Archive for February, 2010

At Least the Storm Left the Debris in Quite Neat Little Piles

It’s a scary prospect when the weather alert gets bumped up to red, the worst. It’s a bit like reaching DEFCON 1.

Schools were closed, Tenerife’s emergency extreme weather plans were put into operation and people were advised to stay indoors- preferably in an underground bunker if you had one (actually I just made the bunker bit up).

During the afternoon reports came in of winds reaching up to 170 kmh battering La Palma. The storm was even given a name, Xynthia. And we all know it’s not a good sign when a storm is given a name. It means she’s a mean mother who really means business.

Discussions on various forums and even weather sites were divided. The pessimists (some might say realists) were predicting a bad one; the optimists were saying it was just going to miss us and the ostriches were singing ‘La La La’ and quoting weather forecasts which said that it was going to be sunny and calm so you could head to the beach and grab your usual sun lounger next to Elvis, Jim Morrison, Bruce Lee and newcomer Michael Jackson.

The good news as far as we were concerned was that the worst weather alerts were for altitude and the west, south and east coasts.  On the Spanish Met Office map the north remained a tranquil green (normal weather conditions).

So what actually happened?

One of Mother Nature's Little 'Presents'

We woke up on Saturday morning to read tweets and comments on the internet that reported the storm had missed us – wrong, wrong and double wrong.

What happened was that it missed all the coastal areas which had been under ‘orange alert’ and hit us with the force of a…well, a hurricane. In short, Xynthia got medieval on our arses.

Andy and I spent most of the night scared shitless as the wind howled like a banshee and herds of rhinoceroses stampeded across the roof. It was also stiflingly hot and as bright as day, so we could see the shadows of huge branches relocating to other parts of the garden through the bedroom window.

Needless to say sleep was out of the question as we spent most of the night wondering what part of Puerto de la Cruz the house would be in when we woke up in the morning (if we woke up). That’s the third serious storm we’ve experienced since we moved here and it sounded like the worst.

As it happened, damage was remarkably limited. The chimney had gone, but that goes if someone farts on the golf course next door, and there were quite a few deadwood branches scattered around the garden (good firewood).

By Saturday morning everything was tranquil again and the day remained as still as the grave. This morning the sun is shining, the sea is an incredible shade of blue and I’ve been sweating like a pig fixing the chimney in temperatures that must be in the upper 20s. That’s Tenerife for you.

The web has been full of people due to come on holiday, panicking after reading reports about what’s being called ‘the winter of storms’ in Tenerife and the Canary Islands. If you’re one of them, don’t worry. Here’s another little fact for you.

As well as having more inclement weather than normal, the winter on Tenerife has also been warmer than usual. Tenerife had its hottest January in nearly 70 years.

And anyway, the hoopoe sang this morning, so spring is definitely around the corner.


Do You Mind Not banging Quite So Loudly?

First of all, in case I’m starting to come across as a miserable moaning git, this is where I come to get things off my chest.

Having a rant on here exorcises the demons, keeps the blood pressure down and probably keeps me on the right side of being sane.

But really, I’m not a moaning grump…or at least I never used to be.

This rant is about carnaval, or to be more accurate about some of the people who go to carnaval.

To experience carnaval on Tenerife is to witness Tinerfeños at their welcoming happiest best.  Everybody is invited to their party whether they’re in fancy dress, or not.

Locals will pose for photo after photo, breaking into a perfect stance with enormous beaming smiles a zillion times a night (and they do it so well and naturally that it makes someone like me, who’s as natural in front of a camera as a tailor’s dummy, green with envy).

They have such good natures that they would probably never ever complain about what I think is incredibly rude behaviour amongst a minority of visitors. But I will.

I see it every year and it winds me up every time.

On Friday I was standing waiting to take photographs of the drag marathon when a man stood in front of me, snapped a few photos, then returned to his wife where they stood with their hands over their ears until he wanted to take another photograph.

Later on a group of people crossed through the middle of the dancing revellers, again holding their hands over their ears.

On Saturday as the closing parade passed by, there was a frenzy of people jostling for position to get photographs of the flamboyant participants, before clapping their hands over their ears and grimacing as the floats pumping out music came by.

I walked up Avenida Generalisimo where the younger parade participants were dancing to the thumping music coming out of assorted vehicles in fancy dress and there were scores of people with their hands over their ears. To be fair it was pretty damned loud, but they were playing Michael Jackson and YMCA for gawd’s sake.

These visitors obviously liked the pretty colours and the razzamatazz, but they clearly want it without any noise – a silent carnaval.

Well guys, noise is as much a part of carnaval as pretty girls in Rio-esque costumes displaying acres of flesh and men in drag showing everything they’ve got.

It’s big, brash, bouncy, risqué and very, very loud.

If this applies to anyone out there and you still want to experience carnaval but can’t handle the noise,  wear ear plugs.

But never, ever parade disrespectfully in front of your welcoming hosts with your hands over your ears in future. It is terribly bad mannered.

We’ve been driven to contract with Telefónica for our ADSL, not because we want to, but because Spain’s non-customer focussed monopolies system has forced us to.

And before a Telefónica engineer has managed to step foot inside our house, we’ve fallen victim to their legendary customer service…or lack of.

It started brightly enough, a pleasant phone call and a promise to call back to arrange when the technician would turn up to sort us out.

It was even more promising when within a week, and despite havoc being caused by the storm (and the fact it was carnaval), we received a phone call to arrange for the engineer to come this morning.

And then the reality of dealing with Telefónica kicked in.

At about 10.45 today the phone rang and I answered it expecting to speak to the engineer.

“I’m calling to arrange for an engineer to visit,” a rather prissy voice informed me. “For tomorrow morning, agreed.”

(I couldn’t think how to say ‘whoa, hold on a wee minute there’) “…but he’s supposed to be arriving this morning.”

“No, the address was incomplete, so now he’s coming tomorrow.”
She repeated the address which omitted the little fact that our house is inside the golf course – a pretty easy landmark to find, even for navigationally challenged Telefónica engineers.

“Wrong, the address was not incomplete; I told your colleague where the house was in some detail. So why is he not here today?”

“Well he’s coming tomorrow, agreed?” She ignored the fact that somebody had clearly not passed on all the information.

“But I might not be able to be here tomorrow – I have to work you know.”

“Well he’s coming tomorrow, agreed? And I have to go now,”
she hung up the phone.

No bending over backwards there to please a new customer you notice.

If it wasn’t so damned important I’d have rang her back and told her to forget it, but that’s where they’ve got you by the short and curlies.

So now instead of going to Gran Canaria to interview an up and coming indie rock group, we’ll be confined to quarters waiting for a mythical Telefónica engineer who may or may not turn up.

Please tell me it gets better.

I’m sitting on the bedroom steps watching Andy try on various potential carnaval outfits – her cowgirl look is a disaster. She’s put on about three layers to ensure she stays warm in the cool February night and looks like a cowgirl in the early stages of pregnancy. There’s an orange weather alert for high winds and rain and the trailer for ER (it’s on Spanish TV and we’re watching it for the first time) looked as though loads of stuff is going to happen on tonight’s episode. I don’t feel in the slightest bit carnaval-y
“You know I’m tempted to give carnaval a miss tonight, Andy.”

Andy’s a sort of Folies Bergères showgirl and I’m Willie Wallace. The cool February night seems to really be a balmy February night as we work up a sweat on the thirty minute walk through the banana plantations, La Paz and finally the centre of Puerto de la Cruz. The streets are near empty as we walk through La Paz. You’d never know that there was a carnaval taking place and the few German tourists that we pass look at us as though we’ve just stepped out of a spaceship. I’m tempted to lop off their heads with my axe.

The Party's just Starting

Latino music is blasting out and the smell of candy floss mingles with sizzling chorizos and fried squid. All around are painted faces, retina damaging luminous costumes, busty girls with cleavages you could park tandem bikes in and ladyboys grabbing at their crotches to adjust too-tight thongs. I’m home. All tiredness and apathy towards carnaval is a distant memory. We grab a cerveza from a chiringuito (beer stall) and dive into the madness.

The streets are really starting to fill up as revellers in fancy dress stream into the town. There are some wonderfully imaginative costumes around this year. Some N’avi from Avatar are particularly good, but Shrek, a Marilyn Monroe who insists on flashing her pants which seem to have a large cucumber stuffed down them, and a couple of Marge Simpsons also stand out. A Cap’n Jack Sparrow comes over to us and takes my photo. I’m flattered – having your photo taken at a carnaval street party is recognition that your outfit looks pretty good. We get another beer to celebrate.

Now it's Getting into its Stride

We go off on another circuit of the various street parties. A live band energetically keeps the crowd salsa-ing to Latino music in Plaza del Charco whilst DJs blast out a sort of Spanish pop-rock with a distinctly Latino beat at the little plaza beside the harbour. There are lots of fairies, Chicago gangsters, sexy nuns, policewomen in fishnets and people in fat costumes. I point out one particularly enormous derriere to Andy. Andy points out that it’s not a costume. The best spot is a new dance area beside the customs house. There are lots of flamboyantly dressed trannies there and the music has a more techno beat, albeit with a Latino influence.

It seems like five minutes since I told Andy it was 2.30am – we’ve entered the carnaval time-warp. A man in lederhosen tells Andy if she kisses his friend he’ll kiss me. I don’t view this as a particularly attractive offer…and I’m not sure they’re in fancy dress; I think they’re German tourists. Andy gets dragged into a group photo and has her beer spilled over her. A man in an Incredibles costume taps me on the shoulder then plonks a rat into his mouth. We’re well into carnaval’s surrealistic grip.

Andy is Kidnapped by Austrians and Dowsed in Beer

The high winds which have been completely missing start to make an appearance, except they’re more strong gusts than high winds and are accompanied by an impromptu mass “WOOOOO” from the crowds. Everyone wants their photo taken and a group of teenage girl’s and boys wearing not-a-lot jump in front of my camera and strike up a fantastic pose. It’s the shot of the night, but the beers have taken their toll and I end up doing what the girls in the picture were doing – outrageously over exposing. The wind is really whipping up and we decide to head home, making friends with a ‘blacked up’ trio on the way.

Removing my blue and white ‘Braveheart’ face paint seems to be taking forever and I’m left with a vaguely ill looking bluish white pallor. The temperature on the way home didn’t drop below 20 and the sweat mixed with the face paint and ran into my eyes stinging them. The living room looks as though a carnaval bomb has hit it – a battle axe here, red fishnet stockings there, a scarlet boa draped across a sofa…
We collapse into bed as the sound of Latino music from the plaza makes its way the three kilometres to our house telling us that the party is still going strong.


Puerto de la Cruz' opening parade!!!

A little boy wearing a clown costume stood on the street corner looking hopefully along an ominously empty street. As the minutes ticked by his excitement drained away to be replaced with heavy-as-lead disappointment…I knew how he felt. We were both waiting for a carnaval parade that never came.

I mentioned in a previous blog about the ‘strange’ pre-carnaval atmosphere this year in Puerto de la Cruz, but as we squeezed through packed streets on the way to Plaza Charco last night it seemed as though the doom and gloom of the run-up had dissolved in the party atmosphere. However, even then there were signs that all was not as it should be. The plaza café was once again shut, just as it was during New Year, the ongoing industrial dispute causing the town to miss out on much needed revenue during the busiest periods of the year.

But as we plonked ourselves down on stools at the best food stall in the world and ordered two Desperate Dan-sized montaditos (catalanas), the sight of the deserted café was soon forgotten. Latino music blasted out across the square and the place buzzed with anticipation and I felt that addictive carnaval drug course through my veins. Then I noticed something odd. There were no rows of people lining the route of the opening parade.

We finished our catalanas and wandered over to a policeman who confirmed that the parade was following its normal route. But as we walked along the street towards Castillo San Felipe there was no-one. Admittedly we were a bit early, but things weren’t normal.

We walked to a little bar underneath El Peñon, hoping for signs of a parade, but there were none. We’d always fancied having a drink at El Bajio beside the car park entrance as it always seems to be buzzing, so we grabbed a table and ordered a couple of beers. It’s a great little bar; full of character. Next to us a Canarian family tucked into a plate with a whole fish and a couple of grilled cuttlefish on it; pulling strips from the fish in between watching a TV set up outside the bar and cheering as Christiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick in about as much time as it takes to say the phrase. But still there was no familiar sound of beating drums. Something was definitely wrong. We finished our drinks and headed back. This time as we walked along the road we heard the rhythmic drumbeat that normally accompanies the parade, but oddly there were still no people. We turned a corner and there it was…one group of dancers. They were doing the usual dance moves, but without energy or flair – they were simply going through the motions.

Unwilling to accept that this was it we moved on and that’s when we encountered the little clown boy and his mother. As we approached them, the mother stopped a passing policeman and asked him about the parade. We asked her what he’d said.

“He said it’s only a short parade this year – only a few groups.”
“What about the carnaval queens – aren’t they in it.” I asked her.
“No, only at the big parade next week it seems,” she replied.

“Maybe the crisis,” she shrugged before adding. “Este año carnaval es fatal.” (Basically – carnaval is going to be crap this year).

We knew exactly what she was saying and why. The portuenses (people of Puerto) aren’t happy.

“Do you think he’s punishing the town for not voting for him,” Andy murmured.

It might seem ridiculous, but that’s exactly what it felt like. That Puerto’s mayor had stopped a tradition that was loved by the townspeople and visitors to punish them. But if there’s one big mistake you can make in Tenerife it’s to mess with the people’s fiestas.

I wonder if Mayor Marcos Brito woke today to find that he had developed tinnitus. But instead of ringing in his ears, he might have been hearing a tap, tap, tapping noise – the sound of nails being hammered into his political coffin.

I reckon that los portuenses no van a olvidar este.

An essential stall for accessories during carnaval

I can bang on about this till I’m blue in the face, but people on travel forums often ask “is it warm enough to sunbathe in Puerto de la Cruz in February?”

Well, I’ll let the biggest sunworshipper I know answer that one – visually at least; although he’d probably have a damn good try verbally as well.

No Matter How Long I Lie Here, I Never Seem to Turn a Nice Shade of Brown

These were taken this morning – when the official Spanish Met Office site was showing cloud and rain.

Trouble is he's so white that he becomes a bright glare in strong sunlight

It catches your eye doesn’t it? I’m talking about her name. The new carnaval queen for Santa Cruz is called Alicia San Juan Mc-Nulty.

Alicia San Juan McNulty – it’s great, like the statue of the priest in Santa Cruz called Father José Murphy.

Alicia hails from La Laguna, but at least one Spanish paper commented that she had a foreign appearance – no surprise as she has Irish blood in her veins, like  quite a few Canarios. A lot of Irish settled around the north of Tenerife from the mid 16th century onwards and every so often you hear a name that is half Spanish and half Irish.

One Victorian explorer attributed the exceptional good looks of the Canario people around La Orotava to the mix of Spanish, Irish and even Guanche blood.