Archive for April, 2009

You’ve heard it here first, within a few years, maybe sooner, the resort of Playa de las Américas on Tenerife will simply cease to exist.
This news will come as a terrible shock to those millions of Brits who return year after year to enjoy its promise of almost guaranteed sun warming its man-made golden beaches and its lively bars and tribute act heaven nightlife.

For those who consider themselves travellers rather than tourists and for whom the mere mention of those four words Playa-de-la-Américas elicits the same reaction as if they’d just been served a montadito topped with a fresh dog turd, the news is unlikely to ruin their day.

‘So how come I haven’t heard anything about this before?’
I hear you ask. That’s because nobody is admitting it, but it doesn’t take a Robert Langdon to spot the writing on the wall.

Playa de Troya - Once in Las Americas...but no longer

Playa de Troya - Once in Las Americas...but no longer

First it was the rise of Costa Adeje; a few years ago an ambitious young upstart hanging on to PDLA’s wild and reckless shirt tails. But now it has spread its wings, reclaiming parts of the coastline which everyone who holidayed there once knew affectionately, or otherwise, as PDLA.

The invasion has spread as far as the two beaches which are officially still called Playa de las Américas I and Playa de las Américas II, now renamed Playa de Troya I and II lest anyone should think for a second that, god forbid, they are actually in Playa de las Américas.

This little manouvre has worked well with potential visitors who would never dream of staying in such a ‘downmarket’ resort as PDLA, but it’s confused the hell out of those who have happily been holidaying in PDLA for years. I’ve seen outraged debates from some visitors who love their holidays in PDLA, but now find themselves holidaying against their will in Costa Adeje, even though they haven’t actually changed location.

...and if this is no longer PDLA, where the hell is?

...and if this is no longer PDLA, where the hell is?

Technically there’s a valid reason for this; the area which has metamorphised from PDLA into Costa Adeje always was in the municipality of Adeje. Rightly, or wrongly, Costa Adeje has more of an up market image than its neighbour, so from a marketing point, it works in its favour to ‘rebrand’ and I’ve watched with amusement as PDLA has continued to ‘shrink’ over the last couple of years.

What took me completely by surprise was finding out that the Hotel Conquistador, which I always believed to be in the heart of PDLA is in fact in Los Cristianos. It must be true, I’ve just read it in the Arona Ayuntamiento website.

What this clearly means is that PDLA is now shrinking from both sides and soon will be no more than a fond, and possibly blurred, memory for the millions who visited over the years.

At the moment, by my calculations, PDLA now consists of three rocks on the beach in front of a rather tacky souvenir shop selling ‘Keep PDLA Common as Muck’ T-shirts and one Brit bar where they you can get a pint of beer and a roast beef and yorkshire pud meal with all the trimmings for €1.50.

Everywhere else, of course, has gone way, way upmarket.

Confused? Join the club.

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Tenerife’s ‘mas o menos’ culture is amusingly quaint 75 percent of the time; the other 25 percent it has you pulling your hair out and screaming ‘HOW CAN YOU BE SO ESTUPIDO?”

The other day we watched a bloke outside the bus station in Puerto de la Cruz methodically peeling the backs of some leaflets before dropping the discarded paper on the ground at his feet. The fact that he was standing beside a litter bin at the time was bad enough, but when he then proceeded to stick the leaflets onto the bin itself, the urge to run across and ram his head into said receptacle was almost too much to resist. Maybe he felt dropping his litter, being beside the bin, was ‘mas o menos’ putting it in the right place.

On Thursday we had to head south for a couple of meetings. I love driving on the old country roads on Tenerife, it’s proper driving; however the motorway is the most practical way of getting from north to south in the shortest possible time. It’s a straightforward drive except for the bit where the TF2 joins the TF1. There’s been road works at this spot since the dawn of mankind and every time we drive it there’s a different detour, just to keep you on your toes. This time was no different, but a big yellow sign a good couple of hundred yards from the road works made it clear which lane we should stick to.

The left lane veered of to Santa Cruz, the right to Tenerife South; easy peasy.

The Road to Who Knows Where

The Road to Who Knows Where

Or it would have been had the sign been accurate. As we sailed along in the right hand lane passing the fork of no return, we noticed another ‘Tenerife Sur’ sign on the left lane a few yards beyond the junction and could see a road leading from the lane we weren’t on which clearly joined the TF1 in the direction we wanted to go.

Our ‘detour’ was obviously an older version and they just hadn’t gotten around to making sure all the road signs were in harmony yet.

I don’t know what it is. There seems to be something lacking in the national psyche when it comes to being able put accurate detour signs in place. I’ve driven up single track roads to discover, after a couple of hundred metres,  a sign informing me that the road is closed (usually right beside where the work is taking place). Call me Mr Picky, but it would seem sensible to put a ‘road closed’ sign at the beginning of the particular road that was closed. Still, I suppose it doesn’t do any harm to practice my ‘reversing long distances in a narrow space’ skills. You never know when I’ll need to put them into practice to escape renegade cops or Somali pirates or something.

Another annoyingly common little practice is the one where workmen erect a detour sign at the start of the road works, then maybe another at the next junction after that, but then…nada mas. It makes some journeys a bit of an adventurous mystery tour, but it is hellishly infuriating.

Like I said there are plenty of times when ‘mas o menos’ has you smiling and looking at each other with a ‘this is all part of living in a different culture’ gleam in your eyes.

There are other times when being ’mas o menos’ just doesn’t cut the mustard, when charming becomes moronically stupid and even potentially dangerous…not having accurate temporary road signs is one of those times.

There are two types of people who generally contrive to try to ruin my photographs at fiestas and processions on Tenerife.

The first of these is the ‘press’ photographer. This is the guy with the humongous sized camera which is usually held like an UZI machine gun. He’s also got bags diagonally strewn across his body bandolier fashion and he might even be chewing gum. You just know he thinks that he’s the Rambo of the photographic world.

In his world he’s the only person photographing the event and he patrols the lines getting in the way of everyone else who’s trying to take a photograph.  Despite having a camera lens which is big enough to lay across a ravine in the absence of a fallen tree trunk, he needs to go right up to the face of the person he’s taking the photograph of (possibly a ploy to ruin other’s photographs).
Most of the time he doesn’t actually take any photographs, he just gets in other people’s way; in short he’s an inconsiderate prat. There are always one or two of these types at every event.

Attention seeking behaviour or what?

Attention seeking behaviour or what?

The other is the amateur who’s left their brain at home. There were a handful of these at the Semana Santa procession last week. These forget that not all events they are watching have been put on for the benefit of tourists. One woman kept wandering into the path of different groups participating in the procession, at one point crossing in front of a brotherhood, causing them to divert around her, to take a photograph of a dog dancing on it’s hind legs (attention seeking little bugger – I also took a photo, albeit from a distance).
Another chubby, effeminate little man stood in the centre of the route with his compact digi-camera poised as rows of hooded marchers passed by him on either side.  He was clearly deluded and believed he was a TV presenter. Every so often he stopped one of them to ask questions. He was really getting on my nerves and I didn’t want every shot to include his flabby frame, so I particularly relished the moment one of the less obliging hoodies bore down on him menacingly and told him to get out of the way.

The worst offenders in this category were a couple from a nation which is infamous for its lack of sartorial elegance. These two were seriously offensively dressed. I’m sure they thought they were trendy, but in truth looked like children’s TV presenters from the seventies; lots of different primary colours, spots and stripes and the dreaded bandanas. They were about twenty yards downwind of me and every time I lined up a shot, a bright spotty abhorrence crept into the edge of the picture. If I moved a foot to the right so did they.
In the fantasy world which exists in my head (the one where I have the bottle to do and say what I really feel), I went up to them and said:

“Piece of advice; if you’re going to go out in public, check the mirror first. There are people here taking photographs for God’s sake.”

Instead, I merely gritted my teeth and moved another foot to the right, no doubt getting in the way of somebody else who at this moment is probably writing a blog moaning about me.

The mysterious message on the hillside hasn’t changed for the last couple of weeks; they must particularly like their current offering:

“No Hay Nadie Como Tu”

Damn Right.

Plent of cloak, but no daggers

Plenty of cloak, but no daggers

The city was unusually quiet. Despite the fact that one of the most visually striking processions on Tenerife was due to take place within the hour, the streets were almost deserted. The thought crossed our minds: “Have we got the dates wrong?”

As it happened to be Good Friday, or Viernes Santo as it’s called here, and we were in the ecclesiastical capital of Tenerife, La Laguna, it seemed highly unlikely that we were in the wrong place or possibly even the right place but at the wrong time to witness the most evocative religious processions on Tenerife’s fiesta calendar. But the eerily quiet streets did plant a seed of doubt.
Last year we watched the ‘Silent Procession’ on a bitterly cold night when the wind howled through the city’s perfectly preserved old streets. This year we’d opted to watch the ‘Magna Procession’ for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it takes place at 17.00, so it’s better for photography. Secondly, because it takes place in the afternoon we thought it would have been substantially warmer than La Laguna by night.

Boy did we get that one wrong. Despite there being intermittent breaks in the clouds allowing the sun to occasionally shine through, once again an icy wind was patrolling La Laguna’s old quarter.

As we criss-crossed the streets heading toward the Iglesia de la Concepción I was reminded of the explorer Sir Richard Burton. Nearly 150 years previously he had commented on La Laguna’s streets being devoid of life except for house leeks growing from roof tiles. He had put it down to an outbreak of yellow fever; however I’m not sure he would have noticed much difference today. The house leeks are still there, but this time the Laguneros had probably deserted the city for the beaches of the south.

Just as we were seriously starting to wonder if we really had got the time wrong, a cloaked figure appeared from a side street, his robes billowing in the breeze as he rushed past. We turned a corner and were further reassured to see people lining the streets. There didn’t seem to be as many spectators as in previous years, but that was a plus in terms of finding a good spot for taking photographs. Unfortunately the ‘sunny’ side of the street was facing into the sun, so I chose to stay shivering in the shadowy side of the street for the sake of getting better shots.

At 17.00 on the dot, the iglesia’s bells rang out and the hooded brotherhoods began their solemn parade through the streets. I’m not religious, but there’s something about this particular parade which touches me deeply. I don’t know if it’s the mixed emotions I feel at the sight of the costumes, or the fact that it takes place in deathly silence apart from the sound of chains dragging along the ground and the occasional haunting accompaniment of the sound of Spanish trumpets and a rhythmic drumbeat that conjures up the notion that I’m at a public execution which I suppose in a way, I am.

Some brotherhoods drag full sized wooden crosses

Some brotherhoods drag full sized wooden crosses

As legions of devout worshippers in pointed hoods filed past I have to admit to a feeling of unease. Through the camera’s eyepiece I seemed to be continually meeting anonymous eyes staring back and, silly though it sounds, it unnerved me. Possibly because I felt as though I was intruding in something that, although it takes place in public, is something very personal.

The youngest members of some of the brotherhoods must only be about three or four years old and yet they already seemed to understand the importance of the day; their expressions matching those of their elders. For the duration of the procession, they neither whinged, nor made a sound. They’d already been indoctrinated into the island’s traditions and will no doubt do the same with their own children when the time comes. It’s hard not to be moved by the overwhelming feeling of family and community that is represented by these age old ceremonies.

The appearance of possibly the most striking image in the procession, barefooted monks whose ankles are shackled together marked the end of the ‘Magna Procession’.

As always it was a remarkable sight to witness and yet it is still one that many visitors completely overlook.

What is the point of cats? I’m serious, will someone please answer me this question; what is the purpose of a cat? What do we get in return for feeding, pampering and generally making cats’ lives one of generally living in the lap of luxury? Sleep, eat…sleep, eat…sleep, eat…oh and every so often act like mercenary, arrogant and ungrateful little gits.

Until the age of 13 I was a dog person; still am really. But cats have played a part in my life since around 1987. None, I have to say, were ever invited to live with me and Andy, they were forced upon us without our say in the matter.

Dogs repay love and their keep by working, being bezzer mates and jumping in front of you to protect you if someone attacks you. A cat in the same situation would light up a cigarette, turn its back and start looking for some other mug to feed it.

Whiskas, I’m afraid to say, has embraced the dark side. Barely a week after fretting about his whereabouts and being distraught at the thought that I might never see him again, I’m at the point of sharpening the wood axe and planning in my mind’s eye the spot on the wall where his head will be displayed as a trophy and a warning to other feline freeloaders.

The cat’s gone completely doolally. For the past few nights, for no apparent reason, he’s started to wail throughout the night. This is a cat who hardly says a word through the day apart from a bit of excited chuntering when he’s being fed.
Not only does he wail, but he wails and wanders, so we get the effect of a feline siren moving from the back door to the front. He’s also got an annoyingly effective habit of pressing his mouth to the door crack, maximising his sleep-piercing cries. As if that wasn’t enough, he also angrily rattles the door from our bedroom to the back terrace . You can imagine what someone rattling your bedroom door in the wee small hours does to the old ticker.

For the last three nights I’ve had to put a barricade of camping chairs and a fold up table against the door to deter the little bugger.

So the repayment for providing food and a comfy place to lie, until we go to bed and he gets turfed out, is to torture us with sleep depravation. Like I asked, what is the benefit of having a cat?

We’ve been here before and the T-shirt is getting very faded now, but we thought that we’d all reached a nice place and moved on. Clearly not. Andy and I are now planning a strategy which involves generous use of the cold shoulder, sending him to Coventry and the real ‘hit him where it hurts’ tactic moving his bowl back outside to remind him that his situation with us is a privilege and not a right.

For now the axe remains in the garden shed. Whether it stays there will depend on how he responds.

It’s always been known as Tenerife’s sophisticated resort and yet I know a few people who think that Puerto de la Cruz is populated almost exclusively by third age British and German holidaymakers and there’s not much nightlife. I even know of one very well known guide book which describes the bustling Plaza del Charco as “…filled with cafes and (mostly elderly) tourists pottering around…” (It wasn’t ‘Going Native in Tenerife’ – we know better)

Hardly conjures up an image of sophistication does it? However anyone visiting the other weekend would have been left in no doubt as to why the town has earned its monicker. The streets were filled with ultra trendy visitors and residents enjoying the beautifully bizarre street art festival Mueca 2009.

Were off to see El Mago...

"We're off to see El Mago..."

Andy covered the Saturday night proceedings in her blog ‘Mueca 2009’. The festival continued until lunchtime on Sunday when we reluctantly dragged ourselves out of bed in the hope that the high wire walk across the harbour, which was cancelled on the Saturday night, would have been rescheduled.

No chance. Sunday started as a bitch of a day weather wise. Skies were grey and there was a near constant drizzle. But we persevered and headed to Puerto’s harbour area. Whereas the town had been buzzing the previous night, on Sunday morning it felt like a wet, winter weekend in Blackpool. The artistic hairdressers sheltered beneath their little canopy looking dejected as we passed them on the way to see if the main performance of the day, El Mundo Oz, was still taking place. A few die-hards and their hopeful kids had taken their ‘wet’ seats outside the town hall and waited hopefully.

It didn’t look promising as the drizzle turned to actual rain and a sea (well given the numbers a large pool might be more accurate) of umbrellas opened. But god bless them, the performers announced gamely that despite the weather, the show would go on.

From the moment a slightly wet Dorothy holding a very floppy Toto started singing “Somewhere over the rainbow…” (in Spanish), I found myself transported back to being an excited kid again. As the storm (good bit of realistic character acting by Puerto’s weather I have to say) transported Dorothy to Oz I was completely caught up in the story.

I just thought Id try something different for a change...

"I just thought I'd try something different for a change..."

By the time Dot had met up with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Lion and they were gaily singing and dancing their way along the Yellow Brick Road (big yellow circles on the concrete) their enthusiasm seemed to have a profound effect on the weather. The sun broke free of the clouds bringing crowds of people out of the woodwork. As Dot bade her emotional farewells to her motley mates, the sky was as bright as the smiles on the faces of the kids in the audience and I found I had to wipe a tear from the corner of my eye.
With the sun shining, the town was transformed and the streets were buzzing again. At the harbour, the ‘Artistic Hairdressers’ were in full flow and some of their ‘victims’ added a surreal element to the spectators.

Oh, and yes there were elderly tourists pottering about, but the difference is that some of our elderly tourists were sporting luminescent Mohican hairdos…I guess that’s the sort of thing which explains why Puerto de la Cruz is considered Tenerife’s sophisticated resort?