I looked back, down the stairs, remembering the count I had read online, and thought to myself that there was no way there were a hundred of them. Fifty maybe, but not a hundred. Perhaps they had started counting from the pedestrian bridge far below. Then again, my heart and body were light, despite the thirty hour plane ride. It was finally March. I was finally on Grand Canary Island. I couldn’t believe the bungalow was as perfect as the photos. Standing still isn’t my strong point but I couldn’t tear myself away from the balcony and the perfect ocean view.
I couldn’t help counting as I returned from the small grocery store: one hundred steps exactly. Bread, cheese, meats and wine had been purchased, my Spanish barely holding up. The little strip mall was practically on the ocean. Cheesy souvenir shops, restaurants of all nationalities (except Canarian), and a cafe perfect for coffee and a book. I made up my mind to have breakfast there, forgetting for a moment that, for the first time in many years, I wasn’t on a solo vacation.
I barely noticed the third climb of the day, too distracted, too excited. Olivier was finally, really there. Our reunion at the airport took me back to our goodbye at the airport in Costa Rica. He had invited me here just before Christmas to run a race across the island. Beautiful, kind and a runner.
The fourth climb was after dinner. We had both wanted Canarian food but were both too tired to put much effort into finding one, so dinner was a stroganoff. We caught up as we ate. As we walked back to the bungalow, he stopped over the bridge to the stores and kissed me. It was a perfect romantic start to the week. I rolled my eyes but smiled in spite of myself.
The stairs were a tad more noticeable, having spent most of the day walking around. Breakfast was the food I’d bought for snacks. We sat on the balcony overlooking the ocean, drinking coffee, the sun smiling fiercely on us.
We left to attend the exposition in the main part of Las Palomas then took the advice of the tourist agent and driven to Mogan. Lunch was at an amazing local restaurant, making up for last night’s dinner, after walking around the small town, absorbing the architecture and the flora.
The winding roads had me driving much slower than the locals. Olivier drove with confidence as I clutched the map, slowly getting used to him tapping the brakes precisely two seconds after I was convinced this was the switchback we would miss. We stopped in another town, walking out over a dam, marvelling at the structure. Dams had completely changed the agriculture and therefore the culture of the island. There was no water to retain, making the landscape all the more dramatic.
There was no cell service, so Olivier placed his trust in my navigation skills and I directed us down the road, farther away from the scary windy roads of Mogin and back towards Maspalomas. We stopped for drinks before returning to our bungalow, enjoying more sightseeing on this island that would fit many times over into Colorado.
Like many islands, cats were a big part of the scenery. Olivier was wary, having developed an allergy in his adult years. I was jealous of them lying on the benches in the remaining sunlight, not a care in their minds, sure of their next meal and bed for the night.
The stairs were literally double the number, walking back up from the beach. The race was looming, so this was a low key day. The winds had picked up, putting chill in the air. Fortunately, I had been forewarned by a kind lady at AAA.
I had gone to pick up an international driver’s license belatedly. The rep and I were chatting about my upcoming trip as my photos slowly printed on their antiquated machine. The lady, slight and beautiful, maybe in her seventies, apologized for interrupting, saying she had been to Gran Canaria years before. She remembered being disappointed at the coolness of the weather, but not as disappointed as her husband, to whom she had promised a day at the topless beach but then reneged when the temps refused to cooperate. Excuse? Somehow I doubted it.
We dipped our feet in the ocean, mostly just to say we did, then sat on the rocks and watched the crabs scuttle around us. We walked hand-in-hand down the boardwalk, busy with sunburnt Norwegians who seemed as happy to be there as we were. Cafes, ice cream shops, and private homes made up the scenery on the side opposite the ocean.
Dinner was after the stairs, pasta and chicken a la Olivier. I could get used to having a travel companion.
It was well past midnight, so technically, day five. I could have slept at the foot of the stairs and been perfectly fine. I dragged myself up them as Olivier walked easily beside me. The race was forty miles, not the longest I had ever run, but it was still one hundred steps after forty miles. And it was a rough forty miles.
A mostly downhill course, but still managed close to 7000ft of climbing. Of course much of the descent was technical. The last long miles were on shale. They slid in random directions with each step, making balance and sanity tenuous. The final miles were along the beach, because sand is such a joy to run in.
Olivier is a much stronger runner than I and it was with trepidation that I had agreed to run this literally *with* him. I would have been perfectly fine finishing hours after him, allowing him to enjoy his own pace and an early finish, maybe even a shower. Running together can be tricky. I’ve seen a lot of couples get into some nasty knock-outs. I’ve learned new words.
Along with being slow, I’m a mountain rescue volunteer: if someone is hurt, I have to help.
The first runner was after the first aid station, on the second steep climb as the sun was announcing its power. She was vomiting pretty impressively. I moistened her bandana in an attempt to cool her down, making sure she had food and water. I waited until she was able to drink a little before taking off. I glanced apologetically at Olivier who simply shrugged and gave me a what-else-could-you-do look.
The best part is that we saw her much later at the finish, where she had waited to say thanks and give us a big hug.
Of course the second aid station was farther than advertised and Olvier was practically dragging me along to make sure we made the cutoff which was only minutes away. We finally made it, to find out the cutoff had actually been several miles back at the high point. Relief and annoyance didn’t mix well for either of us.
We stopped for two other runners, one who ended up being French and acted much like I did whenever I hear English spoken in a foreign country. I was oddly proud that my limited French had him disbelieving I was American. He too was at the finish and offered us beer. I felt bad for refusing but alochol would have guaranteed the stairs’ win that night.
We almost avoided the stairs altogether, sleeping late, missing the awards luncheon, eating more of the groceries I’d bought. But a local restaurant called our names. The stairs up from the beach was worth the dinner and service. The waitress was one of those people whom you felt you’d known forever. The dessert of key lime pie was better than I had had in Key West.
928, the restaurant, had possibly the most eclectic decor I’d seen in a restaurant. Each piece had been picked up during the owner’s travels and each had its own story. The paintings of royalty were possibly easy to guess–at least didn’t lend themselves to an intriguing story. The jars labeled “Poppers” and “Quaaludes”, though, had us musing.
The stairs had multiplied, the fatigue from the race multiplied by the sightseeing in Las Palmas. Not that there was much to see but we again forewent technology and relied on our combined senses of direction to navigate the city, which added a bit of meandering.
The true highlight of the city is the architecture and coloring of the buildings: decidedly tropical. I suspected it was also to hide the poverty, as the tourism specialist recommended against actually driving to those neighborhoods.
So we visited the Cathedral of Santa Ana, the first church on Gran Canaria, despite having taken four centuries to build. It gave a stunning perspective of the city. Rooftop pools and gardens covered the buildings nearest the ocean. The beautifully colored neighbors were higher and farther away, still revealing nothing of their true personalities.
Next was the Casa de Colon, once the home of the governor who supposedly received Christopher Columbus prior to his famous adventure of 1492. Given the house is around 150 years old, the math doesn’t quite add up. Las Palmas itself was a mere fourteen years old at the time, the Spainards having just conquered the island. I found the maps, compasses and other navigation tools absolutely fascinating. Our digital navigation tools have given as much as they’ve taken away from us.
What I was truly curious about I knew I wouldn’t find in a museum. I wanted to know about the local opinion of the great explorer. He is a bit of a persona non grata in the US these days–and for good reason. From my readings, there may be more Canarian descendents in the Americas than on the Canary Islands, many “encouraged” to come to the new world, founding such cities as Buenos Aires and Havana. Probably not much encouraging was needed as the Spaniards were spending their days exterminating them. Even a Google search doesn’t turn up much.
We stopped at a busy little cafe on a side street for tapas before the lunch hour slid into the siesta hours. The owner was another of those rare, immediately likeable and memorable characters. The tapas were made with care, and described with even more care.
Tipping seems to be a decidedly American pastime and I’ve been warned more than once to not “spoil the world”. I couldn’t help it here. In gratitude, the owner gave us shots of sweet liqueur and a thoughtful toast.
My legs had finally acclimatized to the stairs. Or maybe it was knowing that this was the last day that made me begin to regard them more fondly. I found myself wanting to remember every single step–the broken tiles, the ornamental-at-best handrail, the foliage slipping over the edges.
Tejeda is our goal for the day. We’d run through it during the race. Once Olivier pointed out where the aid station had been, it all came back into focus. I hadn’t noticed that all the buildings were white washed with burnt amber roofing. It was equally fitting and Stepford-ish. We walked along the narrow sidewalk, taking in the gardens stacked along the steep landscape. The plant apothecary had already closed, so my curiosity about the local flora remains.
Once again, most of the people we encountered were from the Netherlands. During our stop just prior to Tejeda, we had learned that there were no Canarian natives (Gaunches), thanks to the invading Spaniards. The stop was Roque Bentayga. It was their most sacred religious site and subsequently, the location of their last stand against the Spaniards as they literally gave everything to protect it.
It is sobering to think of the losses from that invasion. It is thought that Gran Canaria was first populated in the first millennium BCE by Africans. How they traveled 400 miles by boat from the coast of one to the coast of another is a feat I cannot fathom. How would they have even known an island was there to travel to?
We meandered up the path to see how they have carved out homes in the rocks. Most of the location was inaccessible due to historic preservation and geology, but the short hike still showed a good glimpse into the efforts to make homes in the rocks. A visitor center helped fill in the details of the history and the geology.
A final descent before the sun rose. The week had passed every bit as fast as I knew it would, yet I still shook my head in sadness as we piled our bags in the tiny car. We drove the airport in silence and Olivier waited patiently as I took photos of the rental, never quite trusting the agencies to be completely honest about the return state of the vehicle.
Coffee and a croissant for breakfast, although it was much too early to be hungry. Boarding was supposed to begin at ten before six, but everyone was on board when we arrived at the gate two minutes after that. A long hug and a kiss, then it was me who boarded the plane first to leave.
After the plane had taken off in San Jose, I had texted Olivier a quick “welcome to Miami–miss you already”. When I turned on my phone in Madrid, I saw his text.
“Welcome to Madrid–miss you already.”