Juan José Cañas from the city of Malaga in southern Spain is 80 years old, and although he retired two decades ago, he says his many offspring have been keeping him busy lately. But Cañas isn’t referring to his 12 grandchildren or his two great-grandchildren; he means the more than 15,000 followers he has on YouTube. He calls them all his grandchildren and invites viewers to consider him their “traveling grandpa.”
It was his (actual) granddaughter, Esther, who infected him with YouTube fever. He first appeared in several videos that she posted on Instagram. “Later I heard that more people were asking about me than about her, so I made myself a channel,” says Cañas. His channel is called Atrapatuabuelo (Catch your grandpa) and he uses it to give his fans glimpses into his trips and new experiences.
In the videos, Cañas can be seen rowing a boat on a lake in Vietnam, eating exotic candies and enjoying the canals of Venice. He travels with his family, who help with the production, and his fan club keeps growing. “He’s in a war with his granddaughter over who has more subscribers, and little by little, he’s catching up,” one of his daughters tells Verne. Esther, who has over 220,000 subscribers to her own account, also manages her grandpa’s page, which has some 15,000 subscribers.
In the lighthearted battle for ratings, Cañas even filmed himself getting his first tattoo. Esther accompanied him while he had Picasso’s dove tattooed on his forearm, in memory of his wife, who has the same symbol on her gravestone. “It doesn’t hurt a bit to get a tattoo. You feel a tickle because they put some anesthetic cream on your arm, but I think one is enough,” he says.
“My daily routine consists of having a coffee, reading EL PAÍS, and I’m not just saying that because you’re interviewing me – I've read it since the first-ever issue – then I read [regional dailies] Málaga Hoy and El Sur. Then I get started on replying to my followers. They write to me from South America, Germany, Valladolid and Granada,” he explains.
His real grandchildren, for one reason or another, are also spread out around the world in places including Italy and France, and he uses his website to get in touch with them too. When Cañas was young he also lived in France. “I went to work in construction, but I studied at the same time and became a construction manager,” he says.
He announces that he’s about to go film a video in Almeria, the Spanish province that provided a backdrop for many Spaghetti Westerns. “My grandchildren have already bought me a cowboy costume,” he says. After that, his next goal is Finland: “All of my family is in love with the Northern Lights and we want to see them.” He’s also got a few Finnish friends, “who come to Malaga every year to get a sun tan.”
Another of his plans is to organize a meeting in Malaga for him and his virtual grandchildren. He’s already met a few of them in person. Since the travel bug has bit him so hard, we asked if he had ever considered making a video in outer space. “It’s my dream. I still remember Yuri Gagarin. If I had been born American or Russia and I had studied, I would have loved to be an astronaut,” he says.
Aware that YouTube can be used in an abusive way, the traveling grandpa has firsthand experience that it can be used for good too. “Now I feel busy and happy because of all the people who tell me they love me.”
English version by Alyssa McMurtry.