Archive for November, 2010

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, the chances are…

I’ve been reading with amazement in EL Dia newspaper that the winds accompanying the storm that is sweeping across the Canary Islands have not been as bad as expected.

I’ve just read comments on a forum which more or less amounted to saying it was a lot of fuss about nothing.

I’ve also read comments from people in the UK on the same forum asking if people on Tenerife wanted to swap places with them as its minus plus and snowing there.

And I’ve heard people saying they look forward to these storms.

This took out some roof tiles on its way down

Me, I’m just thankful that we seem to have survived one of the most terrifying nights of my life.  All night we’ve lain in bed as the wind roared violently, wondering what the crashes and bangs were as unseen things scraped across the roof

We’ve just been able to have a quick tour of the devastation outside our door after racing for cover twice when the high winds picked up again after a lull.

Huge branches litter our terrace. Tiles have gone from the roof. But it’s not as bad as next door. As well as a tree down they’ve lost lots of tiles from their roof. Worst of all is the golf course. It is completely devastated. There’s a huge tree upended. Tables and chairs are scattered everywhere and the driving range is a disaster zone. I haven’t been able to see how bad the banana plantation behind us has been affected.

Damage on the golf course - it was much worse beyond the tree

This has felt as bad, if not worse than tropical storm Delta five years ago and the devastation around me seems to confirm that.

So no, it wasn’t much ado about nothing – check Canarian TV and you’ll see that.

And no, I really don’t look forward to these storms and I reckon the farmers and local business people who are now taking stock of the damage feel the same.

But most of all would I swap last night for minus degrees weather and snow? Damn right I would…in the blink of an eye.

I have to admit to changing my views about all inclusive hotels on Tenerife. Don’t get me wrong, apart from where families are involved, I don’t believe they’ve got much to do with travel and still represent the dumbing down of what should be an exciting adventure – i.e. travelling to another land.

However, recently I’ve come to the conclusion that they have been painted as a convenient villain by bar owners who have, to be brutally blunt, become lazy. The first clue to this was when we stayed at the Roca Nivaria in Playa Paraiso and the growing belief that this was the case was fuelled further at Playa de la Arena recently.

Bars are suffering where there are AI hotels…but not all bars. The question that needs asking is this. Are bars suffering because of the presence of AI generally, or because what they are offering is far inferior than what visitors can get in their AI cocoon? If it’s the latter then, as Andy says in her blog, bar owners should stop bitchin’ and start to work to ensure that they raise their game.

For some it’s going to be difficult, or even nigh on impossible because their way of thinking has become outdated. They’ve spent too long on Tenerife without keeping an eye on developments in the outside world and still think that today’s visitors want exactly the same as they did 20 years ago.

Here’s an example of what I mean. We frequent the Beehive in Puerto de la Cruz. It’s aimed at a British clientele, but also attracts Scandinavians and the occasional Canario. We go there for two reasons. The first is to watch Manchester United; the second is that we like the staff a lot. However, the décor and the music they play haven’t changed in twenty years and so for us it is only a football watching bar. It has none of the ingredients that we’d look for in a bar when we go out in the evening.

When we went there last week we walked through a town that was buzzing with visitors and yet the bar was nowhere near full. A couple of times we’ve tried to broach the subject of why customer numbers are dropping, but it is always a non-starter. Once we suggested that they should take a look at places like St Eugene’s and Shenanigans in the south of Tenerife to see the sort of thing that visitors lapped up, but it fell on deaf ears.

This time we made a comment about the number of new bars opening in Puerto de la Cruz. In the past week we counted four new, trendy bars. All aimed at the resident Canario population. They were all modern, sexy and will no doubt be sensually lit and play good music. In short they were like the sort of bars we used to go to in Manchester seven years ago.

But when we mentioned these factors, this was the response.

“What we really need in Puerto is a little English café selling teas and Victoria sponges.”

VICTORIA SPONGES! I hadn’t even heard the term in a quarter of a century.

Listen, I can see fifty looming on the horizon and what I want are the Kings of Leon, Oasis and The Black Eyed Peas and from what I saw in the busiest bars in Costa Adeje and Playa de las Américas recently, so do an awful lot of people my age.
What I really don’t want in Puerto is a little old fashioned English café selling Victoria sponges, or a bar whose music is stuck in Nat King Cole’s era…even my mother doesn’t want that.

But there’s the rub – that’s what some bar owners really believe my age group wants. No doubt they’ll still be thinking that as they paste up the SE VENDE sign on their windows.

Could it actually be that in a perverse sort of way, AI might ultimately do Tenerife a favour?

Aha, so this is how the Spanish intend to deal with the proposed smoking ban in January – the electronic cigarette.

According to the website it’s “tobacco-free, tar-free and smoke-free” and what’s more it “represents the future of smoking without compromising your health”.

Okay, I’ve heard that one before. I wonder if the new law will cover electronic cigars and cigarettes, or instead of smoke free bars we’ll be surrounded by people puffing on the Vaporillo come the New Year.

If you’re a puffer and are intrigued, there’s a display at La Villa shopping centre in La Orotava till the end of the month.

I love it; it is just so Madmen…so 1960s

As far as the local Canarios are concerned there are different shifts in Puerto de la Cruz on a Saturday night. The younger guns come out to play at midnight, but early doors the place is buzzing with families and older locals enjoying what is turning out to be a balmy November.

Having partied last Saturday night – even finding ourselves on Blanco’s FB page – this week we opted to stick with the families and abuelos at the chestnut and wine stalls that fill the harbour to celebrate the month of the chestnut and Scotland’s favourite saint, San Andrés.

By the way if you’re a visitor and, like our first time to Puerto de la Cruz, are wandering about at 11pm thinking things are winding down…they’re not. You’re just between night shifts.

The mind positively boggles at what goes on in this shop…

There was a Martin Scorsese film in the mid 80s where a computer programmer picks up a girl and subsequently experiences quite the maddest and most bizarre New York night. Friends visiting from La Gomera have just lived the Tenerife version.

It started very early yesterday morning with a flickering battery light on La Gomera that Gordo insisted wasn’t a problem.

Switch to mid afternoon somewhere on La Laguna’s back streets and Jo (the friend who we stay with when visiting La Gomera) and her neighbours (from across the other side of the valley) Gordo and Ushi are standing beside a broken down car full of goodies purchased in Leroy Merlin, Decathlon and Al Campo.

The three were on Tenerife to buy skylight windows for Jo’s house and whereas Jo visits Tenerife a lot and knows it well, for Gordo and Ushi it was their first trip north. They’d had an extremely successful shopping trip, purchasing everything they’d been after plus a load more (shopping on La Gomera is limited)…and then the car broke down in the middle of nowhere and the Gomeran trio experienced a true alternative taste of Tenerife.

The Good Samaritan
As they pushed the car to the side of the road a Lagunero stopped and asked if he could help. Gordo told him he thought it was the battery and the Lagunero opened the bonnet of his car and tried to start Gordos car using jump leads, but with no luck. After that he attempted to charge the battery from his and whilst this was going on suggested they decamp to the nearest bar where he insisted on buying the beers.
Unfortunately the battery didn’t recharge and the Lagunero even went as far as removing the battery from his car to check if the battery really was the problem – it wasn’t. The car was kaput and they didn’t know even where they were.

A quick phone call to the insurance company came up with the name of a local Grua who luckily the Lagunero knew. A short time later and the Grua driver – another sweet man according to Jo – had hooked up the car and was on his way to the nearest Ford dealer with Jo and Ushi in the cab, leaving Gordo to phone for a taxi.

Despite telling the local taxi company the name of the street he was on Gordo was unable to make them understand where he was, so he elicited the help of a passer-bye.

“We’re near Bar Tabaiba,” the passer-bye told the taxi company.
“Ah, why didn’t you say so? Now I know where you are,” was the response. “I live on that street.”
Even though he lived on the street, the controller only recognised it by the name of the bar. Brilliant.

A taxi arrived within minutes and they reached the Ford garage at 4.50pm; ten minutes before it was due to shut. A mechanic took a quick look and told Gordo they’d have to check the car out properly in the morning and that they’d phone him back then.

So at 5pm on a Thursday evening Gordo, Ushi and Jo found themselves in deepest industrial La Laguna wondering what to do next.

The Drunken Magician
They decided to catch a taxi to the north airport and hire a car. Seemed logical…except for one small detail. When they got to the airport they discovered that not one of the five hire companies at the airport had a car available.

A decision was made to take refuge in the airport bar and call us. We’d been expecting them at around 6pm and were on the banana road walking the dogs when the plea for help came through.

Twenty Five minutes later I turned up at the airport as Gordo had ordered another beer, including one for me, to find that they had acquired an addition; a quietly drunk magician from Berlin who to me looked more like a business commuter, albeit a slightly scruffy one, than a magician.

As Andy pointed out later what did I expect a magician to be wearing when he was travelling; a cloak with stars on it?

The magician was on his way to Las Vegas via Playa de las Américas and somehow had ended up at the north airport having been robbed of all his money (or had drank it more likely) somewhere else on route. He was so sloshed he couldn’t tell me his name – not a good advert for someone who was supposed to be able to tell your fortune. We finished our beer and left the penniless magician to his fate. When he said a garbled goodbye to Jo he tried to kiss her hand, but was so inebriated that he didn’t manage to actually connect and gave up with a shrug about three inches off target.

As we headed homeward with Mount Teide visible in the clear night sky, the three recounted their day’s experiences. Despite having a mini disaster far from home, they were in great spirits and very philosophical about what had happened. In fact they were overwhelmed with the friendliness and kindness that complete strangers on Tenerife had shown them. The Laguneros had done themselves and Tenerife’s reputation proud. They’d experienced a Tenerife that was muy amable.

As a footnote, at 9.20 this morning Gordo’s phone rang. It was the garage to say that they’d be able to fix the car and Gordo could pick it up later today.

I’ve just deposited them in Puerto de la Cruz . Jo’s going to show them around until they catch the bus to Santa Cruz for another leisurely stroll before it’s time to collect the car and head back to La Gomera full of wondrous tales of adventures on the big island.

At the end of last week I had one of those days which reminded me how much I love living on Tenerife. Nothing spectacular happened; it was more of a general feeling of well being brought on simply by walking through the centre of Puerto de la Cruz.

It was a very hot day for November, hell it would be hot for summer, due to a calima (hot Saharan wind) descending upon us. On the north side of the island the mountain range shields us from the worst aspects of calima, most of the sand and wind, and lets the best bit, the heat, through.
Temperatures had jumped a few degrees making wearing long trousers to go into town a bit like staying fully dressed to enter a sauna.

A new bank card had been sent to me and my old card had expired, but the first time I tried to use the new one it didn’t work. Although an unplanned trip to my bank in town should have been annoying, a stroll along the harbour on a hot sunny day dissolves the frustrations – the place positively buzzes with life; the sort of life that for me sets Puerto apart from any other resort on Tenerife.

As the Tri Continent Fair comes down, the chestnut kiosks go up

The huge tents that housed the Tri-Continent Artisan fair were being dismantled in the car park. We’d only managed to catch the last day of the fair, but it was enough to see beautifully crafted products from South America, Africa…and Tenerife some sold by vendors who looked  as exotic as their goods.

Small chestnut kiosks were being erected beside the harbour to replace them. This is Puerto; as one event finishes something else takes its place. In the run up to the fiesta of San Andrés, kiosks selling roasted chestnuts and wine with attitude line the harbour. Whilst the men folk hammered and shouted instructions to each other, the women dragged mountains of chairs into place. Despite the whole harbour area being turned into an open air chestnut munching arena filled with plastic seats, there are never ever enough chairs for everyone.

Puerto de la Cruz harbour

Mornings are a hive of activity in Puerto. As well as the addition of the chestnut kiosks, there was the usual hustle and bustle of food deliveries being made to restaurants in Plaza del Charco combined with the town’s fishermen noisily signalling the end of their working day at one of the tiny bars beside the harbour.
The small wall at the rear of the harbour is the domain of Puerto’s older men. They sit in a line along it, lazily watching and commenting as the day unfolds.
I always get a warm fuzzy glow walking here on a sunny morn and not just because of the golden globe’s rays. It exudes a vibrant atmosphere that is so strong it almost feels it could take on physical form.
Sometimes one of the men will break into impromptu song, at others you can hardly hear yourself think as the old guys get loud and animated over a game of dominoes or cards. This particular day one stood up and at the top of his voice spontaneously shouted ‘Viva Puerto’.
I totally get why he did it, the atmosphere is so infectious that it does make you want to shout about it. If it wasn’t for being doused in British reserve I would have joined him. Instead I just smiled and said a little non religious prayer to the god of fate that we had chosen such a rich place to lay our hats.

For me that morning stroll through Puerto de la Cruz old town simply represented the best of what Tenerife is really all about. It’s something you just can’t manufacture. Like the man said ‘Viva Puerto’.

A while ago I wrote a blog titled The British are the Curse of Tenerife. It was basically about how the impressions that others have of Tenerife might have been formed as much by the people who visit the island and never step foot outside their resorts as much as by media coverage.

Recently I’ve read quite a few blogs and professionally written articles about Tenerife that have had me wondering how much people actually know about this island and how on earth they can get their facts so wrong. After spending a wonderful leisurely afternoon in Santa Cruz with Andy and friends Sarah and Denise, who’d won a holiday in Golf del Sur, I think I may have the answer.

First of all here are some things I’ve read about Tenerife recently which had me raising my eyebrows.

“It’s not a cultural centre, but who really wants culture on a family holiday? I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t mind not being dragged to a museum…”

Err, Santa Cruz, La Orotava, La Laguna? I think the author of that one will find more than enough museums, art galleries, theatres etc. to bore the pants off her children if she looked beyond the resort she stayed in.

No Culture in Tenerife?

Another spoke of visiting the Tenerife most tourists never see – they were referring to Masca, the second most visited location on Tenerife after Mount Teide.

The next wrote of catching a bus from Santa Cruz to a little known beach – Las Teresitas, the secret beach used by the greatest concentration of residents on Tenerife i.e. Santa Cruceros and Laguneros.

Apart from the first example, two of these are just writers’ spin designed to make their travels sound more exotic and adventurous. It’s a commonly used device and there’s nothing wrong with it, but sometimes poetic licence is stretched to breaking point.

The place that most tourists actually do see!

At least these were in positive articles about Tenerife. The worst piece of misinformation I read was from a supposed Eco warrior website and we used it as TIT of the week in Tenerife Magazine last week. The eco warrior was calling for the closure of Loro Parque because it imprisoned whales and dolphins. Nothing wrong with that point of view, plenty of people don’t approve of keeping creatures like that in captivity and no pool can replace the sea.

However, the eco warrior suggested that people should go on whale watching trips instead and recounted how a friend of hers had taken her out in a boat to see whales and dolphins in their natural environment. An environmentalist recommending unregulated boat trips…a sure fire way of disrupting animals’ behavioural patterns right where they live and a massive environmental NO-NO.

What a dork – she certainly hadn’t done her research.

Anyway these are all cases of people getting the facts slightly wrong and, apart from the dangerous environmentalist, they’re not serious. But it all adds up to a slightly off centre picture of Tenerife. I read much worse fictions all the time and friends Sarah and Denise provided a clue as to why.

They had asked a bar owner in Golf del Sur about some unfinished building work in the resort – you know the thing; great unsightly breeze block construction left to blot the landscape for years. They were curious as to why nobody seemed to have been working on it for some time. His explanation was classic.

It was because of 9/11.

After 9/11 it seems, tourists stopped coming to Tenerife and the building work stopped.

I’m still laughing about that one. But what other absolute nonsense are visitors being fed? No wonder we read so much fantasy about Tenerife when some people are filling tourists’ heads with this sort of guff.