Archive for November, 2009

You can quote all the arguments why people opt for ‘all inclusive’ deals when they go on holiday, but in the last week I’ve witnessed first hand why for local businesses they are as a welcome in a resort as an outbreak of swine flu.

First of all it was Playa Paraiso. We wandered around the little resort during prime lunch time hours. What we saw came as a complete shock.

Every restaurant and bar was almost completely empty – it was a ghost town. And yet there are big hotels right in the centre of the resort… and they weren’t empty. But their occupants weren’t leaving the premises. Even the little beach was empty and the rows of sun beds lay unused.

Lonely Sunbeds

I’ve been reading constantly about the decline of Puerto de la Cruz, but of course we have a thriving and vibrant local scene here; there’s always something going on and Canarios flock here at the weekend, so the reports never quite match the reality. The same can’t be said of the smaller purpose built resorts where the AI hotels are draining every last bit of life from the streets.

Our next experience of the dramatic impact of AI was in Playa de la Arena at the weekend. We’d spent the Saturday night in Puerto de la Cruz, showing my sister and her boyfriend the town.
We’d eaten tapas then strolled along the streets of the old town, where living statues and unusual puppet shows entertained the throng of visitors and locals, before heading to a packed ‘The Majestic’ to watch what must be one of the best acts on the island, ‘Bitter & Twisted’, perform their show which had us all in stitches. It was two in the morning before we knew it.

Switch forward 24 hours and we’re sitting in a bar in the centre of Playa de la Arena at 23.30. There is no-one else in the bar, or any of the bars nearby. It’s uncomfortably quiet.

“It’s the AI,” the owner tells us. “It’s changed everything.”

There are plenty of people about the resort during the day, enjoying strolling around what at this moment is still a pleasantly relaxing resort. However, most of them might as well be carrying bricks and lobbing them through the windows of all the businesses that they pass.

And this is what really irks me about AI. People choose the resort because it has a nice feel to it (maybe they don’t; maybe they’re not arsed as long as the hotel gives them all they want for their handful of silver), but when it loses that feel because the restaurants and shops become boarded up what will they do then? They’ll stop coming, many of them oblivious to the fact that it was they who hammered in the nails on the ‘for sale’ signs.

I’m hoping there will be a backlash and it’ll come sooner rather than later. One business man told us that some of the AI customers who did come in to his bar moaned that the quality in the Playa de la Arena hotel had plummeted. You might say that as a local businessman who has suffered, it’s no surprise that he would say this.

But recently my neighbour, who like many Canarios spends some weekends in hotels in the south, cut her stay at the Playa de la Arena Hotel short and returned north because she thought the hotel was a disgrace.

It’s a crying shame, but unfortunately greed will ultimately consume and destroy. And in the case of AI hotels, the ‘greed’ accusation shouldn’t simply be levelled at the ‘welcoming foyers’ of the people who own the hotels.

I just hope that there are enough people out there for whom quality is more important than quantity and that the age of the AI will come to an end sooner rather than later.

We were across on the south west coast this weekend at Playa de la Arena where my sister was escaping the never ending rain in the West of Scotland by enjoying two weeks sun drenched R&R. It’s one of the best locations for watching sunsets on Tenerife as the sun drops right behind the island of La Gomera creating wonderful light shows.

This time it wasn’t one of the best, but even on a mediocre showing, it’s pretty damn impressive – especially if you happen to be relaxing with a sundowner as nature puts on her nightly performance.

Sunset on Tenerife

Things happen for a reason – sometimes it’s good, sometimes not.

Don't anyone go 'aaaw'. He's a cat, he belongs outside.

Take yesterday. We’d just had the most wonderful weekend with my sister and her boyfriend who were staying in Playa de la Arena. They’d come across to Puerto de la Cruz on Saturday and the weather had been glorious. Sunday was the same. In fact the weather only deteriorated when we headed through the crater towards the south coast where it was quite moody and overcast. Ironic to think we were leaving the sun and the heat in the north.

Andy and I returned to Puerto on Monday morning where it was still clear blues skies… and then the world ended.

The first signs were that the sky darkened.

“Hmmm, I think we’re in for a bit of rain,” Andy made what must be the understatement of the year so far.

An hour later and it was full blown monsoon and the thunderous skies were booming. The deluge was spectacular.

At that point Whiskas decided that our house was his favourite after all and appeared at the window like a drowned rat. It might seem harsh, but setting a precedent with that cat is a dangerous business, so he was refused entry to the ‘ark’. There are plenty of places where he can stay dry.

All afternoon we watched the rain come down in sheets unaware of the devastation it was causing outside.

At around seven Andy decided to make some soup and tabouleh for lunch for the next couple of days, but a couple of phone calls from the UK delayed her. Funnily enough, both started with ‘It’s horrible here, windy and raining…’ – Guess what?

So it was later than planned when we started preparing Mediterranean chickpea stew for dinner. It’s a one pot wonder and I’d barely added all the ingredients to the pan when the gas jet went off.

Now we operate a two canister system for this very reason. However, it ain’t much use when both bottles are empty. Andy had been telling me that we needed to replace the gas for days, so she was a bit tight lipped as we threw on our coats and headed out into the rainy night.

As we passed the golf course gate, Glen, who works at the course, was huddled in the darkness. He’d been waiting for his wife for two hours and had been having trouble getting through on the phone.

We offered to give him a lift, but he assured us that his wife was due any moment.

Apart from a few rivers of boulders on the main road to Puerto, there didn’t seem to be much of a problem. We collected the gas and headed back home. As we were returning through the banana road we noticed a sodden looking figure wrapped in refuse bags; it was Glen.

This was as close to the rain as I wanted to get - through the front window!

It turned out his wife couldn’t leave their house in Los Realejos, boulders were blocking the road and he was resigned to having to walk home in the shocking weather. Los Realejos is quite a few kilometres away on the opposite side of town. We could hardly let the poor man walk, so we told him to jump in and headed back into town, this time towards the motorway… and it was at that point we realised that the rains had cause much more havoc than we realised.

There were flashing lights everywhere as police and firemen tried to make some sense out of the chaos. The motorway was gridlocked and the approach roads the same. Luckily we had opted for a back road to Los Realejos and although the roads were a mess we managed to avoid the queues. In the dreadful conditions it still took us an hour to get Glen within a couple of hundred yards of his house and then get back home via the centre of Puerto where traffic was quieter.

Amazingly we crossed the barranco (ravine) where later we saw on TV a rushing torrent of water washing away cars. Funnily a couple of years ago one of us commented ‘I wonder if there’s ever any water in there’ – now we know the answer. At the time we crossed it, about 20.45, we didn’t even notice that there was any water in it. I think all of the action had taken place by then.

We ended up finally sitting down to dinner at about 22.00 having done our good deed for the day.

Had Andy not decided to make soup and tabouleh before we cooked dinner (she doesn’t usually prepare lunches at that time), or our friends phone from the UK and had I not left replacing the gas until it was too late, we wouldn’t have ever left the house last night and Glen would probably have had to walk home in the awful weather. It was one of those little series of events which worked out well for him.

We were especially glad that they did – it was his birthday and having to brave monsoon conditions is no sort of birthday present for anyone.

Top Tapas

“My tapas is crackling.”

“What? Your tapas is cracking?”

“No, not cracking – crackling.”

We all looked down at the artfully presented ravioli de papa ‘sopresa’ on my plate and listened. To other diners we must have looked quite odd, the four of us with our ears almost pressed to a small plate of ravioli.

But there was no mistaking the noise… the ravioli was crackling and popping like a plate of Rice Krispies. There was only one way to find out why. I popped a bit in my gob.

“Jeeeeesus…” My mouth exploded in a cacophony of snap, crackle and pops. “It’s ‘space dust’.”

As ‘sopresas’ go, potato ravioli with space dust was a particularly unexpected one.

“Que sopresa,” I commented to the trendy waiter.

“Si, claro,” he grinned like a Cheshire cat.

We were in Casa Pache, our third stop on the Puerto de la Cruz ‘ruta de la tapa’.

It's Cuban Rice... but not as you know it

At that point we’d been already been presented with some imaginative tapas dishes including cuttlefish in a cilantro sauce and small pork fillets with caramelised onions and curry sauce in El Establo; seasoned minced pork encased in pastry and a truly original version of Cuban rice in Los Príncipes Café and then the ‘space dust’ ravioli and red risotto in the wonderfully eclectic Casa Pache – one of the best restaurants in Puerto.

The tapas routes are a fantastic idea. For €2.50 you get to try all sorts of fabulously mouth watering (and crackling) creations accompanied by a glass of wine, water or beer. The beer was ‘caña’ sized (more or less a half pint), so all in all a pretty damn good deal. There are 28 restaurants participating, so there’s a lot of tapas to try… and a lot of beer and wine to accompany them.

We called it a day after three restaurants, but the standard was so good that I’m eager to try a few more. However, the competition to find out who has Puerto’s best tapas finishes on 22nd of November, so time is in short supply and the choice dizzyingly extensive.

Who knows what else lies out there – prawns in a sherbet fizz sauce maybe, or ‘Angel delight’ flavoured chorizos?

Okay, you might not get presented with anything like that, but what I can guarantee is that you will definitely get to sample some ‘crackling’ good tapas.

The competition accompanying the launch of Tenerife’s first online magazine,  Tenerife Magazine, is so good that a friend’s 20 year old nephew didn’t tell any of his friends, or even his family, about it in the hope that the fewer people who enter it, the better his chances of winning.

Anyone who becomes a fan of Tenerife Magazine on Facebook between now and the end of November automatically is entered into a draw to win a week’s accommodation for up to 4 people at the sun drenched Sands Beach Resort in Lanzarote.

Have a look at the picture and tell me that you don’t fancy the idea of reclining on those golden sands beside that crystal mini lagoon. Every time I imagine myself stretching out on the third sun lounger from the left I have to remind myself that as I’m involved with TM, I can’t enter the competition… damn.

Sands beach resort

We’ve been really excited by the launch of Tenerife Magazine for a number of reasons. One, we’re working alongside other people we’ve admired for a long time like author and travel writer Joe Cawley, freelance writer Colin Kirby, SEO expert and blogger Julie Hume and the man that anyone on Tenerife with a business should be breaking down his door to get advice from, John Beckley, director of Sorted Sites.

The other thing that excites us about Tenerife Magazine is that it’s Tenerife’s first English language online magazine and it’s completely independent. This means that opinions will be honest and no punches will be pulled when it comes to views, reviews or anything else for that matter. And all the articles will be 100% original with a strong experiential element; not something that can be taken for granted these days.

It’s also ecologically friendly. No squirrels’ houses were demolished, or trees hacked down to make paper for Tenerife Magazine, so that’s a nice little bonus.

Anyway, back to the competition. This is so ridiculously easy to enter that only someone with a mission to deny themselves pleasure in life wouldn’t bother.

Simply become a fan on Facebook and you could be on your way. Click here to find out more, check out the mag and enter the competition.

I am actually standing on the doorstep of moving from being technically obese to being actually obese and it’s all St Andrew’s fault – you’ll have to check out this link to find out exactly why.

If it hadn’t been for him, then the harbour area at Puerto de la Cruz wouldn’t turn into a minefield of nose-mugging aromas during the whole of November until the fiesta of  San Andrés actually takes place.

On the way to masochistically have our nerves shredded (i.e. watch Man Utd leave things till the last minute and then some again before saving the day) we had to pass not one, not two, not even three, but about seven San Andrés stalls whose goodies shouted and taunted us all the way with offers of giving our taste buds the time of their lives.

Everywhere conical braziers glowed orange in the darkness. On top of each were either roasting chestnuts, or sizzling skewers of pork seasoned with a special potion which had the magical qualities of being able to turn the wafting smoke solid so that it stuck two wispy fingers up my nose and dragged me towards its source.

It was enough to drive us insane and by the time we fought our way through I think my mouth was dripping saliva like an Old English Sheepdog’s.

Scores of people hadn’t been as lucky, or strong willed as us and had succumbed to the temptations. Everywhere I could see people tucking into pokes of chestnuts, or peeling succulent chunks of pork off skewers with their teeth; their eyes glowing with a fervour bordering on ecstasy.

This time we made it through, our waistlines undamaged, but there’s only so long we can hold out and it’s just the beginning of November.

I fear it won’t be too long before it’s a case of ‘fat and happy land’ here we come.

Expect the good people of Puerto (and visitors) to be looking a bit more portly than usual this month.

Hmmm all that roasting food and new wine and all as cheap as ch... chestnuts

Changeling Movie PosterThe other night we watched an excellent movie, Changeling by Clint Eastwood, which had us shouting at the outrageous injustices taking place on the screen in front of us – we do tend to get a bit caught up in movies, particularly emotionally charged ones.

Basically, without giving too much away, the plot revolves around a woman (Angelina Jolie) in Los Angeles at the end of the 1920s whose son goes missing. When the police try to fob her of with a ‘replacement’ son she, understandably, reacts badly to this. The police, embarrassed by her public outbursts, react to this by throwing her into the nearest lunatic asylum.

The way this woman is treated is unbelievably appalling, especially when you know that it is based on a true story.

We found ourselves shouting “You can’t do that,” on a number of occasions. As the story unfolded it was difficult to comprehend how the authorities thought they could possibly get away with some of the things they got up to back in the ‘good old days’.

And then I thought of some news I’d read about Tenerife over the past week. In La Orotava there were accusations of financial indiscretions involving the mayor and a construction company. In Icod de los Vinos an audit showed that nearly 1.5 million euros were unaccounted for with the conclusion that this was as a result of fraud or chaotic mismanagement (this was the same place a policeman was placed in front of the Butterfly Gardens as part of a private political vendetta). In Puerto de la Cruz, following the political shenanigans of the last few weeks, an audit has turned up some more financial irregularities from the last time the ‘new’ mayor Marcos Brito was in charge…the list, sadly, goes on.

The incredible thing is that, like the movie, some of it seems so transparent that you wonder how on earth people can get away with it.

I asked a couple of Canarian friends about this. Both were quite apathetic and more or less said the same thing which amounted to ‘all the politicians are corrupt”. Clearly this isn’t true, but there seems to be a resignation that it is part and parcel of political life here, therefore nothing is done about it when it does happen.

One person said to me about Puerto’s situation “We’ll show the nationalists at the next election. The people will vote them out.”

To which I replied “But you did that at the last election and yet here they are back in power despite not being voted in.”

It is a strange form of democracy practiced here and watching the movie I couldn’t help thinking that some aspects of 21st century Tenerife politics were like 1920s Los Angeles – It is one part of island life that is in dire need of a complete overhaul.

Oh, if my blogs suddenly stop, somebody do me a favour and help bust me out of the local lunatic asylum.