Our book
Vagamonde: Chasing Euphoria and Getting Hit by Reality
is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr,
Amazon.de, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es
In Montreal: at Bertrand bookstores

Monday, January 31, 2011

Perched atop the Canarian clouds

In the last post, we were on the ferry from Laâyoune and Las Palmas was off in the distance. Now we are ready to get off the boat. So, we head to the car deck to get our bikes. They're still there and in one piece. After almost suffocating from the truck exhaust, we get to the customs line up. It takes forever. Thank god we were able to eat the night before.

With all the bureaucracy done, we get our stupid passport stamp and roll into Las Palmas. The place is spotless. Every store we can think of is within a 10 minute walk. We wander around, looking for a place to park our asses and stumble onto the main beach. It too is spotless. Not a speck of garbage in sight. There's even a sand Zamboni combing it every morning.

Every hundred metres, there's a shower where you can wash the sand off your feet before you put on your shoes. There's even a woman getting completely naked to change into her bikini. Nobody cares. As we push our bikes on the promenade, herds of kids run past, not even giving us a glimpse. Our anonymity is back.

We spend three days in Las Palmas, running errands. One of them is to hit the local marina. The next leg of the trip will be heading east. We have this crazy idea to catch a ride on a sailboat to Greece or Turkey. Having a look around, we find that we are not the only ones. There are at least three posters of people trying to do the same thing. But for us, it's a bit of a long shot. Most sailboats are going west to South America or the Caribbean. On top of it, we have two bikes. We can always dream I guess.

Gran Canaria has a wide selection of free camping spots. So, we decide to hit the road to check them out. Gran Canaria is extremely mountainous. By now, that should set off warning bells, but it didn't. We should have left at six in the morning. But instead, at noon, we start a 35 km climb. The ride takes us through windy roads and into the clouds ... and eventually above them. With the night approaching fast, we are concerned that we won't make the campsite in time. We push on and the road keeps climbing like the Tower of Babel, all the way to the heavens. With 4 km to go, it's all systems stop. These are times where you need a gift from the gods. Wouldn't it be nice to have a large, empty van. Sure enough one drives up 5 minutes later. The guy agrees to take us the rest of the way. Both our bikes fit in perfectly. We don't even have to remove our panniers. The rest is a big feeling of relief as we roll into the campsite. Muchas gracias Maximo Ramos Talavera for giving us a push up the hill!

Michèle comments: Our delay in setting off that morning was partly due to making a stop at the Cabildo (government) office to get a permit for the free camping. These campsites are in nature park reserves on the island. While Benoit watched the bikes, I went in armed with only a smattering of phrases in Spanish. I tried to ask for an open permit for all the campsites on the island, but it doesn't work that way. It is kind of like reserving a hotel, where you have to specify dates and the particular camping area. Oh and another thing, you cannot have a permit on a major holiday or the day before the holiday, e.g., December 24, 25, 31, January 1, 5 and 6, the latter being the Fiesta de Reyes. Finally, I was able to get a pre-Christmas permit for the closest camping area to Las Palmas that is not for caravans only, and a post-Christmas pre-New Year permit for the next closest. It was kind of sad after all that effort with obtaining a permit to see the beauty of these nature park reserves marred by the presence of a gazillion cigarette butts and bits of broken glass. It makes one wonder who these people are who think, "What will I do this weekend? Oh I know, I'll go into some remote pristine nature spot and smoke a ton of ciggies, butt them out on the forest floor, whilst smashing some bottles."

In the morning, the sky is clear and the island reveals itself. We are up about 1700 metres. The view is stunning. It doesn't even look real.

However, it's was only for one night. Even though these campsites are free, you do require a permit, which seems to be rarely checked. Anyways, we headed back down part of the way to a town called Tejeda. There, we meet up with Jana (who we actually met in a hostel in Las Palmas) and Ian.

We all spent Christmas in the hotel restaurant and finally had the few too many drinks I've been longing for.

A few days later, it's back on the bikes. Being anonymous again and camping up in the mountains is giving us a chance to reflect on things. The big issue of the last six months was that Michèle had to leave the Schengen area. We thought we would figure something out, but instead, we got propelled the wrong way. The idea was always to go east, but up to now, we've been telling people that our world trip is more of a zig zag. We've been going more west than east. There is a general feeling of aimlessness. Something tells me that this is contributing to the travel fatigue. Even here, it is lingering. Just the other day, for no apparent reason, I felt that I couldn't go on. That living this way is stressful and pointless. Barely able to do 20 km, we pitch the tent and head straight to bed. We have a two hour nap, wake up, make dinner and head right back to the tent. We end up sleeping another 12 hours. In the morning, our tent perched on top of a cliff, we look out at the open ocean, more than a thousand metres below. Off in the distance is the perky nipple you wouldn't see in Morocco; Tenerife's highest peak. Stretching 3718 metres straight out of the ocean. Then, the conclusion comes to me. Time to get back on track.

Michèle comments: Our original plan was to start in the UK and then just keep cycling east across Europe, through Turkey, and beyond. We first got off track when we decided to start our trip in Iceland. For that, I blame the outrageous prices of flights from Canada to the UK at the time. The cheapest flights that we could find had a stopover in Reykjavik Iceland. Then Benoit said, Why just stop over in Iceland? Why not cycle in Iceland to start? And it was as if a bright light came on in both our imaginations. Unfortunately for me, Iceland is part of the Schengen agreement. Each day in that magical country was ticking away at my allowed 90 days of every six months. Our time cycling in England, Scotland and Morocco (all non Schengen) was more than enough to "reset" the visa clock. Now that we are in the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain, which is part of Schengen, my 90 days of this next set of six months has been ticking away.

So, it's four days of camping in the clouds. The majority of the time was spent enjoying the view from our spot that looks out onto a ridge stretching out to the sea. I followed the ridge all the way to the end. At one point it's sheer cliffs on either side and all you can see the ocean one kilometre down. The view is mind blowing and unobstructed.

Michèle comments: I knew very little about the Canary Islands before arriving. Mostly I had heard about crowded resorts and naked tourists. But like most places, the tourist trade can mask the truth of a place. On the island of Gran Canaria, for example, the tourist mecca is in the south. So we have stayed in the north. I have also heard that cyclists use the Canary Islands as a training ground: when it is winter in Europe, they come to ride up and down the mountain roads. As you might have guessed, those cyclists are not riding heavy bicycles with steel frames and loaded down with panniers. On our approach to Tejeda, a village way up in the mountains, we even saw some cyclists getting off a bus with their bicycles so they only have to ride DOWN the big hills! I like seeing cyclists on the road, and I wave to them with a cheery "¡Hola!" as if they are friends. Some smile and wave back. But the ones wearing logo-covered spandex often just look annoyed.

These four days of camping seem to have realigned the planets. We now feel focused. The idea is to go back to Las Palmas and find a cheap apartment where we will stay for a month, rest and get organized.


  1. Quel contraste avec le Maroc ! (S.)

  2. Salut Seb. En effet, c'était le choque culturel dans le sens inverse.