Archive for August, 2008

I realise that I may be starting to sound obsessive about the Correos (Spanish Post Office for the uninitiated), but they just keep coming up with new ways to confound us and make life that little bit more difficult.

Their latest gem was a cracker and a perfect insight into the ‘mas o menos’ culture that emigrants to the island must learn to adapt to…or end up walking the streets babbling away to Chuffy (obscure Armstrong and Miller reference) like a demented madman (or person if we want to be PC about it).

I handed over my two packages to the girl behind the counter waited to hear the price I’d already worked out in my head whilst I’d spent half an hour waiting my turn…€6.30 (and no, it didn’t take me the full half hour to work it out).

Instead of simply stamping the packages, she dug into a drawer, pulled out three sheaves of paper, each one half the size of the individual packages and proceeded to try to stick them on to one of the envelopes. They were clearly far too big and also weren’t self adhesive, so she had to stick them on with cellotape.

“What are they?” I asked, worried that this unsolicited addition was going to cost.
“Oh, just a promotion,” she answered.
On each sheet was a picture of the Spanish national football team. The Correos were obviously making sure that the world was made aware of their country’s success in the European Championships…and why not.
However, I noticed that in the centre of each sheaf of paper was a small stamp. I sort of got the feeling that it was supposed to be detached from the rest of the paper before the lot was stuck to envelopes. But hey, she’s the one who works there, so I left her to it.
It must have taken her between five to ten minutes to stick the sheets to the two packages (not the best example of time management in my opinion, especially when the queue is heading for Guinness Book of Records proportions).
Finally she tapped information into her computer and turned to me.
“Seven euros,” she smiled.
“How much?” I asked her to repeat the amount, just in case I’d mistranslated.
“Seven,” she confirmed.
“Err, that’s not right,” I insisted, thinking ‘hear we go again’. “Did you charge me for those bits of paper that I didn’t ask for in the first place?”
“No; there’s no charge for them,”
she printed off the receipt and pointed to the total printed on it. “See…seven.”
“I think there’s been a mistake,” I kept my voice calm; I was going to need her with me if we were going to sort this out. “Each envelope is €3.15, yes?”
“Yes,” she agreed.
“And two envelopes at €3.15 each is €6.30, agreed?”
She grabbed her calculator and tapped away at its buttons. A frown spread across her face.
“Agreed…that’s strange,” she looked at her computer screen. “But it says here seven euros.”
“But it’s mistaken, yes?”
I felt progress was being made.
“Clearly,” she agreed. “I don’t understand. I’m sorry.”

I handed over my money and left her still frowning at her computer, her faith in its infallibility shaken…until the next customer. I know it was something to do with the additional stamps, but I’d been ready cause the exact same thing had happened to Andy two days previously. The thing is, we know how much our postage is down to exact grams, and we can speak enough Spanish to challenge obvious mistakes, but the innocent visitor probably wouldn’t know any better and would blindly pay what they were asked.

I truly and honestly believe that these kinds of scenarios aren’t schemes to rip unsuspecting customers off. In my experience Canarios have proven over and over again to be about the most trustworthy, honest and genuine people (except taxi drivers of course, but that’s a given) that I’ve encountered anywhere. It’s simply a symptom that runs throughout the psyche; a certain lack of attention to detail – the ‘mas o menos’ factor. It can be as frustrating as hell especially if, like me, you’re prone to pedantry, but it’s all just part and parcel of living on the island of eternal spring.

It’s surprising that after nearly five years on Tenerife that I’m not as fluent in Canarian Spanish (and there is a difference from Castilian) as I should be; especially as clearly there are a lot less words in the Canarian dictionary. I’ve learnt over the years that the words for ‘planning’, ‘organisation’, ‘punctuality’ ‘patterns’ ‘advice’ and ‘marketing’ don’t seem to exist.
Yesterday, not for the first time, I experienced a prime example of this. For the last two years we’ve gone to the International Kite Festival at Playa de la Tejita in Granadilla.
I checked out Granadilla Council’s website to confirm the dates, but lo and behold there was no mention of it. Next step was to ‘Google’ it. Sure it came up, but the most up to date references were either articles we’d written ourselves, or Secret Tenerife’s.

No mention of it on the internet doesn’t necessarily mean anything; Tenerife is some years behind the UK and USA when it comes to IT and the majority of businesses still don’t have a web presence. Even some of the councils don’t have a website; so lack of reference on the web to specific events doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to happen.

The easiest thing for it was to phone Granadilla Council. At least they had a website with a telephone number for the fiesta department.

“Hi, I’m looking for information about the Festival de Cometas.”
“The what?”
The girl on the phone reacted as though she had no idea what I was talking about – maybe it was my Spanish pronunciation.
“The Festival de Cometas at Playa de la Tejita?” I tried again.
“Cometas?” There was a question mark the size of a skyscraper in her tone.
“Yeah, comaaaytas…” I tried a different pronunciation.
“Comaaaytas?” Another question mark.
I didn’t know how else to say this.
“Yeah, cometas…kites…festival…every year…on the beach at Playa de la Tejita.”
“Hold on, I’ll ask somebody else,” the phone went silent for a few moments.
Ah, the Festival de Cometas,” she came back on the phone. The way she said it didn’t sound any different to me. “You want the sports department. I’ll give you the number.”
The sports department? Of course it was. How stupid of me to assume that something with festival in the title would be the fiesta department. She read out the number.
“But they say not to phone them until next week; they don’t know yet if there will be a festival this year.”

And there’s the rub. That is a variation on a reply I’ve heard over and over again during the last few years.
Q: When is the festival supposed to take place?
A: The 9th of September.

Q: What date did I phone them?
A: The 25th August.

Q: What date would “next week” be?
A: The 1st of September.

One week before the festival was due. No time for posters to be put up, or publicity to be issued to anything other than the local Spanish daily papers.

Will Csper grace the Granadilla skies this year?

Will Casper grace the Granadilla skies this year?

Last year there were hardly any spectators at the fiesta…it doesn’t take a brain of Einstein’s magnitude to figure out why.

I mentioned previously about the campsite having no facilities. That’s not exactly true. As it was next to a recreation zone, there were spring water standpipes and there were ‘servicios’ (toilets). Well in name anyway. We were camped about fifty yards from the ‘servicios’ and over the weekend saw numerous picnickers stroll down to the toilet block, wander inside and within seconds re-emerge having re-evaluated how desperate for the loo they actually were.

Personally, I don’t know what their problems were. The toilets were kept clean and as far as we were concerned, well me anyway, a hell of a lot better than nothing at all. But maybe you might feel differently; see what you think…

Any port in a storm and all that

Any port in a storm and all that

We have just had the most fantastic weekend camping out under the stars in the pine forest above Spain’s highest village, Vilaflor.

We were in an official campsite at Las Lajas, but here that means an area of forest given over for tents, not that there are any facilities as such, so it really was camping in its purest form.

On the Saturday night we were the only ‘happy campers’ on the site; so it was just us, the shooting stars…and whatever things lurked in the dark forest just outside of the glare of our lantern. It was a wonderful and soul cleansing experience and by Sunday morning I was ready to relinquish all the trappings of modern society and set up home in the forests, living off the land and whatever I could hunt. That was until Andy took a photo of me shortly after we woke and I saw that the reality didn’t quite match the romantic vision I had in my head. Hawkeye from ‘Last of the Mohicans’ I certainly was not; Rab C Nesbitt after a heavy night more like.

Anyhow, the main reason for our weekend in the wilds was to trek to the fantastical ‘Paisaje Lunar’, a surreal area in the heart of the forest which looks as though it could have been created by the hand of Salvador Dali. Various guide books put it at around a two to three hours walk from the starting point on the Vilaflor road.

One, or both of these, is a false friend

One, or both of these, is a false friend

With a walking guide and stocked up with 2 litres of water we set off in search of the mountains of the moon. After an hour we came to a brand new signpost which pointed to a trail which deviated from the one suggested by our walking guide. We had a choice; stick to the guidebook which, although not perfect (an over reliance on GPS), has generally kept us on the right track on the past, or follow the shiny new official route.

We should have known better from past experience, but the immaculate signposts seduced us and we set off along the new trail. All along the route, little yellow and white markers kept us company. When paths crossed, there were signposts to point us in the right direction and nearly two hours after setting off, we arrived at an outcrop a couple of hundred feet above the most surreal and fantastically beautiful landscapes of the Paisaje Lunar.

Damn Right

Damn Right

We rested on a stone bench under an old pine for a few minutes and absorbed the spectacular view. However, being August, the temperatures must have been pushing the mid 30s and the pine forest hadn’t been dense enough to provide any shade, we’d drunk more water than we’d anticipated. It wasn’t a problem though, we still had enough to have lunch at the Paisaje Lunar and make it to the Madre del Agua campsite, 45 minutes down the valley where there was bound to be spring water standpipes.

The only problem was that, although the nice signposts pointed all the way to the ledge overlooking the Paisaje Lunar, once they got you there they stopped completely.

There was only one path leading from the stone bench, so we reckoned that it must be the way forward, even though it seemed to lead away from the moon landscape. Fifteen minutes later it still hadn’t curved back towards our destination and there were still no signs to say where it actually went. It was just after midday, the sun was beating down and we seemed to be travelling further away from the lunar landscape. It didn’t feel right.

“This is bollocks,” I suggested to Andy. “Something’s gone wrong; this isn’t the right path.
“But it was the only path,” Andy had been here before. On nearly every new route we’ve tried to follow, we’ve taken a wrong turning at some point. This is usually because of crap directions, but on a rare occasion it’s because my internal navigation has let me down.
“I reckon we missed a path back at the viewpoint,” I turned back up the trail. Andy groaned behind me. It meant an additional 15-20 minutes hike and I still might be wrong.

We arrive back at the stone bench and I scoured the ground. It seemed as though there was almost a sheer drop to the Paisaje Lunar below us and unlikely that there was another way…and then I spotted it; a yellow and white cross on a rock, almost hidden by other rocks, and a light bulb went off in my head. For some obscure reason, the Medio Ambiente had clearly decided that they didn’t want people to follow the original route, so had tried to block it. I could see a faint path leading beyond the boulder and into the ravine and set off along it. Boulders had fallen, or been thrown, across the path making the going more dangerous and slippery, but we carefully eased our way downwards. Within five minutes we were standing below these fantastic rock formations.

At Last - enjoying Paisaje Lunar

At Last - enjoying Paisaje Lunar

It should have been one of those awe inspiring moments, but I was too furious to enjoy it and was in full flow ‘effing’ and ‘jeffing’ and cursing the gross irresponsible stupidity of the local Medio Ambiente.

What were they thinking off? At no level did it make any sense.

  • Their new path which was supposed to take you to the Paisaje Lunar didn’t actually lead you there, but to a viewpoint overlooking them. Admittedly a spectacular view, but not exactly what it ‘said on the packet’.
  • Once there, they left you with two choices. You could a) take the route you’d come; two hours before the chance of restocking water supplies, or b) you could follow the ‘unmarked’ route which, as it happened, emerged on a road in the middle of nowhere and would have involved two to three hours more walking before the opportunity to restock water supplies.
  • The original route descended to the Paisaje Lunar and from there it was a relatively straightforward 45 minute walk to the Madre del Agua campsite; which was what we’d calculated when stocking up on water.

Had we continued on the ‘official’ Medio Ambiente route we wouldn’t have reached the rock formations themselves and what’s worse, and infinitely more dangerous, we’d have run out of water miles from anywhere.

The really stupid thing is that it’s possible to drive to the Madre del Agua campsite (if you’ve got the nerve and a 4×4). So it’s only those who make the effort to hike the whole route that are in danger.

I’ve joked in the past that official routes are somewhat vague, but this is the first time that I’ve encountered one which is downright irresponsibly dangerous.

Alls well that ends well - rehydrating with a beer

All's well that ends well - rehydrating with a beer

Have you ever seen a cat fight? I mean a real cat fight, not one of those handbags at dawn affairs where there’s a lot of caterwauling and swinging of paws, but little if any contact. Well if you haven’t, you don’t want to.

Whiskas, or should that be Rocky Balboa, had a Robert Vaughn ‘Magnificent Seven’ moment on Saturday and it’s all my fault…or more accurately, cause I’m not taking all the blame here, mine and Andy’s fault.

There have been a few stray cats looking for new territory of late; appearing just as we’ve put Whiskas bowl down etc. You know the thing; moggies mooching for food. The annoying thing has been that when they slinked closer to his bowl, Whiskas has backed off and we had to step in and chase the intruder cats off, otherwise Whiskas would have gone without dinner.

Clearly we gave him a lot of stick about this, especially as he’s about twice the size of these intruders. So for days it was “You’re nothing but a big coward” “I bet if these cats were the size of a mouse you wouldn’t back off” “So what exactly is your role here if we’ve even got to defend your territory for you? What do we get out of this relationship?”

All the taunting must have gone deep, because when a particularly persistent tabby sauntered nonchalantly across the terrace, as if Whiskas didn’t exist, something must have snapped in Whiskas’ head. Before we knew it he was on the tabby and the two of them were locked together, biting and screaming and spinning around the garden like a pair of Tasmanian Devils. It was horrendous; fur was flying everywhere and even though we tried desperately to break them up they were oblivious to us; it looked like a fight to the death.

I’d heard how vicious cats could be, but I’d never witnessed it. I remember reading tales of Scottish crofters encountering wild cats in the highlands where life or death fights ensued which, more often than not, ended with the crofter running for his life back to his cottage with a demented cat on his tail.

Seeing it in reality was a shock. They flung each other into trees, oblivious to self inflicted injuries, and tumbled around the garden, neither willing to relinquish their hold on the other until finally they slammed into a wall. Whiskas must have loosened his grip at the impact as the other cat broke free and took off like a bat out of hell.

It was only after the fight was over that we saw the extent of the damage to Whiskas. He was bleeding from a small puncture wound in his head and another in his cheek; he had scratches down one ear and was limping badly – he was a mess.

We’ve been treating his wounds daily with tea tree oil (a fraught business as he has made it clear he’s not keen), but his limp has gone and he seems okay. It was frightening to see such a vicious battle and we really don’t want to see a rematch. Thankfully the other cat seems to be have learnt a bit of humility and is paying Whiskas due respect now, so I’m sure he sees that as a result.

For our part we’ve learnt our lesson. No more taunts about him being a coward; the price is just too much – remember what happened to Robert Vaughn.

Yesterday I was in Playa de las Américas when I noticed this menu board.

Thank god for that - I was well and truly bored with sauted lizard spleen!

Thank god for that - I was well and truly bored with sauted lizard spleen!

Now , I know exactly what sort of food we have here in Puerto de la Cruz, but I’ve always assumed that the sort of food dished up in many hostelries in PDLA would, if anything, be on the conservative side. This aint some rash assumption, it’s based on the experience of reading comments on travel advice sites like this one from a couple of days ago from an English lady who was looking for a suitable restaurant for her husband:

“He will not eat garlic or any type of spices, can anyone recommend any good quality PLAIN EATING ESTABLISHMENTS serving any type of meat or poultry which has just been grilled…”

What really tickled me was that she then went on to say:

“Please do not suggest Macdonalds we like the more refined restaurants…”

Oh, really? Sounds like it.

Anyway, this menu has had me doubting my original assumptions. Clearly if this establishment feels the need to advertise that they serve ‘normal’ food, everybody else must be dishing up much more exotic concoctions than I’d realized; maybe along the lines of those mentioned in my friend, Pamela’s ‘you are what you eat’ blog.

Oh, and if anyone knows what ‘normal’ food actually is, could you please send your answers on a postcard to…

A couple of days ago I read a report in one of the English language newspapers about the council in Icod de los Vinos being responsible for posting a couple of policeman outside the ‘El Mariposario’ butterfly park, who were apparently questioning visitors.

It would be a crime if the park was forced to close

It would be a 'crime' if the park was forced to close

The paper didn’t mention what they were questioning visitors about, but it was suggested that the police presence was meant to deter potential customers from entering the park because of something to do with political infighting between council factions.

God knows how preventing people from entering the park would benefit the town of Icod in any way, shape or form. Quite the opposite in fact as the park is its only other tourist attraction after the Millennium Drago Tree. However, unfortunately this sort of ‘banana republic’ pitchfork politics isn’t uncommon on the Canary Islands where some individuals in power can take courses of action which seem to suit their own private agendas rather than those of their constituents. (Okay I’ve reread that and thought ‘so what makes them different from politicians anywhere else?’ I suppose the difference is that here it can take the form of little more than schoolyard antics)

We’d written an article about El Mariposario a couple of months ago and, as we were passing yesterday, decided to drop in with a couple of copies of the magazine in which it was published. It was also a good excuse to see if there really were policeman outside.

Lo and behold as we approached the entrance there was, as reported, a local boy in blue standing there.
Curious as to whether he was going to question us, I stood back from the entrance and took a picture of him standing at the entrance…nothing; no reaction.

Andy and I walked through the entrance to the reception and all he did was smile
“Qué tal’ (roughly translated ‘allright mate’), he said as we passed him.
A couple of moments later he followed. Although I think that was because it was drizzling outside and he was interested in talking to a dark eyed local girl standing in the foyer.

As Andy handed over the magazines to the receptionist, I turned back to the policeman.
“Is there a problem?” I smiled at him, playing happy daft. “Nobody’s trying to kill the butterflies are they?”
“No,” the dark eyed girl laughed. “He’s a friend.”
“There’s no problem,” the policeman smiled. “Everything is fine.”
“It’s just that I read in the paper that there was some sort of problem.”
“Oh, it’s just …” the dark eyed girl smiled and rolled her eyes. “…It’s just little politics.”

I dont think its just the butterflies who are living in a cocoon

I don't think it's just the butterflies who are living in a cocoon

I like the Policia Local. The ones I’ve had dealings with have all been friendly and helpful. They’re a bit like old fashioned British Community policeman, like young versions of (if you’re old enough to remember) Dixon of Dock Green. This one was no different. If he was there at the behest of some politician’s puerile request, he looked apologetic and almost embarrassed about the whole thing.
As we left, both him and the girls bade us a ‘hasta luego’.

God, and maybe the ‘odd’ (odd being the operative word) politician in Icod, knows exactly why the policeman was there.

‘Little politics’ the girl had said. That’s exactly what it seems to be.