Archive for January, 2009

Dancer from El Hierro

Dancer from El Hierro

A Yorkie riding a pony; an iguana squaring up to two bulldogs, a donkey wearing a straw bonnet and a mongrel in full traditional Canarian costume…you really don’t need to take mind altering narcotics when you live in Tenerife.

The weekend had been bizarre enough when we returned home from watching Man Utd beat Spurs in the FA Cup to find a rock concert taking place in the neighbour’s garden. The band wasn’t half bad either. After an initial set of enthusiastic Spanish rock they switched to rock and did a pretty good job of Pink Floyd, Clapton and Hendrix. So sitting listening to a rock concert from the comfort of our house was a pretty surreal start to the weekend.

Sunday we dragged ourselves out of bed (the concert didn’t finish until 2am) to head to Buenavista del Norte for the Fiesta de San Antonio Abad. Last year we had enjoyed the equivalent fiesta in La Matanza, so we were interested to see how Buenavista’s would compare.

It was a pleasant day, the sun making intermittent appearances which immediately scored better then La Matanza’s which, lying quite a way up the hillside, is more prone to cloud at this time of year.

I’d been expecting a bigger event than the fiesta in La Matanza, so was surprised to find that it was quite a bit smaller and there didn’t seem to be nearly as many animals. Today’s El Dia reported that there were over 1000 head of cattle. Personally, I reckon that whoever was doing the counting must have been partaking of generous quantities of the beer and wine from the jam-packed stalls and bars all around the town and was seeing three of everything.

Unusual opponents

Unusual opponents

However, numbers aside, it was a completely enchanting fiesta with a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere. The Teno Massif provided a dramatic backdrop to the fields where the livestock were gathered and the town of Buenavista was looking at its best; bright streamers lined the roads and antique wooden balconies were decorated with wicker baskets adorned with fruit and vegetables.

Small groups of musicians strummed their timples outside nearly every bar, whilst dancers in white costumes with twirling skirts, reminiscent of the Turkish national dress, whirled to the haunting pito herreño (flute) and drum riffs from the island of El Hierro.

Whilst the ‘show’ animals (horses, cattle, goats, dogs) looked magnificent, it was the fringe events which I found the most interesting. There were nearly as many animal ‘spectators’ as there were human ones and when a small crowd gathered in one spot it was a clue that something different was going on. The most bizarre of these being the iguana squaring up to two bulldogs who barked and strained at their leashes…until the iguana responded by lumbering slowly toward them which shut them up big time.

Love me, love my python

Love me, love my python

As always, everybody was only too happy to pose for photos; the event is a photographer’s dream with any number of potential impossibly cute ‘greeting card’ type shots. I particularly liked the Yorkie riding the pony which seems to be an annual favourite. But cats in scarves, bunnies in bows, kid goats with ribbons around their throats, donkeys in straw boaters and a girl doing an impression of Salma Hayak in ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ with a python around her neck all added an ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ element to the whole affair.

Despite many animals wearing more clothes than some of their owners, the only uncomfortable looking creature I noticed all day was a cat in a scarf, but then cats don’t really do social events do they?

Buenavista del Norte is on the Hidden Depths route of Island Drives

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I’ve mentioned before, but our wood pile is going to struggle to see us through the winter nights. Down to some negligent wood management on my part I have to confess.

We’ve got a decent amount left; trouble is I only cut it this year. Now I’ve been told that you have to leave wood for at least a year, preferably two before it’s ready to be thrown on the fire.

OH YEAH. So if that’s the case, how come there are so many forest fires then???

We have had some seriously hard blocks of wood which have lain, taunting me for the last few years. These guys are the Vin Diesel of the log world. In fact I suspect that they’re not wood, they’re iron. Taking an axe to them is like taking an axe to the body of a tank.  I swing the axe it…it connects with the wood…there’s a loud clang…the axe bounces backwards sending a judder through my body a la Wile E. Coyote style…there’s not a nick in the wood.

I’ve even taken a chainsaw to them and I can tell you I’m lucky to have escaped with limbs still attached. So they’ve stayed uncut and unburnt, snickering at me from the woodpile, for nearly five years.

More than a movie - a guide to rural living

More than a movie - a guide to rural living

Until we watched ‘Cold Mountain’ for the umpteenth time earlier this week.  Loved it as always, but this time I noticed a tiny detail which had hitherto escaped me. It was a scene where Nicole Kidman was chopping wood. She swung her axe and embedded it in the log, but instead of doing what I always do (which seems bordering on stupid in retrospect) which is raise the axe and bring it down again, hoping to land it in the exact same spot (a rare occurrence), she simply hammered the head of the axe until the wood split in two.

‘Sacre bleu,’ I thought. ‘Can it be so simple?’

So this afternoon I got out my axe and my hammer, grabbed a block of the hardest wood in the universe and brought the axe down on it. It barely made an impression, but I took up my hammer and gave the head of the axe a thwack…and hey presto, the wood fell apart as if it was balsa wood. Ten minutes later and the pile was reduced to burn sized pieces…incredible.

So there you go, not only is Cold Mountain a wonderful film, it’s educational as well.

The seething cauldron on Puertos seafront

The seething cauldron on Puerto's seafront

For the past few days we’ve been put on a state of alert in Tenerife, with warnings ranging from yellow (low risk) to orange (high enough risk to warrant sitting up and taking notice).

Whilst most of the inclement weather has been confined to high winds and black ice in the highland areas on the cumbres and around Mount Teide, at sea level there’s been very little in the way of noticeable bad weather to report.

In reality what we’ve experienced her on the north west coast was one day which would have been classed as a typical dreary autumn day in the UK.
Although when I mentioned to a Spanish friend that the weather was like a British autumn day, she laughed.

“Not quite,” she corrected me.  “Maybe more like a day at the end of summer, beginning of autumn in England.”

I suppose she had a point. The coldest day was still hovering around the 20 degrees mark.

However, there’s also been an orange band around Tenerife on the weather map on the Spanish Meteorological website and it’s been at the coast where the weather has been at its most spectacular.
The other night we were watching television when I became aware of a loud rumbling. It sounded as though Mount Teide had decided to relocate and had chosen where our house stood as a prime spot.

“What the hell was that?” I jumped up from my seat and went to the front door.

We’re probably about 3 kilometres inland, yet the sound of the waves crashing on the shoreline was deafening. I half expected to see the crest of a Tsunami appearing above the palms (note to self: stop watching ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ during winter months).

Atlantic rollers at Punto del Viento

Atlantic rollers at Punto del Viento

It was only when we went into Puerto de la Cruz to watch Man United initially coast, then nearly self destruct against Derby in the Carling Cup semi-final last night, that we were able to witness how impressive (or frightening depending on your point of view) the sea was.

The Atlantic was putting on a right old show. Waves which must have been 5-6 metres high were making a mockery of the sea defences and crashing over the seawall which runs the length of the town’s free car park. Understandably there weren’t many cars in the car park, so we were a bit nervous leaving the car.

Incredibly there were plenty of ‘thrillseekers’ walking along the harbour wall to get a closer look at the waves. Most looked liked visitors, clearly unaware that the Atlantic likes the odd sacrifice every now and again and it’s not uncommon for people to be occasionally swept off the wall when the sea is throwing a wobbly.

Even the normally sheltered harbour was a seething cauldron and the little fishing boats which normally spend the night on the pebbly beach had been pulled to higher ground.

The best place to watch the Atlantic when it’s putting on a show like this is at Punto del Viento. Where from the safety of being thirty feet above the sea, you get a free show as huge rollers sweep past Plaza Europa (last night above the level of the plaza itself) and crash into the rocks below where you stand, filling the air all along the promenade with a fine mist.

This is an orange alert?

This is an 'orange' alert?

Thankfully the car hadn’t ‘gone amphibian’ by the time we returned, so with Man U winning and nature putting on a free show it was a good night all round.

The orange alert is still in place this morning, but the sun’s shining and although the waves still look pretty impressive, they don’t look much bigger than they usually do at this time of year…and the surfers at Playa Martiánez seem happy to have some big boys to play with.

When it comes to a philosophical outlook, I find my thoughts more in accordance with the Reverend D. Wayne Love than Carlos Castaneda.

My neighbour, Jesús is more the other way around, although I’m not sure if he knows who Carlos Castaneda is.

If he’s not feeling 100%, it’s never because he’s picked up a bug, or eaten something which didn’t agree with him or anything like that. With him any illness is usually to do with his energy lines being wonky, or the planets being misaligned or some such tree hugging twaddle.

Usually when he comes out with this, we nod for a few moments then say something like:

“So, it was nothing to do with you letting the dog lick your face moments after it had just eaten that cat shit then?”

A statement which on occasion is not a million miles away from the truth.

He’s had a bit of a lively few days has our Jesús. His hours have been all over the place (late nights leading to late rising, leading to later nights and so on) and I don’t think he’s been eating much. So what happened when he popped up for a visit on Tuesday morning wasn’t too much of a surprise.

The sun was out and Andy was sitting in the garden writing. I was concentrating on creating a map on Adobe Illustrator for the first of our new walking guides for Tenerife when Jesús sauntered through the front door saying he wanted to ‘chill’ for a bit, so I didn’t pay Jesús much attention. It didn’t take him long to get the message and he wandered out to join Andy in the garden.

Within a few moments he was back, holding his mouth. Before I could ask him what was up, he was puking up in our toilet, where he spent the best part of the next half hour before emerging looking waxy and with beads of sweat on his forehead.

So what was the problem with our amigo, Jesús?

Dodgy chorizo? Too much booze the night before? Stomach bug? The culmination of burning the candle at both ends?

Not on your Nelly. No, that would be too simple.

Jesús’ answer to the question “What do you think caused it?” was classic.

It was this:

“I think the sun got into my chakra…”

I think the sun got into my chakra!!! I ask you?

Far too much damn consciousness expansion going on there if you ask me.

To reach the main road into Puerto de la Cruz we have to drive through banana plantations. In theory it’s along a tarmac road, well it might have been once, but that was, as they say in best ‘Star Wars’ fashion, a long time ago.

These days, somewhat like myself, it’s looking a bit the worse for wear. Having banana trucks trundle along it on a regular basis has left the road strewn with pot holes and negotiating it requires a certain amount of weaving to avoid wrecking the suspension. God forbid that the Guardia Civil are ever behind me as they’d never believe I hadn’t been at the hard stuff if they were witness to my attempts at avoiding the mini craters which litter the surface.

However, every so often a road crew from the local council comes along and fills the holes in with big blobs of tar (clearly no attempt at a long term solution) making driving on it a wee bit easier, for a short time at least.

After the rain at the beginning of December, the holes had multiplied and deepened to the extent that driving along the road was akin to riding a bucking bronco, so last week a crew had obviously been despatched to fill in the holes.

They had completed half of the road by the time we drew level with their truck at about 10.00 am and had taken a break for second breakfast (they follow the hobbit philosophy on Tenerife).
Applying the sort of common sense that is only too prevalent here, the road gang were sitting on the wall directly opposite their truck. Now the banana road isn’t really wide enough for two cars, let alone a car and a truck, so I had to slow down to a crawl to avoid crushing any toes on my way past. This gave me time to have a nosey at what this particular crew’s second breakfast consisted of. It also gave me an insight into:

  1. Why jobs on Tenerife can take an eternity to finish and…
  2. Why the workmanship may be a tad on the casual side.

Because at least two of the workmen were ‘spliffing in’.

When I mentioned it to my neighbour, he was amused at my astonishment.

“It’s normal,” he laughed. “When I was working laying an athletics track in a sports stadium once, we spent most of the day drinking beer and smoking joints.”

After five years, the difference between the work ethic I was used to in Britain and the casual approach to the work ethic here still amazes me.

But it does explain a lot.

You have to laugh…or go insane. Some days it’s a close call.

Animal politics, don’t they just do your head in?

Our neighbour has been visiting the UK for a few days. Before she went, she asked us to feed the Disney Gang and the assorted collection of cats that hang about the big house. I think Jesús might have been a bit hurt that she hadn’t asked him as he generally spends more time with the animals (well the dogs anyway) than we do. However, he wasn’t around when she asked and anyway he has a more random approach to feeding times than we do (if you know animals, you’ll know that disrupted routines are enough to send them scurrying to the nearest canine/feline psychiatrist).

Anyway, it gave us the opportunity to get to know the Disney Gang a bit better as it seems that even after 5 years, they still think we’re intruders and bark at us every time we walk up the path to our house (evidence for feline prosecutors – should that be prosecatters – in the ‘dogs are much dumber than us’ argument).

At first it was really nice. The cats, being cats, treated us – once they spotted the bag of cat food in our hands – like long lost buddies who had cat magnets attached to our bodies.
The Disney Gang were a different kettle of fish. Timber capitulated immediately with a goofy ‘feed me and I’ll be your best friend’ approach. Mismo was never a problem anyway and will be pals with anyone who pats him, bless him. Blackie’s always been reserved, lingering close by – just out of touch. But Poppy, Tessie and Nani proved more wary and initially growled quietly when we came to fill their bowls.

However after a couple of days they all realised that we weren’t going to rob the house, or do whatever unwanted intruders get up to in a dog’s mind and accepted us, even allowing some reserved patting. Everything in the garden was rosy until animal politics, in the shape of a white cat with half a tail, got in the way.

Whiskas had obviously heard our voices and clearly didn’t like the friendly tone (the tone that he feels should be exclusively reserved for him) that was being used to talk to the dogs. What was worse though was:

a) That we were feeding the enemy and

b) We were feeding them before we fed him!

From his vantage point on the roof of the dog’s shed he made his grievance known – loudly.
If Whiskas kept his protestations to just the verbals it might have been headache inducing, but we could have lived with it. However this is Whiskas we’re talking about.

In his head he obviously reasoned that if food was being put down by us, he had an automatic right to it. He’s too much of a bricker to tackle the dogs, but the half dozen or so cats were a different matter. He jumped down from the roof and sauntered over to the cat’s feeding area where, amazingly, the other cats backed off in deference to the arrogant bugger. Within seconds he had his head firmly entrenched in one of the bowls. yet still he was going to scoff theirs before coming back to our house and demanding his usual dinner.

Needless to say, the greedy git was chased from the premises (not doing his superior image any good with the other animals); the members of the Disney Gang were only too happy to help out with this task.

Being ‘escorted from the premises’ hasn’t prevented him from returning and trying it on at every feeding time though and we are well and truly in the bad books for our unforgiveable behaviour.

Exclusivity is very important to Whiskas. Not that this has stopped him from turning up at his usual feeding time. Although he is prone to literally biting the hand that feeds him, he doesn’t do it when he’s about to be fed. So I suppose we’ll just have to put up with the shenanigans and the growls of disapproval as he leaves our house each night (tellingly he only growls after he has been fed) until our neighbour returns and everything in the animal world at La Rosaleda returns to normal.

The other day whilst sitting in the car, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, unable to move forward due to congested traffic filling every inch of the road in front of me, I couldn’t help but think back to the tedious journey I had to make to and from work every day back in Manchester.

Distance wise it was only about 13 kilometres from our house in Stockport to my place of work in Salford Quays overlooking the Theatre of Dreams (aka Old Trafford). However it took about an hour each way to make this relatively short journey seeing as how most of it was spent inching along in queue of traffic like a sloth with an exceptionally low metabolism.

Anyway, I compared the two situations as I waited for the oncoming traffic to filter past me so that I could get on my way. Unlike traffic jams in Manchester, this one left me with a smile on my face at the little surprises that any one day living in the ‘Real Tenerife’ can throw up.

I cant be a road hog...Im a goat!!!

I can't be a road hog...I'm a goat!!!

These guys are my neighbour’s way of clearing the weeds from one of the fields behind our house.

Notice there aren’t any gates into the field, but with this lot that doesn’t pose much of a problem.