Archive for October, 2010

There were a couple of marches in Santa Cruz and La Laguna over the weekend by fringe political groups claiming to be Guanche and calling for independence for the Canary Islands. Reading about them wound me up a bit.

Having been on a number of protest marches at various points in my life, I’m certainly not against them. And coming from a small Scottish island I’m no stranger to the feeling of being oppressed by a larger nation. But what was going on in the metropolis just seemed a bit of nonsense that had more in common with Citizen Smith than serious politics.

First of all what’s all this guff about being Guanche? I’d love to meet someone who is actually descended from the Guanche, but think that’s unlikely as the descendants of the people on the march were probably partly responsible for wiping them out. I made a comment as such on Facebook and the author of the article about the protest marches replied that they meant that they were Guanche in spirit. I still don’t buy it; surely that would be like the citizens of the good old US of A saying that they were all Native American Indians in spirit…how we would guffaw if they claimed that one.

I like the fact that there was a mysterious primitive people populating Tenerife before the conquest changed the island’s destiny, but elevating them to mythical status is romaticised fancy (not that I’m necessarily against that either).

There were a couple of comments by the marchers that I felt were worth addressing and would be appreciative if anyone could answer them. One quote from the People’s Movement said that “the islands were in a perpetual state of economically underdevelopment,’ complaining that the decline in agriculture in recent decades had left the islands dependant on expensive food imports.

Who’s fault is that? Who is actually managing Tenerife’s economy? Spain…or Canarian born and bred politicians? And who was it who embraced tourism, one of the major factors probably leading to the decline of agriculture? Who is it that continues to sanction more new buildings to eat up the coastline? It’s not me and as far as I know, It’s not the Spanish government.

Another said  “The economy is very bad now. Spain owes much money to the world banks, but we don’t want to pay for it.”

There’s no arguing about  Spains’ problems, but every week I read about money coming from Spain to fund various projects designed to improve Tenerife. I take it those who want independence would send that back? They might not want to pay for Spain, but they have been happy to take Spanish money.

A reality check is required.

And this is the real problem I have. It all feels terribly insular. The fingers that are being pointed are being pointed outwards. Everybody else is to blame and yet from an outsider’s perspective I see home grown policies, ineptitude and accusations of corruption that has me seriously worried that without some objective and informed control Tenerife could destroy all the good things it possesses.

Quoting the spirit of the Guanche seems to me to be further evidence of a desire, subconscious or otherwise, to become even more insular and that’s a route that takes you backward, but maybe that’s what they want.

The thing that really escapes me is this. There is no question that being Canarian is unique; it’s something to be celebrated and shouted about…but why try to fabricate a Guanche heritage when the one they should be shouting about is far more impressive? I just don’t get it.

Five centuries ago following the conquest, visionaries, farmers, artists, explorers and entrepreneurs from Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland, Italy etc. settled on Tenerife and built wonderful towns and cities with radical layouts that influenced the New World. They created seats of learning and flourished at the crossroads of the old world and the new.

Like America, it was a blend of nationalities that made up the pioneers that created a society which surprised visitors with its levels of sophistication and inventiveness. It was an open society which benefited from the contributions of forward looking minds from a number of countries. Every so often you come across reminders of this like the statue in Santa Cruz which boasts the classic name, José Murphy.

If I was a born and bred Canarian, that’s what I would be allying myself with. I would be proudly saying I was Canario, a unique creature fashioned from the best of Europe with a dash of South American spice. What I certainly wouldn’t be saying was that I was a fur wearing primitive…unless in my heart what I really wanted was a return to a simple life of growing crops and having no money, whilst keeping the outside world at arms length.

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I blame the dogs for not capturing what might have been a classic shot. Having to take our temporary house guests for their nightly walk meant that we were 20 minutes later than usual parking in the harbour car park on the way to see Man Utd in the Champion’s League. The sun, which was bathing Puerto de la Cruz and the Orotava Valley with the sort of light that had Florence Du Cane crowing about Puerto being the ‘puerto de oro’ (golden port), was disappearing rapidly behind the Tigaiga range.

It was another beautiful balmy night and the sky was clear save for a couple of puffy white clouds on the cumbre and around the base of Mount Teide. The only other objects in the sky were a few paragliders drifting down from Tigaiga. The views they were experiencing from the heavens must have been indescribable.

The light was so wonderful that, risking being late for kick-off, I grabbed my camera, changed the lens and quickly took tried to capture the lilac sky against the golden slopes. But a) I was about 30 seconds too late and b) in my haste I forgot to change the high ISO setting I’d left the camera set on previously so the results were the grainy images you see here.

But it was such a magical night that I thought I’d show you Puerto’s sky on a warm October evening anyway.

I’m not the biggest fan of All Inclusive hotels. I believe they take money away from local businesses and encourage visitors to stick to their hotels…even more so than normal. But this week I stayed in an AI hotel for the first time and whilst the experience was never going to change my view, it did highlight a couple of things that I hadn’t previously considered.

On Monday we met up with Tenerife.co.uk directors Chris Clarkson and Alan Gilmour and families at the Roca Nivaria in Playa Paraiso. Nice, nice hotel by the way, so I have to admit to being slightly seduced from the moment I walked through the door to see décor that was stylish, contemporary and imaginative.

Things got even better when the receptionist laughed when I asked about the tell tale wristband that identifies visitors as AI.

“No, not here, that would leave a white band on your sun tan.”

I’d never thought about that. Nearly All AI visitors must return from their holidays with more white bits than most.

At the Roca Nivaria, a swipe card is evidence of AI status. Smart eh?

It leads to an almost surreal ordering of drinks, yet maintains a social habit that is strangely re-assuring as Chris, Alan , Andy or I could say “I’ll get this,” and hand over the card to ‘pay’ even though in reality everything was already paid for.
From a punter’s point of view and especially ones with families I can see how easy it is to spend your holiday not having to count the pennies, or sort out who was getting what, when. It makes life very easy.

But what about the effect on businesses outside? That’s where I take real issue with and disapprove of the potential consequences of  AI. But like I said at the start, staying in Playa Paraiso threw another aspect into the debate for me. Much of Playa Paraiso in my view gives the impression of a tired, run down resort. The bars and restaurants outside the hotel look exactly like the sort I expected to find in Playa de las Américas when we first moved to Tenerife; dated and uninspiring remnants of a Tenerife circa 1985. However, Las  Américas has moved on.

Now move inside the hotel. Modern, appealing décor, great food, friendly service, beautiful gardens, nightly entertainment, craft fairs, stylish bar areas – all in all an attractive and well run 21st century 5 star hotel. The question that came into my head, and unsurprisingly others in our group, was ‘why on earth would I leave this to go to outside to establishments I wouldn’t go near in Britain?’

The simple answer is I wouldn’t. It made me realise that whilst we’ve never stayed AI anywhere, we have stayed half board and have travelled to places where we’ve never eaten outside the hotel, or gone to bars outside the hotel. It’s rare but it’s happened. After a reccie outside a hotel in Tunisia, we decided there was absolutely nothing of interest. The bars were dire and restaurants unauthentic.
Similarly in Playa Paraiso, even if I wasn’t staying AI, after a look around outside, I would have hot-footed it back to the hotel and the promise of style and quality.

There are a lot of closed down businesses in Playa Paraiso, but the question is are they closed because of AI, or are they closed because they just weren’t good enough? If I arrived in Playa Paraiso without knowing anything about it, I’d be bitterly disappointed with what I found. When I walked into the Roca Nivaria I’d sigh with relief  and think ‘thank god this is here.’ And that raises another issue. Businesses on Tenerife have to move forward with the time whether they’ve got an AI hotel beside them or not. In other resorts AI has unarguably had a detrimental impact. In Playa Paraiso though I point a finger at bar and restaurant owners and say ‘J’accuse’ for resting on your laurels. What you are offering is just not good enough for the modern traveller.

Ironically in this instance, if it wasn’t for the presence of the two luxury hotels on the coast, there would be no reason at all to visit the place and it might really be dead by now.

But here’s something else interesting which murkies the water. AI in the Roca Nivaria stops at 11pm. After that there’s nothing to keep clients in the hotel. I know for some that going out at that time might seem odd, but people are on holiday (it’s early to us who live here and observe local patterns). So, in theory an attractive and modern bar with entertainment till 2am might bring the  clientele from the hotels.

But it would take a brave entrepreneur to test this, especially considering that at 11pm, the lounges and bars in the Roca Nivaria almost completely emptied of people…all except the Tenerife.co.uk crew who ordered another bottle of wine.

But if most guests go to bed the minute they have to start paying for things, then there isn’t much hope for the place.

Before you move to Tenerife nobody ever warns you about all these dangerous tropical plants that mean you serious bodily harm. Like humans, it’s the quiet one you have to be especially watchful of.

I clocked the bougainvillea to be a bad ‘un’ right away, wielding its dagger length thorns like nature’s version of Mack the Knife. I’ve got the measure of it and dress like the Michelin man if I have to go within a few feet of it. No, it was the pretty little orchid tree that was nearly my undoing.

One of these could have yer eye out!

Everybody coos about how sweet it is, yet little do they know that behind its soft flowery facade lies a dangerous schizophrenic. Most of the year it sits there, swaying in the breeze, wafting its delicate lilac flowers. But come the end of summer it throws a complete wobbler and starts flinging disc-like seeds the size of 5 cent coins all over the joint. The first time it happened I thought someone was throwing pebbles at the window and went out to investigate…taking a few hits to the chest before I spotted the demon tree was the culprit.

At this time of year it sprays seeds from long dried pods with the force and speed of a kalashnikov.  I can’t tell you the number of times both Andy and I have nearly jumped out of our skins as fresh attack after fresh attack splattered against the windows today. Our nerves are shot to hell.

This is the window the tree loves to fling its seeds at.

I only hope that Andy, me and the window are able to resist the siege until the tree tires and goes back to being simply a pretty little thing for the next 11 months.