Archive for August, 2011

Before I had reached spotty-faced teendom I, like every other boy of my generation, owned a Scalextric track. We weren’t well off so my track was of the classic no frills, figure of eight variety where a racing green and a red car raced each other around the circuit with endless monotony. I can’t imagine there was much of a thrill for the little plastic drivers; they knew that around the bend was another bend and so on and so on. The scenery never changed and they couldn’t veer from the groove that kept them a safe distance from each other except from when they negotiated the dangerous crossover bit. In truth, the only excitement was when our collie dog plodded across the track like a chaos causing furry mutant monster.

Some people’s lives seem to be no different from those little plastic racing drivers. They’re born and someone sticks them in a little groove that leads all the way through school, work, meeting someone, getting married, having 2.4 children, buying a house in suburbia and so on and so on. But in their case the circuit doesn’t go on for evermore, it ends when the groove in the track runs out at a  polished wooden box beside an ominous hole in the ground.

I’m not knocking it, mostly we all live a variation of being socially conditioned otherwise life would be very anarchic. But it can be depressing when people take it too far and forget that they’re individuals by living their lives like a human version of painting by numbers. I saw it this week on the way to watching Manchester United give a master-class in football. A woman in her thirties pushed a pram in front of her which presumably had the latest addition to her family. At her side was a girl of about three or four, who was pushing a pram with a baby doll in it. She was being placed firmly in that groove from a very early age.

But what really started me off on this was a thread on Tripadvisor which said something like ‘What is there for grandparents to see and do on Tenerife’.

What the hell does that mean? Is there some sort of rulebook handed out to people when they become grandparents that says ‘that’s it guys, no more late nights gallivanting at pubs and clubs. No more Kings of Leon, from now on it’s Tony Bennett or nought…and as for sex you can forget all that business from here on in.’

I was tempted to clarify by replying ‘I’m not sure what you’re asking. Are you asking where are the nice benches so you can sit looking vacantly out to sea, the shops where you can rent a Zimmer frame and the best places to buy bovril?’  

I just don’t know what it means.

Are there similar rule books handed out when someone reaches fifty? I’ve seen that one on more than one occasion – ‘what is there to do for a couple in their fifties?’ Sometimes it’s even ‘what is there to do for a lively couple in their fifties?’ By asking that question it reveals that they really aren’t ‘lively’ in the slightest.

Surely what you like is determined by who you are not by an undiscerning label?

I’m really tempted to start a thread on one of these forums that asks ‘what is there for a blue-eyed redhead with flat feet to do in…?’ and see what happens.

I’m afraid I must have been bunking off somewhere when these rulebooks were handed out as it’s never crossed my mind that when I reach certain milestones in age that I have to start behaving in a preordained way. Stuff that for a game of soldiers. Others can live their lives on a Scalextric track. I much prefer the idea of being like one of those chunky all-terrain toy vehicles that when you set it running it bounces of walls and rocks and changes direction never sure of exactly where it’s going to end up when the Duracells run out.

There’s an episode of The West Wing where Josh Lyman, against the advice of his assistant Donna, logs in to an online chat forum to correct an inaccuracy. Of course it all goes wrong and Josh finds himself batting off abusive replies. People, generally speaking, don’t like to be told they’re mistaken.

Every so often I come across something on the web that’s been written about Tenerife that has me furiously typing a comment to correct some outrageous assumption, perception or downright fiction. However, the smart part of me tells Andy what I’m doing prompting the warning‘remember what happened with Josh,’.

Usually at that point the sarcastic/outraged/acidic comment is deleted. But over the past few weeks my finger has disobeyed my brain and screeched towards the send button before I could stop it. The  authors of the pieces haven’t exactly welcomed my ‘constructive’ assistance. These included a holidaymaker, a copywriter and a travel blogger.

The Holidaymaker
Some guy left this comment on my twitter account – ‘(Tenerife) is a barren land in desperate need of some good old Spanish culture, as well as a few sandy beaches, but the parks were fun!’

His comment suggested a few things. He stayed somewhere where there was very little Spanish culture, it was barren and there were no beaches (I’m guessing somewhere like Costa del Silencio or Golf del Sur). It also was clear that he hadn’t ventured out of his resort except to somewhere like Siam Park. I replied by linking to a photo of the Anaga Mountains and Playa las Teresitas with the comment ‘I take it you haven’t been here or here then?’ thinking that it had more impact to show him his knowledge was…err…limited rather than tell him. But no, instead I entered the Josh scenario. This was the reply.

‘No I didn’t, but face it, there aren’t many beaches and the vast majority of the land could use a lot more rain..’

Forget facts, reality or anything like that. This guy just knew better. Verdict – Ignorance. No more time wasted there.

The Copywriter
There was one of those copy-written blogs sponsored by a travel company a couple of weeks ago that was so riddled with howlers about Tenerife that I felt I had to comment. One of these was that gofio was a type of meal that you ordered in a restaurant. When I pointed out that gofio was grain that was toasted and milled etc. they came back with a defiant ‘no it isn’t, it’s a meal’. Although the author had never been to Tenerife  they felt confident enough to argue the point because they had a source – another blog where there had been a few incorrect assumptions made. There was a lesson to be learned by this copywriter. Never write copy about a place you don’t know by using only the one source.
Verdict – ignorance again.

The Travel Blogger
One of the world’s best known travel bloggers was in Tenerife on a flying visit recently – 48 hours in and out again. It’s difficult to establish a rounded picture of a location in 48 hours but sometimes when you’re travel-writing you don’t have much choice and if you talk to the right people you can at least get a flavour of a place. But there is clearly a danger that some of your perceptions won’t be always right on the mark and it was clear from the subsequent short blogs that some assumptions had been made. When an indigenous resident added a political comment to a blog about The Canary Islands, the blogger felt that they knew enough to argue the toss with them. After only a few days in a place it’s pretty impressive to stray into political discussions…or arrogant. I had also added a comment but when an equally bullish reply was posted, decided, like the first of my examples, that there would be no concessions here.

The One I Didn’t Reply To
I didn’t leave a comment on the one that had left me most speechless with its seriously skewed perception. Actually it left me aghast…and there aren’t many situations where that word pops into my head. Somebody on holiday in Puerto de la Cruz had started a thread on an English language forum asking if anyone knew of any decent restaurants as they had only been able to find the usual tourist haunts with pics of food outside them.
What had me ‘aghast’ was this reply from a resident living in the south of Tenerife – ‘it’s not the greatest place for food, we didn’t find much.’

To describe Puerto as ‘not the greatest place for food’ shows that whatever they did experience , it wasn’t the Puerto I know. The town boasts approx 300 restaurants  from rustic traditional to chic modern Canarian/ Mediterranean fusion; wonderful harbour-side fish restaurants; restaurants in old Canarian mansions and houses, stylish tapas bars, Spanish and so on. But it doesn’t really have any decent British restaurants, so maybe it depends what personal preferences are. But the point was that someone felt they knew it enough to make that judgement to the online world even though their perception was way off  the mark.

It was probably the one that most deserved a comment but by this time I was ‘Joshed’ out and anyway what the hell, savvy visitors will always be able to tell the difference between knowledge and nonsense. As it happened a few other forum members diplomatically ignored the comment and posted some more usefully accurate advice.

With all of the above it’s not about getting it wrong, we all make mistakes or have perceptions based on our own experience that may not be 100% accurate. It’s about how you react when someone with a different view – or information – engages with you.

This was a dish that had pleasantly filled my belly in a quite unique restaurant in Oviedoeating in a barrel was definitely a first for me. Trouble was neither I nor my dining mates had realised it was a starter. They’ve clearly got good appetites in Asturias as this hearty mix of beans, chorizo, morcilla and bits of pig is a main meal in everyone but Desperate Dan’s book. There, the fabada was followed by a Mount Teide-sized platter of grilled meats. After that meal they could have stuck me beside one of their cider-spouting wooden barrels and no-one would have noticed the difference.

But despite my tum’s moaning and groaning, I was impressed with the flavours of the popular Asturian stew and picked up a recipe from a woman in Oviedo’s market who had a stall that sold only ingredients for fabada.

Funny thing is that on my return to Tenerife and a visit to the supermarket I spotted lots of little fabada packs with morcilla, chorico and tocino (a bit like belly of pork) that I’d never noticed before. In fact there were about five or six different varieties, so this week I threw one of them in the trolley.

Fabada is a peasant dish; one of those meals where you throw everything in a pot and leave it whilst you go and thresh the wheat, milk the goats, feed the hens, kick the cat for chasing the hens…you know the sort of thing.

The recipe I had was obviously fabada 101 – big, dobbing great haricot beans thrown in a pot with the morcilla, chorizo and tocino, saffron and salt. We threw in a couple of bay leaves as well just for good measure…oh and some paprika just because it felt right.

The whole lot is covered with water and left to simmer for three hours. There must be a few variations on how to cook this meal, because it seemed to me that the morcilla and possibly even the chorizo wouldn’t take three hours of simmering and in Oviedo the beans had been served separately from the meat. Anyway within seconds the house was filled with the sort of aromas that have you salivating when you walk down any traditional street in Spain at lunchtime.

Three hours later it was ready for eating. The beans looked similar to the fabada I’d eaten in Asturias but sure enough the morcilla and the chorizo had been largely absorbed into the mix. Although it didn’t quite match the Asturian fabada in the looks department it tasted pretty much how I remembered it – meaty, savoury…filling – and was considered a big enough success to be given the thumbs up regarding featuring again on the Montgomery menu. But next time I’m going to take a different approach with the morcilla and chorizo, so a bit more research is in order.

My personal blog posts have been few and far between of late on Living Beneath the Volcano. This is partly due to work commitments (YAY- food on the table) and partly because we’ve been developing a couple of new websites; Buzz Trips – which is about our travelling experiences outside of Tenerife and The Real Tenerife.

Having another Tenerife website may seem excessive considering we’ve got two websites and four blogs already related to Tenerife (and that’s only the ones we own outright, not all the ones we write for). But that’s partly the reason. Each was set up for a specific purpose. Real Tenerife Island Drives was established to accompany the guidebook of the same name but grew to be much bigger in its own right. The Real Tenerife blog was established as a record of life on Tenerife that was connected to the Island Drives website. Going Native in Tenerife was set up to accompany that travel guidebook. Walking Tenerife was created for people interested in exploring Tenerife by foot and evolved from a page on the Island Drives website that proved far more popular than we had anticipated. And Living Beneath the Volcano was my ‘den’, the place where I could write about the things that made living on Tenerife a joy and have a right old moan about the things that rattled my cage.

But it was all too much and there has been an increasing danger of things being diluted and becoming rushed and staid. We decided a serious shake up was in order and…drum roll…so The Real Tenerife has been launched on the world…quietly, because it’s still in the early stages of development.

Basically just about everything is getting pulled under the one virtual roof (except Real Tenerife Island Drives and Walking Tenerife which still have a specific purpose).

We’re really excited about the changes because it means we can have a static website and a blog rolled into one which we think will be a much more dynamic animal. It gives us the freedom to try out some new ideas and include more information that hopefully will be useful to everyone who wants to discover the Real Tenerife.

As for Living Beneath the Volcano? Well I still need a place to blow off steam, so I will continue to to be annoyingly opinionated on here whenever I feel the urge 🙂

A thought occurred to me as I focussed my camera on a sun-dappled, tree-lined street populated by smiling strollers wearing chic summer clothing; the women in colourful, light cotton dresses of various lengths that complimented their curves; the men in loose shirts and three-quarter length pants that were both casual and stylish. The camera liked them.

The thought that occurred to me was that my camera likes some places on Tenerife more than it likes others and that has possibly fashioned my view of some of the towns and resorts on the island.

Over the years I’ve photographed many towns, resorts, villages and hamlets on Tenerife for print and web publications. For many of these I use the images to compliment the text by trying to show the subject at its best. This isn’t always easy as there are lots of places on Tenerife that I don’t find particularly photogenic.

You can more or less point and click in La Orotava and get a result

The old towns and cities are easy. There are places like Garachico, La Orotava, La Laguna and Santa Cruz that I could return to again and again and still find new things to photograph. The rural places like Masca and Santiago del Teide have scenery to boost their lack of streets and historic buildings.

Towns with a fishing community have harbours, colourfully bobbing boats, fishing nets piled high and grizzled fishermen and those are always good subject matter.

Hill towns can sometimes pose a challenge, especially when the population has grown and breeze block buildings are in the majority like in Santa Ursula, La Victoria, La Matanza, San Miguel de Abona and Granadilla de Abona. But these have history and there are always quirky corners to uncover.

It's got a church and the buildings are inoffensive - but it's 'blah' lifeless

It’s the purpose built resorts where I struggle. Remove the beach from the equation and there’s usually very little left to interest the camera. Being new they don’t even possess any urban grit.

Funnily, Playa de las Américas, which is often unfairly held up as Tenerife’s tackiest resort by those who don’t know it has a lot of potentially interesting shots. Whereas once I move away from the beach at Playa del Duque in ‘upmarket’ Costa Adeje my camera positively yawns with boredom.

Worst of all are the purpose built resorts without a beach where the architecture is new-ish and often characterless. What the hell do you photograph there? And if there’s no sunshine, forget it. I’ve tried Callao Salvaje, Playa Paraiso, Golf del Sur and Costa del Silencio a number of times and never been satisfied with the result.

I tried to use the holes in the wall in Playa Paraiso...but still no cigar. Just can't get a decent picture.

Of course that could be my limited creativity, but search Flickr for any of the above and the evidence suggests otherwise.

The upshot of this is that there are places on Tenerife that bore me in photographic terms and subsequently I avoid spending time in them.

Another thought occurred to me as I focussed the camera and that was the people in the photograph. I point a camera up La Noria in Santa Cruz and the people in the frame are very, very different than if I point it along the promenade at…say…Puerto Colón. But that is the topic for another blog completely – and I’m not sure I’m brave enough to go there…for the moment.

If there’s anyone who has managed to get really good shots of the places that I mentioned I struggled with (I don’t mean HD, sunsets or over processed so that they don’t match what the eye sees) I’d love to see them.

At the moment I’m about to whazz off an email to Tenerife’s Cabildo (government) to ask to be put on the press list…again.

After the local elections on Tenerife it’s often ‘all change’ and that doesn’t mean the politicians. Unlike Britain where council workers remain constant, in Tenerife they are often allied to whatever political party is in power. Which means when there’s a change in political parties, there can be a change in the personnel who carry out the day to day administration of keeping things running.

Our first experience of this was a few years ago in Puerto de la Cruz when shortly after the last election we went to the town’s press officer to ask for contact details for someone at the Lago Martiánez. The press officer, who had only been in position for a few days, was clearly overwhelmed.

“Sorry, I’m still trying to build up my list of contacts,” she explained. “The computer records have all been wiped clean.”

Basically, she told us that the previous lot (which are now the current lot again) had made it as difficult for the new incumbents to do their job. I don’t know about you but to me this sort of behaviour demonstrates that the people who conduct themselves in this fashion have no interest in the welfare of the town they were supposed to be governing. It’s petty, destructive and doesn’t benefit anyone.

After the recent elections the post of International Press Liaison Officer for the Tenerife Cabildo seems to have disappeared. I say ‘seems to’ because although I’ve heard it through the grapevine there has been no official notification. Press releases just stopped. No word to say this is the new contact…nada.

How can people develop a desire to be truly professional and have ownership of their jobs if the job might disappear in 4 years? It is a ludicrous system that for me explains why customer service, efficiency and a passion for the job isn’t always what it should be in officialdom.

There’s another aspect to this wholesale job change and that’s the question of filling positions post election. I was involved in recruitment on a regular basis in the UK and whenever we wanted to employ anyone, the most stringent recruitment process was followed to ensure that we got the person who had the most suitable abilities, experience, qualifications, potential…whatever. We considered a whole range of factors before making a decision to be as sure as possible that we had the right person. And that applied from the lowest position to managerial posts.

So what happens on Tenerife? There’s often no recruitment process, especially for the most responsible positions. People are simply put into positions based on…well that’s the sixty four thousand dollar question. Forget suitable experience, in depth knowledge of the sector they’re going to be working in or qualifications etc.

It’s a complete nonsensical way to conduct business in modern Europe and is a system that is almost certainly guaranteed to make progress a bit of a non-starter.

At Tenerife Magazine we awarded some of Tenerife’s councils the TIT of the week award (This is Tenerife) because years after e-government has become the norm around the more developed parts of Europe, they’re struggling to maintain the most basic of websites…and that’s being generous.

E-government is way beyond their grasp at the moment. But given what I’ve outlined above is that really a surprise?