My not so grand return to the Gran Canaria of my youth

In 1981, I was a holiday rep in Playa del Ingles. My first trip back did not impress my daughters. The resort had faded, says Barbara Scully

My not so grand return to the Gran Canaria of my youth

THE long winter lingered until after Easter and followed a soggy summer last year, so I was on the brink of madness when I announced to ‘himself’ that I needed sun.

I wasn’t taking any chances on finding that sunshine. Early June weather could still be inconsistent in southern Europe. We needed to head further south — the Canaries were the best bet and would be within budget.

“The Canaries,” I announced. My teenage daughters looked at me sceptically. They are aware of my penchant for booking cottages in the middle of nowhere, and my love of peace and quiet. “Is it boring?” asked the 12-year-old. I thought quickly.

“Oh, no, we will go to Gran Canaria,” says I, warming to my theme. “Gran Canaria was where I used to work back in the ’80s. It was great fun and, no, not boring. I can show you all my old haunts, where I used to live.” The girls had left the room. Only the cat was listening, as I fell into my memories of the winter of 1981/2, when I spent four months working as a holiday rep for JWT, in Playa del Ingles.

So, Jun 1 last, we landed into Las Palmas airport and I set foot back on the island of Gran Canaria for the first time in 30 years.

Our apartment, in the Blue Bay Beach Club (a good recommendation from my travel agent), was in an area called Bahia Feliz, on the edge of Maspalomas, which is the name given to the development around the original resort of Playa del Ingles.

Bahia Feliz has a kind of funky Moroccan feel to it. It didn’t exist in 1981. Like good paddies on holidays, we slightly overdid our first day in the sun and so, on day two, I took time away from the pool and the sunbeds and began my rediscovery of Playa del Ingles.

I was very excited as I told the taxi man to take us to the Tanife Apartments. “That’s where the Copper Kettle bar and restaurant used to be,” I said to my family. “It was like our second home and I lived in an apartment just down the road.”

As we got out of the taxi, I saw what can only be described as a look of pity on my girls’ faces. The Tanife — with the Copper Kettle long gone — looked like a tired old apartment block, akin to something one might find in a Moldovian suburb.

Finding echoes of my old rep’s voice, which I used when herding busloads of clients, I cheerily urged my little family along to our next stop... to see where I used to live.

“It’s just down this road a wee bit,” I said as I strode forward. A few hundred yards later, in ominous silence, I realised that I was going the wrong way. “OK, this isn’t the street I lived on, but see those apartments there, that’s where your granny stayed when she came to visit.” Silence.

On and on we wandered, in the dead heat, as my eyes scoured the horizon for a landmark that might guide me back towards the centre of the resort.

Right there is one of the problems with Playa del Ingles. There is no centre.

In my day, most of the activity revolved around a very lively shopping centre, exotically called The Kasbah. But it buzzed with life and disco music.

It took an hour, but we found it. Unfortunately, we approached it from the rear, which was run-down and slightly malevolent looking.

My girls looked nervous as, undeterred, I led them around to the front, “which is much better”. Except it wasn’t. We wandered in among tacky shops and boarded-up units as my heart sank further and further. But the final blow was that, right in the centre of The Kasbah was ‘Morgan with his Organ’ leading an old-time dancing session.

My daughters’ pity for their mother’s illusions was complete. We hailed a taxi and headed back to the safety of Happy Bay.

A few days later, we ventured again to Playa del Ingles, where I found the apartment block where I had lived.

We also visited the site of the former Shamrock Bar (where we held JWT’s information meetings) and The Hawaiin Tasca pub, where all the Irish holiday reps met after the airport duty on a Sunday.

We sat about reading our letters from home and sharing the news. Suffice to say that Playa del Ingles is like me, I guess — saggy and baggy and has definitely seen better days. They say the past is a foreign country... and sometimes it’s best left unvisited.

While Playa del Ingles is a tired-looking resort with little to recommend it, a ten-minute taxi ride will take you to the shiny new resort of Las Meloneras.

A beautiful, sea-cliff walk links two new stylish shopping centres, with a fine selection of nice restaurants and good shopping. There are elegant, luxurious hotels and apartment complexes.

It’s a world away from Playa Del Ingles. Bahia Feliz, where we stayed, is a good choice for families. There are nice apartment complexes and a small, Spanish-style shopping centre with supermarket, a reasonable selection of family restaurants and an amusement arcade, so you can finish your drink while the children lose euros in various machines. We flew with Aer Lingus, who operate a weekly service from Dublin to Gran Canaria three times a week. Ryanair operate from Cork to Gran Canaria once a week.

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