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The Route of La Aldea de San Nicolás

La Aldea de San Nicolás is the furthest municipality from the capital of Gran Canaria and, as its inhabitants say, "the great Unknown of Gran Canaria". Until 2005, it was called San Nicolas de Tolentino, but since then it has been known as La Aldea de San Nicolás (The Village of St. Nicholas), although the locals often simply call it, “La Aldea”. We can reach this place by three different roads, but on this occasion we are going to choose the north road of the island, the GC-200 (from Agaete to La Aldea).

 

The route allows us to view the abundant banana plantations in the north of the island, and at different points on the journey we will be able to enjoy views of the coast; from the Mountain of Guía, to La Isleta. Also on the roadside we will be able to see the signs for the network of paths that cross the municipality and its surroundings.

This road which borders the island, allows us to view the whole of the northwestern coast; feel sensations as we look at its cliffs and recognize, due to the rugged terrain, the volcanic origin of the archipelago.

 

Balcón de La Aldea

If we want to rest a little from the drive up, before reaching the municipality, we have a viewing area or “mirador” known as, “El Balcón de La Aldea” (The Balcony of the Village). An imposing place from which we can enjoy the panoramic view of the cliffs and massifs with heights reaching 1000 metres above sea level. With a little imagination, on observing the succession of mountains and cliffs to the west one can visualise a dragon's tail, which is the shape that characterizes this coastal area called, La Punta de la Aldea. This projection is where there is more ground gained to the sea, so it can be seen from various western points of Gran Canaria.

Nowadays, to think of crawling along these impressive cliffs, would be impossible and highly imprudent on our part; but we know that during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many men, women and children, defied nature and risked their lives on the high coastal cliffs of what is now known as, La Aldea de San Nicolás. The “orchilla”or Roccella canariensis, is a lichen that grows on the high cliff faces falling towards the sea in coastal areas of La Aldea and Artenara.

The gathering of this lichen, was once, one of the most dangerous jobs on the island. People hung from the cliffs, clawing to its vertical faces, narrow steps and platforms, to reach the most inaccessible places where this lichen grows, and thus take from the mountain a few kilos, to then sell as fabric dye.

From the viewing point of “El Balcón”, where we now stand, you can see parts of the ancient network of paths that leave from here and are lost a few yards ahead on the sea cliffs inaccessable ledge.

It is well known that “La Punta de la Aldea” has powerful crossover tides that make for rough seas, where the pounding of waves against the cliffs becomes a real spectacle.

The blue sky and the bright sunshine illuminating the landscape is usual, and with any luck, you may be able to include more natural elements to the picture before you; such as "El Teide", on our neighboring island of Tenerife, or the Port of Las Nieves, in Agaete.

The colours of the sea in this part of the island are beautiful, the tones of greens, blues and turquoises mix, resulting in a range of colours that varies with the light.

Having rested and enjoyed one of the most dazzling views of the island, we can resume the journey by road to El Puerto de La Aldea, just 9 kilometers away form here.

 

Puerto de la Aldea

Before we get to the port, we have the views of the wide and populated “Valle de la Aldea”, whose base is covered in plastic, due to the agricultural economic need of the tomato for export to Europe.

The municipality, with an area of 139 km2, is located in the west of Gran Canaria, between the Atlantic Ocean, along 32 km of coastline, and the neighboring municipalities of Artenara, Tejeda and Mogan.

We follow the road signs towards a place called “La Playa” (The Beach), and once at coastal level, we will have in sight “El Puerto de la Aldea”, where small restaurants serve some incredibly delicious fish dishes. To the south of the harbor we find the pebbled beach of “La Playa de la Aldea”, as well as a beautiful avenue which we will later visit.

In this small port we can see a few fishing boats which are still active. Being a harbour with very little traffic, the waters are crystal clear and bathing in them is an easy and inexpensive gift which any visitor can experience. Although at present only two families continue the traditional fishing activity, not to a large scale, we can enjoy their good quality seafood products in some of the bars and restaurants in the area. The fried “viejas” are highly recommended, as are the squid and traditional “gofio escaldado” (a tasty fish flavoured paste). The salads with avocados and tomatoes from the fertile valley of La Aldea, as well as other fresh produce, are usually a good accompaniment for fish, and provide a light and energetic dish in order to continue our route.

From El Puerto de la Aldea, we can walk to the pebble beach from where we we can look at the Atlantic Ocean. The length of this beach, which is less than a kilometre long and 25 metres wide, has its peak occupancy during the summer months and during its most popular festival, "La Fiesta del Charco", on September 11th.

 

El Charco

From the end of the avenue that runs along the beach, with our backs towards the sea we will be able to locate El Charco, which due to its heritage value has been declared of Cultural Interest.

El Charco, is a small lagoon that is at the mouth of the Barranco de La Aldea gully, a few metres from the sea, with an outlet towards the ocean and separated from it by a barrier of marine cobblestones. The depth of El Charco usually does not exceed 1.50 metres and the bottom is formed by sedimentary deposits and stones from the drag of the ravine. El Charco, as is the case with the municipality is generally, is a lovely place to enjoy nature away from the hustle and bustle of the city and its crowds. However, if you are looking for tranquility, note that this little frequented heavenly place, transforms itself on 11th September, when the Charco Festival takes place. The origins of this festival date back to its Aboriginal past, when villagers tried to catch fish with their hands, splashing in the water. There is a type of endemic fish known as Las Lisas (a type of mullet fish), which is left to breed until the festivity arrives. Then hundreds of people descend to El Charco, run into the water and try to catch as many fish as possible.

If you plan to participate in the party, you should know that the meaning of this ancient custom of fishing in a lagoon, leaping into the water fully dress, with great revelry and joy, and with the collective sense of handing down this tradition to future generations, is intrinsic to the villagers of the Aldea. So to be able to take part in the festivity, all you need to do is respect the tradition.

El Charco, and the popular festivity associated to this enclave, form an example of the survival of pre-Hispanic cultural practices, in particular fishing by means of a technique known as “embarbascado". Said technique consisted of pouring latex from certain plants, such as cactus or tabaiba (a plant of the Euphorbia species), which produces a sedating effect on fish, facilitating their capture. It is a fishing technique which continued to be used in different areas of Gran Canaria, at least until the first half of the twentieth century, as testified by historians such as José de Viera y Clavijo, or Victor Grau-Bassas. This appears to be the origin of the festivity, which features the prehispanic substrate that gives content to the pagan celebration. Not surprisingly, in the vicinity of El Charco is located one of the largest prehistoric settlements on the island, where in the nineteenth century the presence of more than 800 buildings (houses, burial mounds, enclosures, and so on) were cited in the place now known as Los Caserones.

 

The Village of Los Caserones

The Village of Los Caserones, located at the mouth of the Barranco de La Aldea, is one of the most important archaeological sites of Gran Canaria and a paradigmatic example of the human occupation models in the pre-Hispanic period on the island.

Researchers who looked into the past of the island during the nineteenth century tell of a huge populated area consisting of houses, which the anthropologist Grau Bassas noted, formed a very real village layout, with an urban prototype lattice:

Rural development in this part of the island has significantly altered the landscape and, with it, the archaeological site itself.

Apart from these built room structures, one must point out the presence of other structures, amongst which are the burial mounds located in the so-called 'Lomo de Caserones'.

In the 1980s the excavation of one of these burial mounds took place, revealing the hierarchical order of the burials.

The detailed study of this important site located close to the mouth of the Barranco de La Aldea gully, will help to discover new details on the daily life of the first inhabitants of Gran Canaria. One must note that the datings obtained from Los Caserones have yielded dates ranging from the second century of our era to the days immediately preceding the Spanish conquest (in the 15th century), whereby making it a magnificent field for the study of the greater part of pre-Hispanic human settlement on the island.

And now to continue learning about this charming municipality, one does not have to travel very far. Without leaving the enclave of the beach where we are at present located, we can enjoy the pleasant shaded area of El Parque de Rubén Díaz, also commonly known as, "El Chozo".

 

Ruben Diaz Park

This park lies in a superb setting, as it is located a few meters from El Charco and La Playa de La Aldea. The peculiarity of this park is that it is surrounded by a grove of “tarahales” (a flowering shrub or small tree of the genus Tamarix) as well as tables and benches that allow for the gathering of a great number of people to sit and eat. It is the meeting place of the traditional Canarian music groups on the day of the festivity of El Charco. Nearby there is an artificial turf leisure facility, and parking.

Before reaching the village, there is good news for everyone in general, and more so for diving enthusiasts.

 

El Roque Micro Marine Protected Area

On this coast where we are now find ourselves, the Micro Marine Protected Area of El Roque has recently been established. The first micro marine area of the Spanish network to have a legal framework for its protection. This area provides the opportunity of enjoying a hidden spot on the island with a virtually unspoilt coastline. The small population, its striking topography and rich ocean currents have permitted a large natural diversity well worth visiting. The Micro Marine Protected Area of El Roque, stands out because of its abundance of fish and its fields of magnificent “gorgonias” (soft corals, commonly known as Sea Whips of Sea Fans). White grunts, sea breams, brownstriped grunts, barracudas and sargo, form schools above the contours and caves of the rocky sea floor. Herein or along the extensive sandbeds, it is common to see large fish, such as common stingrays, angelfish and mantelina stingrays. This is a privileged place to discover the underwater wealth of the seabeds of the Gran Canarian Biosphere Reserve.

La Aldea has more than a dozen different dives, well known to local divers, with depths ranging from 10 to 23 metres. There exist a great number of alternatives, from the comfortable dive of Abades, protected by La Punta de la Aldea, to the technical deep sea dives of Punta Arenas. Divers should pay special attention to the rich waters and strong currents that give life to the micro marine area. It is advisable to be an experienced diver in order to venture an inmersion in the waters of the micro marine area. For the less experienced, the beach of La Aldea offers the perfect environment for snorkelling.

Hoping you are enjoying your visit, I recommend you reserve some strength to walk through the old part of the village and see, first hand, some of its singularities. From the beach parking area, close to the Ruben Diaz Park, drive in the direction of La Aldea (around 4 kilometres), leaving to your right ( about 2 kilometres more or less), the Post of the Red Cross and continuing the road to the junction of Mogán. Once here, we can park the car and take as our starting point the tourist information office; an old bar that has been rebuilt, and looks like a windmill.

 

Living Museum of La Aldea

If you are interested in traditional crafts and looking at the utensils that were used to make them, you can ask at the Tourist Information Office for the Living Museum of La Aldea; an exhibition you can view by appointment. The museum recreates life in the twentieth century in the most isolated village on Gran Canaria, with its protagonists as actors and guides in the recreations of the “gofio” mill, the barbershop, the grocery store, the school and so on.

If you have already made the necessary enquiries on the activities and tours that you can carry out in this municipality, let's continue our route.

 

Old Flour Mill

On leaving the tourist office, on the left, we find a stone building on the corner, a refurbished old flour mill, where we can see the machinery and mill operation that was once used to make “gofio” (powdered corn flour). It has a small museum that displays all the tools related to grain farming and its milling process. Interestingly enough, four more mills have been preserved in the municipality, which was once called the Valley of the thousand mills.

From where we stand, on foot to the town center is a five minute walk. The itinerary of the visit is along the Calle Real street, where we can see the Municipal Cultural Center, the Town Hall, the Balcony House and finally the Parish of St. Nicholas.

 

The Parish of St. Nicholas

In the pre-colonial period, some Mallorcan friers landed on the beach of La Aldea and later built a chapel in honor of San Nicholas de Tolentino. After the conquest of the island by the Spanish, this chapel was closed and another built in its place further up the valley. This chapel has been an independent parish since 1783. We refer to the chapel in front of us, which is not to be confused with the shrine located on the south side of the Lagoon of La Aldea, next to the Roque (a natural stone monolith) and, according to chronicles and tradition, is the first building erected by Europeans in the Canaries. The Chapel constructed by the Mallorcan friers is located in a cave that shows evidence of prior use (in the prehispanic period) and its hypothetical foundation dates close to 1340.

Within the parish exhibitions generally take place. If you want to enter and enjoy it, I will wait for you here.

Okay, as the culmination of this route through the municipality of La Aldea we can visit Cactualdea, which I'll tell you about along the way.

 

Cactualdea

This is a the largest Cactus Theme Park in Europe, located in a natural setting , where its design is consistent with the surroundings and the region. You can see hundreds of different species of cactus from all over the world, as well as many species of endemic and local flora.

We're here, go ahead.

As a farewell to the village, I will accompany you to La Cruz del Siglo (the Century Cross), a strategic spot to view La Aldea. This place lies of the slopes of Las Tabladas plateau.

 

The Century Cross

Pope Leo XIII, recommended the placement of the Redeemers Cross for welcoming the new century (the transition between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) on the highest mountain peaks, as a symbol of Christianity. La Aldea carried out this rcommendation and placed the Century Cross in Las Tabladas in 1901.

Until 1952, Las Tabladas was a cattle farm. From the 1950's, the creation of an urban settlement began as a consequence of agricultural exploitation on the heights of Las Tabladas. Urban growth was very fast and in very little time, other services and facilities flourished: the track and road, the shop, the school and the church devoted to Our Lady of Fatima, whose festivity is enthusiastically celebrated in the month of May.

To contemplate a sunset from Las Tabladas makes us understand why it was chosen as the location for the Century Cross.

Our tour of La Aldea has come to an end.

I take my leave and I hope you enjoyed a pleasant visit in my company. However, I do not want to leave before recommending that you continue visiting, with us, other parts of the island of Gran Canaria. You'll be amazed!

Thanks and see you soon!

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