I sit, handwriting this, with my trusty paper-and-pen combo, in a very unfamiliar Spanish territory.
I have probably been to the Canary Islands in the long, distant, past, but I can’t remember any details. Or events. Or dates.
I came here on an impulse.
At the time of writing, I have a week before I am due to start a new contract.
And the rain has been cold, and wet, and elements of this dark, damp, and chilly November struck several chords with the words of William Bruce Rose, Jr (Axl, to his friends).
So I opened up my Expedia account and a very short while later I touched down on the island of Gran Canaria.
(Trivia time: Which breed of animal gave its name to the Canary Islands? And the answer is dogs. The name is derived from the Latin label ‘Canaris’. You’re welcome)
I picked up the hire car and almost dropped off the face of the island.
The setting of the cliff-top hotel, 55km away from the airport, on the north-western side of the island, is gorgeous.
There is no town here. Just a very small fishing port, a 15-minute walk away.
This place is quiet.
I have slept, swum, walked, and read, a lot.
I have climbed a mountain (in a hiking, not a rock-climbing, or an emotional, or a mental kind of way).
And I have eaten well.
My first night here I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food was good, but at €20 per head, it was overpriced.
The hotel itself is lovely. The staff are polite and charming. And the pools are exactly what one would want.
Quiet, clean, immaculately maintained.
I guess that the hotel is about 40% occupied, this being the quiet season.
But despite occasional cloudy spells, the daytime temperature has hovered around the 24c mark, and even at 8pm it has seldom dropped below 22c.
And one can burn, even through the deceptive cloud.
On my second night I ate at a dockside restaurant. The food was slightly overcooked, the menu was uninspiring, though the service was good. €15 for three courses, plus a soft drink and a Cola Cao to finish the evening.
The next day I climbed that mountain.
In the evening I drove out of the village, and headed a little way up the GC200.
At the first major junction, I took the first roundabout exit and headed inland, and towards a slightly dingy-looking agri-industrial town.
The bumpy, unlit road seemed unwelcoming, and added a slight edge to the experience.
I saw the half-lit ‘Restaurant, Bar, Pizzeria’ neon sign, and pulled up outside.
A handful of old men stood outside the door, smoking; forming a ring of tobacco fug to be breached, to gain access.
Inside, the short, fat barman was talking about football to three men and a small boy, who were seated at the counter. Pastries were dipped in to coffee and swallowed, as they listened.
“I’ll serve the extrano“, he said, “And then we’ll talk about why they’re so good right now”.
I dirtied up my accent, dropped a few consonants to working-class regional, and asked for a coffee and some water.
Eyebrows were raised. My drinks arrived.
“And a vegetable pizza, with no chicken or tuna” (because I have been caught in that Spanish trap before).
More eyebrows around the bar.
I took my drinks to an empty table and sneaked a photo.
Football was revisited by the barflies. I pulled my book out of my rucksack.
Not much time passed before the barman brought my food.
He asked where I was from.
“Yo soy de Galés“.
“Oh, you are English.”
I said I was to being English as he was to being from Madrid.
He laughed, gave me my cutlery and left me to my food.
Halfway through my meal, one of the men at the bar turned and asked me how difficult it is to be driving on the wrong side of the road all of the time.
“At least we drive on just one side of the road. We don’t play chicken down the middle.”
They laughed. I ate.
With my food gone, and coffee and water drunk, I walked up to the bar.
“You want the bill now?” I was asked.
“No, I want a Cola Cao and some pastry.”
I sat at my table, sipped my hot drink and dunked, and ate, my pastries.
I was asked about Gareth Bale – because he is also de Galés, I suppose – and I said I didn’t earn enough money to take any interest in football.
I asked how the Spanish Rugby Team was doing, and asked how Spain could get so thoroughly arse-kicked in the Rugby World Cup (and thereore eleminated from the competition), by both Georgia and Russia.
They looked at me as if I had just asked them to explain the LBW rule.
Later, when I asked how much I owed, the barman was pushed out of the way and his wife totted up my bill.
€8.50, for two cofees, a bottle of water, a large pizza, a Cola Cao, and some pastries.
That’s half the cost of the dockside meal last night, and almost 1/3rd of the cost of the hotel meal.
Alright, the surroundings weren’t up to much, and the bar – and the people in it – were a little more ‘edgy’ than most tourists would appreciate.
And the conversations were a little more rough, and… basic.
But the locals were genuine, and interesting, and they found me to be harmless.
I found them to be likeable, and without frills, and lacking all manor of pretention.
So tomorrow night I’m going to go even further afield, just to see what else I can find.