Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

Thats a lot of friggin rigging

That's a lot of friggin' rigging

For a while on Thursday I had the overwhelming urge to dig out my old striped Brittany fisherman’s T-shirt, buy a kitbag, fill it with who-knows-what, have an anchor tattooed on my bicep and head up to Santa Cruz to stowaway on a sailing ship…an Argentinean one to be exact.

The Tall Ships were in town and their arrival time-warped the dock back a century or so. I’ve seen old sailing ships before and I remember being surprised at how small they were. As we stood on the bridge outside of the African Market and looked over the Noría district, the old skyline was dwarfed by wooden masts and a veritable spiders’ web of rigging; these ships were not quite like any I’d seen before.

I’d been hoping to take some photographs of the armada sailing into Santa Cruz harbour with their sails billowing in their morning sunshine; however, a) all the ships were berthed by the time we arrived on Thursday morning at around 10.00 and b) there wasn’t any sunshine anyway.

No shortcuts to loading goods on this ship

No shortcuts to loading goods on this ship

The eleven ships which had completed the first leg of the Atlantic Challenge 2009 were an eclectic bunch ranging from a relatively small ketch (the British Rona II) to a football pitch sized monster of the seas (the Russian Kruzernshtern) which even made the huge Argentinean ‘Libertad’ and Romanian ‘Mircea’ which were berthed nearby seem little more than big yachts. The Cabildo building in the background looked more like its Pueblo Chico version than the real thing.

The buzz of getting up close to these giants of the ocean soon banished any regrets at not seeing the ships arrive and watching the sailors go about the daily business of maintaining their vessels made me realise that not a lot had changed in a hundred years.

One sailor hung from a rope swing underneath a prow touching up the paintwork, passing a paint pot fashioned from a water bottle cut in two to his mate perched precariously on the anchor by means of a grappling hook at the end of a rope.

Pass the paint, mate

Pass the paint, mate

A long line of sailors stretching from the dockside into the galley passed crates of tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and sacks of potatoes between one another; it could have been a scene straight out of Mutiny on the Bounty. It was fascinating to watch.

It was also interesting to note what supplies were being taken on board each ship. Where the Argentinean sailors stocked up with a supermarket storeroom of fresh fruit and vegetables, as I passed one of the smaller British ships I noticed they were loading up tins of corned beef and packets of shredded wheat. At the Russian ship, immaculately dressed young sailors with dinner plate hats filed up the gangplank with Mercadona carrier bags filled with six packs of beer.
There was a real feeling of purpose and community, of sharing and friendship which united mariners from 10 different nations. It was compelling to witness and as I wandered amongst the members of this unique sea going community of modern day adventurers I heard the strains of a sea shanty in my head and the tug of an ozone laden breeze on my sleeve.

The appearance of some of the Argentinean crew was the crowning moment which almost had me reaching for a quill and saying “forget the shilling I’ll sign up for nothing”.

A Few Good Men...and some bloody marvellous women

A Few Good Men...and some bloody marvellous women

A row of female sailors dressed in the traditional naval summer white uniform a la Demi Moore in ‘A Few Good Men’ sashayed down the quay toward their ship. At that moment I realised why so many young men ran away to sea.

A shout from above broke the spell and I looked up to see a line of men strung out along a sail on the uppermost spar on the tallest mast. They stood suspended 100 metres above the ground, on what looked like the thinnest of ropes. That 1920s picture of construction workers high above New York sprang into my mind and I suddenly felt a bit dizzy.

A life on the ocean wave might have had a romantic appeal to it; a life swinging about on a slippery mast high above it didn’t.
My imagination might run off to sea, but my legs are definitely staying firmly on dry land.

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Tenerife’s ‘mas o menos’ culture is amusingly quaint 75 percent of the time; the other 25 percent it has you pulling your hair out and screaming ‘HOW CAN YOU BE SO ESTUPIDO?”

The other day we watched a bloke outside the bus station in Puerto de la Cruz methodically peeling the backs of some leaflets before dropping the discarded paper on the ground at his feet. The fact that he was standing beside a litter bin at the time was bad enough, but when he then proceeded to stick the leaflets onto the bin itself, the urge to run across and ram his head into said receptacle was almost too much to resist. Maybe he felt dropping his litter, being beside the bin, was ‘mas o menos’ putting it in the right place.

On Thursday we had to head south for a couple of meetings. I love driving on the old country roads on Tenerife, it’s proper driving; however the motorway is the most practical way of getting from north to south in the shortest possible time. It’s a straightforward drive except for the bit where the TF2 joins the TF1. There’s been road works at this spot since the dawn of mankind and every time we drive it there’s a different detour, just to keep you on your toes. This time was no different, but a big yellow sign a good couple of hundred yards from the road works made it clear which lane we should stick to.

The left lane veered of to Santa Cruz, the right to Tenerife South; easy peasy.

The Road to Who Knows Where

The Road to Who Knows Where

Or it would have been had the sign been accurate. As we sailed along in the right hand lane passing the fork of no return, we noticed another ‘Tenerife Sur’ sign on the left lane a few yards beyond the junction and could see a road leading from the lane we weren’t on which clearly joined the TF1 in the direction we wanted to go.

Our ‘detour’ was obviously an older version and they just hadn’t gotten around to making sure all the road signs were in harmony yet.

I don’t know what it is. There seems to be something lacking in the national psyche when it comes to being able put accurate detour signs in place. I’ve driven up single track roads to discover, after a couple of hundred metres,  a sign informing me that the road is closed (usually right beside where the work is taking place). Call me Mr Picky, but it would seem sensible to put a ‘road closed’ sign at the beginning of the particular road that was closed. Still, I suppose it doesn’t do any harm to practice my ‘reversing long distances in a narrow space’ skills. You never know when I’ll need to put them into practice to escape renegade cops or Somali pirates or something.

Another annoyingly common little practice is the one where workmen erect a detour sign at the start of the road works, then maybe another at the next junction after that, but then…nada mas. It makes some journeys a bit of an adventurous mystery tour, but it is hellishly infuriating.

Like I said there are plenty of times when ‘mas o menos’ has you smiling and looking at each other with a ‘this is all part of living in a different culture’ gleam in your eyes.

There are other times when being ’mas o menos’ just doesn’t cut the mustard, when charming becomes moronically stupid and even potentially dangerous…not having accurate temporary road signs is one of those times.

Going slow in the snow

Going slow in the snow

Although Sunday in Las Cañadas del Teide was an unforgettable experience, the stretch between El Portillo and the cable car did involve crawling along in a barely moving queue of traffic. Although the snow’s transformation of the normally ‘other worldly’ landscape did provide a distraction to being gridlocked, it was still a tad tiresome. I suspect Tenerife Cabildo president, Ricardo Melchior might have been sitting in the same queue.

Wednesday saw a news report that the island’s president wanted access to the park limited to 3,000 cars. The reasons for this seem sound. He was concerned about the potential danger that the influx of vehicles to the park when it snows could cause. He had a point, if an ambulance, or emergency vehicle had to get through Teide National Park on Sunday, the person, or persons it was on its way to help would have been, to put it mildly, buggered.

The worry I have about this proposal to limit entry to the park is HOW. Let’s face it, when it comes to the planning and organisation section of Tenerife’s annual report card , the entry never changes; it’s perpetually marked in bold red letters ‘could do much better’.

I have this vision of barriers being put up across the four roads leading to the crater and when it snows, the usual tens of thousands of cars head uphill to be blocked off at the pass. Inside the park the roads are quiet and a few thousand families frolic in the snow in relative exclusivity.

At the barriers however, there’s chaos. Queues stretch back for miles on both sides of the road; cars attempting three point turns cause complete havoc; an ambulance trying to take some poor kid who’s just broken their leg snowboarding can’t escape the park; at the barrier itself two rangers are staring in bemusement at the mess and one turns to the other and says:

“Ah…we didn’t think about what would happen on the roads outside the park?”
“Somebody better tell the president,” the other replies.
“Well I’m not doing it, you can,” the first grumbles. “And I don’t think he’ll be happy if you phone him on a Sunday.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t have to phone him,” the first ranger smiles and points to a family laughing and playing in the snow. “He’s over there building a snowman.”

I had barely managed to sneak into a ‘non’ space outside the Guagua station in Puerto de la Cruz, opposite the Correos office, so I couldn’t believe what the guy in the Picasso car in front of me was trying to do.
First he stopped it smack bang on the pedestrian crossing (a not uncommon occurrence here) then he made some perfunctory attempts at trying to manoeuvre the car into a less obtrusive position before giving up and abandoning it, not only in the middle of the crossing, but in the middle of the road as well, as he headed off into the Correos

Cars were okay…just; they manage to squeeze by the car with some difficulty, assisted with the occasional shout of “coño” aimed at the Picasso. The big problem came when a bus tried to leave the station and manoeuvre around the car only to become stuck diagonally across the road, unable to move forward or back.


Meanwhile, the Picasso bloke had left his wife in the passenger seat of the car (now why she hadn’t gone to the Correos, leaving him to shift the car if needed is all part and parcel of Canario logic), to fend off the shouts of abuse from the bus driver and barbed remarks from the ubiquitous army of onlookers/advisors. Eventually the sheepish looking driver came running out of the Correos and shifted the car (no doubt he was able to work out that the sound of bus horn being hit almost constantly + his car almost blocking the exit to the bus station probably had something to do with him).

Still, it was a diverting enough way to pass the time whilst Andy waited in the Post Office queue…and another incredible example of the Canarios interpretation of what’s considered acceptable parking.

A rickety way to board the boat

A rickety way to board the boat

Watching the Olympics on TV reawakened memories of a trip we made to China a few years ago. The main purpose was to take a trip up the Yangtze before much of it was flooded by the opening of the Three Gorges Dam, but it also included spending a few days in Beijing.

Apart from the day we arrived, the weather was pretty appalling, low clouds, drizzle, grey skies which washed out the unique oriental scenery of the Yangtze and iconic landmarks like The Great Wall and Tiananmen Square. The funny thing is that I only know that because of the photos we took during the trip which, incidentally, were bobbins (my defence being that I was more interested in my new mini video camera at that time).

The truth is that the weather didn’t figure highly in our memories of the trip just a series of unforgettable experiences of an incredible country. I could wax lyrical for hours about them, but don’t worry I’ll summarize:

Eating smoked eel for breakfast in Beijing whilst Andy stuck a chunky slice of bread in the do-it-yourself toaster setting it on fire.

Being approached by a business man in the hotel bar who bizarrely asked us to check his translation of an email about what was clearly a secret business ‘takeover’ proposal.

A Chinese diner in a restaurant buying everybody in the restaurant a glass of ‘special’ Chinese wine at £80 a bottle because China had just won a World Cup qualifier.

So thats 3 scorpions, 2 worms and a fried centipede?

So that's 3 scorpions, 2 worms and a fried centipede?

Watching a chef at the Beijing night market reach into a steel drum filled with scorpions, centipedes, silkworms and all sorts of creepy crawlies, stick them on a skewer and frying the lot on a wok beside sparrow kebabs.

On a rainy night, following a white uniformed sailor down a dark alley (no jokes) and across a Joining the Yangtze riverboat by way of a series of wooden planks across a muddy approach where other crew members in equally pristine uniforms held out umbrellas – very 1950s

The shock of finding that the alarm system in the cabin went off at 6am, when what started as quietly jaunty Chinese music got louder and louder.

The bigger shock of finding out that there was no way to turn the dammed thing off; softened by the amusement of a bleary eyed Andy cursing and smacking every impotent button on the bedside cabinets.

Being invited to partner a Chinese girl in a traditional dance which involved her putting her skirt over my head (I can think of worse traditions).

Asking another passenger, an Irish dentist, whether he thought that they’d be showing Manchester United’s Champion’s League qualifier on TV to which he replied;
“That’s the problem with you Manchester United supporters; you think everyone is going to be interested in Manchester United. We’re on the Yangtze for god’s sake; they’ve never even heard of Manchester United here.”
Within thirty minutes of the conversation we alighted at the city of Chongqing to be faced by a billboard with…David Beckham and Ryan Giggs’ faces plastered over it. HA!

Wet Wheels

Wet Wheels

The fact that the Yangtze River was brown and the cities on the banks were not straight out of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, but were industrial and grimy black with coal dusk.

Huge empty white cities built above the existing cities, capable of housing a million people, just waiting for the new dam to go into operation when the lower cities would be completely flooded.

The ship’s alcoholic doctor, who tried to prescribe cough medicine for an infected insect bite on Andy’s leg.

The ghost city of Fengdu, where boats wouldn’t dock in the night for fear of spirits coming on board and where shopkeepers kept a bowl of water at the till, where customers had to drop their money(ghost money floats apparently).

Undergoing a series of mystical tests in the King of the Dead’s palace in Fengdu the result of which a) Andy and I will be together for eternity and b) we both became immortal – a good result I thought.

Finding out that you need to be skilled in mountaineering to scale the Great Wall, so steep are its steps.

Causing havoc during an exhibition of Chinese medicine by fainting for the first time in my life when undergoing a medical examination; the diagnosis? “Fear of white coats”.

The emotion of standing in Tiananmen Square.

Ditto for the Forbidden City.

Seeing a real live panda and being told that said panda because of its lack of interest in having sex with its ‘girlfriend’ was being force fed a diet of porno movies…featuring humans to give it some idea of what to do!!!

Discovering that Beijing was probably the most modern city I’ve ever visited.

Tiananmen Square - an emotional place

Tiananmen Square - an emotional place

Noting the differences in politics and attitudes between tour guides of different ages. The one in her mid forties was very defensive about Mao Tse -Tung – obviously a supporter of his cultural revolution; I bet she still had his little red book. Whilst the other, in her mid twenties, had a more balanced view about China’s past and criticised some of his policies. Mind you her other main topic was David and Victoria Beckham – she wanted to know if reports of what they earned were true, but didn’t believe us anyway when we told her they were.

In the Forbidden City, jokingly trying to guess which burly men were the ‘Secret Service’ agents who were no doubt following our every step to ensure we didn’t stray from the official guide. When we got back to Blighty and sat through six hour of video we noticed the same little Chinese woman, pulling a child, sticking close to our group in every single location; In Beijing, in different riverside cities, Chengdu, Chongking – clever.

There were many, many more, but that’s more than enough for one blog.

There’s always an exhibition of antique cars during the July fiestas in Puerto de la Cruz. I’d never seen them before, but there were some absolute beauts on show.

During my nephew, Liam’s visit which left us a) shattered b) way behind work schedules and c) skint (not all his fault), the car broke down, or to be more accurate the power steering lost power and couldn’t be driven. Oh, the joys of modern technology.

What do you mean were on the wrong side?

What do you mean we're on the wrong side?

As a result we had to resort to public transport, which is no great hardship as the bus service is pretty good here, but it does take a lot more time to do anything.

For example, to get to the garage where the car was being held prisoner normally takes 15 minutes by car. By public transport we had to:

a) walk to the bus stop (10 minutes)
b) wait for a bus (this is a luck thing and can take anything from a couple of minutes to 20 mins).
c) Travel to La Laguna bus station (25 mins)
d) Catch the free bus which links the bus station with the tram terminus at Trinidad (5-10 mins)
e) Wait for a tram (5 mins)
f) Catch a tram to the stop nearest the fiat garage at Taco (20 mins).
g) Walk to garage (5 mins)

Total travelling time almost anything up to an hour an a half; and there’s the problem regarding ‘green’ travelling outside of cities; it’s just not good time management, even when you’ve got a decent public transport system.

However, the upside of the car problem was that I got to use the tram system for the first time. What a joy. I used to love taking the tram through Manchester when I worked on Salford Quays, and catching the tranvia between La Laguna and Santa Cruz proved equally enjoyable. Clean carriages, quiet, relaxing and a stress free way of avoiding the mad chaos of trying to negotiate the roads between the current and former capital and at €1.25 a journey, pretty reasonable as well.

It’s an example of where public transport does win over using the car…If you live in La Laguna and work in Santa Cruz that is.

A cool way to travel

A cool way to travel