Archive for July, 2008

With growing concerns about Britain’s increasingly poor reputation abroad caused by some British tourists’ lack of sensitivity regarding other cultures and even awareness that they are actually in another country, the British Government are considering introducing IQ tests to determine whether tourists are fit to act as the country’s ambassadors when holidaying abroad…

Okay, that’s a load of old baloney; I’ve just made it up, but recently I’ve come across some Brits who make me think that it might be not such a bad idea. Andy says I’m just being a fascist, but really sometimes I despair.

The first two incidents were on blogs people had posted on return from their hols.

One woman moaned that the island of Tenerife was vulgar and lacked sophistication of any kind. Now everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but this woman had chosen Playa de las Americas (after seeking advice so she knew what she was getting) as her resort and also chose to ‘party’ in the famous, or infamous depending on personal preferences, Veronicas area.
Okay, call me Mr Picky, but anyone who makes those two choices knows exactly what sort of holiday they’re about to have, that’s usually why they choose them and sophistication is not a word usually associated with either.
There are trendy, sophisticated new bars and restaurants in the more upmarket areas of the resort, but this woman chose to ignore them, seeking out the cheap and cheerful instead and then complained about the lack of sophistication! SACRE BLEU, it’s like someone going to the Sahara and complaining that it was too sandy.
The other thing, which is annoyingly common, is that, without venturing outside the bubble she was staying in, she dismissed the whole of the island as vulgar. For the millionth time, Playa de las America is a resort on Tenerife IT IS NOT TENERIFE AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH.

Second eejit of the week award goes to the couple who posted a blog about their holiday, also in Playa de las Americas. First, they complained that there wasn’t much of a beach. Strange comment considering there are a number of very nice beaches around PDLA, so god alone knows what they were talking about. Secondly, they complained that what beach there was had black sand which made the water look dirty…WHAT? I’ve never heard such twaddle and anyway the beaches at PDLA are golden-ish.

Iglesia de la Concepción, Santa Cruz

Is this an oil refinery I see before me? No it's the Iglesia de la Concepción, Santa Cruz

Worst of all was an account of their day trip to Santa Cruz. This was the extent of their constructive critique of our capital city.
“Not worth the price of petrol…there’s only an oil refinery and a couple of shops.”
They clearly got nowhere near the city centre and had obviously carried out no research at all before setting off in their hired car. Who visits any city without checking out what to see first? Furthermore, name me one city whose outskirts are attractive? These people, thanks to their own lack of preparation, completely dismissed a wonderful city with beautiful architecture, great restaurants, sophisticated bars, fabulous shops and tranquil parks.
I wish people would invest in a guide book (any guidebook, not necessarily Island Drives… but if you insist) before they go bumbling blindly about the countryside, then moan that there’s nothing to see.

The final comment about their trip to Santa Cruz is possibly the most enlightening.
“The best part of the trip to Santa Cruz was the MacDonald’s we stopped at which had air conditioning.”
All those traditional Canarian restaurants around and they opt for Maccy D’s…hmmm, sort of says it all doesn’t it.

I felt a bit sorry for the third example as she seemed a pleasant person even though I was left feeling gob smacked after my encounter with her.
We were in a resort in the west of the island for a meeting that lasted till near three. As we hadn’t eaten, we decided to pick up a sandwich at a local supermarket and wandered into the first we saw to have a look round. The girl behind the counter was English.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Yes, have you any bocadillos?” I replied.
“Sorry; what?”
Her face went blank.
“Bocadillos,” I repeated. “Do you have any?”
“I’m sorry,” she looked at me as though I was speaking a foreign language, which technically, in relation to one word, I was. “I have no idea you’re talking about.”
“Errr,” her reply stumped me and for a second I couldn’t think what the English word for a bocadillo was. “Err, it’s a…it’s a…a…roll…a baguette…a filled baguette.”
Before anyone points it out, I know baguette’s a French word.
“Ahhh,” she shook her head. “No we don’t.”

I know only too well how difficult it is to get to grips with the local lingo; languages are not my strong point, but bocadillo is about as basic Spanish as you can get. There are signs for them at every café (well Spanish ones anyway). It’s one of the things that nearly every visitor learns within hours of stepping off the plane, after gracias, adios and dos cervezas, por favor.

What I really couldn’t fathom out was why anyone with such a non-existent level of Spanish would dream of opening a business which was likely to bring them into contact with Spanish speakers, but maybe I’m just being naïve.

Footnote. Just as I’m starting to think that Andy’s right – I am being a fascist (she says I’m becoming more like Victor Meldrew as I get older), I read about the two drunken female Brits who tried to open a plane’s door in mid-flight because they wanted some fresh air!!!


Bring on those IQ tests.

I reckon I’ve just made an important scientific breakthrough. I think I’ve stumbled upon a link between murderous psychotic dictators and sociopathic serial killers.

I’m pretty sure that many started life as well balanced human beings, but I’m willing to bet that if you delve into their past you’ll discover that at some point in their lives, Hitler, Idi Amin, Son of Sam, Harold Shipley et al visited the Correos (Spanish post office) in Puerto de la Cruz and at that moment their lives were changed forever.

I thought I’d gotten the measure of the Correos; that I’d chilled to the fact that any visit was going to suck a decent sized chunk of my life away and I’d come to terms with that. However, this week their levels of illogical incompetence and complete lack of coherent organisation plumbed new depths.

So what happened? Basically the usual – big queue; everyone taking hours to be served (this, I have to say, is not necessarily the fault of the people who work behind the counter), but the ticket machine was working and I had my ticket, number 211 (the display was at 191), clutched in my hand so all I had to do was wait my turn…in theory.

As the machine clicked to 209, I moved closer to the counter knowing that some staff can get button happy and the display can jump 10 numbers in a few seconds. 210 came up and seconds later 211. I moved forward to the only vacant position, a mousey little woman whose job seems to be to shuffle piles of paper around rather than serve anyone, and placed my ticket in front of her
“It’s not me,” she said, glancing at it briefly.
“What?” I wasn’t expecting that.
“I didn’t press 211,” she waved a hand, dismissing me.
Personally, I couldn’t see the relevance of this. She was free, the next number to be served was 211 what was the problem?
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Aren’t you serving?” I eyed the display on the wall nervously; I just knew what was about to happen.
“Yes, but I didn’t press for 211,” she was sticking to her irrational guns.
I knew I wasn’t dealing with logical human beings here, so I changed tack.
“Okay, who did call 211?”
“The man at position number three,” she pointed across the room.
I briskly made my way over to ‘man at number three’, a John Cusack look-alike, and placed the ticket in front of him.
“Sorry, I didn’t press for number 211,” at least he smiled when he rejected me. “I’m still serving number 210.”
Number 210 was, apparently, filling in a form off to one side. I looked back along the counter. The only person free was the mousey woman. I headed back towards her, arriving just as the buzzer sounded and the number displayed on the wall changed. A big guy (number 212) moved in front of me.
“Whoa, wait a minute, I’m first,” I elbowed my way beside the big guy and threw down my ticket again.
“But I’m serving this man now,” mousey replied.
“Yes, but I was first,” It sounded childish, but after waiting patiently for my turn for thirty minutes, I didn’t care.
“But I didn’t press the button,” she pointed up the line again. “He did.”
“But he said he didn’t,” exasperation levels were reaching overload.
“Well, I don’t know who pressed the button for 211,” she sighed. “I’m serving 212 now. You’ll just have to wait your turn.”

At that point, if I’d have been Mr Spock my head would have exploded. As it was any remaining shreds of calmness left at Mach speed. There was no way I was waiting any longer. It was my turn and somebody was going to have to deal with me. I took a step back from the counter, held the ticket high in the air, and shouted:
POR FAVOR HOMBRES, who pressed for 211? Who pressed for 211?”
The other staff behind the counter looked at me as though I was a madman.
I prowled the line, blocking anyone else from moving forward – this was now a matter of principle.
“Who pressed for 211? Who pressed for 211?” I repeated loudly.
For a few moments nothing happened, then John Cusack, who is actually one of them who still possesses a soul, relented and waved me across.

“Tranquilo hombre, calm down,” he took my envelope weighed it and I handed over my money; a transaction which took seconds. “See no problem, hasta luego.”
I mumbled a reply and made my way to the exit muttering and twitching like Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther films.

By the time I emerged from that mad hell hole, if anyone had stuck a Kalashnikov in my hands I would have run back inside laughing manically and taken out every one of the evil sadists who worked behind the counter.

When they take me to the chair, remember I was sane once…in those innocent days before I knew such a nightmarish world as the Correos ever existed.

I can’t believe it, my body has mutinied. If I was a horse I’d have been shot by now.

I was heading off for a meeting with my Gestor and realised I’d forgotten my ‘autonimos’ slips (extortionate social security payment receipts). As I was already going to be late (although, as Andy pointed out later, you can never be late in Tenerife), I broke into a sprint (okay, more like a Peter Kay ‘dad run’), not the easiest thing to do in flip flops. I’d taken maybe a step when it felt as though somebody had embedded a knife in my right calf and I pulled up like a lame horse; something had gone.

After limping painfully to the gestor and back (via the car obviously), I thought I’d better check out my symptoms on the net. I found a lot of people with exactly the same symptoms. Seems I have a calf strain. The funny thing is that it appears to be an injury which only affects athletes as everybody else who’d posted queries was a sportsperson.
How I’ve managed to pick up a sportspersons injury amused Andy no end; I can only assume that my calf muscles had become ‘honed’ during all the hill and mountain trekking we’ve been doing over the last 2-3 weeks. So, when my ‘finely tuned’ legs broke into a trot without the necessary warming up period, my calf muscle popped like a tightly coiled spring.

You see if you slob about and don’t do any exercise, this sort of thing aint going to happen to you. There’s definitely a moral to this tale.

Following advice from the web, I spent the evening with ice packs strapped to the back of my leg at regular intervals, which made me feel a bit like David Beckham (the only thing we’ll ever have in common), to reduce the swelling and stop internal bleeding (I didn’t like the sound of that).
The recovery time for this sort of injury seemed a bit vague – should be walking properly within a couple of weeks, but the websites I looked at said it’ll apparently take a couple of months before I can play competitive tennis or baseball again.

This came as an unexpected, but pleasant, surprise, cos I couldn’t play either before.

I’ve just had on of the best meals I’ve eaten on Tenerife. We’d eaten in The Tasquita de Min restaurant, beside the harbour in Puerto de la Cruz, previously, but in the past we’ve only had lunch there.
It’s a popular place, frequented by mainly locals and has a reputation for being a great fish restaurant.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but until this week I hadn’t tried one of the island’s most popular fish dishes, vieja (parrot fish). No reason why; I love fish, but for some reason I’d never gone for it. Well I have to report that for over four years I’ve been missing out on what must be one of the tastiest fishes in the sea.

Whilst Sue opted for sardines, Andy and I choose the vieja. This was mainly because we didn’t have a clue what the other two ‘fresh fish of the day’ were. One was bocinegro and the other pez perla (I’ve Googled since then and the first seems to be a red porgy and the other a pearlfish – so still none the wiser). The waiter, bless him, tried to mime what the bocinegro and the pez perla looked liked. It was a valiant effort, but a non starter.
Despite it being a Tuesday night, the restaurant was packed almost to capacity. Many of the patrons were eating plates of chicharros and fried squid; both of which looked scrumptious. The only other British diners were, oddly as it’s a fish restaurant, tucking into steaks – the ubiquitous safety net dish for Brits with conservative palates when they’re abroad.

The fish when it came was a revelation. Simply, but perfectly cooked, it was moist, slightly smoky and full of flavour. The flesh fell away from the bone and the skin was crispy and delicious. It was quite simply the best fish I’ve ever eaten and I couldn’t recommend it, or the Tasquita de Min restaurant, highly enough.

Path through Las Cañadas

Path through Las Cañadas

For Sue’s last day we decide to attempt redemption by taking her on another walk.
You can’t come to Tenerife and not visit the crater; it’s such a unique and incredible place (and the fact that trails are well marked, added to the omnipresent Mount Teide looming above means that the chances for getting lost are reduced considerably).

We parked at Roques García (at this point I just have to say well done to whoever organised the renovation of the parking area. It all looks very nice, but now there are far less parking places than there were before…smart) and struck out along the Siete Cañadas path via the parador toilets and cafeteria where Sue became a victim of organised crime.

€1.90 for a small pack of chewing gum!!! The cashier might as well be wearing a striped jumper and have a pair of tights over his bonce (see also Dear Honey).

Munching on the world’s most expensive chuddie, we left the thieves den (aka the parador) behind us and struck out into the crater’s interior. Even though there were probably thousands of people in the crater, within a few minutes there were no signs of any other human presence; we were alone in alien terrain. Rocks changed from salmon pink to rust red, then black obsidian as smooth as smoked glass. Although the land is all a product of the volcano’s violent outpourings, the diversity of shapes and colour is surprising. Being in the crater is a humbling experience; the mountain looms large, its presence immense and it doesn’t require much imagination to understand why the Guanche worshipped it. The path meandered gently alongside weird and Dali-esque rock formations which would have visitors coo-ing in wondrous approval…if their coaches could transport them to within a few feet of them; thankfully they can’t.

Andy & Sue in Las Cañadas

Andy & Sue in Las Cañadas

Instead of following the Siete Cañadas trail to its end, we cut inwards back towards the mountain, stopping at a collection of low buildings, possibly a campsite, for lunch. Shelter from the sun is almost non-existent in the crater, so the porch of one building providing welcome shade from the unrelenting sun.

After lunch we continued on our way, completing a circuit which led us back to the Roques de García, pausing at only a couple of ‘false’ trails not shown on our map. This time there were no mishaps; the decision making process made easier by signs which read ‘Danger – Bees’ (at this time of year beekeepers bring their hives to the crater to collect pollen from the strange and beautiful tajinaste flowers) which were pretty major clues as to which was the wrong path to take.

There are a couple of things worth knowing about walking in the crater. The air is incredibly dry. You need plenty of water and Vaseline for your lips is essential unless you want them looking like a dried up river bed (not an attractive look).
The other thing is that, because of the altitude, things expand. Packets of crisps explode, water bottles bloat and, worst of all, so can your stomach which can lead to bouts of unwanted flatulence. Clearly not a place to go on a first date, or take someone you’re trying to impress. Thankfully it wasn’t a problem which affected me on this occasion. Just as well; added to the incompetent navigator and silly walk exploits of earlier in the week, a bout of uncontrollable flatulence reverberating around the crater would have put me firmly in the running for ‘geek of the year’ award.

As it happened, it was an uneventful walk, which was a refreshing change; no wrong turns, no challenging climbs or knee wrenching descents, just simply breathtaking scenery, silence and the feeling that we could have been the last people on the planet.

Probably one of the lesser known facts about Tenerife is that the island has a cottage industry of small scale beekeepers that produce a range of delicious honeys.
It’s possible to buy multi-flower honey made from pollen from the coast, the hills and the mountains. You can buy single flower honeys made with pollen collected from avocado trees, chestnut trees and the tajinaste plant, which blooms very briefly between May and June in the Teide crater.
The Honey Museum in El Sauzal, responsible for co-ordinating Tenerife’s beekeepers, awards a label of denomination to honeys which meet their criteria for quality, so anyone interested in sampling, or taking home some honey should make sure that jars have that label on their backs (there’s a lot of inferior Chinese honeys about).
There’s one thing to be aware of, the prices for a jar of honey vary enormously. Whatever you do DO NOT BUY honey from a tourist trap; you will be creamed. If you can’t buy direct from the producer, buy at an agricultural market, or even a decent supermarket.

A friend took a jar back to Britain recently. The first place we looked was at the Parador shop in Teide’s crater; the price? A hefty €8.25. Believe me, this is a serious mark-up, but not the worst offender. The price for the same jar at the North Airport was an incredible €12+!
Just as well then that she’d bought her jar at the Al Campo supermarket in La Orotava where she’d paid a much more reasonable and purse friendly €4.75.

Honeys of Tenerife

Honeys of Tenerife

The Bathing of the GoatsAlthough the harbour beach was as packed as Playa Jardín had been the previous evening, its occupants weren’t making much of a noise. The only sound was coming from the protests of the creatures being dragged kicking and bleating across the pebbles to the water’s edge; that and the occasional low rumbling noise.

“What’s that?” Andy asked. I shrugged.
“It’s the goats,” Sue screwed up her nose. “It’s the sound of goats farting.”
Clearly they were very nervous about what was about to befall them.

The San Juan Fiestas don’t stop at the beach party. The following day all the goats from the La Orotava Valley are brought into town and unceremoniously ‘dipped’ in the harbour’s waters. Bleary eyed we made our way to the harbour to watch this strange pagan (Guanche)tradition.

Having been on the beach till the early hours we missed most of the ‘dippings’ and by the time we arrived at around 11.00 am, many of the caballeros (horsemen) and goatherds had retired to the nearest bars to indulge in a bit of business leaving their charges somewhat shell-shocked on the harbour beach’s pebbles.

Still we did get see a few of the hairy creatures get dragged into the sea for their annual swim; some goats being milked on the beach; a goatherd being butted by a large specimen with long twisted horns(ouch) and a couple of horsemen manoeuvre their steeds between brightly painted fishing boats.

It’s a fascinating spectacle and a nice, if slightly surreal, contrast to the more contemporary beach fiesta of Midsummer’s Eve.

After two…how can I say it…not-very-successful-outings, the Fiestas of San Juan on midsummer’s eve were sure to be a guaranteed hit.
We got to Playa Jardín around 5pm and claimed a prime spot at the base of a palm tree (this sort of planning is essential – choose poorly and by midnight you’ll have hordes of people trampling across you on the way to the sea).
We spread out our sarongs in a triangle and relaxed as the sun started to descend towards the horizon.

Tne beach at sunsetAs the beach turned golden in the dusky sunlight it was time to dig our hole; a well decorated hole is de rigueur for San Juan (it’s very difficult to talk about well decorated/pretty/impressive looking holes without sounding a bit Julian Clary).

We were particularly pleased with our efforts this year. Scarlet and yellow hibisicus flowers amidst red candles gave it an appropriately Spanish appearance in honour of Spain’s victory in the quarter finals of Euro 2008 (in truth the similarity to the Spanish flag was coincidence). After the hole was finished it was time to unpack some goodies from the coolbox (greek salad, paprika and lemon hummus, tofu salchichas, tabouleh, anchovy flavoured olives), crack open the cava and lie back to enjoy the fiesta as bemused tourists looked over a beach which was starting to look as though Glastonbury had decamped to the north of Tenerife (not a bad idea considering the disappointing weather that festival has every year).

This year, Puerto de la Cruz’ Ayuntamiento had organised a grand fiesta. Instead of the usual couple of hours of tedious backslapping favoured by the previous council, the current incumbents took a back seat and let the event speak for itself.

Our homage to Spain\'s football team in Euro 2008Folk group Aguasal got proceedings off to an environmentally aware start, followed by the lighting of the beach bonfire and a hypnotic and mesmerising mix of music and aerial theatre from VOALA. Zefrafolk turned the beach into a dance floor with their jaunty Celtic influenced rhythms before an unfortunate blackout (somebody probably tripped over a cable in the dark) cut their set short.

As the clock reached midnight, the ubiquitous firework display lit up the beach, the power came back on and Son21 (There are 21; which was accurate) took over on stage. The traditional Canarian band strayed from their usual path by playing sixties UK pop songs sung in a Canarian style. Personally I though it a bit bizarre, but as Andy and I stripped to our swimming togs and headed along with everybody else to the magical waters (the whole purpose of the fiesta is to bathe in the healing midsummer waters after midnight –the music et al is simply padding) to the sounds of Son21 singing Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’ (the chorus for some reason was changed to ‘Chow Chow’) all the Canarios seemed to be lapping it up.
By 1 am the beach was a sea of smiling and dancing people of all ages; it was absolutely perfect and one of the best fiestas of the year.

The sea, by the way, was on the chilly side, but hey ho a small price to pay for guaranteed good health for a year.