Archive for June, 2009

El Baño de las Cabras (bathing of the goats) is a tradition that’s believed to date back to Guanche times.The bathing of the livestock is said to purify them and help ensure that they’ll be healthy over the coming year.

It’s one of Puerto de la Cruz’ weird little fiestas. The sight of goats and boats and horsemen and goatherds, some dressed as though they’ve just come from the previous night’s beach party, filling the town’s harbour falls into the surreal category.

After the previous night’s revelry, I was just about compus mentis enough to take some photos, but that was about it, so I’ll shut up and let the photos show you what was going on.

Personally, I'd be wearing body armour.

Somehow I don't think he's jumping for joy

Puerto's 'swim team'

Equestrian Aquatics

Check out more animal antics at the harbour at my San Juan slideshow here.

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When you’re going to be sharing a beach with upwards of 17000 other revellers, it takes some serious tactical planning to choose the right spot. We’d been here plenty of times before and knew that a wrong decision can put you in the flight path of the hordes of sea bound San Juan-ers intent on reaching the shore to bathe in the magical Midsummer waters.

As the sun goes down, the candles are lit

As the sun goes down, the candles are lit

This year we got it perfect. A small palm tree with a view of the stage and the bonfire and equidistant from the sea and the toilets (you have to take all things into consideration when planning a campaign of this magnitude) acted as our base.

The Noche San Juan celebrations in Puerto de la Cruz are always a major event with families descending on Playa Jardín from around 6pm. We like to get their early to stake out our patch, dig our hole, decorate it with flowers and candles and chill out before the evening’s entertainment hits full swing. That usually means nosy-ing at what else is going on; like the guy in the worst swim shorts ever…I mean Speedos with skulls on them…where are the fashion police when you need them. The oddest person on the beach was a very smiley elderly woman with badly dyed black hair. She wandered up and down the beach pausing to smile at the decorated excavations, ours included. Nothing odd in that except she clearly had an obsession with pink. Pink T-shirt, pink ankle socks and get this, she also was licking away at pink ice cream.

Sunset at San Juan

Sunset at San Juan

You’re always guaranteed a good show in Puerto and this year was no different. Somewhere around nine the first of two traditional Canarian bands started and as darkness descended candles were lit all across the beach and the magical night really got into its swing.

With San Juan, the atmosphere heats up as the night progresses. The sand fills up with people around you and laughter and singing fill the night air. There’s always an ‘arty performance’ included and I reckon any savings on this year’s event must have been made here. Whereas last year’s involved an elaborate show and a horde of acrobats suspended above the waves, this year’s offering was one bloke swinging from a high pole above the castle, but it seemed to be the only concession to the ‘creesees’. The firework display to music might not have been on a Tatton Park scale, but it was still spectacular.

Hot night on the beach

Hot night on the beach

Ironically what really ignited this year’s fiesta was the rock band Los Salvapantallas from La Palma. I say ironically, because what usually rings the bell of most Canarios, young and old, is the island’s traditional music, so it was a surprise to see the crowd go wild to the best of 80s rock anthems. By the time the band struck up a rock version of ‘Mamma Mia’, the beach was a bikini clad boogie land.

The band’s electric guitars were still screaming by the time midnight arrived and Andy and I stripped down to our swimwear and negotiated our way through the crowd to the magical waters and another first.

I can honestly say that I’ve never stood waist deep in water at midnight with hundreds of bathers all of whom had their arms in the air clapping a rhythm to ‘We will, we will, rock you…” as multicoloured strobe lights raced across the sea lighting us all up. It was one of those delightfully bizarre little moments.
The water this year was much more temperate then previous years, so a lot less goose pimples and shrivelled bits…which was a bonus.

Rocking the Beach

Rocking the Beach

The band were so popular that they were called back for 4 encores before the official entertainment ended and the bongo drums and guitars were brought out around us. Before we knew it, it was 2 am. The atmosphere was still seductive, but we wanted to see ‘el baño de las cabras’ (goat bathing) in the harbour the following morning and so reluctantly dragged ourselves away.

I had one last thing to do though.  I wanted a shot of the beach from the jetty which reaches out from the Castillo San Felipe. I left Andy and set up my mini tripod and within a few seconds was surrounded by a group of sloshed Gomeran lads who, spotting that I wasn’t Canario, were keen to educate me about the fact that Canarios weren’t Spanish, they were Canarios, which was a lot better.
Funny how having a couple of beers and a few glasses of rosada does wonders for language skills. Whereas I have some days where my Spanish speaking seems to fly out the window, with the lads I had one of those times where I was able to understand and converse easily.
Don’t ask me how, or why…it was them directing the conversation, but in the space of a few minutes we covered La Gomera and silbo, the Scots wearing skirts, Catholics and the use of Durex, homosexuality and finally the English versions of Spanish swear words before they invited me to a party at their house which I declined.

That’s the Noche de San Juan; full of fun and odd little experiences; I love it…but if anyone saw a group of lads wandering across Playa Jardín shouting “mootherfoooker’ at each other it had absolutely nothing to do with me.

The Midsummer waters

The Midsummer waters

Why was I the only person standing on this side of the street like billy-no-mates while all the popular people stood opposite smirking at my obvious insanity?

The answer was simple – the other side of the street was in shade, my side was in full sunshine and the sun was seriously hot.  I didn’t know if I could last the pace; already my bonce felt oven-cooked and I could feel the dizzying effects of dehydration despite taking occasional glugs of lukewarm water; a couple of hours of this and surely I’d end up as a pile of bleached bones cluttering the immaculate streets.

Glug, glug, glug...

Glug, glug, glug...

But from my position I could see all the way up to the Casas de los Balcones and down to the Plaza de la Constitución. When the camels arrived their angle would be towards me. If I wanted good photos, I’d have to put up with the frying.

A group of people joined me on my side of the street a few feet away, but as they had set up makeshift shelter under a rainbow canopy, relocated some stools and a wine barrel as a table from the rural hotel opposite; they dealt with the sunny side of the street with quite a bit more panache than me.

The Romería de San Isidro Labrador comes only a couple of days after the Flower Carpets and just when you think you’ve seen La Orotava’s best show, the town comes up with another lavish spectacle. This one kicks off with the arrival of the festival queens in full traditional costume atop camels. It’s a spectacular start to the romería, even if the queens look as nervous as kittens on their temperamental carriages.

I just love this guys expression

I just love this guy's expression

These fiestas are all about eating and drinking and it made me smile to see that even as people were going to join the processional carts which are filled with food, they were stuffing their faces with ice cream and crisps.

Once the Romería gets into full swing it becomes an overwhelming cavalcade of colour, sounds and smells. People shout to have their photos taken, children thrust ‘papas’ and boiled eggs at you, men offer chunks of barbecued meat and goatskins filled with wine; dancers twist and swirl along the narrow streets and musicians pluck at timples and instruments made from olive oil cans. The sunshine made the traditional rainbow coloured skirts and scarlet bodices positively zing with vibrancy. It was a feast in every sense of the word and I snapped away, pausing only to munch on potatoes and a type of crackling as seventy or so ox drawn carts lumbered by.

Traditional...but chic

Traditional...but chic

I’ve been to a number of romerías, but I think La Orotava’s is my favourite. The historic streets are a perfect backdrop for the parade of traditional costumes, but there’s also something sophisticatedly stylish about La Orotava’s romería which reflects the town’s noble history. I came away from the town once again completely wowed by this wonderful island of Tenerife.

See more pictures here

“What do you think of this generation?” Jesús asked Andy.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Andy replied, looking perplexed.
“All this smoking pot, drinking…partying.”
I could see from Andy’s expression that she was contemplating giving Jesús a clip around the ear.
“Don’t talk to me as though I’m your grandmother,” Andy snapped and turned away mumbling something about ‘every generation thinking they invented the wheel.’

Ritmos del Mundo

Ritmos del Mundo

I meanwhile was trying to focus my camera on the DJ and the bikini and swimwear clad dancers in Lago Martiánez who were gyrating to Michael Jackson and REM remixes. I say trying…a cloud from the spliff the guy next to me was smoking was adding unwanted affects to the scene and probably adding mellow effects to the atmosphere…on the other side a couple of diminutive elderly Canarians definitely had a stoned look.

There’s a rather disturbing trend going around the young lads of Puerto de la Cruz. Their hair is quaffed up a bit like a duck’s arse on the top of their head. It’s not exactly a gay look, more camp model…think Derek Zoolander. Add tight Speedos to the equation and it’s almost laugh out loud funny.

“Haven’t they seen the movie Zoolander?” I commented. Maybe they didn’t realise it was a comedy.

We were listening to the Ritmos del Mundo, a 13 hour DJ fest. Ritmos del Mundo means ‘rhythms of the World. Any other place and you might think that you were in for a WOMAD type event. In Tenerife world music usually means that it’s simply not traditional Canarian. And so it proved to be the case. The music was good and certainly added a thumping buzz to Puerto’s Saturday night scene, but the main age range in the Lago looked to be around 15/16 so we decided to stick to the fringe before heading along the promenade past living statues, the hair braiders, caricature artists and a hilarious life sized Canarian version of a Punch and Judy show to one of the coolest bars in town, Soho, owned by a friend of Jesús.

Lago Martiánez, Ritmos del Mundo

Lago Martiánez, Ritmos del Mundo

It was quiet in the bar, at 11.00pm it was still too early for the local populace, so we sat at the bar with a Peroni whilst Jesús borrowed ‘Bobbybob’s” iphone to show us some photos of him swinging an imaginary golf club at the Abama Golf Course. It was the first time we’d seen an iphone in action. MY GOD when did the future arrive? We realised that our humble little mobile was not even an abacus in relation to that sexy piece of technology.

We’d only really popped into town to have a look at the ‘Ritmos’ fest, so headed back for home at a relatively early hour. Passing the top of our road we noticed that the restaurant which had formerly been The Swiss House, and La Chaveta before that, had re-opened. It’s a fantastic little traditional house with the most picturesque courtyard; the perfect setting for a restaurant.

This time it’s called Tres Casitas – ‘three little houses’ which is pretty much an accurate description. Personally I reckon the change of name from La Chaveta to the Swiss House had much to do with its previous decline, so Tres Casitas is definitely an improvement.

“Let’s pop in for a drink,” suggested Jesús. “After all, we’re almost neighbours.”

Jesús’ attitude typifies the difference between Spanish openness and British reserve.

“But it’s a restaurant not a bar and it’s late…and I’ve passed it anyway.”

I’d driven about 20 feet past the courtyard’s entrance. The road is single track and my reversing-along-narrow-lanes skills are woeful.

“Aww come on, man. It’s neighbourly.” Jesús insisted.
“Yeah, Jesús is right, let’s have a look,” Andy ganged up.

I reversed the 20 feet, a painful process to watch, and parked outside the bougainvillea covered entrance. There were only a couple of diners left and they were just about to leave. Jesús asked if the bar was open; an academic question as Canarian bars are open as long as there’s someone in the place.

The bar is in one of the casitas; sloping beamed roof, rough cerise walls, a huge black and white print of Ray Charles on the wall and music to match. The bar itself is gleaming polished wood which runs the length of the room. It was the sort of bar you could spend a lot of time in. We introduced ourselves and Andy and I listened as Jesús and the owner chatted about the menu and cooking, catching only about 70% of what was being said.

It’s quite a small menu, but it’s clearly quality and dishes like swordfish carpaccio; smoked cheese, jamon Serrano and strawberry salad and the house speciality – cochino asado (barbecued pig) suggest traditional Canarian cuisine updated for the modern palate. Some ingredients are grown in the casita’s ‘huerta’ (vegetable garden), whilst others are specially selected from elsewhere, like the pimientos brought in from La Palma because of their unique flavour.

We’ll definitely be going back at an hour which is more suitable for dining to try it out, but I’m willing to bet that it’s damned good which is great as it’s only a few minutes stroll away.

It was another stunning day in La Orotava and the flower carpets as always added a sea of vibrant colours to the already ridiculously picturesque old streets. But although the carpets were sensational, there were other things which caught my eye this year. Images and scenes which brought home to me the real essence of La Orotava’s rainbow coloured celebrations – the first was the sight of four toddlers sitting on the ground picking petals from  flowers.

Child Labour in La Orotava

Child Labour in La Orotava

The carpets are clearly the magnet for the thousands of people who visit La Orotava, but having photographed the carpets over the last few years, I was looking to try to take some different shots, so this year I focussed more on the people creating the flower carpets.

No...it definitely goes there!

"No...it definitely goes there!"

I find them incredible to watch; each family member’s role is clearly defined from the most mundane snipping petals from flower heads to the careful placing of each individual flower to create evocative images. The younger kids are entrusted to carry bags of sacks, a bit of petal pulling and some laying the grass seeds in the less detailed sections…watched closely by the supervising abuelo who barks stern words when they get over enthusiastic. There are even individual carpets created solely by children. It really is an all round family affair which ensures that the tradition will be carried on ad infinitum.

A message of world solidarity...even if the Chinese person has an odd shaped head

A message of world solidarity...even if the Chinese person has an odd shaped head

The family atmosphere even extends to visitors and although by midday La Orotava is buzzing with people, the chances are that if you’re a resident of any nationality, you’ll bump into someone you know.  At various points we bumped into Colin Kirby (admittedly there aren’t many people with blond hair wearing a CD Tenerife shirt, so Colin’s hard to miss), Phil Crean (composing a photograph with a patience I just don’t possess) and our friend, Jose, who we hadn’t seen since last year’s carpets.
As Colin mentioned in his blog, an attempt to ‘storm the tower’ to get some aerial shots was thwarted. But at least we weren’t physically rebuffed like some overly keen young local lads who also tried to rush the entrance to the Iglesia de la Concepción’s tower.
Thanks to Jose, I did manage to get halfway up the tower at one point and snapped a few quick shots before being shepherded back to ground level by a trainee jobsworth. To be fair, I understood his reluctance to let just anyone up on to the roof. It’s not designed for spectators and somebody falling with a splat on a flower carpet might have been spectacular, but would probably have ruined the day.

From a Room with a View

From a Room with a View

To get the full sense of what is going on a few circuits are required to see the streets being transformed from being full of crates of exquisitely coloured petals and grass seeds into an open air gallery for floral masterpieces.

The heat of a June day combined with La Orotava’s muscle testing slopes can make it a test of stamina, but the rewards are always worth the effort and anyway a rest stop at a Guachinche every so often rejuvenates. One of the things I noticed was that carpets retain a similar theme each year. Some alfombristas stick to traditional designs or religious imagery whilst others use more contemporary designs which need a bit of contemplation to figure out. Thankfully Jose provided priceless information when we were stumped. I just couldn’t make out what one carpet was at all until he pointed out it was a fallen angel.

Heres Angel...but wheres Buffy

Here's Angel...but where's Buffy?

As the day progressed, the town became a little less manic and ironically by the time many of the carpets are having their last petals placed, between 4 and 5pm, the streets were relatively quiet. It’s a good time for photographs, but we were shattered. I knew that I really should complete another circuit; that the best shots lay out there waiting for me.
“Home?” Andy suggested.
“Absolutely.” I answered without hesitation. At least for us it’s only a five minute drive.
We strolled past the church again and headed down hill. A little kiosk beside the church was buzzing with some of the alfombristas who, now that their work was done, were enjoying the late afternoon sunshine with a caña in their hands. It looked inviting.
“Cerveza?” Andy suggested.
“Absolutely,” I replied without hesitation.

That’s the problem with this colourful family affair; it’s very difficult to drag yourself away from it.

Click here to see a slideshow of the La Orotava Corpus Christi Carpets

An evocative image made from sand and soil

An evocative image made from sand and soil

I always like to take a trip up the hill to La Orotava the day before the main Corpus Christi celebrations to watch the alfombristas (carpet makers) put the finishing touches to the main sand tapestry outside the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).

The weather hasn’t been kind to the alfombristas this year. An unseasonable heavy downpour of rain a couple of days ago must have caused a few squeaky bum moments, but a sloping canopy saved the wonderful work of art. An alfombrista told me it’s actually the idea of wind that…errr puts the wind up them, so not the disaster it could have been.

This years offering is quite magnificent, as good as that of two years ago and the centrepiece is an incredibly vibrant image despite being created solely from volcanic soil. Don’t take my word for it, here’s a preview of the near finished masterpiece which will be unveiled in all its glory tomorrow.

The Centrepiece of the Sand Tapestry 2009

The Centrepiece of the Sand Tapestry 2009

Have a look at more images here.

I don’t wish to be alarmist or anything, but I’ve got pretty good evidence that brain eating zombies are on the prowl on Tenerife.

The good news is that at the moment they only seem to be targeting the road planning departments of some local councils.

Why else would they decide to close the main western route into Puerto de la Cruz and then a week later reduce the only other, and now overloaded, main access to that side of town to one lane causing complete havoc in the process?

I mean no-one would be stupid enough to do that unless brain eating zombies had scoffed all their little grey cells…would they?