Archive for March, 2009

Is it, or isn’t it? We all knew that the calima a couple of weeks ago was a false indicator regarding what the spring temperatures actually were. Thirty degrees isn’t the norm for this time of year, not even in the driest of the southern areas of Tenerife.

Hibiscus - natures restaurant for bees

Hibiscus - nature's restaurant for bees

Sweet smelling fresias

Sweet smelling fresias

So when calima left, temperatures dropped again, but this time only to the low twenties – hardly a hardship. The pattern for the weather on the coastal areas of Tenerife seems to have been pretty much the same over the last few days. Clear blue skies and hot in the morning with some clouds rolling in by around mid day/ one-ish then (clearly the sun likes its siesta too) then by around five in the afternoon the sun appears again to make evening strolls a very pleasant affair.

Destined for the kitchen - Lemon Grass & Oregano

Destined for the kitchen - Lemon Grass & Oregano

Geraniums - always reliable for that splash of vibrant colour

Geraniums - always reliable for that splash of vibrant colour

This morning we awoke to a very distinctive sign that spring might be here to stay. The morning chorus of canaries twittering, doves cooing and the Pavarottis of the lot, the little capirotes singing for all they were worth were joined by another voice; the ‘hoop, hoop, hoop’ of the aptly named hoopoe bird. He’s a wonderful little guy, a bit like a cross between a woodpecker and a roadrunner. Unfortunately I’ve never managed to take a decent picture of him as he tends to avoid our garden and sticks to rummaging around in the verge on the single road which links our house with civilisation.  I usually spot him we’re in the car and by the time I whip my camera out, he’s gone.

Lavender - anothe favourite with the bees

Lavender - another favourite with the bees

Bouganvillea - delicate flowers and deadly branches

Bouganvillea - delicate flowers and deadly branches

Anyway, his song inspired me to take a wander around the garden and see what was happening in the flower display department. As you can see, we don’t subscribe to the ‘Mary, Mary quite contrary’ approach when it comes to gardening. Personally I prefer gardens which are a bit wilder and are allowed to do their own thing to a certain extent (which reading between the lines means an excuse for less mowing and pruning).

Queen of the plants - the bird of paradise

Queen of the plants - the bird of paradise

Some people believe that there aren’t seasons as such on Tenerife and in some ways, depending on where you live, there’s not a great variation in how the landscape looks between summer and winter. Puerto de la Cruz and the north of Tenerife’s payoff for having more rain during the winter is that, come spring the landscape blooms in spectacular fashion. Even in our garden, between Puerto and La Orotava, jasmine and freesias and wild lavender contribute sweetly perfumed scents, whilst the bougainvillea, geraniums and hibiscus add splashes of vivid colour. However, none of them can match the rainbow coloured elegance of the regal bird of paradise plant.

The hoopoe didn’t put in an appearance during my stroll around the garden, but I noticed a few other folks who were, like me, enjoying the warm morning sunshine.

Woody the woodpigeon

Woody the woodpigeon

This guy sunbathing on a leaf

This guy sunbathing on a leaf

...and the king of the sunbathers, Whiskas

...and the king of the sunbathers, Whiskas

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I always enjoy reading Tenerife Tattle’s sugar sachet Spanish snippets to find out what pearls of wisdom are being dispensed along with the café cortados.

I have to admit to sometimes feeling as though I’m missing out. Here in Puerto de la Cruz we don’t have sugar sachets waxing lyrical in Spanish, or any other language for that matter. Clearly our sugar sachets are affiliated to WUSS (Workers Union of Sugar Sachets) and refuse to do anything more than their basic job description (lazy buggers).

However, as we left Puerto on the way to La Laguna today I was reminded that we did have our own version of sugar sachet Spanish and ours is in cinemascope. We’ve got the mysterious message on the mount (aka philosophy from the field).
Someone has planked a long green board against the hillside; on it is a message,  written in big white letters, which changes every few days.
I’m so used to seeing the hoarding with its constantly changing, and sometimes cryptic, messages, that it had become just another part of the scenery.

It keeps us amused for a few kilometres between Puerto and Santa Ursula as we try to figure out what the messages mean and speculate about the mysterious and unseen phantom who is responsible for them.

This week’s message is:

‘EL AMOR NUNCA MUERRE’

Hmmm, I know some people who might contest that one!

The Castillo, a welcome addition to any town...except Vallehermoso

The Castillo, a welcome addition to any town...except Vallehermoso

It was with real sadness that I read on Colin Kirby’s blog about the demise of the Castillo del Mar on La Gomera. Closed, according to local sources, “due to council objections to their commercial operation.”
I was lucky enough to visit the Castillo a couple of times. It was quite a unique place; not a castle at all, but a beautifully restored loading bay and part of La Gomera and the municipality of Vallehermoso’s heritage.

Not that the local authorities had any interest in that fact that it was an important part of their history. I interviewed the owner, Thomas Müller, for Living Tenerife a few years ago and his vision was to restore the Castillo into something that locals could be proud of and attract more visitors to the area in the process; apparently not a vision shared by the local council bigwigs. The project was in danger of being scuppered before it got off the ground; amongst other officially placed hurdles, council workers were using the building, despite it being owned by someone else, as a source of building materials for other jobs.

Despite the lack of support (something of an understatement), the restoration of the Castillo was completed. Its presence added a unique feature to aptly named Vallehermoso and at night when it was lit up it looked like a magical vision from Arthurian legend. But, as has happened too often in the past, what’s good for a town and what pleases the local powers-that-be don’t always necessarily match.

I’ve heard a number of stories about odd decisions coming out of Vallehermoso’s ‘corridors of power’, or should that be ‘terraces of tattle’, but they’re hearsay so whether they’re true or not is debatable. After reading about the Castillo having to close I know where my money lies.

I’ve said time and time again how friendly and welcoming we’ve found Canarians to be over the years. However there can be an element of insularity and protectionism when it comes to business and listening to advice from non-Canarians, something we comment upon in our book ‘Going Native in Tenerife’.

It seems almost unbelievable that people with a vested interested in supporting initiatives which would promote their town in a positive manner would quite happily shoot themselves in the foot. Then again, all those Gomeran jokes must have their roots somewhere.

As sure as night follows day, you could have laid bets that when we returned with the ‘necessary’ forms to the dingy little social security office in La Orotava we’d be seen by the same demon woman who thwarted us last time.

A triple check of the documents confirmed that there was nothing else they could possibly ask for (did we really believe that) and by 10.00 we were No 47 in line. No 32 was being seen at the time, so not too bad.

45 minutes later, it was out turn. There were four officers dealing with the public and we prayed that we’d see any of them except the hard hearted Hannah who had dismissed us so perfunctorily last time. Of course the gods like their little jokes and they timed it perfectly so that the chairs in front of her became free just as the No47 flashed up on the screen.

If she remembered us from last time, she didn’t let on, but this time she didn’t question our marriage certificate. She did check out my passport with her supervisor. What the hell for who knows? Maybe she’d been witness to me being accused of being an assassin at Corpus Christi a couple of years ago and was checking Interpol records just in case.

We sat waiting her verdict like a pair of nervous kittens (this is what these administrative demigods reduce you to) as she perused our documents.
This time she decided we had all the necessary paperwork and as she tapped our information into the computer; a smile even flashed across her face. We were her slaves and she knew it and that was enough, she was sated and another milestone in the never ending paper trail could be ticked off.

Now, after paying autonomo for the last few years, we are actually entitled to see a doctor if required…well that’s the theory.

We’ll have to see whether winter is definitely over here in Tenerife. Okay I know using the term winter when the temperature rarely drops much below 20 degrees (although this year 17 degrees has been a common daytime companion) will elicit a scoff in northern European climes. Calima ups the temperature unrealistically for the time of year and brings height of summer heat with it, so we’ll only know what the true temps are after the hot, sand filled weather phenomena passes.

Its presence has been enough to fool the lizards into thinking it’s time to wake up from their state of semi-hibernation. Clearly the unseasonably high temperatures have fooled them into thinking it’s much later in the season than it actually is and they’ve been scuttling about in a frenzy like the White Rabbit late for the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

What Dya mean its spring already?

What D'ya mean it's spring already?

Brushing my teeth I was rudely interrupted by a commotion above me followed by a four inch lizard falling through the skylight. Luckily, for this very reason, we have a screen under the skylight and the lizard’s suicidal leap was cut short. A short time later I heard Andy let out a yelp from the back terrace; another lizard, in its frenzied scuttling, had misjudged the end of the roof and ran right off the tiles, landing with a splat at Andy’s feet (this lemming like behavior gets worse as we get further into spring).

Then later, when I opened our outside gas cupboard and I put my hand on the steel door frame, the sensation under my palm wasn’t one of cool steel, but one of cool scaliness. It took a second for me to cotton on what it was, helped by the fact that the door frame started to wriggle under my hand. I let out a surprised yelp and jumped back as, underneath my hand, a shocked gecko did the lizard equivalent of the same thing.

Clearly I’ll have to dust off my gecko radar as we’re obviously entering the season when the little buggers have started behaving like Cato in the Pink Panther movies.

It might be an overused term, the ‘mas o menos culture’, but why is that I ask myself? The answer wasn’t long in coming. It’s used a lot because what else is there to describe a country where the only consistency seems to be in that things are inconsistent. Clearly there are other phrases, but ‘a mas o menos culture’ is one of the more affectionate ones.

Having never lived in mainland Spain, I don’t know if it applies throughout the land, but I suspect it does. It might be a stereotype of a culture, but just because something is considered a stereotype doesn’t mean that it isn’t in part accurate.

The situation which has prompted this particular blog is experiences of shopping at the local supermarket.

Over the years I’ve learnt to understand the rules of the game ranging from the simple ones:

A: Never trust that the label on the shelf applies to the actual product behind it.

B: Never, ever assume that the price on the label is what you’re going to be charged at the till.

C: When there’s a special offer it usually means that the original price shown is way higher than the price you paid the previous week and the offer price is now fractionally higher than the price you paid last week.

D: Buying big doesn’t save you money (e.g. a kilo of spaghetti is far more expensive than the price of two 500 gram packets)

These are a given. I don’t think for a second that anyone is trying to fiddle me (apart from maybe in the case of C). They’re simply examples of a mas o menos approach to labelling and pricing goods.

Once you become more experienced in the art of Tenerife shopping you learn to identify and accept other rules of the game:

E: If buying a bag of fruit or vegetables, it’s only reasonable to expect at least one is going to be rotten. How else would the farmer get rid of his inferior crops?
So for every bag of spuds, onions or whatever, one is going straight into the bin the second you get home before it contaminates the rest.

Then there are the unpredictable situations; the unlucky bag element; where you don’t know what’s changed until you get home. These are the true mas o menos gremlins. Examples of these include:

Greek yoghurts which change from thick yoghurt consistency one week to runny as milk the next.

Flour which can be fine one week and like road grit the next.

Loaves of bread which mysteriously change shape and size – and these are pre-packed.

And the best of all…vegetables which completely change variety.

I kid you not. This week the Bratvia lettuces were piled high in their usual spot. Neatly package with little labels confirming they were Bratvia lettuces. Nothing out of the usual there, except they weren’t Bratvias, they were icebergs every one of them.

Now, I don’t know if the packers think consumers are stupid; I suspect it’s more likely they ran out of actual Bratvia lettuces and thought.

‘These are close enough…mas o menos.”

You might think that this is a moan about the mas o menos element of shopping on Tenerife; you’d be wrong. I love it. It amuses me and also all these silly little inconsistencies show that humans still have a big, clumsy hand in proceedings.

I’ll take that every time over rows of unnaturally perfect fruit and veg and cuts of meat of exactly the same shape, size and weight.

In the words of the great lizard king himself, Jim Morrison, people are strange. Being British, what the weather is doing is never far away from any topic of conversation. So much so that when talking to non Brits I have to make a concerted effort not to automatically blurt out as an opener.

“What a beautiful day,” or “It’s a cold one today, it’s like Britain in the summer.” (That should give you an idea what a cold one here amounts to). All of which confirms to my Canarian and Spanish neighbours that the British are indeed weather obsessed.

This cant be real - cloudy at Costa Adeje?

This can't be real - clouds in Costa Adeje...

The Saturday before last was a particularly cool day and as we walked into the Beehive Bar where we watch Man Utd Andy commented to Carlos the barman:

“It’s really cold today,”
(In Andy’s defence it was an unusually cool day for Tenerife)

Carlos’ response was to roll his eyes and turn his back and walk away.

“I guess you’ve heard that a lot today?” I added.

“Only from every person who’s come into the bar,” Carlos smiled even though he must have been bored senseless by hearing the same remark over and over. “One woman even asked me what I’d done to the weather.”

The weather is understandably at the top of many people’s ‘things I want to know about Tenerife’ list and features prominently on the travel advisory forum, Tripadvisor. This winter has opened my eyes to a particularly odd way in which the differences in the weather between the north and the south is perceived by some visitors.

The simplistic summary of the weather is: south – hot and dry, north – cooler and prone to rain in winter. Not 100% accurate, but it’s what everyone believes, so there’s no point going over old ground. I have to admit to being defensive about the weather in the north. Every time I read ‘the north’s always cold and cloudy,’ I want to scream at the screen. “DO YOU THINK I WOULD BE LIVING HERE IF THAT WAS THE CASE?”

One comment especially on Tripadvisor had me shaking my head last week and realisation dawned on me that it’s almost impossible to change perceptions even when little things such as facts get in the way. The comment was from someone who’d been staying at a resort in the south and had ventured north one day; it was this:

...and sun in the north. Surely these must be fake!!!!

...and sun in the north. Surely these must be fake!!!!

“Does the north ever see the sun?”

Now had the south of Tenerife been basking in unbroken sunshine and sweltering temperatures during the previous week and the north been shivering under a gloomy sky, this might have been a valid question, but here are some comments from residents which were posted on other Tenerife forums during the same week:

‘Horrible today, I feel sorry for the tourists.’; ‘Cloudy but not raining or windy.’ ‘Cloudy and not very nice.’; ‘Was so cold yesterday, coldest I’ve ever felt in Tenerife.’

And guess where they all lived? In the south of Tenerife. So despite experiencing cloud and temperatures that were cooler than average for the south of Tenerife, is was the fact that, as expected, it was cloudy in the north which registered with the person who asked if we ever saw the sun.

It’s a strange behavioural pattern which I’ve noticed on a regular basis; if it’s cloudy in the south, then that’s okay because the temperatures are still better than the UK. If it’s cloudy in the north, well what do you expect; it’s always cloudy over there.

A classic case of give a dog a bad name…