Archive for December, 2010

We’d always been intrigued by the bar at El Guincho near Garachico in Isla Baja with semi-colon as a name, not the words just the symbol – ;

I mean what do people say – ‘I’m just off to punto y coma for a pint’ or do they mime it?

Anyway, after what seemed like a completely pointless and very expensive tunnel had been built which diverted the road away from the bar I’d completely forgotten about it…until Andy, our friend Bob and I emerged after a walk through the banana plantations at the top of a steep set of steps almost right outside Bar ;

It was perfectly positioned for a post walk beer.

Have you ever seen any of Robert Rodriguez Mariachi series of movies? If so, you’ll get the picture when I say walking into Bar ; was like walking into one of the Mexican bars featured in them. It didn’t exactly go quiet, but there was a noticeable pause…or was it a semi colon?

The barman was Tenerife’s answer to Cheech Marin. He had a miserable boat race; the only bright thing about it was the glistening stud in his ear. When we asked if he served bocadillos he grunted and pointed to a selection of mass produced, filled pastries.
“Too late for bocadillos,” he growled pointing to a sign which announced that the bar was shutting at 5pm. At that point it was 1.30pm.
We ordered beers and moved to sit at one of the tables…eliciting another grunt and a single word.

“NO!”

Okay to be fair to the guy, it was Christmas Eve and he probably didn’t want three extranjeros holding him back from getting into the Xmas spirit and the place looked as though it was setting up for a private party.  We squeezed in at the bar, one of the punters shifted along to accommodate us so it wasn’t exactly all unfriendly, and I had a look around the joint.

First observation was that there was quite a lot of Barcelona memorabilia on the walls, nothing unusual about that – in Tenerife it’s usually them or Real Madrid. The second thing I noticed was an interesting collection of specialist (for Tenerife at least) beer bottles lining the room, one of which was Old Speckled Hen.
The third thing that stood out was the incredible selection of sweet products in the bar. I mean this was in most senses a typical out of the way Canario bar, yet apart from all the pastries it had a better sweet selection than most big supermarkets. They had rows of Crunchies, Twix’s and all sorts of choccie delights. It also had the most extensive range of travel-sized Pringles that I’ve ever seen. It was obvious what Bar ; really was. It was munchie heaven.

“This is definitely a ‘smokers’ bar,” I whispered to Andy.

Almost on cue a man with a handlebar moustache wearing a cowboy hat, leather waistcoat and mirror sunglasses entered the bar, nodded ‘buenas tardes’ in our direction and plonked himself down at the bar. If the Robert Rodriguez Mexican bar reference needed reinforcing, he’d just provided the icing on the Navidad cake.

To be completely honest Bar ; wasn’t unfriendly, it just wasn’t particularly friendly…except maybe if you were a local, but Cheech behind the bar didn’t exactly exude love and kinship towards his regulars either.

We downed our beers and left with a ‘felices fiestas’ which everyone responded to cheerily – even Cheech…well his mouth sort of turned up at the corner as  he grunted.

Andy and I were pleased to have finally had a drink in a bar which had intrigued us for years. But in all honesty we were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t exactly the sort of place where you’d want to linger too long. In fact it probably really only warranted being called Bar ‘,’ and not ‘;‘

How anyone can ever be bored in Tenerife I’ll never know. Even the humdrum of everyday life normally keeps you on your toes, but the weekend before Christmas was a perfect example of how one minute you can be living the highlife here and the next completely brought down to earth and then some.

Friday had started off in a rather sad and bizarre fashion (part of one of the more fascinating Tenerife experiences that either Andy or I will write about one day). We weren’t directly involved, but it took some of the shine off collecting my mum, sister and her boyfriend from the bus station.

Despite there being a weather alert for high winds to such an extent that the cabins had been taken down from the harbour funfair’s big wheel it was actually a hot, sunny day and we spent a lovely day reintroducing my family to Puerto de la Cruz’s charms.

On Friday night we went to the Bitter & Twisted show at the Majestic where it was a great Christmas present to watch my mum in stitches at John Sharples and Barry Pugh’s clever and very funny show.

On Saturday we drove them back to Playa de la Arena where they were staying for some sun therapy prior to a snowy Christmas in the UK. The sun was shining again on that coast after a couple of days of cloud and rain and we deposited them at the beach as we drove on to Puerto Santiago and booked into the Barcélo Santiago Hotel.

Highlight of the Weekend
We’ve stayed in some fab hotel rooms and suites around the world; in Sheratons, Shangri-La’s and Dusit’s and so on, but the room we had at the Barcélo Santiago was one of the sexiest. I was completely seduced by its sophisticated, modern design and frosted glass interior walls. The views from the generous balcony of the Los Gigantes Acantilados and La Gomera simply made staying there one hell of an attractive package. I would have quite happily spent the whole visit in that room.
I could rattle on more about it, but Andy has already described our stay in her Real Tenerife blog in more beautifully described detail.

After spending the day and a good part of the night in the hotel we decided to have a change of scenery to end the night. We strolled, after a long and most enjoyable dinner at the hotel’s a la carte Sabor Español restaurant across the road to one of the top entertainment venues in south west Tenerife, Route 66.

Resident band Old Dogs New Tricks weren’t playing that night, but Los Tres Hombres did a great job of keeping the bar rocking to some classic sounds. It was a lively end to the day and all was well with the world until I had to pay a visit to the men’s room.

Lowlight of the Weekend
When I was ready to leave I turned to unlock the door and the bolt didn’t move. I tried again and again, but the little mock gold locking mechanism wouldn’t budge.

At first I wasn’t a bit concerned – in fact I figured the bottle of wine over dinner and couple of beers in Route 66 had impaired my toilet door opening skills somewhat. But as I dropped to my knees to inspect the stubborn lock it became clear that it wasn’t me at all. At some point in the recent past a new lock had been attached…and it had been a botched job.

At that point I have to admit to starting to get quite worried. No amount of rattling, cursing and pulling would make the damn lock budge. I looked around for an alternative way out, but the door went all the way to the ceiling. There was only one potential escape route; a little gap between the gents and the ladies’ toilets. If it came to the worst I figured I could squeeze through, but that option seemed a bit drastic.

Ten minutes later and still imprisoned, it started to look like my only way to escape this hell. But before I resorted to scaring the be-Jesus out of some poor unsuspecting woman I tried one last pathetic approach. I banged loudly on the door and shouted “HELP” over and over.

Unfortunately being locked in the toilet of a bar playing loud rock music meant that my cries for help must have been completely drowned out and no rescue was forthcoming.

Finally after twenty minutes of imprisonment and trauma the door started to rattle and bang and then after a few moments it sprang open…I was free.

After a wonderful day and night I’d walked into that toilet with the swagger of James Bond (the Sean Connery and Daniel Craig versions not Old Codger Moore’s) and emerged gushing relieved gratitude like a Chilean miner.

Andy, meanwhile, was still singing along to the band oblivious to my ordeal.

As I said at the start how can anyone ever be bored on Tenerife?

As a footnote, I pointed out to the barman that the lock was faulty, but as far as I could see he didn’t actually do anything about it. So guys, if you’re visiting the loo at Route 66 don’t lock the door. And gals, if you’re in the loo keep one eye on that little gap between the male and female toilets, you just never know when you might have some unexpected company.

A December Day in Garachico

Posted: December 22, 2010 in Food, Life, Photos, Spain, Tenerife, Travel

Anywhere that has choco burgers (cuttlefish) on the menu and an army of terrapins lazily watching diners just has to be tried…but just not on this particular day.

We’d arranged to meet up with Sarah and Terry Lee from LiveShareTravel for lunch in Tenerife’s prettiest and unluckiest town (lava flows from volcanic eruptions, plagues of locusts, floods, storms and epidemics have all paid the town a visit in the past). However, not having tried a choco burger before and therefore not able to vouch for its edibility, I wasn’t sure it was fair to introduce Sarah and Terry to the most unusual item on any menu in Garachico on their first visit.

Sarah and Terry had spent the morning descending Indiana Jones like into the volcanic tube at nearby Cueva del Viento. However, like many things on Tenerife, it took longer than scheduled giving us time for a leisurely pre-lunch stroll around Garachico and a chance to remind ourselves of the pleasures of spending time in this charming part of north west Tenerife.

Despite a weather alert for strong winds and heavy rain on Tenerife, the weather in Garachico wasn’t actually too bad. It was warm and dry, if a bit cloudy; pleasant enough conditions for exploring its sleepy lanes…well normally sleepy. On this occasion as Andy tried to film a video blog for Tenerife Holidays Blog she found that she was drowned out somewhat by loudspeakers blaring from a passing van and the toll of the town’s church bells announcing the passing of a funeral cortege. The mainly cloudy weather wasn’t ideal for capturing Garachico at its best, but the town is always reliable for providing some interesting scenes.

The plaster is cracked and the woodwork is rotted and crooked, but I liked the combination of colours on the barred window, the old cottage wall and the simple cross.

One of Garachico’s typically quaint cottage-lined back streets: cobbled, crooked and so steep that even the black cat has to stop to catch its breath.

Los Pinos restaurant – where we ate with Sarah and Terry. A friendly little place with good basic, traditional Canarian cooking. Notice that the restaurant sign hangs from a traditional rain spout.

Simply Garachico’s version of the local greengrocer.

Quinta Roja Hotel’s Terrace Café – home to choco burgers and this army of terrapins. Reminds me of the queue in the post office…except this one’s more orderly.

Los Pinos tapas selection – calamares, boquerones, salchichas, Serrano ham and the smallest portion of ensaladilla Rusa ever…after we told Sarah and Terry they served big portions here!

I think anyone travelling abroad who has no interest in the place they’re visiting beyond their hotel is wasting a wonderful opportunity to add colour to their lives as well as abusing a great privilege that many people in the world could never afford in their wildest dreams.

In fact if it were up to me I’d introduce a questionnaire that had maybe 10 basic questions about the destination someone was travelling to. They’d have to get 50% correct before I’d allow them on the plane. Andy says this is the fascist in me.

Saying that, I’m not one of those people who looks down my nose at tourists (except stupid and rude ones, but then that’s not because they’re tourists, that’s because they’re stupid and rude) and I can’t really understand those who do, especially those who have the term filed under the distasteful words section of their brain just after paedophile.
On Tenerife we’re all tourists in one way or another; the only ones who wouldn’t be are the Guanche and there’s none of them left. Let’s face it the conquistadors who alighted on Tenerife 500 years ago and thought it looked like a nice place to set up home are only separated from those who do the same today by the distance of time.

Big, Brash & Beautiful...unless you're a tourist snob.

But last week I was reminded that there are other types of holidaymakers that are neither your stereotypical tourist, nor discerning traveller and one of these is the tourist snob – someone who is under the impression they are a savvy traveller and treats other tourists like they’ve got the plague.

A few years ago I read an article  about a couple who liked to visit restaurants in France that were off the beaten track . On one occasion they were horrified to find another British couple enjoying lunch in one of their favourite haunts. It upset them so much that the place had been corrupted by ‘tourists’ that they promptly left. The very idea that the presence of another British couple made the restaurant less charming was laughable.

Charming leafy atrium or tacky hotel lounge?

Last week a couple of acquaintances visited Puerto de la Cruz for the first time. They didn’t like it. That’s okay – it isn’t for everybody, but their reasoning irked me. They found it too busy, tacky and overdeveloped. It was the puente weekend so yes it was very, very busy…with Canarios. Yes, like many towns across Europe, Puerto is overdeveloped…and mostly because of residential blocks built for Canarios. The tacky part may have been an allusion to the bright and brash funfair in the harbour car park frequented by…yup, you’ve guessed it, Canarios. So ostensibly what they disliked most about the place was that it was actually too much of a working Canario town for them. Tellingly they though Punta de Hidalgo was fabulous. Yet there was no mention of the word tacky for that tired, 50s built, blot on the Anaga landscape. But it had the one ingredient that was important to them – it was serenely quiet. And to them serenely quiet seemed to equal authenticity.

In truth they didn’t want to discover the real Tenerife, they wanted something that ticked all the boxes that they felt added up to authenticity.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with that; we all have our likes and dislikes, but I do have a problem with someone who is snooty about a place not being authentic because it isn’t purpose built to meet their idea of what authentic should be.

I’ve heard people say that they wouldn’t consider visiting Puerto because it might be too touristy. Again what nonsense. Do they say that about Barcelona, Edinburgh or London? All popular travel destinations that teem with tourists, but that doesn’t mean they’re not authentic. It’s a ridiculous notion. What’s more these tourist snobs are rarely to be found in the centre of a carnaval street party, or amongst the thousands who fill Playa Jardín during midsummer’s eve, or watching a local band at one of the town’s mainly Spanish bars. Another indication that they’re not really seeking authenticity.

I grew up on a Scottish island that attracted hordes of tourists in the summer months. When our highland games were held the place was packed out with visitors, but the games were staged for locals first and foremost (yes we liked to wear kilts, toss cabers and eat deep fried haggis in batter) and at no point did we consider them touristy. Had a tourist snob who didn’t live there yet thought they knew better suggested otherwise they would have found themselves being tossed through the air along with the finest Scottish pine.

Tourist snobs aren’t travellers at all; they’re just fussy people who want everything to be exactly as they think it should be. The big difference between them and visitors who want British beer, Brit bars and Brit food then pick their holiday to suit is at least the latter group is honest about not wanting to experience the real Tenerife.

While researching for the news round up for Tenerife Magazine I came across a couple of interesting snippets.

The first was that pharmacies on Tenerife were completely doing away with paper communication between themselves and colleges. All updates and information about new drugs, procedures etc were going to be done purely electronically. It’s a modern and efficient way of communicating – great.

Another snippet that caught my eye was about tourist statistics. The Tenerife government released figures that showed that 8 out of 10 people had booked their Tenerife holiday online. 8 out of 10. That’s quite a staggering figure.

So what’s the connection between these two groups? The answer is wildly opposing practices on Tenerife.

Tenerife’s pharmaceutical profession by its very nature has to stay at the forefront of technology, but there’s a reason why the news piece about them caught my eye. It’s not consistent with the way that other occupational sectors on the island are embracing the internet.

You’d think that bars, restaurants and anyone at all trying to attract the attention of the millions of visitors to Tenerife would have long ago woken up to what was staring them in the face – that the internet might just be their best friend,. But many are working almost as though they exist in a stand-alone cottage industry.

Recently Andy compiled information about restaurants for travel website Simonseeks. Even though we’ve already accumulated mountains of information about Tenerife’s restaurants over the years, details change. But trying to find updated info without actually visiting restaurants again can be a nightmare. Many still don’t have websites; some don’t even have phone numbers. In businesses which rely on income from tourists this is almost retarded. At least one restaurateur smugly commented that they didn’t need a website; all their business was word of mouth. That way of thinking is beyond comprehension. Even in the midst of an economic crisis they just won’t open their eyes.

But if some restaurants are backward, some bars are positively Stone Age. I recently read a letter from a British bar owner in Puerto de la Cruz in one of the English language papers. He bemoaned his lack of clients and listed what action he felt should be taken to bring tourists back to Puerto and his bar. There was nothing wrong with his list…if he’d written it in 1984. At no point did he mention using the internet or social media. It simply did not enter his consciousness to have an online presence and his bar is not in an obvious spot in the town.

The reason that I mentioned the number of people booking Tenerife holidays online is how many of those 8 out of 10 people are visiting Tenerife for the first time and have decided what bars they were going to drink in and where they were going to eat long before they ever set foot on Tenerife? What’s sure is that the bars and restaurants in the resorts without any online presence are in danger of being overlooked. For them not to have a web presence seems positively suicidal.

But here are a final couple of points that seem blindingly obvious to me, but clearly not to bar, restaurant and shop owners who continue to plough what little advertising money they have into newspapers on Tenerife.

The people reading those papers are already on Tenerife. By the time a visitor sees an advert for what looks like a nice bar, or a good restaurant, their holiday may be all but over. But that’s not the only reason why I personally think advertising in them is money down the drain. One of the English language papers on Tenerife has currently 15 pages out of around 52 which are dedicated to what’s on British TV.

Nearly a third of the paper dedicated to British TV listings. As Tenerife’s hotels don’t have ITV, BBC etc, these pages can’t be aimed at visitors staying in hotels. Therefore it would appear that they’re for the benefit of ex-pat residents. If that’s who businesses are aiming their adverts at, then fair enough.

But if not, then these businesses really have slept in. The coffee stewed long ago.