Archive for May, 2010

You can sort out the paperwork in advance, learn some Spanish at night school and carry out as much research as is humanly possible, but when you step off the plane at Tenerife Sur airport to start a new life in Tenerife, there are still going to be some things that you didn’t take into account.

For us, and I’m sure loads of other people, one of those things was the sobering realisation that any reputation we had built up over our long careers was also left behind in Blighty. When we stepped onto the tarmac, we did so with no reputation proceeding us to help open any doors.

In a small pond we weren’t tadpoles, hell we weren’t even amoebas…and that was quite a difficult situation to adjust to. Even worse, living in an area where a grasp of Spanish is essential to get things done, having only a basic knowledge of the language can make you appear positively dim to native speakers…well that’s how it felt anyway.

We weren’t completely naïve, we’d known that the jobs that we’d had in Britain didn’t exist here and probably never would, but we’d never intended to work in an occupational area that was exactly the same anyway. However, we did think that our skills and experience would count for something and we wouldn’t have too many problems in finding our way in Tenerife’s world. But that line of thought was naïve.

It didn’t matter that a month before we moved that I was writing proposals to bring millions of pounds of regeneration money to the North West of England, or the words I wrote in a government briefing on Monday might be spoken by Gordon Brown on Thursday, or that Andy was featured in the business section of The Times on Tuesday and writing bids for companies on Friday that would bring them a fortune in funding. Nobody was particularly interested in what we’d done before. And thinking back, in seven years here, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who have asked.

To be honest I didn’t even realise that what I did was an important part of who I was, giving me confidence in all areas of life, until I gave it up. In many ways moving to Tenerife had a similar effect on self esteem as becoming unemployed – which of course in a way it was, even if self inflicted.

When you arrive in Tenerife everything starts from scratch again. It can be frightening, yet at the same time liberating. But it does come as a shock to realise that a large chunk of who you were for god knows how many years is suddenly consigned to the waste bin. It’s all part and parcel of making the move, even if the sudden loss of status can take some time to adjust to.

Everybody, but everybody knew more about Tenerife, or at least appeared to, than we did and that reinforced the feeling of having the knowledge of a new born baby entering a world where everything had to be learned from scratch.

A potential problem for people who make the move is in not being able to adjust to the fact that who they were and the value placed on them and their work in Britain might have no relevance here. Normally you won’t command the same wages if your work is confined to Tenerife’s shores. If you’re used to dealing with professional organisations, skilled in the ways of modern business practices, then Tenerife’s loosely structured and not exactly fast-moving ways may come as something of an eye-opener; so much so that even nearly seven years later it’s still something that can drive me screaming up the wall.

Unless you’re very lucky, there’s no quick fix for this aspect of moving to Tenerife; but most people do seem to find their own way of dealing with it and that can be the liberating part.

What’s that old saying – necessity is the mother of invention.

I’ve just been thumbing through a little hard-backed tourist guidebook for Tenerife written back in 1969 when mass tourism was not so much in its infancy as barely having left the womb.

It’s a fascinating little book – unfortunately it’s in German and although I did study German for a while, I can only remember a smattering of words like der spinne and schizenhousen (actually it was my dad who taught me that one). Funnily enough I can remember more phrases from those little Commando books than I can from school lessons so if ever I need a ‘Gott im Himmel’ or ‘Achtung Englander’, I’m well prepared.

Anyway, the point is lots of the little gems within are lost to me, but names of places are in Spanish and there’s a little information section at the end which is in Spanish and English as well.

The photos are a real eye-opener to the way Tenerife has changed over the last 40 years…or not.

Tenerife's classiest town - looking almost exactly how it looked 40 years ago

There are some places – parts of the north west coast, La Orotava, Teide National Park – where the photos are exactly the same as ones I’ve taken in the last couple of years. However there are others where the differences are staggering. The La Orotava Valley for one, where much of the banana plantations in the lower valley have been engulfed by concrete – but Puerto de la Cruz had been an established port and was used to receiving visitors for centuries, so there was always a decent sized town on the coast.

The real contrast is on the south coast where there are as many small fishing boats on Los Cristianos beach as sunbathers and a handful of buildings at the back of the beach. El Médano is the same; Los Gigantes is almost non-existent and Las Américas not even a twinkle in developer’s eyes. Costa Adeje is a place that is way off in the future.

It was a very different Tenerife back then – just listen to this description of Bajamar.

‘…Bajamar which, after Puerto de la Cruz, can be considered the best equipped coastal resort for tourists.’

Now compare with the description of Los Cristianos.

‘This coastal village should become a resort of more extensive proportions because of its excellent climate…’

An almost identical photo to one in the 40 year-old book

Somebody clearly took that advice on board…and then some.

Interestingly Güímar is described as ‘the most important town in the southern part of the island.’ Which of course it always was and why the road south stopped there for centuries until the tiny southern hamlets were connected to civilisation by tarmac in the 1940s

Then there are the beaches on Tenerife, some of which don’t exactly match their current incarnations.

Playa Las Teresitas  – ‘It is 1450 metres long and the sand is dark in colour.’

Playa Los Cristianos – ‘The sand is light coloured. The road goes as far as the beach.’ The road goes as far as the beach; isn’t that great?

Playa Puerto Santiago – ‘…a length of 63 metres and dark sand; the road goes as far as the village, and then there is a path to the beach.’ Actually, thinking about the access to Playa Puerto Santiago today, it’s not that much different.

Finally the area of Las Américas/Costa Adeje gets a mention at last, except it’s not called Las  Américas.
Even then the beach was known as Playa de la Troya but getting to it was a bit different than nowadays – ‘300 metres long with rocks; there is a road to the cliff-top and a path down to the beach.’

Fantastic isn’t it?

Yesterday we headed west, well south west to be more accurate, to research a potential new walking route on Tenerife. Apart from nearly succumbing to the searing calima heat during the course of the day, we also crossed paths with three old Tenerife friends – irony, aesthetics and environmental awareness.

Irony
The journey to the starting point of the route would normally take about an hour and a half, passing through the lovely Santiago Valley before skirting the hills toward Guia de Isora.

Yesterday half an hour was added to the drive because the normally quiet road was full of lumbering trucks which were too big for the old road which linked Guia with Santiago del Teide. And here’s the irony – why were they on the road? Because they were transporting materials to and from the new ring road; a construction apparently designed to make circumnavigating the island easier.

Personally, I’ve never thought there was much of a problem using the road that’s already there (it’s a beautiful drive)…not until the new road’s trucks clogged it up, churning up the tarmac in the process. We’ve been told that despite Spain’s austerity measures, this new road will be completed – shame. I can only hope that the austerity measures stop some other projects in time to prevent the authorities covering the whole damn coast in tarmac and concrete.

Aesthetics
At one point during our walk yesterday we followed a path along the bottom of a picturesque barranco. Luminous dragonflies and bright yellow butterflies fluttered and zipped about our heads as we strolled past wild vines with only the sound of rushing water to break the silence. The running water wasn’t coming from a babbling brook, it was coming from steel pipes which ran through the barranco.

Most of the time these were hidden beneath the flora and fauna, but every so often they had to break cover to travel up the walls of the barranco. And when they did, they looked like this.


Maybe with a little bit of thought, they might have been placed in a way that was a bit more sympathetic to the landscape. Come on guys and girls, if you want the island to be attractive as a rural destination, look up aesthetic in the dictionary.

Environmental Awareness
We emerged from the barranco at a small, unremarkable modern hamlet. Unremarkable apart from one thing; its street lamps were solar powered.

I’ve never seen these before and was fascinated by them. Now I’ve googled them and discovered what I thought were speed traps on the TF5 motorway, might actually be solar powered lights. How about that?

It just tickles me that in the one area there are JCBs tearing up part of the landscape, steel water pipes spoiling parts of a beauty spot…and environmentally friendly street lamps.

Aaah Tenerife, you’re a confused little soul, but I love you really.

The third incident of the day was one of those infuriating and bewildering TIT (this is Tenerife) experiences.

At the end of a long day in the south we just wanted to get back home as quickly as possible. At that time of night, when the motorway is quiet, around fifty minutes normally does the trick.

We were going great guns until we passed the airport. If you’ve driven on the TF1 motorway at night you’ll know that a lot of it isn’t lit. Good for light pollution, but not for spotting a row of cones which suddenly appeared out of the blackness forcing me into one lane and then off the motorway altogether. I spotted them almost as I hit them and followed the slip road onto a road running parallel with the TF1 and an unmoving line of traffic stretching into the distance.

“WTF” I exclaimed. It was 10.30pm and we were gridlocked in the darkness.

Eventually we moved forward at a snail’s pace. Up ahead I could see JCB’s and a load of workmen, but there was no work actually taking place on the motorway itself. It seemed to take us forever to crawl forward, which seemed odd as there couldn’t have been much other traffic from anywhere else interfering with our progress.

As we reached the workmen’s lights the two causes of the traffic queue were revealed.

Workmen were working on a bridge over the TF1 and there was a large rig on the motorway itself under the bridge. Fair enough if you have to carry out work, night-time, when traffic is light, is the sensible time to do it.

However, the actual cause of the queue had me wishing I had a machine gun to hand. I’m surprised that unemployment is so high in Spain because, despite the fact that there was no traffic coming in any other direction, they had not one, not two, but three idiots directing our queue of traffic…or more accurately making a right old balls up of trying to keep the traffic moving.

One of them had one of those ‘stop’ and ‘go’ signs with which he was waving traffic forward. His two colleagues were stood in the middle of the road waving their arms about willy nilly.

This was causing all sorts of consternation as the road back on to the motorway lay straight ahead and the road the guys seemed to be gesticulating towards headed bizarrely to El Médano.

I say bizarrely, cause if you know this road you’ll know that you can’t get back to the TF1 from it. Well, actually you can if you head south – in the direction we’d just come. But then you’d end up hitting the roadworks again, being directed to El Médano again…and so on forever and ever.

We made a snap decision, ignored the goons on the road and took what seemed to be the logical route – straight across and back on to the motorway. Ominously nobody followed us; the whole line of traffic turned right towards El Médano as directed.

As we drove into the darkness I kept one eye on my rear view mirror hoping that some lights would enter it, and that if they did they weren’t blue flashing ones, but none came. It was completely unnerving and we expected at any moment to turn a corner and plough into a load of workmen even though we knew that the workmen’s apparent detour didn’t make any sense. There was simply no way to get back on to the motorway other than the route we had taken. After about five minutes I saw red up ahead and we caught up with one car, then another and another and relief swept over us. We’d made the right decision.

God knows what happened with everyone else in that queue – they’d have reached El Médano and then what? I imagine that there would have been some pretty pissed-off drivers when they realised that the idiots at the bridge had sent them to what amounted to a dead end. Hundreds of cars had followed their bizarre detour.

Sometimes, some might say a little bit too often, we encounter behaviour on Tenerife that is difficult to rationalise. It can be amusing, bewildering or annoying as hell. But as long as you know to expect the unexpected and to follow your instincts rather than cerebrally challenged morons in yellow jackets, then it might just be possible for an intelligent and logically minded person to survive living here with their sanity intact.

The second ‘odd’ incident of the day was a nothing event really, but was still pretty bizarre.

In between our Tenerife Magazine meeting and the Pirate FM launch, we arranged to take some photos at Le Bistro D’Alain in Los Cristianos and grabbed a hasty meal – not unfortunately at the Bistro which wasn’t actually open yet.

We chose a place near the Bistro and sat at a table. The waitress, who looked like Carla from Cheers, appeared pretty

Carla from 'Cheers' or a waitress in Los Cristianos?

promptly, handed us the menus and then asked us a question in something that sounded like Spanish, but which neither of us could decipher. We asked her to repeat it. Again, neither of us could make it out so she mimed drinking. ‘Jeez, we’re having a seriously bad Spanish day,’ I thought.

She brought us our drinks and then got her notebook out to take our food order:

“Pasta con mozzarella y albahaca,” Andy ordered.

The waitress frowned and made a noise that sounded like a cross between ‘que’ and ‘eh’. Andy repeated it and got the same reaction from the waitress, so she tried a variation of pronunciations in case it was the way she was saying it. But the waitress just couldn’t understand. In the end Andy pointed the dish out on the menu, but even then it took the waitress a few moments to figure it out.

By this time I wasn’t looking forward to giving her my order as mine had wurst in it and I wasn’t exactly sure how Spaniards, who have trouble with the old ‘W’ sound, would say that anyway.

My fears were valid as we entered comedy sketch territory. I tried to help the bemused looking waitress out with a selection of different pronunciations ranging from a simple ‘woorst’ to ‘w-uh-rst’ to an elaborate ‘eh-woo-er-est-eh‘ which was probably accompanied by a bit of unattractive gurning as I tried to wrap my tongue around the word, but no joy. She still didn’t seem any wiser when I pointed it out and took the menu away for a confab with the chef.

We’ve experienced situations in Los Cristianos in the past where we speak to waiters in Spanish but they only ever respond in English. However this was something new.  Carla looked Spanish and spoke something that sounded like Spanish, but not Castilian or even a particularly heavy-accented Canarian Spanish. And what’s more she didn’t seem to understand Spanish – I realise we don’t sound as though we come from Seville, but we don’t usually have a problem being understood.

I know there are differences between the north and south of Tenerife, but up until that point I didn’t think it extended to a whole new language.

As we waited, a couple of girls and a man sat at a table near us. The girls spoke English but it clearly wasn’t their first language; the man was Spanish. We were intrigued to see what would happen when they ordered…and were delighted and relieved when they tried to order in fluent Spanish and the exact same charade was played out with them. By the time the waitress left them they looked as completely as bemused by her performance as we had been. We could understand exactly what they’d asked for, but the waitress once again didn’t have a clue and at no time did she even attempt to try another language. In fact she behaved as though she’d never set eyes on the menu before. I wondered if it was her first day on the job.

We weren’t really surprised when she got both our and the other table’s orders wrong.

Although the food wasn’t exactly what Andy ordered, it was decently cooked and the entertainment value was compensation. So if you fancy a meal served by the waitress from another planet, the restaurant is opposite Mestizo’s in Los Cristianos.

Another planet? Hmmm, come to think of it, maybe she was just stoned.

A sensationalist headline? Maybe…but it’s true. However, more of that in a bit.

Someone asked me recently if I thought I’d run out of things to write about Tenerife. You’ve got to be joking. Just about every time I leave the house I end up with enough material to fill any number of blogs. Some of it I write, some I forget, some I file away for later and some I’ll wait until I’ve left the island before I write them.

Take Thursday for example. We were in the south of the island to take photographs, attend a Tenerife Magazine meeting and for the launch of Pirate FM. Apart from those, there were three incidents which in turn amazed, amused and had me swearing like a trooper.

Tornado in Tenerife
The first was the tornado in Los Cristianos. I’d just finished taking photos at Meson Castellano and we were filling the time before our Tenerife Magazine meeting by sitting on the promenade soaking up some rays. That was the plan, but the sun was being shy and had disappeared behind a bank of clouds (adding to my record of it rarely being full sunshine when I visit the south to take photos). Not only that but a cool wind whipped up sending a sand storm across the promenade.

It seemed to have died down when a sizeable tornado formed right in front of our eyes – I kid you not. I’ve never seen a tornado first hand before and was completely transfixed as the whirling column of sand reached into the sky, did a shimmy and then made off across the beach in the direction of the sea. It was clearly a considerate tornado as it chose a path which took it between the rows of sunbeds, missing the cloud-bathers completely…apart from one woman who was right in its path. She spotted it coming and tried to run out of its way, but as it reached her, it changed direction and went straight for her. It was bizarre – as it passed through her it looked as though she’d been turned upside down and everything she was holding was blown sky wards. Luckily it didn’t linger and carried on its way till it reached the sea where it just sort of dissipated.

Had I been Quick Enough There Would Be a Tornado Just to the Right of These Sun Loungers

It was an amazing sight and lasted about ten seconds in all.  I carry my camera everywhere, so did I take a photo? Did I buggery – I was hypnotised by the damn thing. I waited and waited hoping another would form, but with no luck and no evidence of the tornado on Los Cristianos beach. But if you don’t believe me ask Colin Kirby, it turned out he also witnessed it.

After a hectic day which involved photographing restaurants in the south of Tenerife and a Tenerife Magazine meeting with a whopping 20 point agenda which left us all a bit glassy eyed by the end of it, the road north looked very tempting.

But instead of heading away from the sunset, we headed into it and toward a lighthouse, overlooking the beach, which had been invaded by pirates. In this case it was the pirates of Tenerife’s newest radio station, Pirate FM who were holding their launch party at El Faro Chill Art Bar in San Eugenio.

Andy and Clare Harper from Pirate FM

We hooked up with Colin Kirby at Los Cristianos bus station and headed to the pirates’ lair. Like Andy, Colin had read the bit on the web which advised that black and white attire was the pirates’ order of the day (he was in black pants and white shirt – Andy had opted for the slightly less camarera look of white pants/black T-shirt).

The second you walk through El Faro’s doors, it’s easy to see why Pirate FM would want to invade it for the evening. El Faro (the lighthouse) occupies a commanding position overlooking Fañabe beach on one side and Puerto Colón’s marina the other. At around 8pm, the setting sun cast an exquisite light over the bar’s mock lighthouse and über stylish décor making it what must be one of the sexiest spots to enjoy a sunset glass of cava on Tenerife.

As Andy chatted to Paul Lennox from Crossley, Morfitt and Lennox (who are working in association with the station) and Colin sought out Clare Harper (head of marketing), I took the opportunity to wander round snapping a few shots before the sun pulled the bed covers completely over its head, whilst a mix of smooth blues and soft classic rock (Pirate FM’s key sound) added to a pleasantly chilled ambience.

Unfortunately some of the key people involved with the new radio station had fallen foul of the fickle whimsies of  the volcanic ash cloud and were stuck back in Blighty, so interviewing options were curtailed somewhat.

Still every ash cloud has a silver lining and all that, so instead Andy quizzed the DJ about his music and then we did

Super Cool Seating Area in El Faro

what the sign for El Faro suggests, we chilled-out and shot the pleasant May breeze with Joe Cawley and John Beckley for a while.

By 10-ish we decided to head for home, stopping for a few moments to listen to note-perfect guitar riffs from Soundchaser in the bar below (Note for diary – a return visit definitely on the cards)

I’ve got to say, I was quite seduced by that little spot between Fañabe and Puerto Colón, musically speaking. By the DJ in El Faro who set the sunset scene perfectly; the band doing a sound check for a reggae tribute taking place in the downstairs bar later and then by Soundchaser rocking the beach. All good professional stuff and not quite matching a lot of folks’ views of the south of Tenerife.

On our way home we dropped Colin off in Los Cristianos. As we waited at a traffic light we were exposed to another face of Tenerife south’s nightlife. In front of us about 15, let’s say ‘mature’, visitors were line dancing to the strains of Dolly Parton. Not my scene and a million miles away from the cool vibes in El Faro, but they were enjoying themselves.

You can say what you like about Tenerife, but you can’t deny that musically, and in numerous other ways as well, what it has to offer is about as diverse as you’ll find anywhere.