Archive for June 24, 2007

Ouch! I’ve Been Fiesta’d

Posted: June 24, 2007 in Travel

Sometime during the night someone stuck a hose in my ear, pumped dense fog into my brain, bundled me into a sack and threw me in front of a tram. Either that or my body can’t take being fiesta’d anymore.
Midsummer’s eve, or the night of San Juan, is one of the best fiestas on the island, especially in Puerto de la Cruz, where the ancient superstitions and magic that goes hand in hand with midsummer provides the perfect excuse for a chilled out and most enjoyable beach party.

Sunset at the fiestaKitted out with San Juan essentials (beer, food, flowers, candles, wine, sarongs and beachwear) we laid out our sarongs in a strategic spot on the black sand (this requires serious tactical planning-good views of bonfire and bands are important, but so is protection against the meandering ‘late to the party’ hordes who, unable to find a space big enough for their family and friends (numbering around the population of a small country), wander like lost souls along dead-end tracks through the crowds spraying sand and destroying lovingly decorated holes in their wake. The holes are an integral part of the night; the more elaborately decorated with hibiscus and bougainvillea flowers and candles, the more your chances of good luck. We formed a multinational pact with some South Americans and a group of Canarians to create a ‘safe zone’ with all paths blocked by sarongs and candles (pointless as our defences were completely ignored and trampled within seconds). The sun went down accompanied by a breeze which threatened to turn our sarongs into sails. There’re usually a few decent sized stones around which can help batten down the hatches, but there were none; the reason for which soon became clear. A few yards away an encampment of tree huggers in tie-dyed tops and Bedouin pants had created a fortress of stones, much bigger than the space they were occupying. I mumbled under my breath, ‘hey dudes, where’s the hippy concept in building barriers?”
If I’d the bottle I would have grabbed a handful of their stones and fended of the almost certain cries of outrage with a smug ‘all property is theft, amigos.”
Instead I toddled back to spot in the sand humming ‘Ain’t going to Goa,’ as way of consolation.

A trad Canarian band and copious amounts of food and alcohol pumped up the party atmosphere. Despite tens of thousands filling every inch of the beach, the scene was completely chilled; the people next to us, in a gesture typical of the friendliness and generosity of Canarians, offered us some of their papas arrugadas, literally ‘wrinkled potatoes’ (a speciality of the island) with home-made picante rojo sauce and a couple of chistorrias (spicy local sausages). Despite being already stuffed we didn’t know Spanish for stuffed, so it was easier to take the proffered plate, which was delicioso. A Latino band took to the stage and turned up the heat, turning the beach into a vast salsa dance floor of bikini and, rather disturbingly, Speedo clad dancers gyrating sensually until the midnight firework display announced the raison d’être of the whole affair; time to head to the shoreline and be blessed by the magical midsummer waters. It’s believed that bathing in the water at the dawning of midsummer’s day will protect you from disease, help you find your true love and also increase fertility; a claim borne out by the inflated birth rate nine months later (I’m willing to bet that a formula of chicos and chicas wearing next to nothing, their bronzed bodies glistening in the candlelight, lots of alcohol and a sultry night is probably going to play some part in this).

There’s no point in tempting fate so, fuelled by a couple of bottles of wine, we stripped down to our beach togs and joined the midnight bathers. The presence of a group of brass monkeys deliberating at the water’s edge should have been a warning. As the first wave crashed on the beach and the water crept up my thighs, I discovered that I was able to do what Sumo wrestlers spend years learning, whilst an unseen demon thrust an ice dagger into my lungs. Okay this is probably a bit of an exag, but it wasn’t like submerging in a warm bath. We quickly splashed water over our bodies, learning where ancient chants come from in the process as every dousing was met with a: “AYA-WAA-HI-I-I-WA-HOO”.

Suitably protected for another year, we headed back to our candlelit spot to dry out, opened another bottle of wine and simply chilled out listening to the tribal rhythmic beating of bongo drums and a group of twenty some-things next to us bizarrely singing ‘Hey-Ho, Hey-Ho, it’s of to work we go’ in Spanish.
Locals claim that if you stay on the beach to see in the dawn, you’ll be rewarded by the songs of Sirens and the sight of the mystical island of San Borondón rising from the sea. Unfortunately by 2.30 am, the wine and our bodies gave up the ghost and we retired from the fiesta, aching of limb, but with an overwhelming feeling of well being. Maybe bathing in the midsummer seas actually did work, on the other hand it might just have been the wine.

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