Swindle In Gran Canaria

Beaches, Babes, and Boat Trips Run Aground on the Shoales of Broken Promises

A square in Las Palmas where locals gather to chat | Photo: A. Claessen

Pub crawlers strip to the essentials | Photo: A. Claessen

Las Palmas

A square in Las Palmas where locals gather to chat | Photo: A. Claessen

I gazed from the window of the waiting area, the view of another Viennese cold spring morning opened before me, but I didn’t care. I knew that in several minutes I would be on the plane to Las Palmas, the capital city of Gran Canaria. With Bob Dylan in my headphones singing “Knocking On Heavens Door,” I remembered the line from the movie:

“In Heaven all they talk about is the ocean, how gorgeously beautiful it is, and all the sunsets that they saw, how you could feel the sun lose its strength and how the cool water splashed forward and the only fire left was the fire in their souls.”

I was ready.

I was anxious to see the rays of the sun playing with my reflection; I yearned to jump into the transparent water of the Atlantic and forget all my deadlines. I was hoping for that blast of experience, whatever it was.

Las Palmas is surprisingly big: With a population of 377,056, it is the largest city in the Canary Islands, located 210 kilometers off the northwester coast of Africa. Founded by Juan Rejon in 1478, today it is one of the world’s most popular tourist spots, a cosmopolitan city of 400,000, and reputed to have “the best climate in the world,” according to climatologist Thomas Whitmore of Syracuse University.

The beauty of the huge houses is dazzling standing tight to each other painted in all colors of the rainbow and cozily nested on wide boulevards looking down at the tiny cafés offering tortillas and paellas, reminiscent of the modernist style of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi.

Along the stone sidewalks old men sat on the tiny folding garden chairs playing backgammon on wooden tables and fortunetellers walked by reading the future in the ornate faces of tarot cards.

After the order and punctuality of Vienna, it is an odd feeling to drift into the world where you are constantly stopped in the streets at random by strangers who offer you help, give you compliments, ask about your origins and seem to genuinely want to know how much you are enjoying your stay. How can people be so relaxed? Don’t they have anything normal to worry about? Don’t they think about tomorrow? Do they even care about tomorrow? Are they so much happier?

The hotel we stayed in was situated on the south coast of the island in the small town called Playa Del Ingles – “Englishman’s Beach,” a town of 17,158 inhabitants, famous for its lengthy beach of tall sand dunes carried by the wind from the Sahara desert. In mid March, it was a delicious 25 degrees with dazzling panoramas of ocean on one side and dunes on another. Paradise perhaps, but wonderfully real.

Well, mostly real. Walking down to the beach, a charming Spanish woman stopped me. “I am sure you and your friends will have wonderful time at the boat party I am going to tell you about,” she said in broken English but with a radiant smile. It was a boat trip to different parts of the island, plus a Safari trip with Jeeps and a Pub Crawl around all the famous party destinations, with free drinks and countless other allures. Since I was with a group of 21 persons, I told her that I would ask my friends, and if we would decide to go we would let her know.

Pub crawlers

Pub crawlers strip to the essentials | Photo: A. Claessen

Not even one hour after this conversation, I heard a knock on my hotel room door, and opened it and see the same lady standing with a companion in the doorway holding stacks of colorful brochures advertising their offers. Hard sell at its most blatant. Worse yet, it worked: all 22 people signed up and even paid half of the price in advance. Well, we would see. Maybe it would be nice.

The route to the famous party destinations turned out to be a 40-minute ride in the bus full of young people, to a factory in the middle of nowhere. The crude building had several rooms – these were the series of so-called “pubs” of the sales pitch – and an entertainer hyping a string of silly sexual games. Others in the throng seemed happy to strip down to the bare essentials and join in the frolic – all recorded on a video that ended up who knows where. Every 30 minutes, we were herded on to the next “club” in the next room a bare meter or two away, staged like a distasteful reality show.

And of course, the free drinks never materialized. Drinks were about €7 a piece; most spent a minimum of €30.

So we learned the hard way: never trust charming promoters in a tourist trap. But since we had already paid €45 for the next day’s boat trip, we decided to risk it, hoping that the stories about the three-decker ship with 150 people dancing and tanning on a cruise to exotic places, with drinks and snacks included, would not turn out to be another fairy tale.

How disappointed we were to see the rusted out war-time wreck, the same crazy entertainer named Johnny Tequila who screamed “shut up” every time anyone tried to say something. Charming. There was no space to dance, a creaky, weather-beaten old tank and a broken WC. We couldn’t even go to the bathroom. One friend joked that he would have paid double not to have had to go on this misadventure in the first place. We were all furious. In retrospect we can only laugh.

The whole group was happy to get back to the hotel, after this disaster.

We stayed at Hotel Eugenia Victoria. Located only a kilometer away from the beach it offered one week all inclusive package for €428, which along with breakfast, lunch and dinner also offered huge variety of drinks, even alcoholic beverages. Outside there was the pool bar where usual snacks and drinks were served.

The rooms were big and clean with a view overlooking the pool and restaurant. In the evening from the balcony you could watch couples dancing tango, waltz or salsa. Entertainment group tried hard to do a good job, though listening to the same choice of music every evening was kind of boring. The guests were mostly Dutch and German, who seem to have come for a quiet vocation, and complained that our group was too loud, and after 10 o’clock, we weren’t even aloud to laugh in our own rooms.

One quite aggressive man even ran into our room at seven in the morning screaming that we where walking like ‘‘big fat ladies.’’ So for loud young people, Eugenia Victoria isn’t perhaps the best choice.

But the Playa del Ingles in general is another story, since it is loaded with clubs, discos, chill outs and all the other party locations offering young people an unforgettable journey. Which we would have to wait to visit the next time around.

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