November 2nd, 2003

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Vermillion Sands

The southern coast of Gran Canaria is a volcanic wasteland of burned grit. It is as if somebody has dumped a billion tons of industrial slag into the Atlantic Ocean. But the weather is mild all year round, and the sea is clean.

When Spain joined the Euro the Spanish crime bosses had a problem: their considerable personal fortunes were in pesetas. But as these were 'dirty' pesetas they couldn't just go into the bank and change them into real money.

In the last few years a bunch of resorts have been built along this volcanic coast. they are full of tourists all year round, spending Euros. In other words they are machines for turning dirty pesetas into clean Euros, built by the Spanish mafia.

This is a European Las Vegas. The barren wasteland stops abruptly, and there are massive pastel hotels and immaculate little town squares with palm trees and bouganvillia and hibiscus blossoms. It's clean, the food is lovely, the taxis are cheap. You don't get to see the mafia, the people are friendly and considerate. It's like the future.

The way to use this place is to stay in a quiet hotel, and go out of town every day, away from the beach, and into the mountains. About five miles inland the grit starts to support prickly pear and aloe vera. In the valleys above that there are palms and banana trees; even higher up there are pine trees.

It's interesting and surreal. I took a boat along the coast, and you see some of the bleakest most hostile country that you can imagine - no living things, not even lizards and cactus. Then there is a cup-shaped town full of tanned people in thongs sipping cocktails, then back to the wilderness.