Archive for August, 2010

I’ve driven around Las Américas and Costa Adeje many, many times. But I always take what seemed like incredibly circuitous routes to get anywhere.

Last weekend, after crippling myself on 12 Beaches Boulevard I got the chance to see which route Tenerife’s bus drivers used to travel between Los Cristianos and Fañabe.

We had a look at taxis first but, after noticing that the fare from the centre of Los Cristianos just to the port was €5 I figured that as I’d never paid to get screwed, I wasn’t about to start now.

With a bit of advice from bus route guru Colin Kirby, Andy and I boarded the 417 bound for Guia de Isora. From Los Cristianos to just before San Eugenio the route was pretty straightforward, but it was from there I was really interested. Blow me if the bus driver didn’t take the route I thought that I must have always gotten wrong. To get from one part of Costa Adeje to Fañabe on four wheels you really do have to cross the TF1, go round a couple of roundabouts and re-cross it again.

I’ve always suspected I was missing something, but no – it is actually a complete mystery of road planning. It just doesn’t make any sense and betrays that someone wasn’t exactly looking at the bigger picture when they were developing the area.

As we turned this way and that way on a convoluted route from A to B, La Laguna popped into my head. The reason being that when La Laguna was being developed nearly 5 centuries ago, the grid layout used for the town was revolutionary. It was such a logical and clever layout that many South America cities used it as a blueprint.

This thought occurred to me; is it possible that five centuries ago road planners on Tenerife were smarter and more advanced that they are now?

As an epilogue of sorts, when we crossed into the Fañabe the bus headed back towards PDLA before turning and coming to a halt at a bus stop. It was quite a distance from the hotel, so I advised Andy that we should stay on the bus until it got a bit closer.

My heart fell when the bus, instead of taking the road I thought it would, headed right back across the motorway again in the direction of Guia de Isora, presumably because there was no way to rejoin the motorway from the side I wanted to be on (those pesky road planners again). Thankfully we managed to get off on the other side nearly opposite our hotel, so it wasn’t a disaster and we didn’t end up with an unplanned trip to Guia, but it was a close call.

What is TQM? TQM is a business practice recognised and adhered to by the most professional and efficient organisations – it means Total Quality Management.  It’s something that is utilised to ensure that business practices always meet or exceed customer expectations and requirements.

It might sound like a boring business tool, but it’s something that can affect and transform how you are dealt with, or how you deal with others. It was standard practice in the organisations that Andy and I worked for in the UK, but since we moved here we haven’t seen a lot of evidence of it being utilised.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t dealt with some professional, efficient businesses on Tenerife, it just means that we haven’t seen a lot of evidence of modern standard business practices being applied here.

Shortly after we moved to Tenerife we went to a business planning meeting. When we asked who was taking the minutes, the people we were meeting with looked at us as though we had just said ‘let’s do this naked’.

Taking minutes might sound like overdosing on bureaucracy, but when you’re planning something it helps to have a reminder of who’s going to be doing what and when – it cuts down on potential misunderstandings and mistakes.  No minutes were taken at that meeting and as sure as night follows day, the following week one of the people at the meeting phoned us up to ask if we’d done something that hadn’t even been discussed.

A perfect example of a lack of TQM happened last week when we were staying at the Hotel Isabel in Costa Adeje. The lack of TQM wasn’t anything to do with the hotel which was very professional, it was to do with two glossy, Cabildo (Tenerife Government) produced books that were in the apartment.

These two books were promos for Tenerife; one was about the island and another about food and top restaurants. I’d never seen either before, but they were beautiful publications; creatively designed with stunning, sexy photographs. Both books were clearly expensive to publish and the text was in English, Spanish and German. However, on Tenerife there is almost always an ‘and yet’.

And yet, despite obviously pouring money and care into both books they hadn’t utilised TQM. I can’t read German, so I can’t speak for that, but the text in English was absolutely appalling and translated by someone who’s grasp of English wasn’t great. Here are a couple of examples:

‘The south of Tenerife has two water parks, Aqualand and Siam Park, where the Tenerife of our emotions can be wished up.’

‘The beauty of our shoreline is known in all.’

‘Alvaro has passed through projects of national projection.’


‘Support of the traditional cuisine artistically brought up to date.’

And finally this gem aimed at gay visitors.

‘It is based, in a cultivated way, on the same forms of treatment made equally to all our citizens.’

Answers about what any of the above mean on a postcard to…

I don’t mean to mock someone’s attempts at writing in another language. I know only too well how difficult that is. However, when you pay a lot of money to produce a high quality book aimed at visitors to your island, it would only have cost a fraction of the budget to pay someone who speaks English as a first language to translate the English text into something more digestible. Same with the German. It’s not as though it would be difficult to do that here.

To take that one little step would have demonstrated a grasp of Total Quality Management.

Because whoever was responsible for both book projects kept it in-house and didn’t utilise TQM they completely ruined what should have been two very high quality publications.

I’m normally quite scathing about Spanish TV and I defy anyone to accuse me of being unfair especially after what happened last week.

There we were watching one of our favourite programmes when half way through some bumpkin of a technician clearly accidentally hit a switch and the programme switched to being the same as one on a sister channel. I could just visualise them sitting, chatting in the station with no-one actually keeping an eye on what was going on. It was a full 15 minutes before some eejit noticed, the button was switched back and our programme resumed…just as the credits were rolling. I was so incensed I sent an email to the station (noticing that other people had done the same…over and over). It won’t make anyone more efficient, but it made me feel better.

Inefficiency aside, there are actually a few half decent shows being screened at the mo. I always enjoy the travel shows like Callejeros Viajeros and the ones which have a look at life on Spanish beaches in summer – this usually involves extended families sitting around eating and breaking into impromptu flamenco, except when they venture on to a beach with young Brit lads and then you really get to see the cultural differences between the Spanish and ourselves.

But there’s an absolutely cracking programme currently being screened called 21 Días with journalist Samanta Villa. Samanta is an amiable and game girl who will do anything in the name of social journalism. The programme involves Samanta spending 21 days immersing herself in different occupations and activities.

The other week she went 21 days without eating and last week she spent 21 days working in a remote hell hole of a Bolivian village where most of the 200 or so inhabitants worked in a mine that was more of a death trap than anything else. Spunky Sam spent her first day squeezed into a hole smaller than the grave, chipping away at the rock face from dawn to dusk…not that you could tell what time of day it was. After that her bottle went and she spent the rest of the time working above ground.

She stayed with the only woman in the village who worked down the mine and her children in what was basically a hut . The night time entertainment was provided by the woman’s estranged husband who regularly turned up in a drunken stupor demanding his conjugal rights and terrifying the family. It was a dire existence. There were no redeeming features in the place at all, even the scenery was mean. The family had to go to the nearest big town just for a shower (either once a week, or once a month – I never quite caught that bit). For risking her life on a daily basis the woman earned a grand total of €10 a month.

Programmes like this serve as a reminder of how lucky most of us are. Even when we think times are hard, they don’t come close to what some people in this world have to make do with. It can be easy to forget this.

When Samantha left the family after her 21 days she broke down. It was impossible not to cry along with her. This was in part because of the sheer desperation of the family’s existence, but it was also partly because there was a little bit of guilt that at the end of the experience we were able to turn off and resume our comfortable lives.

21 Días can be compelling viewing. There are two programmes screened on Tuesday nights from around 11pm on Cuatro.

Or any hotel reviews on TripAdvisor for that matter? Having spent the weekend at the Family Hotel Isabel in Costa Adeje I was interested to compare notes with reviews on TripAdvisor.

261 people had reviewed Family Hotel Isabel awarding it an overall 4 out of 5 stars rating. Nearly 80% rated it as being very good or excellent. But 10% felt that it was below average.

Curious about the disgruntled 10%, I decided to have a look at some recent poor reviews to see what made their experience of staying in Hotel Isabel so terrible.

Main Walkway at Hotel Isabel

The first came from British guests staying at the hotel this month.

‘Not alot of english at this hotel, def catered for the germans and spanish.’

Yes, it was definitely mostly Spanish guests when I was there, but then Tenerife is a part of Spain and the island receives a lot of mainland Spanish visitors during summer months.

There were a number of different nationalities at Hotel Isabel, it gave the place a cosmopolitan feel and I didn’t feel that it catered for any group in particular. I was treated exactly the same as everyone else. But maybe that was the problem for that reviewer.

The next poor review was from a Dutch visitor who gave Hotel Isabel 1 star saying:

‘The staff were incompetent and had no foreign language capabilities. The all inclusive food wasn’t edible.’

Ouch! I heard staff speaking Spanish, English and German; maybe all weren’t fluent in other languages but that’s not the same as having ‘no foreign language capabilities’. I witnessed friendly, helpful staff at all levels from managers to receptionists to chambermaids. I was especially impressed by the way the dining and kitchen staff kept a capacity dining room moving incredibly smoothly. As for inedible food –balderdash; buffets are never going to match à la carte meals but Hotel Isabel’s buffet was about as good as any 4* I’ve tried on my travels.

I could partly understand the next 2 star review as it came from guests forced to stay an extra night on Tenerife due to an air traffic controllers’ strike who had swapped the 5* Marylanza Spa for the Hotel Isabel. However, comparing a 5* with a 4* isn’t comparing like with like, especially when you don’t want to be there.  But the comment that caught my eye was this:

‘We gave up trying to get a cup of tea it was disgusting.’

There was a selection of loose teas at breakfast – but I can’t remember seeing teabags, so maybe that was the issue.

Main swimming pool at Hotel Isabel

Finally, there was this scathing 2 star review:

‘I would’nt the serve the food to my dogs. There was enough of it but very cheap quality food. If you like coco pops, watery orange juice beans and sweetcorn mixed with tomatoes and left over veg from the night before you will be ok.’

As a starter at the buffet I could have chosen from two tables of salads which included mussels, marinated fish, prawns and rice, pastas, crispy lettuces, a selection of olives, cheeses, beets, potato salad, chicken and sweetcorn etc, etc, etc. It all looked and tasted fresh.

For a main there was a choice of roasted chicken, trout, hake, lamb, pork fillets, papas arrugadas, chipped potatoes, scalloped potatoes, chips, lasagne, croquettes, pasta and sauces and a pizza corner with garlic bread.

And for dessert there was fresh fruit, pastries, cakes and ice creams (with bottles of rum and liqueurs to add that extra dash of sinfulness).

As buffets go, it was a damned decent one. But I suspect that sometimes when people strongly criticise food in hotels when the majority feel the opposite, it’s because they aren’t either familiar with or don’t like the food in front of them.

TripAdvisor is an extremely valuable source of information, but its greatest strength, first hand views and opinions from real people, can also be its weakness. People can be terribly subjective – if someone’s a fussy unadventurous eater that’s not a fault with a hotel. Neither is it a fault if a hotel isn’t full of people of the same nationality as the reviewer. To give it a bad review on a worldwide stage for either is unfair…worse it’s unhelpful to others.

For that reason I always treat negative reviews on TA with a degree of caution – It’s usually easy to spot the ones that are an outlet for personal preferences rather than valid observations. The other thing is that listening to the majority is usually a safer bet.

In this case 204 people out of 261 really, really liked the hotel. Make that 205.

Quite a few years ago we came out of the Davenport Cinema in Stockport after watching the movie Cry Freedom to be met by students handing out anti-apartheid leaflets. It struck me at the time that they were preaching to the converted. The chances are that most people who went to see the movie were already anti-apartheid.

This ain't what discerning travellers are looking for...

A couple of weeks ago Andy tweeted a blog about Benidorm and Tenerife being shameful destinations. It ended up being debated on a couple of Tenerife forums (still is). The suggestion that some people might be ashamed to admit to having a holiday on Tenerife raised a few hackles. This didn’t come as a surprise. Tenerife forums are inhabited by people who like Tenerife, so clearly they’re unlikely to be ashamed to be here. Just like it would have been unlikely that a supporter of apartheid would go to see Cry Freedom.

What did surprise me was the number of people who seemed to be shocked by the idea that Tenerife was considered a naff holiday destination.
Tenerife’s been a victim of one-dimensional media coverage for years. In the past it painted an image of an island which was almost a British colony where lager louts ran wild and cordon bleu cookery meant the banger in your all-day breakfast had some herbs and spices in it.
We all know this, we’ve all seen the TV programmes and read the sensationalist headlines…so why is anyone surprised to learn that Tenerife is looked down upon as a holiday destination?

Amongst the comments and blogs surrounding the whole ‘ashamed of Tenerife’ furore was a statement which partly explained the snobbery around Tenerife as a holiday destination.

‘Yes be ashamed Tenerife is a MINGERS destination, typical british working class holiday resort and has been for years, NO FRILLS just Brook-side all the way.’

It caused outrage, but it was valid in as much as that’s exactly what plenty of people believe. It represents the image many Brits have of the whole of Tenerife. A holiday choice for people whose only interest in the place is where they can find a pint at under a Euro.

...but this is.

But there are other reasons why Tenerife isn’t considered a serious holiday destination by some.

Different people expect very different things from a holiday. Some (lets call them group 1) expect good weather, lots of bars and restaurants, good beaches and nice hotels, but are not particularly bothered if the place they’re staying has much local culture – i.e. feels like visiting another country.
Others (group 2) also enjoy nice hotels, good weather and spectacular beaches, but the most important aspect of a holiday is getting a taste of something different and that includes the people, the culture, the food, the countryside etc, etc, etc. Even the most exclusive upmarket parts of the popular purpose-built resorts on Tenerife don’t exactly fit this description.

In recent years the British media has changed tack, reinventing Tenerife as an upmarket destination full of luxury hotels. This might make it a more acceptable holiday choice to the more affluent Brit…but not the traveller who wants to experience a different culture. Worse, it’s still a skewed view of Tenerife and misrepresents the island almost as much as the old ‘being full of lager louts’ image.

Of course those of us who know Tenerife (the island), know only too well that whilst the purpose-built resorts cater brilliantly for group 1, step outside them (i.e. most of the island) and you’ll find more traditional culture than you can handle and that would suit group 2 down to the ground.

And if you don’t believe me, try holding a conversation with a farmer in the hills and then tell me Tenerife is simply like Britain in the sun and doesn’t feel like being abroad.

Ashamed to admit to living on Tenerife – don’t be ridiculous. But after recently reading about a British holidaymaker shouting ‘LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT…’ at a newly arrived busload of German tourists I can understand why others might still look down their nose at it.

Since Tenerife Magazine was launched, we’ve been lucky enough to be able to offer some great holidays as competition prizes. Not that the competition is in any way difficult to enter, all anyone has to do is to become a fan of Tenerife Magazine on Facebook.

Our competition this month is a beauty, a week’s holiday at the lovely Sands Beach Resort in Costa Teguise. Unfortunately I haven’t been to the resort myself and being involved with Tenerife Magazine, and therefore not eligible to enter the competition, that’s not likely to change in the near future.

Lanzarote is obviously a popular holiday destination – just check out the pictures of Sands Beach and tell me that the idea of cooling down in that lagoon doesn’t appeal – but something I learned recently was that it’s also a popular destination for athletes. I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was a favourite with surfers, kiteboarders and divers, but I had no idea that it was a top hot spot with professional runners as well.

It might seem odd that a Tenerife Magazine has a holiday in Lanzarote as a prize, but many people who live in the Canary Islands actually take holidays on other Canary Islands. Initially I thought that was a bit odd; almost like staying over at a neighbour’s house. However, the Canary Islands all have very different personalities and scenery, so a visit to another island can be like a visit to another country.

All of which means that it won’t just be Northern Europeans who are hoping to win Tenerife Magazine’s latest competition which closes on 2nd September, there will be a load of Canary Islanders with fingers crossed as well.

Whatever your nationality, good luck to all who enter.

The heavy breathing was getting closer; I could almost hear the creature slobbering at the thought of food and I squeezed myself deep into the shadows, hoping that the lumbering beast would pass by without noticing me.

With other huge creatures seemingly blocking my path in all directions throughout the labyrinth, I prayed Andy was safe and cursed her at the same time for exposing us to this nightmare just because she’d heard a faint rumour that there was treasure in this vision of hell.

The beast moved on, but not before I’d been able to see into its eyes; there wasn’t much going on in there and it was too focussed on a glistening chunk of red meat directly ahead to notice puny little me.

As it passed I stepped into its shadow, the heavy frame obscuring me from others, and followed in its wake as it barged its way through to its trophy. We passed a small gap and I spotted Andy nearby. She had her hand around the grail she was seeking and was smiling triumphantly.

I saw my opportunity and broke from cover. I sprinted across open ground to where she stood and, grabbing her hand, dragged her toward the narrow opening that led to freedom. As we drew closer a couple of the creatures rumbled forward trying to get to the opening ahead of us. But they were too big and too slow and we squeezed past them, Andy holding her treasure high above her head so they couldn’t snatch it from her grasp,  just before they managed to block our escape route.

Breathing heavily and with the aggressive grunting of the wild things still ringing in our ears, we escaped that horrible place and emerged into the bright sunshine smiling widely, relieved that the experience was over.

Unfortunately Andy loves cottage cheese and, as Lidl is the only place that stocks it in Puerto de la Cruz, we’ll have to go through the whole terrifying experience again next week.