Archive for October, 2009

At first I couldn’t figure it out. My maths might be a tad rusty, but something just didn’t seem to add up.

1: In September, Fernando Cabrera, President of ASHOTEL, warned that British holiday firms might not send their clients to Puerto de la Cruz unless drastic measures were taken to transform the town.

The warning completely ignored the fact that improvements had already taken place and seemed to be likely to cause Puerto more harm than good. It was another political nail in the coffin of Puerto’s mayor and her party.

2: In October a motion of censure was called in Puerto and Lola Padrón was deposed to be replaced by Marcos Brito of the Coalición Canaria party who, despite never having been chosen by the people of Puerto, has managed to be mayor 4 times (one previous time was another motion of censure – seems to be a neat trick of his).

This turn of events, taking into account ASHOTEL’s warning, seemed incredible. Critics of Marcos Brito say that he and his supporters are anti-women and anti-gay and represent a step backwards. They have in the past accused Lola of trying to turn Puerto de la Cruz into Playa de las Américas – so that should give you an idea about their attitude towards tourism.

In essence a party which was clearly trying to move Puerto forward was replaced by a party which locally still subscribes to the sort of politics associated with Franco. Not exactly a progressive development.

To me it made ASHOTEL appear at the very least politically naive. It seemed as though they were putting the boot into Puerto at the worst possible time and, by making a statement which may have helped finish off the party who were trying to drag the town into the 21st century, at complete odds with their assertations that Puerto needed to modernise.

But the light has just been turned on and… drum roll please… here comes the good news.

3: Today, the Tenerife Government announced that 31.5 million euros is going to be invested in a package to improve Puerto de la Cruz over the next few years. The package includes renovation of some hotels.

Money is also going to be invested in Puerto’s neighbouring municipalities of Los Realejos and La Orotova. The President of the Cabildo, Ricardo Melchior (Coalición Canaria party) shared the good news with the three mayors, Isaac Valencia (Coalición Canaria party) of La Orotava, Oswaldo Amaro (Coalición Canaria party) of Los Realejos and dear little Marcos Brito (Coalición Canaria party) of Puerto de la Cruz.

Well, look at that… they’re all from the same political party. That must be nice for them.

And what a fortunate turn of events for Marcos Brito who might just be seen as the man who has rejuvenated Puerto’s fortunes.  If the announcement had been made just over two weeks ago he wouldn’t have been in power and the news may just have saved Lola Padrón and her party.

Wasn’t it serious bad luck for her that all the above events took place in the order they did?

As they say, the first rule of comedy is… timing.

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I have to admit to being a bit of a geek here and say that I love statistics. A lot of people do, they just don’t realise it and they also don’t realise that they are being constantly manipulated by the media who ‘creatively’ use statistics to further their own agenda.

One of the worst offenders is The Daily Mail who regularly uses that old trick of ‘interpreting’ statistics to fit what they want to report, rather than the actual conclusions of statistical reports. It’s easy to use statistics this way to trick anyone who’s never had experience of working with and interpreting statistics beyond their face value. This report in the New Statesman is an excellent example of outrageous media manipulation.

Part of the work I did before I moved to Tenerife involved interpreting statistics to produce reports for government ministers. Sounds dull, but it wasn’t (honest) and involved collaborating with all sorts of different and fascinating people around the North West of England.

An example of this was one particular report about the levels of unemployment in Manchester, especially in relation to minority ethnic groups. To cut a long report short, statistical figures showed that the two groups which had the lowest unemployment rates in the city were Chinese, where there was almost nil unemployment, and Manchester’s Indian residents who experienced very low levels of unemployment.

Seems straightforward doesn’t it? If you were Chinese or Indian you were more likely to find employment. Except it wasn’t quite like that. Sure, generally speaking, the Indian residents who had been born and educated in Britain were more likely to have better qualifications than every other group including white British, and were subsequently more employable because of that. The picture for the Chinese residents was completely different. A woman who worked for a Chinese community organisation in Manchester took me into Chinatown to explain why the statistics were completely flawed.

Many Chinese were as well educated as Indians and did have jobs, but whereas Indians were working in occupations which fitted their qualifications, their Chinese counterparts were working in family businesses – restaurants, supermarkets etc, and weren’t actually being employed in the sort of jobs or receiving the level of wages their qualifications deserved. There was virtually no unemployment, but their problem was one which was completely hidden by statistics.

When we left Britain, I thought I’d also left interpreting statistics behind, but no. Throughout each week we analyse statistics relating to our various websites and, saddo that I am, I still find them fascinating. In fact I’d go as far as to say they’re essential for understanding patterns relating to tourism in Tenerife and adjusting projects we’re working on to suit.

They tell us all sorts of things. We can tell when there are school holidays in Britain, we can tell when different nationalities’ seasons are due to begin, we can even tell what the weather has been like in Britain without going near a weather report, the little rows of figures are full of information.

But you do have to be careful with statistics. We occasionally meet people who quote statistics at us, some using volume as an indication of success. However, statistical info is one of those areas where size doesn’t necessarily matter; individual numbers are only component parts which need to be viewed as a whole to give them their true value.

The problem is that anyone who doesn’t know this might not always be able to see that bigger picture and that’s when manipulators like the Daily Mail pounce.

The recent 7 Rockas Festival in La Laguna made me think of Bruce, and Bruce made me think of a guy I met in Las Américas, whose name I forget, when we were putting together a magazine feature.

The bloke in Las Américas seemed to model his behaviour on the Colin Farrell character in Phonebooth. He wore designer clothes, a designer watch and talked consistently about his flash car, other people he knew with flash cars, attending flash events with models on his arms… he talked money, money, money. His conversation left me as cold as the Arctic Circle (actually in these times of climactic change, probably colder).

Bruce on the other hand was a very nice bloke I met on a trip up the Yangtze. Bruce taught me a simple trick with two wine corks which confused and ‘wowed’ me. Clearly, as it involved wine corks, we had been partaking of the odd glass or 5 of wine and so it probably wasn’t that difficult to confuse me. It’s a useful little trick to know whenever a ‘party piece’ is required (unfortunately it’s impossible to describe in words) and it impressed the hell out of me.

Our friend Sarah has done lots of things which have also impressed me no end. She’s climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, been a dead body on the beach for the cover of a crime novel and gave up a very good job in the NHS to go and work for the VSO in Sri Lanka.

A while ago we interviewed an eye specialist in Santa Cruz who goes out to Mexico a couple of times a year to administer free eye treatment to the poor – I was very impressed by him.

On the same trip that we met Bruce we also met Joan, a ninety year old woman travelling on her own. She was as fit as a flea which was impressive in its own right, but what really impressed was a throwaway line as we flew across a piece of desolate land somewhere between China and Russia where we could see the occasional camp fire flickering beside large shadowy tents.

“I once spent the night in a tent with a prince down there,” She remarked and said no more, lighting my imaginative blue touch paper.

At a party a few years ago some people were talking about what they’d just been doing work wise. One bloke mentioned that he’d just finished making a movie about Bob Marley. As I’m a movie buff and had just read the review in Empire movie magazine, I was really, really impressed by that one.

The reason why Bruce made me think of Phonebooth man was that they existed at opposite ends of the spectrum. Phonebooth man and people like him try to impress everyone by parading material goods, but ultimately there’s no substance to them. Bruce and the other people I’ve mentioned haven’t actually set out to impress, they just did things that were, to me anyway, incredibly interesting and therefore impressive.

But what’s all this got to do with the 7 Rockas Festival in La Laguna, I hear you say?

Part of the 7 Rockas Festival involved an air guitar competition which reminded me that Bruce was the proud father of the UK national air guitar champion.

How impressive is that?

They must hate me in the Al Campo supermarket in La Orotava. I’ve become a Victor Meldrew type pain in the culo stalking the aisles seeking out ‘mistakes’ and then when I spot one (not a difficult task it has to be said) pointing it out to bemused shop assistants who seem to be shocked that anyone should do such a thing and therefore don’t really know what to do.

In truth I don’t consciously stalk the aisles looking for ‘errors’ and I like shopping at Al Campo, it’s just that even if you possess the brain cells of an amoeba with learning difficulties you can’t help but spot the ‘inconsistencies’. On our last visit I notched up three.

Making You an Offer You Can Refuse

The first instance came in the guise of a TDT box which was €19.95 last week. This week it had gone up to €25. Nothing wrong with that, it’s their prerogative; however, it was the big yellow sign which read OFFER above it that amused me. On it was the ‘original’ price of €29.99 crossed out in red.

I don’t know about you, but a product which has gone up in price by €5 euros isn’t exactly bargain of the week, even if you write a ‘fictional’ higher price next to it.

This is an Al Campo favourite. Every week I see ‘offers’ which were cheaper the previous week. Are we not supposed to notice this?

We’re Going to Screw You and You’ll Be Pleased About It

The next little example of being ‘creative’ with the prices was in the fruit and veg section where I spotted packets of dates on offer for €1 (under another big yellow sign). It sounded good and a few people were throwing packets into their trolleys.

However, we’re wise to Al Campo’s various ‘offers’ and double check everything.
The €1 dates were for a 200g pack. I normally buy a 500g pack – price €1.85; a much better deal than the so-called offer which would have worked out at €2.50 for 500g.

If All Else Fails, We’re Just Going To Lie

The final piece of jiggery pokery involved croissants, the prices of which go up and down like a tart’s drawers (depending on who’s pricing them up I suspect). Two weeks ago 4 croissants were €0.99. This week the little label read €1.29 irrespective of whether they were butter or margarine (there’s usually a difference in price between the two).

Thankfully there are machines dotted all over Al Campo where you can double check the prices of items – a necessity as all too often prices don’t match those on the shelf.

The croissants were a perfect example of this. I scanned them and the price came up €1.49.  I tried the margarine ones – again €1.49.

I spotted two assistants from the bakery section and showed them the carton of croissants.

“This shows €1.29 and the machine says €1.49, they are all wrong, every one of them,” I told them.

“The machine? €1.49? All of them?”
One of the girls replied looking at the croissants, then the machine on the wall.

“Si, all of them,”
I confirmed.

She muttered to her friend and both scuttled off into the bakery.

I wandered off to join Andy getting some fruit and veg and kept an eye to see what they’d do about this ‘mix up’.

A few minutes later a supervisor appeared, stood in front of the croissants, scratched her head, shuffled a few boxes… and disappeared back into the bakery having done absolutely NADA.

Deliberate Scams or Plain and Simple Inefficiency? Take Your Pick.

I really don’t know if these common errors are just simple inefficiency or, in the case of the offers which aren’t offers, a specific policy. If it’s a policy, do they really believe people are so stupid that they’ll fall for it?

To cap it all, as I watched proceedings, or lack of, the bag of tomatoes I was holding split for no reason and half a dozen toms hit the floor – it was a dodgy bag (another common occurrence). I rolled my eyes and sighed under my breath ‘can anybody actually do anything right here?’

I know the island has a ‘mas o menos’ culture, but why in Al Campo does it seem as though it’s always ‘mas’ rather than ‘menos’?

It’s easy to view Tenerife in one dimensional terms, as little more than a purpose built tourist resort. That’s the way it’s presented both wittingly and unwittingly in a variety of mediums. However, all anyone needs to do to discover otherwise is to venture forth from their resorts. Just about every time I drive on Tenerife’s roads (the old ones, not the TF motorways) I see something which brings a smile to my face and reminds me how ‘different’ Tenerife actually is.

It isn’t just on Tenerife that you only discover the magic of the place by getting out and about, and it isn’t just Tenerife that has holidaymakers who rarely leave their resort.

The first time we went to Sri Lanka the civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese Army had flared up. On arrival at our hotel we were given a F.O. memo advising us not to leave the hotel’s grounds. One woman broke down in tears, she had no idea that the country was in the grip of a civil war.

Anyhow, we’d been following the situation for some time and had spoken to the Sri Lankan Embassy in London and knew that it was only certain areas which were badly affected and we weren’t in one of them. So, as soon as we recovered from jet lag, we walked out of the hotel and went on a voyage of discovery into a land where very little seemed familiar. One of the many things which really gave us a buzz was the sight of giant monitor lizards lumbering along in the ditches and pools at the side of the road, some as big as crocodiles. They were everywhere.

The reason I mention this is that later in our holiday we went on a coach excursion. At one point the coach stopped and a local man stood at the window holding up one of these ancient looking monitor lizards in his hands. Nearly everyone in that coach jumped up from their seats and ran out to take photos of the big lizard, for which the man charged a small fee.

It was a stupid thing for the visitors to do for a couple of reasons.

  1. It would encourage more men to catch monitors to earn ‘easy money’ from the tourists, not a particularly pleasant development for the lizards.
  2. If they’d only stepped outside of their hotels they would have seen dozens of the damn things where they should be, in the wild.

That’s only one little example, but I could apply the same sort of thing over and over again to everywhere we’ve visited in the world, Tenerife included.

The Sea of Clouds Hugs the Mountain Slopes

The Sea of Clouds Hugs the Mountain Slopes

On Saturday we sat on the edge of an abyssal ravine looking down on Costa Adeje. It was a spot of sobering contrasts. Above us loomed a cliff face 7 million years in the making and below us a resort which was younger than I am by some distance. Sitting on those gnarled rocks it felt as though I was looking into the future from the past. It was odd to experience such contrasting sides of the island in one vista.
Later, as we drove through the hills, we passed a gathering of hunters and their families holding a party in a small churchyard beside a statue of Hermano Pedro, the Canary Island’s one and only home grown Saint. As we left the pine forest above Vilaflor, a blindingly white sea of clouds hugged every nook and cranny in the undulating slopes; it was spectacular. Crossing the Teide Crater, the low evening sun made the landscape so sharp that I fancied it was clear enough to see a lizard scuttling on Mount Teide’s summit which was framed by an impossibly intense deep blue sky. Descending from Aguamansa we became caught in a traffic queue caused by a troop of caballeros (horse riders) who wouldn’t have looked out of place in Brokeback Mountain (not that I’m suggesting they were gay).

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Mount Teide, Sharp as a Pin in the early Evening Sunlight

They were all little things, little magical things which were unique to the real Tenerife and which would never be seen from the inside of a hotel complex.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the general perception that the sun always shines in the south of Tenerife whilst it’s always cloudy, cool and more than likely raining in the north of Tenerife is an urban myth put about by people who benefit by encouraging tourists to visit the south rather than the north.

As I live in the north, I’ve always known that it was at very least an exaggeration which is regularly fuelled by people who state a variation of the following.

“It’s always cloudy in the north of Tenerife.”

Then when you ask then how often they visit, they come out with something like ‘Oh, I was there for 10 minutes in 1981’.

Anyway, I’ve got very good reason to believe that the differences aren’t as great as everyone has been led to believe… and it’s this.

On Saturday, we left sunny Puerto de la Cruz with the testing objective of completing three walks in the south as research for our Real Tenerife Walking Guides.

When we got to our destination it was cloudy with some sunshine, but as the day went on the cloud became thicker, the temperature dropped to being slightly cool and there was even light rain. This was great for walking, but for taking photographs it was a disaster. There’s no real colour in parts of the arid southern hills, only variations of brown which the low cloud completely washed out. Photographing the landscape was like photographing a bucket of ditchwater.

A Rare Spell of Sunshine Just Before that Big Grey Carpet Descended

As a one off this means nada, but this was the fourth time I’d tried to get photographs in this particular area and each time it had been cloudy.

I remember specific instances exactly because we’re usually doing research for articles and good photographs are a must. A couple of years ago we wrote a series of ‘walking’ features for Living Tenerife Magazine and the one on the south was visually the weakest because the weather had been poor (cloudy) on every occasion we attempted to get some photographs. In fact the section about the Barranco del Infierno was nearly a non-starter as they almost closed the Barranco because of rain.

As we walked in a washed out landscape on Saturday I worked out that out of the last 10 big features we had written about the south of Tenerife which needed photos, I’d lucked out in photographic terms 9 times because the weather had let us down.

That’s quite a statistic

The thing is that I’d never dream of stating ‘the south of Tenerife is always cloudy’ because clearly I know that this simply isn’t the case; just as it isn’t the case with the north coast either. Generally speaking, sunshine is the normal state of affairs for both coasts with the south faring better overall. Sometimes you can just be unlucky with the weather – in my case, apparently 90% of the time when it comes to the south.

Incidentally, there are places on Tenerife which can be relied upon weather wise when I need to take photographs for web and magazine articles. Las Cañadas del Teide is pretty much a guarantee. Alcalá and the triad of Playa de la Arena; Puerto Santiago and Los Gigantes rarely let me down; the east coast is consistently bathed in sunshine and Santa Cruz almost always comes up with the sunny goods.

Where’s the best place to take photographs of Mount Teide at sunset? A friend who lives on La Gomera insists that the best spot for taking photos of Mount Teide isn’t on Tenerife at all, it’s on La Gomera. Even some of that island’s tourist blurb says the same thing. It’s interesting to note how often tourist brochure descriptions on La Gomera talk about the impressive views towards Spain’s highest mountain.

However, the Gomerans have a point. The nights have been beautifully clear of late, but when you live on Tenerife, especially on the north, you’re on the wrong side of the mountain for a spectacular sunset against its mighty slopes.

The Sky is Vivid, but the Mountain Dark

The Sky is Vivid, but the Mountain Dark

As the dusk sky puts on a light show no amount of lasers could match, Teide becomes mistily dim for us – a silhouette against an electric canvas.
The black peak of the mountain framed against the sky is impressive for sure, but not as much as would be if the sun’s last rays were illuminating it with golden hues.

Pretty, but not Stunning

Pretty, but not Stunning

In theory, the west of Tenerife should have a good view, but the views of the mountain just aren’t nearly as impressive from the south and west of Tenerife and the mighty mount is reduced to just another peak amongst many.

I’ve actually witnessed sunset on Teide from La Gomera and I have to concede that in this case they’re right.

Yup, La Gomera Wins!

Yup, La Gomera Wins!

The best views of Mount Teide at sunset are to be had from La Gomera – at the bottom of my friend’s garden to be exact.