On the wall is some graffiti that I can’t make much sense of. I think there are small round robots buzzing about, working on computers and talking on the phone. The table where I sit is long and white. There are four of us sitting here, laptops open, yet eight seats still remain empty. Inside this space it feels modern and industrial, yet welcoming enough, with wires hanging form the ceiling, a minimalist design and a front door that opens with the use of an app.
Outside plastered on the wall across the street is an advertisement for rum, next to a brown door that leads to a currently closed nightclub. In front of the wall and the door stands a tall green parking meter on the sidewalk.
How did I end up here in the Canary Islands? I hear a coffee machine rumble in the back of the room. There is a small yellow wooden duck on wheels only inches from my laptop, its black dot of an eye staring me down since I got here. It is the duck that won’t stop asking me how I ended up here. A middle-aged man with a worn out backpack, holding in his hand a salad in a plastic container, straight from the supermarket, just walked in to the room and sat down across from me.
I need to pee.
It reminds me of high school. Not the duck or the salad or the robots. The need to pee. Too often would I be at a high school party or a gathering at a friend’s house and despite the need to use the bathroom, I would just remain seated on a sofa or chair, for minutes, hours actually. My fear was that I would stand up, walk across the room and trip over my own two feet. And people would laugh. So I wouldn’t get up.
I’m more confident now of course. If I need to go, I go.
Sometimes the thought crosses my mind at the most random of moments, the thought that I’ve been traveling for 18 years. The funny thing is that no matter how long that thought stays in my head, a half a second or ten minutes, it always leaves my eyes ever so slightly covered in moisture. They are not tears though. It’s an impossibly thin layer of wetness that appears and then dries up almost immediately afterwards.
Is it a quick wash of these old dusty eyes? I like to believe it is the flash of a transparent curtain that marks yet another scene in this never-ending adventure.
Scene #4281: 5 Weeks in Las Palmas
Yes, this current scene takes place in the Canary Islands. I’m hunkered down in the town of Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria. We’ve rented a large apartment near the ocean, for five weeks, five whole weeks in Las Palmas, rented on Airbnb for 1000 Euros. A routine, a closet for my clothes, a renewed dedication to my push-up regimen, a sea breeze as soon as I walk out the door and two extremely chill pugs sitting on the street corner that I look forward to seeing every day.
Our apartment is far from being homey though. A couple of hallways and empty spaces too many, cold areas that seem to serve no purpose. But my stuff is scattered around nonetheless and this apartment is slowly becoming that place I return to and which I recognize. How odd indeed.
Only two small blocks from our pad on Calle Fernando Guanarteme is where you’ll find Playa de las Canteras. Sometimes I think I need the beach to be happy. It’s a golden black beach here, far from the white sands we dream of, yet it’s still an ideal location for an hour or two sprawled out on my cheap beach towel, Kindle in hand. Low constant waves, cool and lightly tinted turquoise water, topless sunbathers, flocks of surfers, views of the town and distant mountains whenever I sit up and look around.
Behind the beach sits the long boardwalk, the Paseo Las Canteras, that stretches perhaps two miles from the funky-looking Auditorio Alfredo Kraus in the south to Calle Prudencio Morales in the north. We walk much of this boardwalk every day. It’s alive with tourists, locals, cafes and bars, the occasional street performer, runners and groups of friends. I like the energy in the evening, the low lighting, the chatter, the boom of the waves.
The boardwalk is our real base. It’s the foundation of our stay here so far and unlikely to change over these five weeks in Las Palmas. There won’t be a day that we do not stroll upon it, at least once.
Fresh seafood, tapas of all sorts and home-cooked delights are found on every corner in Las Palmas, along the water, in the small, still lanes, on the main avenidas. A table on the boardwalk, a bottle of local wine, paella for two. 20 Euros. Potatoes arrugadas con mojo with grilled octopus, some grouper and a plate of fried cheese. 20 Euros. And satisfying. La Taperia, a cozy restaurant that we blindly entered on our first night, has proven to be a favorite. La Tosca Lonja around the corner served up Spanish seafood in divine form. That alluring Spanish flair helps of course, from the surrounding architecture to the bustling about of the dedicated waitstaff to the loud conversations that hum like meditative chants.
On Saturday we went for a long afternoon walk. One and a half hours each way. Through the commercial center of Las Palmas and along the other coast, the more residential and affluent section, with its streets loaded up on villas, private schools and language institutes. Twenty minutes later and things shifted. A bit darker, a bit more rundown, with people just sitting on the curb smoking their cigarettes and giving us a quick, grumpy ‘what’s your deal?’ kind of glance. And then another street crossed and we found ourselves in the most quaint and atmospheric neighborhood yet, and we cut straight through it along the overly pleasant pedestrian lane of Calle Perez Galdos, with its sense of art, active residents, attractive eateries and charming street lamps.
Las Palmas has it all.
After some time lost in conversation and smiles, we came upon an old, blue, mint condition palace. It’s now a music conservatory. We passed a small park with a colorful playground. And then a Burger King and the Catedral de Santa Ana before we landed on the steps of the Casa de Colon, right among the weathered, empty structures and narrow passageways of Vegueta.
We spent an hour wandering this museum, sprawled among four historic, connected Canarian homes, all while learning about Cristobal Colon, or Christopher Columbus. We also battled two giant parrots that fiercely guarded a courtyard leading towards the exit. Columbus visited the Canary Islands on several occasions. The first time in 1492 in order to stock up his fleet and fix a rudder on the Pinta before heading off towards the unknown. It appears he spent several weeks in Las Palmas too.
Columbus seemed unable to sit still. Each time he returned home from a voyage, he soon set off for yet another.
I also have trouble sitting still. Maybe that’s why I worked on cruise ships at one point. The constant journeys to New Worlds. New Worlds to me at least.
When I stay in one place, I do get anxious. It’s as if my body and mind still think we are constantly on the go. They get confused by the closet with my clothes inside, by the sight of the same bed for more than a few nights, by the lack of urgency to explore. As I attempt to sit quietly, they instead shout, “Do this, do that. We must do and see everything there is to do and see here by this Friday.”
Not this time. We will visit the neighboring island of Tenerife in due time. We will drive around Gran Canaria, climb mountains, visit villages and get lost, oh yes, in due time. We have plenty of that now. Time. And my body and mind will have to learn to live with it.
Last night on a stroll through the lively Parque de Santa Catalina I actually saw two cruise ships docked in port. As always, I was nostalgic for a few moments as I recalled my old teammates from around the world and those quiet times when I just stood on the open deck watching the flying fish and wondering what lay beyond the horizon.
But these two mighty vessels I saw yesterday, and all their passengers, would of course be gone by morning, without me. As would the flights and buses and trains of the world.
Now I shall stay put. An exchange of New Worlds for New Experiments.
And what better place to give this a shot than Las Palmas. Life is easy here. You can enjoy your surroundings within minutes of arrival and there really isn’t much to worry about. Food, people, atmosphere. Easy.
My eyes have watered again. 18 years. I feel hungry right now as I sit here at the Coworking Canary Islands location in Las Palmas. The one with the robots on the walls and the long white table. And the duck staring me down.
I start to think of volcanoes and ferries. But then I think of making a salad in my kitchen.
This is me trying to make sense of being a traveler in one place for some time.
I think I can handle five weeks in Las Palmas. I’m excited to find out.
Thoughts on slow travel? Have you been to the Canary Islands?
Loved reading this article Earl.
As someone who lives on the island – and who helps to run a coworking space here – I found your thoughts really fascinating.
Just wanted to pick up on a few commenters here who have mentioned that Gran Canaria may not be the easiest place in the world to reach.
A top tip for anyone planning a visit themselves would be to fly in to Spain first and then catch another flight out. Actually, as most major airports in Europe fly to the island, long haulers could easily hit up another country en route…
Great blog Earl. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Las Palmas.
i notice you said it was easy to get to. i clicked on a travel site it said it would take 25 hr, 10 hr flights and 15 hr layovers, to get there. this is from north carolina. cost $1500. do you have any better ideas?
Hey Bob – I just checked Kiwi.com and Kayak.com and I found plenty of flights over the summer, one way to Las Palmas from Charlotte, for $357 – $600. Those flights are around 24 hours. But there are flights in the $700 – $900 range that are only 15 hours.
Hey Earl! I love your description of Las Palmas. My most recent solo trip was in Gran Canaria, so I feel very connected to the place. That tends to happen when I solo travel… Anyway, your vivid descriptions brought me back to my experiences there and made me just slightly nostalgic. Thank you for sharing!
My boyfriend and I have been living in Tenerife for almost two years. We teach English and travel whenever we have time off, which is quite frequently. Teachers get a lot of vacation days here 🙂
I had to grin when I read your words: “Life is easy here. You can enjoy your surroundings within minutes of arrival and there really isn’t much to worry about. Food, people, atmosphere. Easy.” We both couldn’t agree more, and in fact, that easy lifestyle that you’re referring to has inspired us to set off on a journey in which we’ll be traveling the world slowly and blogging along the way.
The reason your word choice made me smile is that we’ve chosen the title “Easy Vegan Travel” for our blog. It’s all about slow travel and veganism. Hope you get the chance to check it out someday!
Thanks again for sharing 🙂
I’ve been to 35 countries, but the Canary Islands has got to be in my top 3! The islands are so diverse!
Gran Canaria is a great base to explore the other islands, with all the cheap flights and ferries.
Las Palmas is vibrant city with a charming mix of European and African feel, and the interior of the island has gorgeous mountain pine forests. The Roque Nublo park was an absolute highlight and I highly recommend anyone to go hike there.
Did you visit Tenerife? A friend of mine was there and he love it. By the way Morocco was just near you, It will be interesting to go there.
Hey Tim – We didn’t visit Tenerife in the end because we were enjoying Gran Canaria too much. And yes, Morocco is right there too. I was there earlier this year actually.
Enjoy your time in the Canary Islands. Will be interesting to see what your takeaway from this “slow travel” experience is. Haven’t been there myself, but always thought that this one of the most expensive areas in Europe to visit. No?
Hey Ray – It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s very inexpensive here in the Canary Islands which is why it’s home to so many long-term travelers and people from around the world who work online. I’d say the prices are about 60% of what you’d pay in most of mainland Western Europe. Good meals for 20 Euros (for 2 people), coffee for 1 Euro, cheap public transportation and very reasonable rent prices (met people paying 600 Euros/month for an apartment 5 minutes from the beach in the center of the city). Local markets for fruit and vegetables, too. Definitely worth checking out as you get such a good lifestyle for a bargain price.
Thanks for the input! Didn’t realize it was that cheap compared to the rest of Western Europe! Now I am adding this destination as one to add to my list of affordable destinations I need to check out next.
Wow! sounds like fun. Surely gonna try this asap. Thanks for sharing your experience mate.
Very interestingly narrated, lovely read. Have been planning a vacation for quite sometime now, not 5 weeks though just 2 weeks. Thanks a ton for sharing.
You can do a ton in 2 weeks here as well!
What do you do about medical insurance? Do you have one continuous travel insurance plan?
Hey Cathy – I have private insurance in the US that covers 50% of any overseas medical expenses. And then in some countries I will also take out travle insurance but not too often.
‘Nice one Earl!
Every now and then, slow travel is important to refresh one’s body, ease the mind, and to use one’s ability to “wake up and smell the roses!”
p.s. I’ve been going to mainland Spain for many years, although I haven’t yet been to the Canary Islands, or any of the other Spanish islands. ‘having said that, maybe I should one of these days as many of the islands are a second home to both my fellow Brits and my adoptive Germans!
Hey Victoria – Definitely a lot of Brits and Germans here! You should try to check out the islands when you can…well worth it. We’re having a blast here!
Great post. We are arriving there end of Oct for a 3 months stay. Looking to start at the beach area with Airbnd and then find somewhere to put some roots down for remainder.
Looking forward to following your posts.
Hey Cindy – I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it here. One thing I can say is that you probably want to start your apartment search as soon as possible. I’ve met several people here who had the same plan but they’ve all found it very difficult to find a longer-term apartment once on the ground. They said that most apartment owners want 1 year leases and tenants that have traditional jobs. Just a heads up!
Ok, a couple quick suggestions. If you like hiking the National Park is great. The Parador des Canadas del Teide is a great spot to base yourself for a day or two, you can do some great hikes right around the hotel. A little ways west of there is the Mirador de Samara trail through some very scenic terrain. At the far west end of the island you can do a hike from small town of Masca down a canyon to the ocean, and take a boat back to the coast. Very cool. Enjoy!
Awesome, thank you Mike!! I really appreciate that and we’re really looking forward to getting out there!
Amazing that you made it to my home !! If you have budget I would totally recommend renting a car and going to terror, roque nublo, arucas ( go to the rum factory) , firgar (especially a restaurant called las brasas), agaete , bandama, and then make your way around the islands costal highway to the south near mogan, pasito blanco, maspalomas and then mack to lpa, essentially making anticlockwise trip. Hope you have fun !! Please let us know what else you want to do in specific and i can make more recomendation.
I,very been to all of the Canary Islands and like all of them.Make sure to visit “La Gomera” Island ! The scenery is incredible and I ve visited over 100 countries. Flying is usually cheaper than taking the Ferry to Tenerifa and another one from the south of Tenerifa (very touristy and expensive by the way)Teide N.Park. is absolutely worth a visit though. Lanzarote has very special scenery too, desert, volcanoes, oasis…..Just check it out.Have a good trip. Cheers from Odessa ,Karin
Hi Derek, I love reading your posts and I loved your description of Las Palmas . I have been to 5 of the 7 Canary Islands and my favourite has to be Gran Canaria. It is such a varied diverse island with plenty to see . The north is so green , the mountains so interesting and the south is where the sun shines brightest. The
” touristy” spots of the south may not be everyone’s cup of tea but these areas have improved over the last few years. There is a rich culture dating back to the native inhabitants. It is a great island for walking and tracking but check the weather forecast before you leave. We got caught in the mountains once when the fog and rain came down very quickly. All ended well but lesson learned! Relish every moment.
Thank you for writing this wonderful post. It takes me back to my time in Gran Canaria and how much I really wish to go back. I remember my favorite place in the mountains, the beautiful Artenara. I recommend you give it a look see, though make sure you go to the right one, I think there’s two. It’s the one in the north near Roque Nublo. There was a cave hostel we stayed at there that was really cheap and comfortable but I think it may have closed as I can’t see it on hostel world. I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time. There’s plenty to see and do and driving around the mountains is incredible. Around each corner is a new wonder to behold. Enjoy and take care 🙂
Hey Darren – Thanks for commenting and for the recommendation! We do look forward to driving around the mountains and seeing what’s out there and from your words, seems like it will be quite a rewarding experience. I’ll be posting updates once we do!
Great blog post, Derek! It felt like I was reading an intro to a novel. 5 weeks sound just about perfect for the Canary Islands! I don’t have such luxuries as I work full-time. I will go to the Canary Islands next year in spring for a few days. I think it’s a really laid-back place from what I’ve read, and no to mention, beautiful and worthy of a visit.
Hey Pooja – It’s definitely a very laid-back place, that’s for sure. Everything is pretty easy here so once you show up, you’ll quickly feel comfortable. I’m happy to hear you’ll be here next spring!
Nicely written Derek.
I really enjoyed reading this beautifully written post with it’s shadings of colourful Kerouac or Salinger streams of consciousness.
Spain has a special and unique culture. It is such a fabulous place to visit with many towns where time seems to have stood still and yet somehow different centuries happily coexist in the same place. Earlier in the year I spent several weeks in Spain and a couple of weeks wandering around the Mediterranean islands of Mallorca and Malta which are also full of the wonderful sights and experiences that you describe so well . I look forward to further ‘ personal stuff ‘ and wish you a happy sojourn on your little piece of paradise…
Hey Alan – Thanks for that and yes, I thought I’d try something different with this post. Glad to hear you enjoyed it! And Spain sure is a great destination. There is something about the atmosphere, hard to even figure out what exactly, that just makes a person feel good and healthy and relaxed. More posts coming soon!
Brings back memories, although I spent my time at Tenerife and La Palma. Fantastic place, and I could easily have spent 5 weeks instead of just 2. I could provide some suggestions for Tenerife but I’m sure you’ll have no difficulty discovering on your own.
Hey Mike – If you want to send over a couple of your favorite things to do in Tenerife, I’d love to hear them!
Thanks for sharing your adventures! You described vividly your experiences , i enjoyed reading this post very much. It is amazing you been traveling for 18 years. Be well!
Hey Net – Thanks for that and I hope you’re doing well too!
I concur with the first two comments. Great way to travel (you know me…slower is better!). A nicely written article. I’m itching to start making my plan for 4-5 months starting in December. Any ideas Derek? I really enjoyed Playa del Carmen. Great suggestion. Enjoy yor time in the Canaries. I’ve never been and maybe should try it! Best, Dan
Hey Daniel – This could be a good option for you. The only thing is that apart from the other Canaries, which you can visit by ferry, you’ll need to fly to the mainland of Europe every time you need/want to go somewhere else. But if you liked Playa, I’d take a look at Canggu, Bali if you’re looking for something similar. We’ve spent a ton of time trying to think of places similar to Playa but there really aren’t many out there! Lisbon could be a good option or Penang, Malaysia?
Slow travel is everything. I like to spend a month in a city and just experience building relationship with new people I meet. Sounds like paradise!
Hey Rebekka – It’s definitely an ideal way to go!
Hi Derek!! I really enjoyed reading this post! The way you’ve written this article seems to capture the entire atmosphere of what you’re experiencing out there, its so vibrantly described! I feel like I can easily picture everything you’re doing and seeing there, and especially how it all FEELS in the moment… and its awesome! So expressive! Thanks for this post dude!!
Hey Paul – Much appreciated…I wanted to do something a little different with this post given the experiment with staying in one place for a while. I’m really happy that you found it to be worth reading!
Beautiful my friend. Sounds like a lot of internal back-and-forth going on.
Home is where the toothbrush is as some say.
Hey Andrew – Absolutely! And especially when you can actually put the toothbrush on the counter in the bathroom and not have to pack it up every other night!