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A Week in the Canary Islands (and a bit of Africa)

You’ll remember last week we left off leaving Rome (after Barcelona for Mobile World Congress), in our bid to burn a few weeks of time while our landlord pulls up and renovates the flooring in our apartment.  So for the past 7-8 days we’ve been floating around the Canary Islands on the Mein Schiff 4, part of the German cruise line TUI.  A long-time DCR reader suggested we try it out after seeing us on our previous cruise adventures (from Dubai to Singapore via India, the not-so-awesome Queen Mary 2, and another trip for our honeymoon).

The only catch? We don’t speak German. So we dragged along some friends…that also don’t speak German.  With that – let’s begin.

Gran Canaria (Canary Islands)

We boarded the ship in Gran Canaria last Sunday.  Our flight got in mid-afternoon, but the ship didn’t leave until late night (around 10PM), so I decided to go for a run around that end of the island.

I had no particular plan, but just sorta went wherever looked interesting.  In this case, a big hill-looking thing.

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Once up there, I realized that the coastline was spectacular, so I worked my way down trail-running style:

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This would eventually end at a military/restricted zone.  They seemed kinda serious about it.

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So I then backtracked my way along the coastal areas to the beach boardwalk and then finally back across town to the ship.

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It’s here I wrapped up a bunch of shots for the Fitbit Blaze review.  Regrettably, it started pouring out – making that job slightly more difficult.  That seemed to be the case anytime we were near the port in Las Palmas – it was just cold, windy, and rainy.  Drive or cruise just 30 minutes away and it’d be all sunshine.  Go figure.

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In any case, we got all settled on-board and cruised off into the (rather rolling) seas.

Agadir (Morocco, Africa)

After about 36 hours at sea, we arrived in Morocco.  Agadir to be precise.  While I’ve been to the continent to Africa more times than I can count, I’ve only been to Morocco once before – with The Girl some years back (our first trip together).  It was a day trip from Spain using the high speed ferry that connects the two.

Agadir sits on the western coast of Africa, close to the beginnings of the Sahara desert.  While there are sand dunes not too far from here, they weren’t in our day plan (no desire to sit on a packed bus for hours).

Instead, I started the day with a run around the town.  Mostly, it was a run to get out of the vast port area, followed by a short snippet on the beach.

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Still, it was nice.  After that I headed back to the boat to get breakfast.  From there we all grabbed the shuttle bus back to the beach for some beach relaxation.  It was warm, but not hot. And with the winds howling a bit – it wasn’t quite as hot as you’d like.  Still, we made it work.

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We were killing time until our afternoon reservation for dune buggies (or karts or whatever you call them).  Here’s Liz during one of her driving stints:

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We’d take these up into the mountains on a multi-hour trek.

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Two per buggy, and we traded a bit here and there.

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No actual sand dunes, but just more mountain/desert than anything.  Plus, a mile or two on the quiet beaches on the way back – which was pretty fun.

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Afterwards, I got the brief required camel sunset photo.

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Because…camel?

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With that – it was time to head back to the boat and back to the Canary Islands.

Lanzarote (Canary Islands)

After getting back to the islands, first up was Lanzarote.  This island is home to Ironman Lanzarote, coming up again in May.  This race is well known for being utterly brutal, and we saw plenty of evidence of that during our wanderings around the island.  Just check out the elevation profile for the bike leg of the race (180km):

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Of course, the hills are really the least of your issues.  It’s the non-stop wind and ever-present searing sun that’s likely to make you cry first.  Even this time of the year the sun out in the lava fields will quickly crisp you up.  So it’s best to act like a camel and take lots of water.

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As for us? We just started with the beach instead.  We picked up a car rental and headed on down a long dirt road that would eventually get us to this rather pretty spot:

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We burned a bit of time in that area, which overlooks a string of beaches:

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From there we went over to visit the volcano area – but it was getting late in the day and we didn’t quite have enough time to go through the entire park on the busses they have.  So we just did a short stop before moving along.

But we did get to see these cool line-ups of camels as they finished their work for the day and trekked back to…well…wherever a parade of camels sleeps for the night.

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Along the way we saw plenty of cyclists/triathletes out and about riding around.

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I think this island would be one of my top two picks to come back to if I wanted to do a bit of riding (along with La Gomera).  Both seem a bit more low-key than Tenerife or Gran Canaria.

Tenerife (Canary Islands)

Next it was off to Tenerife.  An island with far more infrastructure than we expected.  In the main city center where the port was, it was basically like being in Honolulu, kinda crazy.  First up that morning was a run along the coast with The Girl.

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After which we grabbed another rental car here and started off spending our morning on a white sand beach.  I note this because the beach should have been black sand, but they decided to truck transport a boatload (or rather a lot of boatloads – anyone know exactly how many?) of sand from the Sahara desert to here, making it a white-sand beach.  For realz.

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If you head up to the top to see the above view, and then turn around, you’ll see the more natural black sand beaches:

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At about this point, the bike tour from the TUI ship pedaled on by.  Somewhat impressive since it wasn’t an easy climb up there, and not everyone was athletes.  I don’t have a picture of them there, but I do have a picture down at the ship:

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Even more impressive is that TUI actually takes a flotilla of bikes with them onboard, and every morning there is a bike tour for a few hours that you can join.  There’re also organized runs in each port too.  Pretty cool

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Oh, and they also do spin classes (90 minutes!) – complete with real-course style videos playing on the massive big-screen TV.

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Said TV is also used for football games:

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Anyway…after our beach we headed inland in an attempt to get to the 3,718m (10,46ft) tall volcano, Teide.  The road up to it is amazing, full of huge trees and incredible views.  Such as this:

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Unfortunately, said road to the volcano was also closed.  We eventually hit a gate in the road where a maintenance worker was stationed to point confused tourists such as ourselves in another direction.  He didn’t speak any English (and us, no Spanish), so we aren’t quite sure why.  Perhaps it was closed due to snow.  He showed on the map that we could drive all the way around to the other side of the island to get in that way, but it would have taken hours more for us to do that.  It’s alright, we just went back down to the water again to check out more random beaches:

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As we refilled the car’s gas tank, I found it somewhat amusing that the highway gas stations have a bar in them.

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Just sayin’.

La Gomera (Canary Islands)

The last stop on our trip before heading back to Gran Canaria was San Sebastián de la Gomera.  For this island, we decided against a rental car (or packaged tours), and just did wandering on foot from the boat.  I started with a 7ish mile run in the morning, over some relatively hilly terrain.

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It was nice though – and super quiet. Perhaps only 2-3 cars passed me during the run.

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The entire port area is very convenient, and probably the best port that we had from a running standpoint.  I took this photo as I came back down out of the hills.

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Afterwards I ran through the center of the then bustling (albeit tiny) town.  I’m pretty sure on days where there isn’t a cruise ship in town, it’s totally empty.

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Following grabbing some food, it was back to the beach for a few hours.  However, unlike most beaches we visited, this one actually had these little cubby hole cubicle-like things near the upper edges.  They made for small private stone ‘cabanas’ if you will, but most importantly – blocked the wind.  Pretty nifty!

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While the water was still a bit chilly, it wasn’t too bad since it was a rather warm day out.

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I’m sure as the weather warms, folks would be much happier to dip into the sea.

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We were soon on our way back to the home port.  Though, some were out getting in a few last loops on the ship’s track.

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Astoundingly, I didn’t run a single loop up there this time (you’ll remember the last time I did a cruise workout and the fun tracks that made).  Nope – I just kept to running in almost all the ports instead.  More fun anyway!

Random Tidbits From The Ship:

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I figured I’d mention a few things about the ship – after all, we spent a week on it.  First up, as I alluded to earlier, TUI is a German company and the TUI cruise line is very much a German focused endeavor.  We knew that going in, as the website for booking makes abundantly clear.  It’s all German, all the time.

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Except, when it’s not.  That’s because despite being a German ship – everyone spoke English, and were more than happy to.  Seriously – the crew were awesome.  We knew precisely two words in German upon arrival, and it didn’t matter.  Everyone was astoundingly friendly and more than happy to speak English at every turn.

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This is mostly because the ship itself operates heavily in English – many of the non-customer facing workers will be from dozens of different countries, and English is the most common language.  Even the captain is actually American.  The only two announcements made in English were safety related (the muster drill at the beginning, and the do-not-smoke while they fueled the ship).

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As for the ship itself – it’s brand new, still less than a year old.  And it shows.  It’s really rather pretty, modern yet classy.  And not in a overly glitz way like many other cruise lines.

Plus, they have this giant model on one of the floors, with the opposite side all cutaway.  Super cool.

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The cruise is all-inclusive (except when it’s not), which means in theory all alcohol is included.  But some premium stuff isn’t, along with some higher end restaurants.

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We ate at pretty much every restaurant over the course of the cruise, and in general things were quite good.

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Obviously, fairly German focused – especially at the buffets.  As well as just in terms of some of the cultural tastes and food preferences in items you’d find at various food outlets.  But still, a vast selection of food at the buffets and most of it quite high quality.  The fruits were amazing, as was the stir fry station (make your own).  Lots of great European cheeses at the cheese station, and a massive bakery (ovens baking away behind the counter and all!).  Every meal they had 25+ types of freshly baked breads:

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Probably our only complaint would be that the meal hours ended a bit early for us.  Our group being all from Paris, we’re used to eating later.  Combine that with wanting to get a full day outside in ports, we’d often arrive at restaurants at 9:30 – which was too late in most cases.  Also, there’s no room service option either.  But you get used to that.  They do have one 24×7 bistro of sorts, so that’s your only late-night option (no late night ice cream regrettably).

Of note is while most US cruise lines have ‘formal nights’ or similar more dressy dress code, that wasn’t the case here (and not in a bad way).  We actually really enjoyed the lack of pushiness or over the top formality.  It’s hard to describe exactly – other than to say that everything was very ‘relaxed’.  Nobody was trying to pitch or sell anything to us, nor was anyone pushing us around on various timetables or forcing you to pose for corny photos (to sell you) at every turn.  You just did what you wanted when you wanted.  It was incredibly relaxing in that respect.

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We’d have no concern booking again despite our lack of German language skills, because you just don’t need any German.  We used our phone apps to translate various paper stuff in the cabins, so that worked out.  Of course – all of us are expats living in another country that isn’t our native language, so we’re all kinda used to being in that mental state of constantly translating (either in my head or via an app, depending on country).  If this was your first time being outside your language, it might be more stressful.

Again – huge thanks to reader David for the suggestion, and the ship tips along the way.  We definitely appreciate it!

And for everyone else, thanks for reading!

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37 Comments

  1. Dave Lusty

    TUI isnt just German, they operate as Thomson in the UK so I’d imagine there is an English version of that same cruise available somewhere for the less linguistically adventurous :)

    Reply
    • Paul

      Well technically they are German, but they bought up a lot of European travel companies, including some British ones, so they speak a whole lot of languages, and have a huge presence in the UK too.

      Reply
  2. Yep, Teide was packed with snow last week, hence why you couldn’t go up there.

    About Lanzarote, you are right, is a well known tri island. Not only for the Ironman they have there, but also because there are many tri focused accommodations, hotels, training camps, bike rentals and so. Many top spanish triathletes start the season training there. And it’s said that the conditions are very similar to the ones found in Hawaii.

    Reply
  3. Angus

    Great share!

    We’ve been making an annual pilgrimage to Lanzarote for some Easter sun for the last few years – and I can promise you it’ll be a great place to go when Ray Maker Jr joins the party. SO child-friendly…!

    Reply
  4. Suleiman

    Nice T-Shirt.

    Reply
  5. Hammer

    A long, long time ago, I managed to trail run round part of the volcano’s summit. Not entirely sure I was meant to – it’s pretty guided up there – but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.

    Reply
  6. Robert Black

    La Gomera, not popped across this visit but it offers the best goats cheese I’ve ever had. For cyclists it’d be great as you travel through different climates as you climb. Well I’ve never come across that in the UK.

    Tui will be dropping the Thompson name within the next year, so said the rep when we where in Portugal last October

    Reply
  7. Mike

    When you run with your gopro do you leave the case on it? If you go no case, would you recommend this to others (obviously don’t take it in the water) or do you only do this since you have seventeen other backups. Just wondering if the lens is prone to scratching or any other concerns.

    Reply
    • Unless it’s raining, I typically just use it sans-case. I do have a Spibelt I stick it in occasionally (or can put it in, when it rains harder).

      So far, I’m pretty lucky on not having issues with it. I have one Hero4 Silver that the audio is getting a bit wonky, but I’m not sure what the cause of that is. I’ve started a support case, but won’t send it in for repairs till later in the week when I get back. Otherwise – all else is good.

      Reply
  8. steven Bass

    I love that Microsoft shirt… “I simply (excel logo)”. Too good! I’ll be looking around the interwebs for that one!!

    Who knows maybe a cycling trip to the canary islands, as that looked like a great trip!

    Reply
  9. Dave F

    I took a break from working in spreadsheet hell to read this… only to see that green t-shirt staring at me. SMH.

    Reply
  10. Sam

    With the expansion of your family you may want to consider Disney Cruise Lines, as the are very family friendly. As someone who has a maritime background and has spent a lot of time sailing on merchant vessels I was very reluctant to get on another ship. However, when my 2 yr daughter got excited about the “Mickey Boat” I of course caved. Since, then I have been on 9 other Disney Cruises and have enjoyed each and every moment with my daughters (even on the Frozen Themed nights..when everyone sings “Let it Go”).

    Reply
    • Paul S.

      The non-ship based “Adventures by Disney” tours are also great. We’ve been on four, in Germany, Scotland, Costa Rica, and LA/Disneyland, and they’ve all been spectacular.

      Reply
  11. J Jones

    I fully expect to get blasted by other readers for this comment but oh well. First Ray, let me say that I have been a fan of your site for a very long time and I jumped at the chance to support your site financially as well as purchase items whenever possible via your posted links.

    Ok, so on with my comment, I go to your site for your wonderfully detailed and in-depth reviews and other tech related posts. I believe that this is what your reputation and resulting following is based upon. The problem it seems is that you appear to really have strayed away from your base and have now become a travel related website. I have not done an extensive accounting or your posts as of late but it seems that the majority of your posts have been about your travels rather than product reviews. You or your viewers will probably prove me wrong by some in-depth blog post analysis but I can only tell you my point of view.

    Now I realize that you have been temporarily kicked out of your apartment so that may explain the recent travelogue activity but this trend began far earlier than that. I wish you, The Girl, and the imminent The Kid the best of luck and I will continue to support you because no one else offers what you offer (when you offer it), but please, please get back to your roots.

    Note-this is also seen in your podcast when in spite of it only be 30 mins, you spent what, the first 6-10 mins of you last episode talking about your travels.

    Ok people, let me have it…

    Reply
    • FWIW I like hearing about your travels. I have a Garmin 225, and I am happy w/it, and not shopping around so I like hearing about your use of tools through this more casual narrative.

      Reply
    • Jeff Kohn

      Disagree and I honestly don’t understand the comment. If you’ve been a fan for a long time, then you know that Ray has always reported on his travels and life events. It’s a blog, not a review site. It’s part of what makes me a regular reader. I really enjoy hearing about his super busy and interesting life, including his insanely detailed reviews.

      Reply
    • Matt B

      The travel reports are awesome. However Ray, you are seriously slacking on food reports, race reports and Lucy reports. As a long time reader I insist you rectify this immediately!!! 😛

      Reply
    • Lutfi

      Disagree! Well-rounded website w lots of in-depth and technical reviews, interspersed w interesting random, every day blogs. Great mix and keeps me coming back for more!

      Reply
    • J Jones

      Of course my point got missed in that I am not calling for him to stop posting his travels but that the % of reviews and analysis to travel posts has shifted to more travel and less tech. I never said that he should stop posting travel stuff. Fine, don’t believe that I have “been a fan for a long time” I couldn’t care less but at least read the comment so that you understand what it was actually trying to say.

      Ray is the only one who can say what his site is (blog, review site or whatever) but what Ray is known for is his reviews and analysis. This is exhibited in the site’s banner. It lists Home/Blog/Product Reviews/Buyers Guide/How-To/ Race Report/Travel/Paris/Queue. Now I ask you, or anyone that can look at this objectively, what would a new comer expect the thrust of the site to be? He may have but I am not aware of any TV show or conference where he has been asked to discuss travel only tech.

      But again, it’s Ray’s site he can for course post on whatever he wants. I was merely saying that IMO the balance of tech to travel has become heavily skewed to travel.

      Reply
    • Dave Lusty

      It’s funny I was thinking last week that we’d just had a sudden massive influx of reviews. Ray can’t choose to review things that don’t exist, and there have been very few new toys this year so I’m surprised how many we’ve had. Still waiting on that Limits review though 😉

      Reply
    • J Jones

      Ha!! Unless you can hold your breath for a very long time, you’re gonna be disappointed. It is rare that something materializes after being in vapor for so long.

      Reply
    • Scott E

      Fortunately, Ray saved me so much time and money on my sport tech purchases that I’m good with chill’n to the foodie photos, Lucy adventures and TheGirl goofy shots. Yeah, guess at some point someone needs to get serious. There must be yet a few hundred more sport watches to review…..

      Reply
    • OregonIan

      Lol, he’s been blogging about other stuff since the start. He stopped doing runarounds as much when he left Microsoft because he wasn’t traveling for work, but it seems like he’s had a travel post every week or two for as long as I’ve been reading, about three years.

      I enjoy reading it because I like reading what Ray writes. I’m realistically not going to buy 95% of what he reviews, but I still read and enjoy everything.

      Reply
    • Hi J-

      Thanks for the feedback.

      In general my posts ebb and flow on various topics based on all sorts of things, but most notably – my life. It’s pretty much always been that way. Actually, I used to post way more travel posts (usually one post per day of the trip). These days, I just do a summary because time is limited.

      The last 3-4 weeks has been a lot of travel, mostly because that’s just how the schedule worked out. Barcelona was for sports tech stuff (things like the new Garmin Vivoactive HR, the Samsung gadgets and other random stuff not yet seen). I’m repeatedly told that many people enjoy the travel/random posts just as much (if not more) than the tech ones.

      Of course, sports tech is a huge part of the blog. Always will be. And there’s lots of tech to talk about. The last two weeks have seen three in-depth reviews (four counting today). And not little ones either – but heavily complex ones. There’s another review ready for tomorrow too. Also large and complex.

      As others have noted, this is the quiet season in sports tech. Most devices from CES in January haven’t yet started shipping. So while I could do a Sports Illustrated style swimsuit model post, I go with whatever is interesting to me.

      Lastly, I think one of the reasons you may see less posts these days than before is simply that I spend more time answering (more) questions. On average 2-4 hours a day answering reader questions. I’m sure some business analysis person would tell me to stop answering questions (comments/e-mail/etc…) and write more posts. But, I think folks value those answers. And, I think future posts also value from them long term as I see and think about different scenarios that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to me, to use in future tests.

      There are still many tech posts planned for March, especially now that I’ve landed back in Paris this afternoon. But equally, there will always be travel and pretty much whatever else is interesting to me.

      Thanks for reading, and the support!

      Reply
    • ted b.

      There has always been a balance of tech and life on this site, I think it’s fantastic. Thank you Ray for the excellent inside scoop!

      Reply
  12. Looks like a great trip. GORGEOUS photos.

    Reply
  13. Patrick

    Awesome pictures and description. This looks like it would be a great trip!

    I really like the Excel shirt. Clever.

    Reply
  14. paul appleyard

    I’ve cycled 5 days in Gran Caneria when you get away form the big resorts and up into the hills you don’t get to many cars plenty of lovely climbs and well maintained roads.

    Reply
  15. Jake

    Can you please have more giveaways? I really enjoy them.

    Reply
  16. Artur

    So after all these years in Europe you do actually call football (European) football, and not soccer :)

    Reply
  17. Rem

    Thanks for these travel post, always interesting and refreshing.
    You may not have been aware but interestingly, there were a big ultra Trail race in gandcanaria week-end 4,5,6 march.
    ( bigger one being Transgrancanaria 125km, 8000m D+ elevation in max 30h )

    Reply
  18. Robert Black

    Ray can’t review thin air, we’re all serious about training and the use of technology to better our selves, from my running only standpoint that leaves Garmin, Polar and Suunto as credible devices and they unfortunately don’t release watches every week, 1 to keep us salivating like Pavlov’s dog and 2 keep Ray’s fingers on the keyboard. As it happens I’m off to Rome in October so his previous post was very timely. Thank you

    Reply
  19. Caferey

    Sounds like you had a great trip. The Canary Islands and particularly Lanzarote is popular with a lot of high level athletes in winter, Paula Radcliffe has been, and many European professional football teams head there too.

    Reply
  20. Pedro Navarro

    Dang! Although I live in California, I’m from Tenerife. I was in the Canary Islands this weekend to run the Transgrancanaria! If you are ever interested in climbing el Teide, check out the brutal Tenerife Bluetrail race or the Tenerife 040 trail.

    Reply
  21. Hi Ray – thanks for mentioning my blog inspired you. Check out full report on cycling in Gran Canaria link to dapower.wordpress.com

    Reply