Archive for December, 2009

At this time of year there are regular weather warnings for high seas and big waves in particular. When people in Britain who are planning a visit to Tenerife hear about these, they’re understandably the cause of some concern.

When the alerts are purely for big waves there’s nothing to worry about… unless you ignore them and take a stroll along the top of the harbour wall.

We had a yellow alert this week and Richard, a windsurfing friend who knows about such things, had given me the heads up that there might be some mad fools trying to surf them.
On Wednesday, hoping that I might get to photograph the biggest wave of them all ‘El Bravo’ and even better, some loon surfing it, I headed to Punta Brava; the magnet for monster waves.

Unfortunately it was overcast, the lighting was bobbins from a photographic point of view and I’d mistaken overcast skies for cool ones. Wearing a hoodie had the same effect as sitting in a sauna fully clothed and it was soon wrapped around my waist.

Unfortunately there weren’t any surfers riding the waves, but the tsunami sized waves were impressive and I joined a few other wave watchers to be hypnotized by the huge rollers pounding away at the Punta Brava coastline.

The photos aren’t great, but here are a few to give you an idea of what a yellow alert for high seas really means in Puerto de la Cruz – nature putting on a spectacular show.

She's hoping she doesn't have to rescue anyone today

And she's too engrossed in her book to notice the waves

White Horses

Who'd live in a house like this?

They had a look and decided against it...

And this is why you don't walk along the sea defence wall when there's a yellow alert.

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Sometimes on Tenerife there are exquisite moments of surrealistic wonder that you couldn’t make up and having a piss-up in a museum fits snugly into that category.

Okay it wasn’t exactly a piss-up, it was a Christmassy get together, but the difference may have been lost on the visitors who wandered into the eclectically wonderful Casa Iriarte Naval Museum in Puerto de la Cruz on Thursday.

After a zillion rescheduled promises to meet for lunch with our former neighbour Tony, we managed to get it together for our annual Christmas soiree in the courtyard and entrance to the museum.

For anyone who doesn’t know Casa Iriarte, it’s much more than simply a museum; it’s also a magnet for free spirits – a sort of Hogwarts for the artistically inclined. Apart from us, Tony and his long time friend Chris there were also a sculptor/painter, a spiritual masseuse and a yogi practicing web designer.

We sat around a table under the auspicious gaze of a Guanche in skins standing guard at a mock cave entrance on one side and a Swiss gas meter on the other (told you it was eclectic) whilst Alan, the sculptor, kept the wine flowing.

Casa Iriarte is situated in a prime location in the old part of Puerto; there’s a supermarket a few steps away, bars all around (it’s a hive of activity at 3am on a Saturday morning) and best of all it’s almost directly opposite Puerto’s Indian club which provided lunch.
After a couple of glasses of vino, we wandered over to the Indian club to collect lunch which was waiting in three big clay pots. If you’re a curry lover, the smell inside the club is enough to drive you delirious and by the time I carried one of the pots back to Casa Iriarte, the saliva was almost running down my chin with anticipation.

Amongst the goodies was enough rice to feed a small army, a tower of golden parathas, a chicken curry, a cauliflower and potato curry and a bowl of green sauce which looked like mojo verde but tasted like someone had shoved a red hot poker into your mouth and then held your gums firmly clamped shut so that you couldn’t remove it. Coming from an Indian social club, this was the real McCoy and the best Indian food we’d tasted in years.

As we tucked in and outrageous tales were swapped as the wine flowed I noticed a couple of visitors come into the museum. At first they strolled in confidently, expecting to find a bog standard museum. But once inside I watched their confidence ebb away as they were confronted by a table of chattering miscreants, one of whom, Alan, was shouting out an endless stream of stories about his life with the tone and volume of a parade ground Sergeant Major.

It was clear that they didn’t know whether they’d wandered into a museum, bar or Indian restaurant. For a few moments they didn’t seem to know how to react. I mean what would you do if you wandered into a museum and found yourself in the middle of a party? Well, if you’re British the answer is to behave exactly the way you normally behave in a museum. So, as we carried on eating and drinking, they strolled around us looking with concerted interest everywhere except at the group of people in the middle of the courtyard. It was deliciously surreal and I just knew that they’d work their way back around to the entrance to make their escape as quickly as etiquette dictated without appearing too rude.

This must have happened three or four times during lunch and each visitor to the museum was completely ignored by Tony (he operates an honesty system for collecting entrance fees; a bowl for coins which on that day happened to be swimming with water).

It was a wonderful afternoon. Time spent in Casa Iriarte is always interesting; we don’t visit nearly enough and during the afternoon Alan told us how he’d come to meet Tony. The story describes the ambience of the place perfectly.

Just inside the entrance to the museum is what looks like a bamboo bar. Alan had spotted this and not surprisingly assumed it was a bar, especially as the cleaning lady had just placed a load of empty beer cans on it. He wandered inside and ordered a cerveza. The cleaning lady laughed and pointed out that he was actually in a museum at which point Tony’s voice boomed from the balcony above the courtyard:

“When a man needs a beer, he should be given a beer!”

Now, that’s my type of museum.

It's Not Really as Fast as it looks

A conversation I had with someone last week demonstrated once again how different a place can be, or appear, depending on where you choose to spend your time.

We were sitting in the Beehive Bar watching Wolfsburg V Man United. The bar was relatively busy, but not full and one of the regular winter visitors to Puerto de la Cruz commented on how quiet the town seemed and that there had only been a handful of people in the bar the previous night. It made us smile because we’d just queued for ages to get into the town’s big free car park which was completely stowed out and then had fought our way through crowds of people to try to make it to the bar in time for kick-off.

The reason for this was that the traditional Christmas funfair had set up in the lower car park and the night was filled with bright neon lights, loud screams and the smell of deep fried churros and boiled onions being slapped on humungous hot dogs. The place was buzzing with hordes of smiley happy people and for a split second it was nearly a case of ‘Man Who’ as I was almost seduced into swapping the thrill of the footie for the thrill of the fair. The huge over-the-top ‘big wheel’ dominating the old town area and only added to the childhood type excitement I felt at being in the middle of a whirlwind of sights and sounds.

The day before we’d battled the crowds in Al Campo to try to get our Christmas shopping completed. It felt as though the whole of the La Orotava Valley had decamped to the La Villa shopping centre and by the time we left, the place was just getting busier and busier and the roads entering and leaving the centre at a standstill.

The day after the match I sat outside the Post Office letting the sun warm my face, resigned to the fact that with 60 people in the queue ahead of me, I was going to be waiting quite a long time. At that point I remembered what the person in the bar had said to us about it being quiet.

It might have been quiet wherever he had been spending his time, but that’s because every other bugger in town happened to be anywhere that I happened to be.

Actually the week before the week before Christmas is normally a quiet time in the centre of the town during weekdays as everyone sorts out their final preparations so that they can have fun and enjoy the festive season to the full when it begins in earnest.

The Mighty Mountain Puts on its Winter Coat

It’s snowing on Tenerife… well on Mount Teide anyway. There’s been some really odd looking cloud formations around the volcano and this morning the clouds parted to reveal some snow on the peak. It’s not much, and the cloud hugging the peak makes it look as though there’s more than there actually is, but it’s a start.

I was told something the other day which shocked, but didn’t completely surprise me. It was this. The Canarian government have a policy of only employing people who are Canarios, or have relations who are Canarios.

Now I don’t know if this is true, I’ll ask someone I know who’s involved in politics here next time I see them. But if it is, it’s an absolute disgrace, probably against European law, and also explains a hell of a lot.

I’ve been involved in recruitment at various stages of my working life. Each time there were stringent regulations to ensure that everyone who applied had a fair chance of being employed. But even with these in place, from a personal point of view, I had one criterion which mattered more than anything else. I wanted the person who was best for the job; simple as that.

If you want to run a professional and successful business/organisation whatever, choosing your staff based on where they were born rather than because they’re the best person for the job seems… well, I’ll let you finish that sentence for me.

It can’t be true, can it?

I’ve got a question (well three to be more accurate) that I hope any Canarios out there who may read this can answer for me because there are some Canarian quirks when it comes to driving which really do my head in.

I’ve got to stress first of all that there is a world of difference between the way Canarios drive on the old roads and the way some drive on the motorways. The old roads are lovely to drive on; generally speaking most people drive at a slow pace and are considerate of other road users. How many times would you see a slow truck pull over in Britain just to let traffic behind them pass?

But on the motorways there are a couple of annoying little habits that make me wish I had James Bond’s old Aston Martin and I was able to press a button and send a couple of rockets up their arses.

So, here are my questions to anyone out there who is guilty of this or at least can attempt to explain these Canarian motoring mysteries:

1: When the speed limit is 120 and you’re doing 150 in the outside lane and are impatient to pass the person sticking to the limit in front, why, oh why do you flick on your left indicator to tell them to get out of the way when there are clearly a line of cars on the inside lane preventing them from moving anywhere?

Where do you think they can go? Or do you just expect them to crash into the cars to their right just to let you past?

2: Why can’t you stick to the one speed on the motorway? Why do you drive at 130kph one minute, 80 kph the next and then 100kph moments later?

The worst examples of this is the person who is up your rear end doing 130, so you move to the inside lane at the first opportunity; they pass and immediately pull in front of you and then slow to 100 so that you have to overtake them.

Seconds later, there they are in your mirror doing 130 again, you move in… and so on and so on ad ifinitum.

This isn’t a one-off. Nearly every time I’m on the motorway I see examples of people whose speeds are all over the place.

3: This one really makes my head want to explode. This isn’t a motorway question at all. It’s specific to the overtaking lanes on the road coming into Puerto de la Cruz on the Icod de los Vinos-Puerto road.

When you’ve been tootling along at 30kph for hours with a queue of traffic a mile long behind you why do you suddenly get an attack of the Fernando Alonsos and push the accelerator through the floor when you get to the overtaking lanes? And then, when you’ve denied the people behind you the chance to pass, why to you drop back down to 30 when the overtaking lane ends?

Really, if anyone can answer these and put the logical part of my brain out of its misery I’d be eternally grateful.

On Sunday we arranged to meet our friend and neighbour, Nicole, for lunch at Faroles Restaurant behind Playa Jardín. It was the first time that we’d been at the beach since the monsoon floods turned the streets of Puerto de la Cruz into rivers so I was interested to see how much damage had been caused in the barranco (ravine) behind the beach which had been turned into a raging torrent during the monsoon rains which had taken the island by surprise.

The churned up Playa Jardin at the mouth of the barranco

The beach itself wasn’t as bad as I’d expected; a small part of it below the mouth of the barrancos looked as though it had been excavated by a JCB and mounds of sand and rubble broke up the usually smooth surface. Most of the beach was untouched and people were enjoying the warm winter sunshine much as they always do.

The main carnage was in barranco itself which looked as though a tornado had hit it and the saddest sight was the little cactus garden in the centre of the mouth of the barrancos – it was devastated. The neat little circle of cacti was almost unrecognisable and the whole area resembled a rubbish dump.

It wasn’t pleasant to see, but it could have been a lot worse; it was in some places on the island.

The funny thing about Tenerife, especially the north and even more especially on Sundays, is that you don’t get to dwell on things for long. No sooner had we left the disaster area than we turned a corner to be faced by rows of trestle tables laid out underneath the beach’s bandstand. Above the tables were strings of Finnish flags and sitting at the tables were a couple of hundred Finns –not a sight you expect to see on a Sunday afternoon in a Canarian town. I found out later that they were celebrating Finland’s independence from Russia which only happened in 1917… I didn’t know that until Sunday.

A Canarian band serenaded the celebrating Finns and that was a bit surreal in itself, but what really added a bizarre note to the whole scene was the choice of head gear worn by some folks at the party. It was a hot day and the sun was beating down quite fiercely and there was no shade so some of the Finns were using anything to hand as protection for their bonces. Many were using their napkins; at first I thought it was just some sort of crap national costume; others had umbrellas (no doubt believing the myth that it’s always rainy in the north of Tenerife in winter), but the prize for the oddest makeshift hat has to go to this guy.

Hmmm, I can't see this style catching on.

Lunch was wonderful by the way. It was the first time we’d eaten at Los Faroles. Andy had hake in a salmon sauce and I opted for the Canarian favourite conejo in salmorejo (rabbit in a garlicky sauce). The rabbit was perfection on a plate; tender and with a strong gamey flavour. It was the best I’ve tried in Tenerife to date. When I mentioned this to the waiter he replied with no attempt at any modesty whatsoever.

“No, it’s not the best in Tenerife, it’s the best in the Canary Islands.”

I don’t know if that’s true, but I can definitely recommend it.