Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Walk among Volcanoes; CANARY ISLANDS Gran Canaria May Conjure Up Images of Mass Tourism but Jamie Lafferty Saw a Very Different Side on Walking Trails in Its Rugged Centre

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Walk among Volcanoes; CANARY ISLANDS Gran Canaria May Conjure Up Images of Mass Tourism but Jamie Lafferty Saw a Very Different Side on Walking Trails in Its Rugged Centre

Article excerpt

PUBIC triangles," replies my guide, Guillermo Bernal, after I've asked him to repeat himself. Guillermo speaks excellent English but I had to be sure I heard him correctly. "If you look inside the cave you'll see carved into the wall public triangles," he says again.

I peer into the gloom at these downward-pointing triangles, a very rudimentary cave carving. The oddness of this only feels more profound when I remind myself: I am in Gran Canaria.

Before British teenagers were running riot on the coast, before German tourists were reserving sun loungers with towels, before the Spanish waged a bloody war to conquer the islands, and before the Romans gave it a name, people lived on Gran Canaria. It was these Canarios who lived in caves such as this, worshipping the sun and their matriarchs.

From the air, the island looks uncannily like the Millennium Falcon but look at a relief map and you can immediate see that it was once dominated by a volcano. Guillermo is leading me along the rim of the Caldera Grande, more commonly known as Caldera de Tejeda. Inside the volcano the air feels noticeably different; the vegetation is obviously distinct too. We make our way through a pine forest if I didn't know better I'd guess I was in Northern California.

Prior to coming here, I'd written off Gran Canaria as one of those sunny regions condemned to endure mass tourism. And parts of it do have that, but in two days of hiking, my guide and I meet fewer than a dozen other people on the trails, all of them local.

Towards the end of the first day I enquire about the name, Gran Canaria. "So I guess the islands are named after the birds, then?" I ask. "No, no, no they're named after the islands, not the other way around," replies Guillermo, before going into a long explanation of the real naming of the islands. No one can be sure but it likely had something to do with dogs theories range from the presence of a dog-worshipping cult to dog-eating natives to packs of indigenous hounds. …

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