The creature dancing in the rain had us spellbound; not because she was a Dalmatian with a girl’s head (that’s commonplace); she was doing a sizzling hot routine that turned the rain to steam as it hit the ground.
If Dal-girl wasn’t a professional pole dancer she should have been; her long black mane swirled in MTV music video fashion sending spray in all directions. Beside her, a basketball player-sized African man-women in bikini top and thong danced in circles oblivious to the downpour. It was 1.30am and it was wet, wet, wet…but it was 17C and the carnaval drug was coursing through the veins like an electrical current. This is what carnaval is really all about.
The carnaval day had begun nine hours earlier with the Gran Coso Apoteosis (closing parade). It’s a visually vibrant affair and I always go to take photographs. But it’s a spectator event and to be honest, jostling with the united nations of visitors to try to get a decent shot isn’t my idea of fun. After an hour I’d seen what I’d wanted to see and swapped the jostling for watching Man Utd defeat Arsenal in the FA Cup before heading for home, making dinner, watching two episodes of Desperate Housewives on Spanish TV and getting into costume to head back into town.
Where we live you can forget calling a taxi or catching a bus on the last night of carnaval. The only way in is to drive (that means no drinking) or walk the three kilometres into Puerto de la Cruz. We opted to walk.
However, two unexpected downpours had us pausing mid dressing up. The first was the rain which had made an appearance most nights at about 10pm; the second was something I’d eaten decided to turn everything in my intestines into liquid. Three visits to the loo in an hour presented a much worse prospect than the rain. Carnaval toilets aren’t exactly Glastonbury levels, but neither are they places where you want to spend a lot of time.
As it was the last night of carnaval we decided to take on the fates and, telling myself that at least my brown monk’s robe might act as camouflage in the worse case scenario, at 11pm we set off through the banana plantation.
The walk into town is always bizarre. We pass through the tourist areas of La Paz and the newer side of town where virtually no-one dresses up and it was unnervingly quiet to the point that we though the carnaval street parties must have finished early (we go through this year after year).
Then at Plaza del Charco you enter the world where the wild things are; the domain of the weird and the wonderful where dullness has no place.
Almost as soon as we arrived the rain returned and we sought shelter at a beer kiosk – cañas (glasses of beer) €1; combinados (triple spirit measure and mixer) €3. It was here that Dal-girl started her dancing in the rain routine.
A canopy reached from the kiosk to Mi Pequeño Mexico (a new bar/restaurant that’s on our list to try) and Café del Mar. The canopy acted as a sort of bizarroland’s Noah’s Ark (many couples dress up the same so the two by two ruling also fitted). Vampires, witches, N’Avi, Vikings, pirates, giant mice and sexy female airline pilots in mini dresses filled the space under the canopy as the braver creatures danced in the rain. Andy and I had pole position under a metal shutter at the bar so that all I had to do was raise two fingers and a buxom wench (not sure what sex) kept refilling our beers.
The rain became heavier and the Latino music louder so that Dal-girl’s routine became more frantic and she shed the Dalmation skin until she was left dancing in T-shirt and shorts. At that point it dawned on me that the rain hadn’t actually dampened the carnaval spirit; if anything it showed how strong it is and why the street parties are so special. It’s easy to be smiley happy people when it’s dry and temperatures are positively balmy but the rain hadn’t changed the expressions on the faces around me. Some people sheltered, others danced…and everyone but everyone smiled and laughed. What the weather got up to was incidental and that is what’s addictive about the street parties. Dressed up, you’re part of a surreal community where everyone knows all the words to Shakira’s Waka Waka and strangers with painted faces hug you and talk to you for no reason other than they’re tripping on happiness. Standing in that colourful crowd with drips from the metal shutter watering down my beer I experienced one of those moments where I loved the world and the wonderful people who populated it – this little section at least. This is why Andy and I are always extolling the virtues of leaving the sidelines and getting into the thick of things when it comes to carnaval or any other fiesta on Tenerife for that matter. It’s here where the real deal is and once you plunge in you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The rain stopped after about and hour and stayed away for the remainder of the night. We spent the rest of carnaval’s last bash dancing to the same music we hear year after year with the thousands upon thousands of other creatures who filled the streets. (Carnaval tip: the best way to get through the most crowded street is to dance your way through in a sort of chained feet, slave shuffle routine. For some reason it works.) At 4am, when the party was at its zenith, we decided to head for home. Even the forty minute uphill trek to home and bed didn’t dilute the feeling of wellbeing.
Carnaval 2011 has been demanding and exhausting but most of all it has been exhilarating. I’m already looking forward to next year’s.