Archive for January, 2010

There was a moment on Thursday night at the gala dinner in honour of the British Guild of Travel Writers, visiting Tenerife for their AGM, when I suddenly felt like Alice through the looking glass.
The Disney-esque setting of the luxurious Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque combined with a laser show, which made feel as though I’d just tripped the hi-tech alarms in a heist movie, created a scene which was bordering on the surreal. I thought back to the previous Sunday when I was in San Antonio in La Matanza’s upper reaches for the San Abad celebrations.

Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque

Up there, sharing a bench with a pair of narky looking eagles and filling glasses from a carafe (a pepsi bottle) of sultry wine from the kiosk owner’s own vineyard seemed like the most natural thing in the world to be doing on a Sunday afternoon. That’s the Tenerife I know best. The plush, luxury hotel setting would be as alien to the people I had mingled with the previous Sunday as their world would be to most of the people who temporarily populate the tourist conurbations in the south of Tenerife.

But that didn’t make it any less real. It was simply a different face of Tenerife. In fact the gala dinner was a lively and enjoyable affair and Andy and I met some truly interesting people – no surprise there I suppose. If you’re passionate about travel and other cultures and you mingle with people who clearly share this passion, then their company is almost guaranteed to entertain.

The Tenerife Cabildo (government) had laid on a series of very diverse excursions to expose the BGTW members to the many different faces of the island and to try and drive home the message that Tenerife is much more than the tiny, purpose built area which grabs much of the attention…outside Tenerife that is.

Real Life in Tenerife's Hills

Pretty much all of the people I spoke to praised the organisation and the effort that had gone into showing them Tenerife. Although some trips had impressed more than others, most members seemed to have learned things about Tenerife that they hadn’t known previously.

I’m hoping that the learning process has been two way. In the short time I had to speak with various guild members it was obvious that their wealth of expertise and experience could help the Tenerife Tourism Board enormously. John Bell pinpointed marketing strategies which could revolutionise the way Tenerife is perceived in Britain. Sarah Monaghan’s knowledge about eco-tourism was a deep well which was there to be drawn from and Michael Howorth’s insight into the yachting fraternity’s view of marinas on Tenerife should have had tourism board officials scribbling furiously. I could go on and on.

If the powers that be on Tenerife are serious about the island modifying its media image so that it attracts more visitors who have an interest in the culture of the island rather than just its temperatures then they also have to adjust. They need to learn to listen more to and, more importantly, follow advice from external sources.

What impressions the BGTW will take away from their visit to Tenerife we’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully they will have been exposed to enough of the real Tenerife to convince them that Tenerife is full of, ironically given its annual amount of visitors, ‘undiscovered’ treasures.

However, my heart sank when I woke the morning after the gala dinner to read that after the dinner some journos had headed straight to the infamous Veronicas in Las Américas.

No prizes for guessing what they encountered there. I’m sure their visit was motivated by journalistic fascination, but just in case it wasn’t I’ll repeat what no doubt will be inscribed on my tombstone…

That is not a part of the real Tenerife; hell, it isn’t even representative of Las Américas these days.

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Some people will tell you that Tenerife has a reputation for having a few bullshitters amongst the ex-pat population. In truth we haven’t encountered too many in the six years we’ve lived here; most of the people we meet are solid, sound and interesting.

However, the ones that we have encountered have usually fitted a very similar pattern. They go to great pains to tell you how wonderful they are and turn you glassy eyed by droning on about all the incredible things they can do. Invariably these people turn out to be quite the opposite of the picture they paint of themselves and more often than not are unable top deliver the goods they promise. These are your common or garden Tenerife bullshitters.

The Spanish have a phrase for people like this which I think is just perfect:

‘No tiene una abuela’ (he doesn’t have a grandmother).

Last week we met someone who completely broke this mould. He wasn’t a bullshitter as such, he just told endless stories about his exploits. I didn’t doubt that any of them were true, but he put such a spin on some that I’ve still got a graze on my chin from where it hit the concrete floor.

This is the most outrageous example of what I mean.

I don’t know what the hell we were talking about, but to illustrate that he wasn’t racist, our new acquaintance told us he had an African child, an Indian child, a Japanese child, a Maori child… and so on; all illegitimate. He was your stereotypical example of the sailor who really did have a woman in every port and by the sound of it left her something to remember him by forever.

Using the fact that you’ve shagged your way around the world to demonstrate that you’re a firm believer in everyone being equal is quite a unique approach in itself. But it was what came next which was the real sucker punch.

When we pointed out that leaving unsupported babies across the world wasn’t exactly the most responsible pastime going, he provided a rationale which not only justified it, but turned his shagging his way around the world into a truly selfless act.

Apparently at the time of his misdeeds, in Japan and New Zealand any Japanese or Maori child who had been sired by a western father was automatically guaranteed certain privileges (guilt payments no doubt) like monetary grants, a better education and various other benefits.

Ostensibly he wasn’t leaving a load of women all over the world with another unwanted mouth to feed, he was doing them a favour by giving them a way to access benefits they wouldn’t otherwise get and help ensure that their child would have a better chance than most. All without him having to do anything else apart from dip his wick.

What a saint! It was classic.

Precise – There’s a word I don’t use often here, in Spanish, English or any other language.

We recently bought a TDT digi-box and it has transformed our viewing pleasures. No longer do we have to sit through movies dubbed into Spanish where George Clooney’s smooth tones sound more like someone scratching chalk across a blackboard, or put up with Demi Moore’s too-sexy-to-be-good-for-you husky voice being replaced by some 99 year old crap actress who’s had a tracheotomy.

Now we can press a button and change many programmes into their original language, it’s fantastic. There’s also a button which, when you press it, tells you what time everything is on. However, this being Spain, it’s a complete waste of time.

The Spanish don’t seem to be able to do precise scheduling, so programmes that are due to start at 9.15pm say, usually start at around 9.25. It is a classic mas o menos approach. Once you’re aware of this, it isn’t really a problem; you adjust. What does drive me mad though is when they apply the mas o menos to commercial breaks. We were watching The Truman Show the other day and I’m pretty sure they left the film running for part of the break and completely missed a crucial part of the plot. Not only that, they inserted a huge chunk of the programme that was due to follow the movie in a commercial break about ten minutes from the end of the film!!!

When I’m in the middle of watching a movie, I don’t want to have to watch bloody Buenafuente for ten minutes – I want to watch the flippin’ movie.

WHAT IS UP WITH THESE PEOPLE?

I just can’t decide whether it’s incompetence, or they just think that life’s too short to bother with such things as meeting schedules and timing the film to start at the exact point they stopped it for the break.

The second example of a generic casual approach to being ‘exacto’ occurred in the supermarket this week. We were after some picada de vacuna (minced beef). However, when we looked through the trays of picada de vacuna, it didn’t take a butcher to spot that half of them weren’t actually picada de vacuna, they were picada de cerdo (minced pork). Somebody had cocked up. But to even it out, half the trays of meat in the picada de cerdo section were actually vacuna, unless pigs here have unusually deep red flesh.

But, hey it’s all meat, so I suppose it was mas or menos exacto!

La Orotava - a warm, winter wonderland

I’ve just read a thread on Tenerife Forum which was comparing Christmas in the UK with Christmas on Tenerife. A couple of people said they thought that there was no Christmas spirit on Tenerife. It illustrated for me yet again that there are still a lot of people on Tenerife who really don’t know the island they live on.

During the holidays I’d been to La Orotava, Santa Cruz and La Laguna to take photos for a Tenerife Magazine article about the most Christmassy towns on Tenerife and they were all very festive with live music and stalls selling hot food.

These and the other historic towns had streets decorated like Christmas trees and full Christmas agendas which involved Christmas concerts, music in the streets, Christmas markets and all sorts of festive goodies. If you wandered through any one of them at night, it was impossible not to be infected with a jolly dose of Christmas spirit.

It’s true that because the most Christmassy places tend to be found where most Canarios live (i.e. the north of the island) and that decorations in the purpose built tourists resorts are maybe not quite as elaborate as in the old historic towns. But it’s also true that places like Arona and Adeje, where the biggest resorts are located, also had extensive Christmas agendas.

There was Christmas spirit by the sparkly bucket load to be found on Tenerife. There always is.
However, depending on where you live, or are staying, it might not  come to you; you have to make the effort to find it.

Santa Cruz - the odd light in the centre is a fire juggler.

30th December
After our climb it was back to work full steam until my birthday. I’ve got a sort of Victor Meldrew attitude to my birthday. Not because I don’t like birthdays, but because it falls at a damned awkward time. If my mother had held on for another 16 minutes it would have fallen on New Year’s Eve and that would have been just tickety boo for partying, plus I would be sharing it with the great Sir Alex F. We spent the morning at La Villa which was a nightmare as Canarios were still shopping en masse for presents for Tres Reyes.

Morcilla con Almendras...yum!

Queuing to escape the chaos didn’t help with the birthday spirit, but an afternoon spent at tasca El Olivo and some of the best tapas I’ve tasted on Tenerife soon brought it back. The boquerones , olives in a spicy sauce and home made croquettes were above average but the morcilla con almendras (a type of black pudding with crushed almonds) and lightly grilled cheese drizzled with cilantro sauce, a spicy red sauce and honey were exceptional.

Andy played a blinder for my birthday; she got me a bottle of something that I’d wanted to try for eight years, absinthe. Its link with bohemian artists had intrigued me ever since we’d read a guidebook in Barcelona which mentioned this bar, Marsella I think it was called, specialised in absinthe and was allegedly frequented by dwarves, ladies of the night, transvestites and circus performers. We tried to find it one night, but it lay down a dark alley full of people who lurked in the shadows so that all you could see was the whites of their eyes and the glint of steel blades in their hands (well that’s what my imagination saw). We bottled it after a couple of hundred yards. But I’ve had a hankering to try it ever since, so we spent the evening trying to perfect how to pour absinthe properly – it involves sugar lumps, ice cold water and a special absinthe spoon.

The 'Rave' street in Puerto

New Year’s Eve
I thought bohemians drank absinthe to be creative. We woke up on NY Eve morning feeling about as creative as a pair of amoebas and the malaise lasted all day. The idea of traipsing the three kilometres into Puerto de la Cruz for the Nochevieja celebrations didn’t appeal in the slightest and we considered giving it a miss this year.
But you’ve got to do these things, so at around 10pm we deseeded our grapes, stuck a couple of bottles of cava into a Zara bag and dragged ourselves off to the party.
Of course as soon as we got there the infectious atmosphere took hold. As usual the place was full of smiley, dancing people looking fab. This year the style of evening dress seemed to be from the 50s and many of the girls had dresses of green silks with wide stiff hems. There were enormous waves pounding the harbour walls, so the firework display took place from the direction of Plaza Europa. We had the usual grape eating fiasco at midnight. I managed to get all mine down as the bells rang out for midnight, but Andy still had some in her gob.
“I didn’t know I was supposed to swallow” was her excuse, something I attribute to a good catholic upbringing.
After the fireworks it was party time again and the streets around the harbour filled. Calle Perdomo, the ‘rave’ street was particularly impressive this year as the fairground’s big wheel added the disco lights to the scene.
However, the effects of the absinthe hadn’t fully worn off, so we only managed to last a couple of hours this year before being party poopers and heading for home.

New Year’s Day
Pretty much a rerun of Christmas Day, except with a lot less alcohol. It was a beautifully sunny day, but we didn’t venture outside at all. Once more it was a case of overeating and slobbing out on the sofas; this time to watch Slumdog Millionaire. What an incredible film and a rollercoaster ride of emotions – There were tears before bedtime.

2nd January

Another walk to try to combat the effects of overeating throughout the festive period. This time we headed down to El Médano to meet our friends, Richard and Nikki for a hike across Montaña Pelada. The island’s volcanic cones are fascinating places to explore. Pelada’s surreal slopes lead to a flattish plateau which overlooks the windmills at the Institute for Renewable Energies.
In typical Tenerife fashion, this Eco centre lies right beside the area where a big new and controversial port is planned. I wonder if the windmills will power it and if the Tenerife authorities understand irony?

Snow on Teide...again

A great walk was finished off with an even better lunch courtesy of masterchef Nikki.

Tres Reyes – 5th & 6th January
The day after our walk we both woke to find we had what felt like the start of a cold. It turned out this was Andy’s fault as she had mentioned whilst chatting to Nikki, that we rarely caught colds and in saying that completely jinxed us. The symptoms got worse until by the night of the arrival of the Tres Reyes in Puerto, we were in no shape to go to the parade of the wise men bearing gifts which was a bit of a shame as the press release promised that there would be 60 animals involved. As I type, Andy is still in bed coughing and spluttering and feeling completely sorry for herself, whereas I’m feeling quite sprightly (but then she felt like that yesterday before relapsing). It’s a beautiful sunny day and there’s actually some snow on Mount Teide, so as Tres Reyes is actually Christmas Day for Canarios it looks as though we’ve got a white Christmas on Tenerife after all…even if the temperature is in the mid 20s.

Christmas Eve
There had been an orange weather alert for high winds, rain and choppy seas across the Canary Islands, but whilst 75% of Tenerife was grim and dreary, the north, funnily enough for the second year running, basked in hot sunshine with temperatures in the upper 20s.

We’d downed tools at lunchtime on Christmas Eve and after buying vegetables from the greengrocer near Plaza de la Iglesia in Puerto de la Cruz did what everyone else does, headed to Plaza Charco and one of the bars near the harbour for a cervesa or two.

The town was buzzing. The younger locals tend to meet up with mates and have a bit of a session before heading home to snooze off the booze while their mums no doubt prepare the big Christmas Eve meal. Plaza Charco had a real party atmosphere. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the town was preparing for a big night of partying, so some first time visitors were in for a shock when they left their hotels later to find that the party would be over and the place deserted by 10-ish.

Christmas Day
The weather on Christmas Day was glorious, but disappointingly there wasn’t any snow on Mount Teide, so no white Christmas on Tenerife.
Even though there was just the two of us we spent most of the day cooking Christmas dinner, which was no hardship as we both find cooking therapeutic, especially accompanied by some thumping music and plenty of bucks fizz.

I’d insisted on opting for a 5kg turkey, so by early evening we were prone on a sofa each,  all three of us having scoffed too much turkey (I’m including the cat here who was using my shoes as a sofa) and drunk too much cava (not the cat) to try to watch Star Trek over the sound of the cat snoring. We still managed to snack on some turkey butties and home-made mince pies later… well you’ve got to haven’t you.

On Top of the World... nearly

Boxing Day
Clearly being a British holiday it isn’t celebrated here, but we did what we’ve done on Boxing Day for yonks, went for a long walk to try to reduce in part our pregnant-whale sized stomachs.

Tackling Tenerife’s second highest mountain, Montaña Guajara seemed just the ticket. At 2715 metres high, it’s quite a test on the lungs and leg muscles, but emerging at the summit with quite stupendous views of Mount Teide and the surrounding crater made it well worth the effort.

27th December
It was off to the Beehive Bar to watch Hull v Man Utd. Hardly got to see much of the game as the bar was full of British and Scandinavian visitors we’ve gotten to know over the years. Still it was good fun and the result was right.