Las Palmas and the north side of Gran Canaria.
My experience with the southern side the previous 3 days was positive. However, as I mentioned in my last Gran Canaria article, I wanted to explore the island's different microclimate pockets. The south side is pretty much a desert with plenty of sunshine year-round. Whereas the north side has a cooler, rainy, and cloudy climate.
I needed some clouds and drizzle in my last days on the Island as I was headed to Kuwait within the week.
As I was plotting my routes for the two days I had in Las Palamas, I recalled that Maxi had talked about the Caldera De Bandama as one of his go-to places if he had time. It turned out that it was a stone's throw away from the city.
I built a quick route on the trusty RideWithGPS for the following morning.
One of many things that are truly unique about the island is the nature of riding in Gran Canaria. The volcanic island rises from the bottom of the Atlantic floor from a depth of around 6500ft (2000 meters). Meaning that the total height of Gran Canaria is about 12k ft when measured from the ocean floor to the peak (Pico, which I've already summited!)
Now, why is this important to mention? Well, it tells you a lot about the topography of the island and means that you are either climbing or descending. There is no in-between. Even riding along the coast is hilly with elevation gain in any direction. Because when we look at Gran Canaria as a giant mountain, you're technically riding halfway up the mountain. The closer you are to the peak, the more rugged the terrain is due to erosion and lava build-up.
Sorry, that was a short tangent about the geography that I could've left out, but it's just too damn cool not to talk about.
Ok, but what does all of this mean? It means that the canary islands are a climber's paradise.
The start of the day was exactly what I needed. It was cloudy, cool, and slightly wet, and that hit the spot for me. The mixture of grey skies and low-hanging clouds was a true contrast to the sunny and arid south.
I headed towards the hills, as is the only way to get anywhere around here, and the ride started with a steep set of switchbacks climbing out of Las Palmas and towards the ridge where the Caldera De Bandama sits on top of.
The scenery and climate around the north aren't the only things that are different compared to the south. There seems to be a unique sense of culture with regard to architecture, people, and atmosphere. The north felt more like mainland Spain with regards to the architecture, as most of the old buildings remind me of those I saw on the peninsula.
The paint job, wooden doors, and small details of every house seemed untouched and preserved. However, as soon as you get higher in elevation, you start to notice changes in the architecture, such as the use of Adobo and volcanic rocks. The houses were also more colorful than their lower elevation counterpart, at least the ones that caught my attention.
It's these small details that just tell so much about every place I visit, showing unique features between different houses, neighborhoods, and cities.
Getting out of the busy streets of Las Palmas is an easy feat; just keep going up. Luckily, Spain has some of the best-behaved motorists toward cyclists, thanks to the strict pro-cycling laws. I continued past the neighborhood of Tafira Alta, where almost all traffic was very low after that point.
Riding under the suspended low gray clouds, I set an eye on the Caldera atop a ridge surrounded by what seemed like banana farms. As is the case with the roads on Gran Canara, the gradients get steeper with elevation. Coming around the corner from a small backroad, I reached what seemed like a wall. A +19% grade leading up to the main road of the caldera. I pursue onward towards the summit, stopping every 200 ft to take a photo or a video. The bulk of my non-riding time on the bike is spent on either shooting photos or fueling up on local potato-centric dishes.
As is always the case in Spain...
The grades never really ease until you reach the top of the caldera. From there, looking south, you can see the edge of the climate pocket I was in. The gray clouds gave way to warm sunshine over the southeastern side of the island. I've rarely ever experienced such a phenomenon, and this one will stay with me forever.
After taking in the views from the peak of the caldera, I set my eyes on a local cafe just at the bottom, alongside the main road. I stopped there for a quick Canarian meal. Although this was my first meal of the day, I wouldn't classify what I ate as breakfast. I got a plate of the famous papas ahogadas, Olivas con mojo picon, Padron peppers, and a latte.
The pure confusion on the server's face when I ordered all of that isn't something new to me. I get those looks all the time, especially when out of a ride. Something that Rich, one of my cycling friends, can sympathize with me on. What's even funnier is the look on their faces after finishing that huge meal.
After that much-needed breakfast stop, I continued up the mountain towards the peak of the vega, a Spanish word that refers to a large fertile valley. Halfway up the climb, just before reaching the small town of Vega De San Mateo, the cloud cover was pretty much all gone, giving way to the not-so-warm north sun.
It seemed that no matter where you looked, there was always a beautiful vista giving way to the captivating scenery of Gran Canaria.
Along the way, I decided to stop at Vega De San Mateo to check out the small town before the last leg of the climb. The town had its own almost tangible spirit, showcasing a mix of the Canarian culture with that of the Spaniards. The use of materials from the land itself is celebrated and is prominent across town. The people had an uplifting character, in contrast to that of the touristy parts of Maspalomas.
The route's peak wasn't far from that point, but I wasn't in a hurry to get off the bike, so I took my time enjoying the views and beautiful weather of the island.
The best part about reaching the peak is, of course, the long descent back into town, and as there is no shortage of climbing on this island, there isn't a shortage of descending either. The long twisty roads and broad vistas, mixed in with the cool Atlantic ocean breeze rushing up the mountain, is in itself a unique experience in this part of the world.
This ride definitely hit all the right notes of weather, climbs, food and views. In other words, this ride was a true Canarian experience.