Wandering in Gran Canaria: Las Palmas to Santa Brígida
I’m just outside the city.
It’s hot, humid, and buggy, and I’m already regretting my decision to walk 20 kilometers this morning.
The trail is 8 inches wide, with a cliff on one side, and a wall of cactus on the other.
Not a lot of humans come this way, I guess.
In front of me, there’s a feral orange cat trying to decide which way to flee.
He looks at me, then at the cliff, then at the wall of cactus, then back at me. He chooses the cactus, and disappears.
I decide to keep walking, but after a couple more minutes the uncertainty of this tiny trail plus the possibility of rolling downhill into the banana farm at the bottom of the valley convinces me to turn back.
Foiled by a gate.
Leaving Las Palmas
Things started out pretty well this morning. I got up early and started walking at 8:15, headed for Santa Brígida.
It’s just a spot on the map. The bus stop has a 5-star review on Google Maps. They don’t do reviews of towns, so I just assume the bus stop is a good metaphor for the rest of it.
Anyway, I leave the AirBnB at the beach at 8.15, and by about 9:30 I’m walking through the typical giant blocks of flats that are in the suburbs of every Spanish city, already thinking about beer, and wondering why all the street-sweepers are gathering up leaves using huge palm fronds.
I guess it’s a Las Palmas thing, because they’ve got brooms right there in their little carts. They’re just using the palm fronds instead.
Past the blocks of flats, there’s a little football stadium (4.3 stars), and then more blocks of flats.
I’d imagined myself strolling through dark-green forests by this point, but I’m still out in the sun with a few little trees for no-shade.
It might just be a long, long morning.
After Las Palmas, you get to another town called Almatriche, and after that, to Almatriche Bajo.
If Bruce Springsteen were from the Canary Islands, he’d have recorded at least a dozen songs about young people yearning to escape from Almatriche Bajo: more dusty blocks of flats on a dismal desert hillside, with staircases instead of cross streets.
One bar (3.6 stars), one minimarket.
In any case, I’m impressed with all the technological miracles in my pocket. My phone, mostly, and the hiking app that got me all the way out of Las Palmas without any problems.
Off to actual nature, I think.
On the outside of Almatriche Bajo, though, the app hits a gate: quite literally, my walk is foiled by the fact that there’s a tall metal gate with spikes on top across the route my phone is telling me to take.
I look around. Cliff. Wall of cacti. I sit down to stew for a minute, looking for alternative routes, and after a while a guy comes along.
“Señor, is there any way to get through this gate?”
“Not without permission from the owner of the banana farm.”
He pulls out a wad of keys, opens the gate, and strolls through, locking it behind him. The banana farm is beautiful and green, at the bottom of the little valley in front of me, but apparently I can’t go across or around it.
I do notice a little side trail, though. Which is where our article begins: that cliff, that wall of spiny prickly-pear cacti, that feral cat.
All the technology in my pocket, but I’m foiled by some rocks, some metal spikes and some cacti.
I might just have to get the bus back to Las Palmas and call it a day.
I wander back to Almatriche Bajo.
If my plan for the day was to walk to a random point on the map and then take the bus back, and in the end I walk to a different random point and take the bus back, have I really failed at anything meaningful?
Because, let’s admit it: hiking is pretty pointless anyway.
You can walk in a straight line, up, down, or in a circle, but essentially the activity is the same. You walk, you see stuff, then you go home… having seen stuff, and done a bit of cardio.
So what if that kiddy park in Almatriche Bajo were the random point on the map I decided on as the end of my route?
Or what if it were that bar over there, Casa Josefina?
I sit in the kiddy park to contemplate my situation.
I’m ready to give up. But apparently, I’m pretty far from any bus stop going back to Las Palmas. My only options – according to the all-powerful Google Maps – are to ride a bicycle 38 minutes, or take a car for 12 minutes, then catch a series of buses down a series of obscure rural highways, until I’m back in civilization.
Seems like I was just in Las Palmas a few minutes ago, but now I’m officially in the middle of nowhere.
A girl steps out of one of the dusty blocks of flats across from the kiddy park.
She’s wearing one of those see-through lingerie tops that sorta kinda looks like a regular top, and a pair of silky gold short shorts, and she is, as the expression goes, hot.
Not hot like I’m hot, because I’ve just walked 10 kilometers in the tropics. The other kind of hot.
I look at her.
“What do people do for fun in Almatriche Bajo?” I think of asking her.
But I don’t. Too grammatically complex to do in Spanish right now. Plus, I’m starting to feel the first symptoms of heat stroke.
If this were a Bruce Springsteen song, I’d actually ask her.
And our eyes would meet, over our facemasks, and we’d fall in love, and I’d sweep her into my broken-down Chevrolet.
We’d drive off to some better town, where I’d get a job working the night shift at a steel mill, and she’d pursue whatever kind of dreams that girls who wear lingerie tops instead of real clothes have for themselves, and it’d all be appropriately Springsteeny, despite the dismal background of semi-post-industrial near-the-equator island living.
But this is reality, and I’ve only listened to about two Springsteen songs.
I don’t know how they end.
So I look at her, and she carefully avoids looking at me, and it’s probably for the best, because I don’t even have a bus ticket back to Las Palmas and anyway, Morena’s people gave up on polygamy like last year or something, so the “two wives” thing wouldn’t go over very well with her family back home.
A quick guide to giving up
So I watch her – the hot girl – walk away, and I decide to give up on walking to Santa Brígida.
But back on Google Maps, I find that giving up is still a matter of transferring between 5 different buses, none of which stop near here.
Deep in thought, and pissed at both metal gates and pocket-sized supercomputers, I have a better idea: I’m going to GIVE UP ON GIVING UP.
It looks like there’s an alternative route along the highway, and it might get me killed, but who cares?
I stand up. And after a long swallow of water, I’m on my way to that arbitrary point on the map again.
Four minutes later, I see my plan is absurd: the highway is barely two lanes, with lots of hills and blind curves that’d certainly get me killed.
I sit down again, in the shade of a palm tree, and again I contemplate giving up. But hey, I’m not the kind of guy who gives up, am I? I’m the kind of guy who gives up on giving up, and when the going gets tough…
Looks like there’s a second alternative route, along small streets that go more or less parallel to the highway. I’ll try that. Whatever happens and wherever I end up, it can’t be more than 5 bus transfers to get back to Las Palmas.
Fuck it. I’ll give up later.
Soon, I’m wandering through giant fields of cacti, along narrow roads where fat mustachioed truckdrivers stare blankly out their windshields as they nearly run me over.
And soon I’m in Siete Puertas.
Onward and upward
Not much to say about Siete Puertas, except that they have one bar (again, 4.3 stars), and that I don’t understand the local language.
I assume it’s technically Spanish, but the burly guy who’s missing all 4 front teeth is chatting at the barmaid and I understand almost nothing. All I get is the verb “trabajar”, variously conjugated.
After the beer – 1,80€ – it’s more hills, more roads, more sweat… All the way to Santa Brígida.
My real arbitrary goal is to walk all the way across the island.
Why? Because it’s there. And this walk is about 20% of the way.
Google Maps is guiding me now.
And if I could rate Google Maps on Google Maps, I’d give Google Maps 3 stars because it’s usually helpful but sometimes a pain in the ass.
But this time it’s helpful, and soon, I pass the sign that tells me I’m entering town.
Santa Brígida has a sidewalk. Then a tattoo parlor. I’m already back in civilization, it would seem. There’s a Chinese restaurant (one star on Google maps) and a couple of places with 4-point-something.
I randomly pick one of the four-point-something places for lunch, and then randomly select things on their menu del día.
I’m so hungry I could eat goat meat (a Canary Islands specialty, incidentally).
The first dish comes. It’s a mackerel salad with olives, and it sucks. The second dish is green beans with bacon, and it – as the expression goes – both sucks and blows.
But I’m hungry, and it’s got calories, so it’s fine. I pay, and leave, walk to the plaza outside the adorable country church.
There, I devour the ham sandwich I have in my backpack – mostly to get the taste of mackerel and green beans out of my mouth. But also because I’m still hungry.
The plaza is ridiculously peaceful. Just the church and two huge, awesome trees.
Bells ring in the tower every 15 minutes. It’s idyllic. So peaceful, in fact, that after a while I realize it’s been 3 bell rings – 45 minutes – since I last saw another human being.
It’s about as quiet a moment as I’ve had all year.
I look up at the two huge awesome trees. A butterfly floats quietly before my eyes. I feel peace. Joy. Freedom.
Above all, freedom.
‘Till next time.
P.S. If anyone from Almatriche Bajo ever reads this blog – a situation so unrealistic as to be worthy of a SciFi trilogy – they’ll kick my ass… and rightly so. But honestly, it’s ironic, because I also grew up in the middle of nowhere. And at least their town has bus stops.
P.P.S. If you’re the hot girl from Almatriche Bajo who I saw this morning, hit me up on the contact form. Morena’s people might change their minds about polygamy any time, and if / when they do, we’ll all get funky together. It’ll be more Notorious BIG than Springsteen, but I’m sure you can deal. Laterz!