch my adopted homeland’s football team, CD Tenerife, on the day they were playing neighbouring island and arch rivals UD Las Palmas from Gran Canaria.

After much dithering about and one short sojourn in the wrong section, I finally found my seat, much to the relief of the faces that had been charting my progress with the same expression that I reserve for those people on an aircraft for whom the seat numbering appears unfathomable, and settled down to enjoy the spectacle.
With 20 mins to go before kick-off there was plenty of time to gawp around and take in my fellow spectators. There were family outings with mum, dad and kids all equipped with scarves, shirts and those little blue trumpets which were beginning to get on my nerves. Behind me, a row of pensioners were chatting excitedly and swinging their scarves around over their heads in a manner that threatened to dislocate shoulder joints if they weren’t careful. And then I noticed something really odd; almost every single person I could see was eating sunflower seeds, biting onto the husks and spitting them out before chomping on the seed within. I was fascinated. I suddenly became aware of the ground which was littered with discarded husks and more were fluttering down from the terrace above.
“Good god!” I thought, “not quite the meat pies and pasties of their UK counterparts.”
Then, as CD Tenerife arrived onto the pitch, blue and white ticker-tape rained down from above, settling on heads and seats and the stadium erupted into cheers and horn blowing, the terraces becoming a writhing mass of blue and white flags and banners.

CD Tenerife vs UD Las PalmasIt was an exhilarating experience. Ninety minutes of flares, horns, cheers, referee abuse and excitement. The pensioners behind me made the most vocal noise and swore more than anyone else and the family in front very nearly had their trumpets mysteriously stolen when they went for toilet breaks and more cola at half time.
The result was 2-2; a pleasing result for UD Las Palmas and a disappointing one for CD Tenerife. As I made my way to the exit, ankle deep in ticker-tape, I felt I’d discovered another facet to the Tinerfeños; their passion for football, the extent of their rivalry with Gran Canaria and their voracious penchant for sunflower seeds; I can’t see that one catching on at Britain’s football grounds, can you?

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