My First Impressions of Gran Canaria

Do you ever have moments where you look around you, and wonder, how in the world did I end up here?!

That’s how I’ve felt ever since I arrived in Gran Canaria.

Three weeks ago, my life was so different. I was living in a posh neighborhood in Madrid. I was drinking tinto verano with my one friend left in Madrid, and her family. Summer had just started. The Madrid heat was right around the corner. As the days went by, my roommate had commented that everyone was leaving the city.

Myself included.

And now, I find myself on an island that is part of Spain, but closer to Africa.

My first day here, I wondered, how in the world did this happen?

Solo travel by nature is unpredictable. That’s one of many reasons why I love it. But out of all the plot twists that you could have told me that would happen when I arrived in Spain, I never would have seen coming …

A pandemic that would shut down the country …

Losing nearly all my work …

Getting three times my work back …

Spending Christmas and New Year alone …

Witnessing the biggest snowstorm to hit Madrid in over 50 years …

And feeling so lonely and frustrated that I had to make a change …

And then waking up one day in the Canary Islands, in my new apartment with an ocean view.

Life has just been one plot twist over another.

In the time I’ve been here, I’ve been able to make a number of observations on this Spanish island that feels like a different country in some ways. Here are many of those observations on my new island life.

1. Buses are called guaguas.

In Argentina and peninsular Spain, they’re called autobuses. In Colombia, they’re called busetas. In the Canary Islands, they’re called guaguas.

2. You can’t drink the tap water. At least, that’s what locals say.

A lot of the water has been desalinated, in other words, they removed the salt from the ocean water. I’ve also been told there are minerals in the water, which is one reason why locals don’t drink it. This means that at least once a week, I have to buy two 8-liter jugs from the nearby minimarket.

3. The temperature is perfect, though a bit overcast.

When I left Madrid, it was in the mid 30s Celcius (about upper 80s-low 90s Fahrenheit). I came to the Canaries at the right time. I wasn’t expecting it to be so cloudy, though, or so windy. The beach makes up for it.

4. It’s a great place for surfing, snorkeling, and diving.

Lots of wind makes good waves. I’d like to take some classes in September, when the weather will start to get sunnier. Some new friends have also told me some places in the south to go diving. And there’s a coral reef near Canteras Beach, where you can see fish, sting rays, and some small sharks.

5. It’s very mountainous.

The weather is great, but it’s not what I’d call a tropical paradise. The island looks like a mountain while standing at the beach. It also looks much drier and more desert-like than I had imagined.

6. The beaches aren’t as crowded as I thought.

The weekends are crowded, but during the weekday, and especially in the morning, you can visit the beach in peace. The only other people I see in the mornings are elderly men in speedos going for a morning swim. Other than that, it’s all for me.

7. There is a castle on the island.

One of my hobbies during Christmas and the New Year was to see as many castles and palaces as possible. I have found another one to add to my memories. This castle had an art exhibition inside too.

8. Amazon mostly doesn’t ship here.

I was spoiled in Madrid. I could get whatever I wanted in a few days, or even the next morning. Here, the taxes are lower, but customs takes longer. The good news is that I can find most of the shops that I frequented in Madrid on the island.

9. Locals are quite accommodating.

People will let me go ahead of them in line if they notice I only have a few things. Supermarket and minimarket clerks will take the time to help me find what I need. Strangers say hi. It’s nothing huge, but it’s enough after a year of isolation.

10. There are so many places I can’t wait to explore.

I want to go hiking in the mountains. I want to visit the volcano. I want to go scuba diving and snorkeling to see the fish and coral reefs. I want to rent a bicycle and ride around the island. This island looks like a wonderful place to spend the next year to enjoy nature and play.

I’ve already visited a few places. I saw a castle, Puerto de Mogán (called Little Venice), Playa Anfi del Mar and its crystal clear waters, and the mountain towns of Teror and Arucas. It’s incredible how in a matter of a few hours, I can visit a place that looks totally different.

People tell me that I’m lucky: you live on an island, you live near the beach, you can swim in clear water, you can eat exotic fruit on the cheap, you can wear summer clothes all year long. I’d say the same if I hadn’t known my whole story.

Sometimes it’s like we already know. It’s like I knew months ago when I didn’t have a friend and when I couldn’t leave my room, that if I worked hard and kept the faith, things would get better. And while I’m still working toward my dream life, this is looking a bit closer like it.

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