Sunday, February 26, 2012

A trip to Big Parrot, Giant Cockatiel, no wait...GRAN CANARIA

I have just returned from a great, relaxing, and sunny week in Gran Canaria, Spain. The Canary Islands are off the west coast of Africa, but belong to Spain. Click here for a quick map.  If you are wondering, (and why wouldn't you be) they are called the Canary Islands because they found a lot of wild dogs here at some point...canine...get it? I think the bird was named after the island. Although, we saw only pigeons and seagulls while we were here. 

Oh, and one duck with small pox or something, (see picture). 

Small Pox Duck
But, where are the canaries?
According to Wikipedia, the Canaries were mentioned even by the Greeks and the Egyptians so there have been people here for quite awhile. They are all volcanically formed and hilariously, the guide on a tour we did, tried to tell us that there was a new island rising up out of the ocean and it would be here in 2-4 years. Not sure how that's going to work but keep paying attention to the news because apparently geologic time is greatly sped up here. 
First view of the island from the plane!
There are also a lot of plant species endemic to the island and we got to see a few really cool looking cacti and one species of pine trees that are found nowhere else on earth. The guide tried to tell us that they are the only species of trees on earth that have an adaptation to protect their trunks from fire but I am such a natural resource nerd and remember my forest I nerdily laughed to myself that in fact the Ponderosa Pine (and probably others) have that same insulated cambium layer...yeah, see, I am REALLY nerdy (although I am hoping that Dawn, Katie, and Rachel read this and NRRT laugh along with me!).  (As an aside, I always make fun of my friend Sandy for being a bird nerd, but let's be honest, I love plants and that is pretty darn nerdy as well.) 
Be careful of those spines!

¡Ay! Eso me duele el dedo!

Our flight was a charter with a travel agency like you would do to Mexico or something in the US. And so, we were able to fly directly to Gran Canaria instead of having a layover somewhere. So, really, we left Germany at 7am, had a four and a half hour flight, and were standing in our hotel lobby with our complimentary champagne by noon- not too shabby. 

Our room wasn't quite ready when we got there and so we were just chilling in the "snack bar" and found out that there were all sorts of frou frou drinks available to us as part of our all-inclusive package. I have never been on a trip like this before (I am not counting India because though that trip was completely paid for, catered, and we stayed in really nice hotels, it was work-related and we were not just sitting by the pool all day!) where you just hang out and do nothing if you choose (which we chose!).  I'm not complaining in any way, I have had the opportunity to do lots of cool things, but this is my first "all inclusive" vacation at a resort as I've never been to Mexico or anything. Usually, my beach vacays are to Charleston, SC, which is always SUPER fun but sadly, Maura doesn't wait on me hand and foot (I may have to now reconsider our friendship!). 
View from our room. It was worth the extra €45 to have a view!
So, we've spent the last 7 days just chilling by the pool and swilling drinks while we made sure to reapply our sunscreen as much as necessary. I am a freak about getting sunburned after all those times in my life where my first day on a vacation, I get fried and then the rest of the trip is miserable. So, with my American-purchased SPF 50, I worked hard to not get a sunburn...first world problems. I relistened to a David Sedaris book and was the freaky girl laughing hysterically to herself without anything in front of I looked extra weird as Lauren slept in the chair next to me. 
I WILL be outside, even it is a bit chilly.
Not to worry, this only happened one day!
The food was really good, we especially loved breakfast and I was able to have my favorite morning tradition...a drinks smorgasbord of diet coke, coffee, and a water. They even had ICE CUBES so Lauren and I made ourselves glass after glass of ice water. AND...there was a diet coke fountain so that made my vacation just that much better. We played a game at breakfast called "guess the British" by seeing who was eating baked beans for breakfast. Though I do enjoy this some days, I've noticed people eating plate after plate of beans and black pudding (reminder: black pudding is BLOOD SAUSAGE and I won some last year in England at the meat raffle! Yep, the meat raffle! I just couldn't stomach it and watching people load up on it- is just gross to me. I can't be culturally sensitive to this one!) 
This was a lunch drinks, water, diet coke.
I did this at every meal. Lauren joined in too!
They also had stacks and stacks of Manchego cheese...the best cheese ever. So, needless to say (I basically have already said it) we did not miss a meal!  As I did no research before coming on this trip, I wasn't  sure what else there was to do here.  I almost got my fill of just laying around...almost. The landscape is very interesting.  It is very desert-like and reminds me of New Mexico or Arizona but next to an ocean. There is little vegetation and on the manicured areas, there are palm trees and ornate cacti. 
Some interesting desert plants with some, very obviously, volcanic rock.
The science teacher in me comes out on trips like this.
This island would have been a PERFECT place for a good geology field trip.

The first night there was a Flamenco show and the other nights there were  acrobats, crappy lounge singers, or something. We were basically on like a cruise for 70 year olds, but I was totally fine with that as I was just ready to relax. The last night there was a Lionel Ritchie cover singer. HA HA HA HA! Seriously? We laughed so hard about that one and made sure to check it out since I do have (an entirely fake) obsession with Lionel. I had some books on my coffee table that had been retired from the CBMS library about Lionel. They were always a really amusing conversation starter when people came over to my house in Fort Collins.

Well, as the week progressed, the cruise-ship-like entertainment worsened and once every single night called for audience participation, we skipped out. We have made some delightful British friends from the Isle of Man (where they speak Manx and have those Manx cats- the ones without tails) and so we chatted and got drinks with them after our dinners were over. I have to say that besides the baked beans for breakfast, the Brits are also given away by their crazy-intense sunburns. Now, maybe if I had lived in a cloudy, grey place my whole life too, I would go a bit nuts in the sun when I actually got to see cannot be fun to spend your entire vacation charbroiled and red. The Germans seem to put on sunscreen while the Brits just get more lobster-like by the day. You can tell how long people have been here by how red they really are. Hilarious and I am glad for them that they have a good national healthcare system to deal with all of their impending skin cancer removals! 
Trip to the sand dunes at Maspalomas. 
We had two "away from the hotel" adventures as we were purposely as lazy as humanly possible this week. We REALLY committed the deadly sin of sloth and did a DAMN good job of it. There were naps a-plenty, inside and outside. But, our first excursion was to the nearby town of Maspalomas where there are large sand dunes right at the edge of the ocean. This was just a quick trip and worth it because the views of the mountains while you're standing on a beach are pretty darn cool.
The adventure continues..."Jeep" Safari
Our next excursion was a full-day "jeep safari" which was really a Toyota Land Cruiser without a roof. We sat in the way back on side-facing seats across from a young Belgian couple who we inevitably made friends with after bouncing around in a dusty "jeep" for 8 hours together. This tour drove us up into the mountains which actually made me extremely homesick because it looked so much like the American West...especially the clear blue sky. Clear blue sky is definitely missing from Northern Europe most of the time. I know that I have said this before but I can completely relate to Van Gogh and how he FLIPPED OUT upon seeing sunshine since it is so super grey in northern Europe. I think I'd flip out too if I'd never seen that kind of blue sky and then was thrust into it. I kind of freak now but only because I know what I'm missing. 
If this picture was closer up, you could see that we are completely covered in dust.

The roads were really windy and so we were pretty much nauseous the entire trip but it was still really fun. We saw many beautiful villages full of white stucco houses and red Spanish tile roofs (wait, do you think that is why they are called SPANISH tile? HA!). We got to visit some natural areas and then we stopped for lunch at a CAMEL PARK! Again, according to Wikipedia, camels are native to the area of Africa near the Canary Islands so they have been found there for a long time. Lauren had already ridden a camel to the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and thought that this camel ride would be a let-down after that (I'm sure it would have been!)...but I love camels and think they are seriously cute and funny so I will take any opportunity I can, even though they are quite smelly. There was also a baby camel named Nestor in the pen and it was so incredibly cute. I couldn't shake the feeling though that I was riding a Ton-Ton in Star Wars!

After the short ride, the camels all got super dolled up!
 It was Friday, after all!
(Or wait, maybe this was just the sign for the Women's Restroom!)
Oh Nestor, you are so cute.
Nestor loved people and loved having her ears scratched! .
Then, after lunch, the "off-roading" portion began. I've driven on roads similar to these roads in the mountains of Colorado- rocky, dusty, and narrow- but never at the speed at which we were doing it! It was a really good thing that I wasn't driving, otherwise the off-roading experience would have been done at about 10 miles per hour and it wouldn't have been nearly as exciting. It was like being on a really dirty, bumpy roller coaster and also reminded me a lot of sitting in the back of the school bus as a child and cheering and laughing when we went over bumps. You couldn't help but wildly giggle the entire time. We got progressively dirtier as the time passed and our driver (who would get out a sociology textbook and highlight it at every stop!)  had the right idea by pulling a neck gator over his whole face to protect himself from the dust...although he did totally look like a bank robber and so that made us laugh even that much harder because we felt like a getaway car! 
Driver of the "getaway car" or just of the tour.
He had to spare his lungs and eyes because he was doing homework at every single stop!
They allowed us to get out a few times and talked to us about the plant life of the area. The variety of cactus species was amazing and also very beautiful. It was so nice to be in a different landscape than what I am used to. Also, being an island with mountains, the climate is extremely varied and depending on the direction that a slope might face, the vegetation and the look are completely different. 
The Candelabra Cactus. I thought it looked more like Churros.
Mmmmm, churros.
This vacation was well worth the money, in fact, I spent less than I normally would on a week's trip when you factor in airfare, food, and hotel, and it was great to see the sun and relax. I recommend the Canary Islands to anyone who wants a dry air (important to me now that I lived in Damp-ville), blue sky vacation where you can be slothy and drink lots of umbrella drinks. Delightful.
Roof-top bar at our hotel. 

Now I have to get back to the "real life" of teaching. I have a new colleague starting on Monday who will be teaching the same thing as me, so that will be fun and interesting. And, I can countdown to my next trip...a road trip to France with my friends Lauren and Keith to visit the family with whom I lived last year in only 5 weeks! I really enjoy the school schedule with the shorter summer and more frequent breaks throughout the year...there is always something on the horizon to look forward to! And, I love me a good road trip.