Archive for March, 2010

The Good Samaritan was walking down a deserted road when he heard the sound of someone toiling away.

He could hear the sounds of physical exertion, but couldn’t see anyone. Then he noticed a large hole at the side of the road. Inside it a Scandinavian man was shifting earth from one side of the hole to the other, building a mound to raise himself from the bottom so that he would be able to eventually scramble out.

The Good Samaritan reached out his hand and the Scandinavian grabbed it and climbed out of his hole. He thanked the Samaritan and, after they shared dinner, the Samaritan continued on his way.

After a few miles he came to another hole, this time there was a Lebanese man inside it. Once again the Samaritan offered his hand, which the Lebanese gladly took and he climbed out of his hole. He was so pleased that he invited the Samaritan to his home to meet his family before the Samaritan once again had to continue on his journey.

Another few miles and he came to yet another hole. This time there was a Spaniard inside it.

“Aaah,” exclaimed the Samaritan. “You seem to be stuck down a hole.”
“No,” the Spaniard shrugged. “I’m not stuck, I’m fine.”
“I have ladders here,” The Samaritan continued. “The might help you climb out of your hole.”
“I’ve never heard of ladders,” the Spaniard eyed the Samaritan with suspicion. “And if I’ve never heard of them how can they help me? And anyway what are you going to charge me to do this?”
“Nothing,” the Samaritan smiled. “It’s simply that I have ladders and they could help you.”
“Hmmm,” the Spaniard rubbed his chin. “I’ll think about it. Maybe if you come back next week I might let you.”

And with that the Spaniard knelt down, dug a hole and stuck his head in it.

The Samaritan shook his head and carried on, but within a short distance he came to yet another hole. On this occasion a Canario man smiled up at him.

“Hello, you seem to be stuck in your hole,”
the Samaritan said.
“No, no,” the Canario replied. “It’s not my hole; this is my boss’s hole.”
“Well whoever’s hole it is, I can help you get out,” the Samaritan reached out a hand.
“Well, I’d like to take your hand,” The Canario continued to smile. “But, you’ll have to ask my boss first.”
“Okay, but where is your boss?”
“I don’t know,” the Canario shrugged. “But he may be here tomorrow at 10am…or maybe 11am…or maybe later. If you come back then you can ask him”

The Good Samaritan sighed sadly and left the Canario down his boss’s hole and continued on his way.

Shortly after that he retired from being a Good Samaritan.

This week I was arranging to take some photographs of restaurants to accompany already written recommendations for a UK based travel website which will be viewed by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Brits planning to come to Tenerife for their holiday.

Some people might be able to sell snow to the Innuits – I cannot apparently give free publicity worth god knows how much to Canarios or the Spanish.

That’s some, not all may I add, but more than enough to make it more than a generalisation. A couple of years ago we experienced similar when writing the ‘In Deep’ location reports for Living Tenerife Magazine; a feature which recommended the best paces to eat, stay, visit etc in Tenerife’s resorts.

I remember one bar owner who flatly refused to be mentioned and on another occasion a hotel that didn’t want to be included. Both, I have to report, are now shut.

Anyone in the tourist business who cavalierly turns down any free publicity which comes their way, especially when it’s reaching way beyond the shores of this little island must be either very confident, or…well do I really need to say it.

Tenerife I love you, but you can be very strange sometimes.

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A thought has just occurred to me. Do you think that you recreate the same things in your life all over again wherever you move?

The first time a very close friend visited our house outside Puerto de la Cruz she remarked ‘Oh, it’s just like the cottage back in Stockport.’

At first we thought WTF, the house in Stockport was an old mill cottage tucked away behind a suburban housing estate; so tucked away that even the postman couldn’t find it. Some local children thought faeries lived in our garden; it was an oasis in a concrete jungle.

Our house outside Puerto is a converted old animal shed tucked away from the road with a banana plantation on two sides, a finca on the third and a little golf course on the fourth.

Hardly the same, but it is tucked away.

Our friend Jo used to live in an old coach house in Hay on Wye. Regularly on a Friday night we would escape the city and make the 3 hour drive after work to get to the Granary Pub by about nine o’clock where all the stresses of the week were magically washed away in the time it took to down the first pint.

I don’t know whether it was the fresh air or my body just relaxing, but I always found that I got pleasurably drunk very quickly on the Friday nights we spent in Hay.

This is the easier route to Jo's house

Now Jo lives up a mountain on La Gomera and weekends there feel like a different world even from our semi-rural existence on Tenerife.

For a start, it takes an eternity to get to Jo’s house. When she meets us at the port it’s always traditional to head to the nearest bar for a cerveza. Then it’s a trip to the supermarket to stock up on supplies for the weekend – vitally important to get this part right as her nearest shop is over thirty minutes away by car. This usually involves me asking at least a couple of times:

“Are you sure we’ve got enough wine, Jo?”

And, after she’s told me yes for the umpteenth time, ends up with me deciding to throw in a couple of extra bottles – just to be on the safe side.

Once the shopping’s done we can relax and have another cerveza before hitting the road and the winding journey upwards through emerald terraced peaks and forests where misty fingers dance between ancient laurisilva.

It takes us about an hour to get there, the last 15 minutes on a pothole strewn dirt track through the forest – impassable during the winter rains.

People find it hard to visualise Jo’s house. For a lot of folks the image of houses in the Canary Islands consists of blindingly white apartments, balconies in the sunshine and brilliantly blue swimming pools. If our house is a million miles from that image, Jo’s is a zillion.

For a start, access to Jo’s house is by a goat trail leading from the rain forest. From the forest track it’s maybe a hundred yards and the closest tarmac road is two hundred yards below her down another goat trail. When you’re bringing in supplies you use the forest track – it’s much easier bringing heavy bags down the trail than carrying them up it.

It's also a damn fine spot to welcome the morning.

By the time we put all the supplies away it’s time to crack a beer, or try some of a neighbour’s home brewed cider or schnapps…or even do all three.

The bit I love best about arriving at Jo’s is to take the alcoholic beverage of my choice, plonk myself down on a little tiled platform overlooking the wild valley and listen to the sounds of the birds settling into their nests. As the sun slips under its duvet and the lights from the handful of other houses in Los Aceviños comes on, the valley takes on the appearance of the Shires.

It is always, always one of those perfect little moments in life.

I don’t know whether it’s the fresh air or my body just relaxing, but I always find that I get pleasurably drunk very quickly on the Friday nights we spend in Los Aceviños.

Anyway, what was I saying about recreating the same things all over again wherever you go?

Searching for WiFi in San Sebastian

Although there had been WiFi on the ferry, the signal was so weak that we hadn’t managed to complete all the things we needed to do before we headed into the wilds (a.k.a our friend’s house on the edge of the rainforest – a place where broadband is still a stranger). There was one email that we really needed to reply to, so after a round of hugs and kisses with Jo who was waiting with her trusty Berlingo to meet us we headed into San Sebastian to find a café with WiFi access.

Ha, ha, bloody ha.

Jo’s a bit of a Luddite and has pretty much ignored the internet revolution, so didn’t know where, or if there was WiFi in town. However, she thought the ‘studenty’ places were worth a try. First stop was the bar El Rincón de la Poeta which at least had a sign saying it had internet.

“Have you got WiFi?”
I asked the barman. He shook his head and smiled.

“Do you know anywhere that might have WiFi?”
Jo asked.

All the heads in the bar turned our way and the bar’s clientele stared for a second at what was clearly los ingeleses locos, before they all burst out laughing as though she’d just recounted a hilarious joke.

The barman spread his arms wide, smiled and gave a reply that said it all.

“In San Sebastian??????”

We told ourselves that he probably wouldn’t have known anyway and carried on with our mission. A few yards further on from the bar we reached the town’s tourist office. If anyone was going to know, surely they would. We popped inside and asked the girl the same question we’d asked the barman…and do you know what her reaction was? She laughed…a lot.
To be fair, when she stopped laughing she did come up with a few suggestions, none of which turned out to have access. We did find one place which had a WiFi sign, but it was shut…for good.

In the end we had to admit defeat. There are plenty of paces in San Sebastian which still advertised good, old fashioned paid internet access. It was clear that the idea of customers having free internet when they were still able to get people to pay for it was too radical a concept for the bar owners in San Sebastian.

We grabbed a seat at an internet café/bar in the main plaza and ordered some beer and bocadillos and spent 50 cents for fifteen minutes internet time to complete what we wanted to do. It was more annoying than anything else. Work completed, we bit into our bocadillos and made friends with a cool glass of dorado.

“I can’t believe that La Gomera’s capital town doesn’t have WiFi in this day and age?” I grumbled through a mouthful of Spanish tortilla in a baguette (a great carb hit).

“It’s what makes the place so charming,” Jo countered.

That’s one point of view I suppose. Another could be that it’s what makes it seem backward and why Tinerfeños make jokes about it.

I knew from the notebook that there were WiFi zones all around us; they just didn’t want to give it away free. One day the penny will drop.

It was a friend on La Gomera’s birthday last weekend and we’d promised her we’d hop across from Tenerife to celebrate.

Normally we drive everywhere, but now and again we ditch the car and use the public transport system. I could tell you that doing so helps with our continuing mission to experience all elements of life on Tenerife first hand, which it does, but the real reason is that after a weekend on La Gomera we’re usually too buggered to drive back from Los Cristianos to Puerto de la Cruz.

Stage 1 – Our House to Puerto Bus Station
Calima had rolled in big time on Friday and the temperatures were into the 30s. So tooled out with two rucksacks, a notebook, camera bag and a sheepskin rug (don’t ask) we sweated our way through the banana plantation and up the hill to the main road to catch the bus into Puerto. About fifteen minutes later we pulled into Puerto bus station with about a minute to spare before the ‘sin parada’ (no stops) bus to Santa Cruz left. Cost €1.20 each.

Stage 2 – Puerto de la Cruz to Santa Cruz
Despite there being three buses to Santa Cruz every half hour, the 10am 103 bus was absolutely jam packed full. Whilst we were queuing to get on, I clocked Tenerife’s version of a chav hanging around the entrance to the bus, taking a last swig from a bottle of beer before he got on the bus. We grabbed two of the last available seats and he squeezed into what must have been the last just across the aisle from us. Even though all the seats had gone, people, mostly mature locals, continued to stream on, filling up the aisle. Then the young ‘chav’ did the most unexpected thing – he got up from his seat and offered it to an old lady. It was one of these little moments that completely confounded expectations.

Despite the heat, it was a pleasant 40 minute journey into Santa Cruz, apart from the fact that someone had a fart attack just as we arrived in the capital. In a confined area like that bus it was potentially lethal. Cost €2.75 each (we used a bono).

Stage 3 – Santa Cruz to Los Cristianos Port
Even though we’d booked tickets online for the Fred Olsen Express (€60 for the return trip for the two of us), we still had to pick up boarding cards at the Fred Olsen office in the bus station. This involved photocopying residencia papers and passports. Good to see that online booking has streamlined the process – Tinerfeños still have something of an obsession with paperwork.
One of the great things about travelling from Santa Cruz to catch a ferry in Los Cristianos is that all the ferry companies lay on a free bus to the port. It’s a wonderful service which takes a lot of the pain out of travelling. You pick up your tickets, jump on the free bus and an hour or so later, you’re stepping off the bus and onto the ferry in Los Cristianos. Cost – a big fat zero.

Stage 4 – Los Cristianos to San Sebastian de La Gomera
I like the Fred Olsen ferries; they’re clean, nicely laid out with lots of room and have a bar/café area in each zone. They also have free WiFi. It’s not the greatest signal, but it did mean that we were able to answer a few emails during the forty minute crossing to La Gomera.

Having left our house at 9.30am, we stepped onto the harbour in sunny San Sebastian, La Gomera just over four hours, three buses and a ferry later at 1.40pm. We were relaxed and ready to allow ourselves to be embraced by La Gomera’s charms.

The Harbour at San Sebastian, La Gomera

I’ve gone right into Victor Meldrew overdrive in the last few days. Exclamations of ‘Oh for God’s sake’ have been coming thick and fast…except that’s the censored version.

The first topic which has left me exasperated is the discussions about an outbreak of norovirus in the south west of Tenerife on Tripadvisor. This is a subject that won’t go away at the moment and there are at least ten threads about it.
I fully understand visitors’ concerns about this. Every November I have concerns about picking up a bug when I go to watch Man Utd in a bar full of people snuffling and coughing with cold and flu germs transported from Northern Europe.

And there lies the irony about the norovirus. Nobody can say where it came from, but there are a couple of factors which sort of point a finger. The first is that it seems to be specifically affecting areas where there is a high British visitor count. The second is that two friends who are nurses in the UK mentioned in passing that wards in their hospitals in completely different parts of the country had been shut down because of the same virus. Oh, and add to this that the Canarian population who don’t come into contact with visitors don’t seem to have experienced the virus and the evidence mounts.

If anyone decides not to come to Tenerife because of norovirus it’s a bit like Columbus and his men saying ‘we ain’t going back to the Americas – they’re full of sick Indians’.

Anyway that was the first trigger. The second was a tweeter from an American who was worried that a 70s degrees forecast they’d read wouldn’t be warm enough. That was okay, Andy replied to them reassuring them that it would be warmer and gave  them links to some of our web pages.

Well she’s arrived on Tenerife having opted for Playa de Las Américas and what was her first tweet? It was one asking if anyone knew where she could get Spanish food in Tenerife with a comment about ‘who knew it would be difficult?’

The answer to that one, love, is anyone who did their research first and didn’t opt to stay in what is probably the least Spanish/Canarian place on the island. Las Américas is a great tourist resort, but it is purpose built for visitors – it doesn’t pretend otherwise. It is not the place to go if you want to experience local culture and food. So don’t stay there if that’s what you’re looking for.

Next one to have me shaking my head in despair was a guy in the Beehive Bar in Puerto de la Cruz on Saturday. The bar was screening the Formula One race on Spanish TV before the Man Utd V Fulham game. A bloke walked up to the bar and asked if the commentary could be changed to English. When Adrian, the bar manager, replied that it couldn’t the customer went into a right strop, mumbling about how he wouldn’t be able to understand it. Another customer pointed out that it being in Spanish didn’t change the names of the drivers or who was in what place, but he wasn’t having it.

“That’s it, I’m finishing my pint and going back to my hotel,” he whined whilst Adrian took it all calmly and without comment. He sees it every week, people moaning about the commentary being in Spanish; he’s much more patient than I could ever be.  I don’t understand these people – they’re getting to see the race/game whatever. Who the hell cares whether the commentary is in English, Spanish or Swahili?

The final rant is reserved for the Canarian management team in Al Campo supermarket. It’s our friend Jo’s birthday this week and she specifically asked for a couple of CDs by Eva Cassidy and Nick Cave. Jo lives on La Gomera and sees Puerto as the big metropolis where you can get anything, she forgets that whilst there are a couple of aisles of CDs in the supermarket, the majority of discs are by Spanish groups. But there are some international artists, so we headed up there yesterday afternoon and started searching through the CDs and that’s when we hit a wall.

Get this – the CDs were not in any order whatsoever. They weren’t in alphabetical order and they were classified by music type. They’d been thrown in willy nilly. It was impossible to find out if they had specific albums without searching through every last one of them. Now whether this lack of organisation is down to laziness or stupidity I don’t know but what it isn’t, is customer friendly – and it’s not smart from a business point of view. How many people walk away without buying saying ‘stuff that for a game of soldiers’?

Anyway, that’s my moan about Americans, Brits and Canarios over – tune in next week for the French, Germans and the Innuits.

Los Gigantes Marina as the Sun starts to Set

Hit a button and you may be on your way to a sun-drenched holiday.  It really is as simple at that.

Over at Tenerife Magazine, WimPen leisure have very generously offered a week’s accommodation at their lovely El Marques resort in Los Gigantes as this month’s great prize.

All you have to do to enter the draw which takes place on the 2nd of April 2010 is to become a fan of Tenerife Magazine on Facebook.

So let’s just weigh this up for a moment before you go ahead and do something rash.

You can either become a fan of Tenerife Magazine and:

  • Get to read original, interesting and up to the minute articles about Tenerife.
  • Be automatically entered into a draw which might just end up with you prone on a sun-bed sipping a cocktail in the sunniest spot on Tenerife in the El Marques resort underneath the gaze of the stunning Los Gigantes cliffs as the sun sets behind La Gomera on the horizon.
  • And then be automatically entered for other great prizes.

Or you could do nothing…and have none of the above.

It’s a simple choice really.

Firstly, this might not be a typical day on Tenerife – there isn’t really such a thing for us – but neither is it untypical.

7.00am

It’s still dark when we drag ourselves out of bed. A shot of black coffee gives the brain cells a jolt and I turn from an unintelligible caveman into something resembling a human being. Whiskas purrs happily – he’s had his breakfast nearly two hours earlier than normal.

8.00am

We hit gridlock just outside Tacoronte. It’s like driving to work in Manchester. The traffic crawls all the way until the motorway opens into three lanes just past the north airport. A 20 minute journey takes 50 minutes.

An open air gymn at Las Caletillas

9.00am
We reach Las Caletillas in Candelaria and the smell of fresh bread from little bakeries is intoxicating. The sun is out and the only people about are Canarios of all ages running, power-walking or strolling gently listening to their iPods whilst kidding themselves they’re doing exercise. It’s got a nice atmosphere.

10.00am
We’ve got about 30 minutes in Los Abrigos to take photos and to check that restaurants haven’t changed etc. It’s only a small fishing village with good fish restaurants, so not a lot of ground to cover. I don’t find it particularly picturesque, although it’s got quite a nice harbour area. Still the sun’s shining and there’s one old guy mending fishing nets whilst five more watch – this is a typical Tenerife work scenario.

Los Abrigos - tranquil in the morning sun

11.00am
We meet Nikki from Tenerife Dogs in Los Cristianos and head to the Mestizo bar for a meeting with Colin Kirby and John Beckley to discuss how we’re going to continue our mission to make Tenerife Magazine the most interesting, original and best looking magazine on the island. This takes three hours and more black coffee than is good for us.

2.00pm
We haven’t eaten so we stop off at a little café where the music is jazzy cool and the lomo in the bocadillos chunky. A plan to also visit stockists of Island Drives is disappearing out of the window.

3.00pm

We’re in Chayofa, a residential area above Los Cristianos. Some parts are very green and picturesque and the area around the Finca del Arte is charming. But the cloud has descended over the whole area, draining colour from the scene – it isn’t looking at its best, but photos are required pronto.

5pm

Some more work in Playa de la Arena and a short meet up with another friend. By the time we head up the hill towards Santiago del Teide we’re flagging badly.

5.30pm
The Erjos Pools are bathed in late afternoon sunshine revealing that the pools, which were desert-dry after the fires a couple of years ago, aren’t actually pools anymore…but small lakes. Unfortunately we don’t have time to stop to take any piccies.

6.37pm

Reach home, have a quick check of email, jump in the shower, get changed, feed the cat and go out again.

7.30pm
Pick up Bob, a friend who spends three months in Puerto de la Cruz every year. It’s his last night before returning to the UK and we’d arranged to go to a restaurant where the garlic chicken was supposed to rival Adeje’s. All Bob knows is that it’s up a steep street and has big chimneys.

8pm
Thanks to some inspired navigation we find the restaurant Casa Francisco above La Victoria first time. We’re the only non-Canarios in the place.

Casa Francisco - By this point just about everyone else had left

8.15pm
The waiter is a mind reader – he tells us we want vino tinto before we ask and also that we want garlic chicken. We order a salad, morcilla and some croquetas de pescado as well. The mind reader bit turns out not to be so impressive – everyone is eating big plates of garlic chicken. It’s so good that Bob orders a second portion. The waiter fills up the carafe of wine without being asked.

1030pm

We’ve managed to munch our way through the mountain of food and ask for the bill, the waiter brings it – €39. As he hands over the bill, he brings another small carafe of wine on the house. It looks like we’re never going to get out of this place.

11.30pm
Shattered, we drop Bob off to party away his last night in Puerto and head home. We reach the car park at the same time as our taxi driver neighbour who, despite having lived for 6 months in the little casita which we pass daily, we’ve never actually said hello to. In the pitch darkness we introduce ourselves – he’s called Pierro and seems like a really nice bloke.

11.40pm
Stretch out on the sofa, ignore the cat at the window who has got a face like he’s sucked a lemon and turn on the telly to catch the last 20 minutes of ER before collapsing into bed hoping to sleep the sleep of the dead – which doesn’t actually happen because of the super strength coffee earlier.