Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Canyons on Your Mind

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Canyons on Your Mind

Article excerpt

Suddenly, she appeared out of the mountain - "Hola, hola!" she cried, vigorously waving her arms. Then she vanished.

Drenched in sweat, I was taking a breather after climbing 10 miles up a silent, deserted, spellbinding canyon.

Was I now suffering from delusions in the baking Canarian sun?

"Er...did you see that woman shouting, 'Hello'?"

My wife's shaking head convinced me it had been a mirage.

Seconds later, the smiling woman, dressed from head to toe in black, re-appeared, carrying a tray of three glasses and a jug of freshly-crushed orange juice. At nearly 4,000 feet, you don't get many visitors - especially when you live in a cave.

"Come," the young widow beckoned as we thanked her, gratefully gulping her thirst-quencher.

She threaded the way along a narrow, stony path almost hidden by boulders and dragon trees. She paused outside her arched front door, smothered in cascading bougainvillaea.

Maria Eugenia - I didn't take a note of her other five names - insisted on showing us around her spotless home, a des res, whitewashed throughout, with all mod cons, including a plugged-in personal computer and discreet fluorescent lighting.

With, of course, a breathtaking, panoramic view straight down the canyon to the Atlantic Ocean. I had never met a cave-proud woman before.

We were in wonderland, exploring the wild and magical barrancos - dry-bed canyons, gorges and ravines - of Gran Canaria.

On the tiny volcanic, macaroon-shaped Spanish island, just 40 miles long and 35 miles wide, there are 150 magnificent barrancos, 50 of which carve their way from the central highlands, 6,000ft up, to the sea.

Maria Eugenia's fertile and beehive-studded barranco - Guayadeque - is claimed to be the most beautiful.

Terraced, cultivated fields give way to sprawls of prickly pear, palm groves, lofty eucalyptus, wild pink and white-blossomed almonds clinging to sheer-faced cliffs and, finally the dragon tree, a tough yucca crowning the skyline.

For me, every barranco is beautiful, even the mere name is exciting. Each one has a character of its own - green and hospitable with dazzling pink-roofed hamlets; terracotta and desolate, so Arizona-like; jagged, brooding and foreboding, plunging headlong into a sapphire sea.

Guayadeque barranco was a major troglodytic centre of civilisation long before the Spanish conquered Gran Canaria a little more than 500 years ago.

With Maria Eugenia, just half a dozen families still live in the caves high up in the barranco. But in its hamlet, Roque - population 51 - on the canyon bed, 17 caves are inhabited, as they have been for 5,000 years.

There, the cave is truly the in place, the pub, the restaurant and even the church, St. Bartholomew's with its primitive altar, pulpit and benches hewn out of stone. …

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