Las Palmas in Gran Canaria has 5 large shopping centres built like American Malls. One of them called, El Muelle, is located in the port area and was probably built there to attract the thousands of passengers who disembark from the cruise liners and pass by the entrance to the shopping centre every single day on their way to visit the city and island.
It is a massive, fort-like structure that incorporates a multi-story car park. Inside there are five floors of retail outlets, chain stores, big brand names and places to eat and drink. It is all plate glass, marble tiling, bright lights and shining surfaces. Tall escalators link the floors together and lead to outside balconies with spectacular views of the sea and the city. On the two occasions I visited that week this massive shopping centre had everything except customers. Clearly the Iberian feline was a cousin of the Celtic Tiger. As in Ireland inflated expectation was replaced by deflated reality.
My idea of a holiday is to explore new places. I like to stroll and meander through the backstreets and alleyways visiting churches, museums, art galleries, parks and gardens: the places that distinguish a particular town or city. I have no interest in shopping, a social flaw compounded on holidays by Ryanair’s ruthless baggage limitations. So instead of shopping I sauntered through the deserted aisles of El Muelle, a non-shopper conscious that there were more staffs on duty than there were people in the shops.
Because of my interest in photography I’m always on the lookout for good photo opportunities so I went up the escalators to the first, second, third and fourth floors noting more and more closed shop units as I did so. There was an eerie silence about the place, a sense of foreboding. I felt like an intruder in this palace of commerce, listening to my own footsteps as I walked the empty corridors. I was afraid the staff would insist on me doing some shopping by waylaying me or begging me on bended knee to buy something, anything, to alleviate their terminal boredom. How the hours must drag in that gilded cage.
On the balconies I took photographs of the cruise liners with their engines throbbing, as they waited for the return of their passengers, and of the container ships as they entered and left port. I took panoramic shots of the long promenade and the skyline over the city.
Finally seeing an escalator to the fifth floor I ventured up in the hope of even more spectacular photos. But when I got to the top level I quickly realised that there was no escalator, lift or stairs that would return me from this floor. In fact, this escalator led to a dead end, a cul de sac, until I saw what looked like an exclusive and expensive club if the doors in front of me were anything to go by. No doubt the exit from this floor existed on the other side of these doors for the paid-up members who used the facilities of the club.
Now I freely admit that my social skills are very limited and even more so with strangers who don’t speak or understand English. Lacking any knowledge of Spanish and having earlier embarrassed myself trying to explain to a pretty Senorita in a café what I wanted I decided not to risk another humbling encounter by entering this mysterious place. Who knows what lay behind these solid doors – a branch of the Spanish Inquisition, a gentleman’s club for the local mafia, a nudist colony or, more likely, an exclusive sport’s club. Nobody likes to look stupid if they can avoid it and not being able to communicate in the native language makes one feel very foolish and useless. How could I explain my presence to these people who would naturally assume that I had travelled up 5 escalators for a reason?
So instead I decided to walk down the rising escalator, to swim against the tide so to speak. Checking that there was no one coming up the escalator I took my first, tentative steps. I soon realised that I was making little progress because both the steps and handrail were moving faster upwards than I was going downwards. I speeded up and struggled on with a growing sense of panic. Half way down paranoia took over and I was convinced that the escalator had maliciously speeded up and was determined to drag me back to the fifth floor. Perhaps somebody was playing a joke on me like they do on candid camera? So, I began to descend even faster as the steps and the handrail kept pulling me in the opposite direction. For every two steps I descended the escalator pulled me back one. Finally, with my heart pounding in my chest and doubts if I would ever make it to the bottom, the end was in sight. The problem now was that the steps were of unequal height and growing as they came nearer to me and as a result, I found it hard to judge the uneven drops. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to jump the final 4 rising steps.
As I landed on the balcony, struggling to regain my balance, a tremendous cheer arose. Struggling to see where it was coming from, I saw a bunch of excitable teenagers jumping about and laughing outside a McDonald’s outlet. Oh God, I thought, what must they be thinking as they watched what they saw as a geriatric delinquent break every rule of health and safety? However, there was no way of avoiding them as there was only one exit path so I sheepishly walked towards them. Then to make matters even worse I saw a grim faced, uniformed, security guard heading in my direction. Of course, I thought, the CCTV cameras which monitor the complex – he must have seen it all in his office.
I thought things couldn’t get worse between the grinning, whistling teenagers and the scowling security guard but kept going hoping to avoid eye contact and wearing an idiotic grin as if to suggest that I wasn’t all there – the latter being true of course as I wished to be anywhere else. Then when I was within a few feet of the security guard he suddenly veered left and vented all his anger on the teenagers who, it seems, had been messing with the children’s swings and see-saws outside McDonalds Restaurant. And then it dawned on me, that for all my fears, neither security guard nor teenagers had actually seen me as I barely got a glance from either party.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I quietly slipped past them and quickly descended the fourth, third, second and first escalator. With every step I felt like a prisoner of war tunnelling out of a prison camp. Finally, I emerged through the plate glass doors and freedom. It was such a relief to breath in fresh air. It was such a relief to be free from the clutches of El Muelle. It’s the last time I’ll ever try to walk down a rising escalator. The truth of the matter is that I’m 60 years too old for that kind of carry on.