How do you imagine Hell?
The image of 'Hell' I have from my mostly Anglican upbringing is of a rather pleasant place, somewhere warm with a red glow where small devil-like creatures tease each other with three-pronged pitch forks. Heaven, on the other hand, is blue, cold and empty. (OK, so this may have just been a way to justify being naughty).
Maspalomas, the largest tourist resort on the south coast of Gran Canaria is a more pernicious form of hell; it epitomises hedonism, greed and bad taste. The result of an architectural competition held in 1961 won by two Frenchmen; an urbanist and an economist (I rest my case!), the development covers over a thousand hectares and 19 km of coastline. It has no centre, no heart, nothing organic, instead hundreds of identical holiday lets around a commercial centre, a model which is repeated dozens of times. Cafés, restaurants, everything is in the commercial centres, outside of which there is nothing. The commercial centres are usually three stories high, a mishmash of walkways, half levels and too many shops mostly selling tat or simply empty, a sign of the economic downturn or simply that better days have been. Five decades of tourism has not improved the place, it is ageing badly. A recent settler summed up the ethos "spend, consume and leave".
The church ("look Franco, there's a church, that must be the old part of town") is nothing of the sort, it is a luxury hotel, complete with spa and garishly lit up at night.
Prior to 1961 there was nothing here in the south of Gran Canaria, but dust. The population centres and history are in Las Palmas, the main port in the north-east and the mountain villages on the more fertile northern half of the island. During the 20th century, landless farmers started moving south looking for a better life but the poor soils and severe lack of water must have made survival particularly hard.
Lack of water clearly remains an issue, the rivers are dry and the tap water used in the south is (not quite) desalinated sea water. Curiously every rubbish bin in Maspalomas has a sign on it saying "Not drinking water" - shows how desperate one can become!
No water as far as the eye can see
Sand dunes nature reserve
The 'not drinking water' bins
The worst bits of Maspalomas have got to be Sonnenland ('land of sun' in German!) and Playa del Ingles ('beach of the Englishman') - if you have seen the film 'Bladerunner' then think location for 'Bladerunner on holiday' and you won't go too far wrong.
The origins of the name 'Maspalomas' are uncertain. According to Wikipedia, it was named after either a settler from Majorca called Rodrigo Mas de Palomar, or a Genoese slave trader named Francisco Palomar. My own version: 'Mas' from 'más' meaning 'more' and 'Palomas' meaning 'doves' - Maspalomas - more doves (the dove is a symbol of the Holy spirit); a clever subterfuge so that nobody suspects the true nature of the place.
But even Hell has got to have something going for it, otherwise everyone would chose to go to heaven!
The 'locals' are friendly and helpful but mostly not from the island; Cuban, Venezuelan, North African, Polish, mainland Spanish, attracted by the year-round sunshine and tourism job opportunities. There are a couple of good sports masseurs (back to hedonism!) and best of all ... Maspalomas now has a soul; a penguin soul.
The only soul in Maspalomas