Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Often it’s the little things that can seem the most different. Take the shot below. There are a number of things in it that speak of foreign lands and different cultures; the palm trees in the background, the wooden ‘home-made by Robinson Crusoe’ tables and stools, the similarly desert island-esque thatched straw roof. But most of all it’s the sign.

You might think that given the design of this terrace this occupied a prime location overlooking a dreamy beach. But if you fancy popping out for a quick dip from here, the beach is a three hour trek through a ravine. This is at Masca on Tenerife; quite a bit inland.

So by the time you’ve popped out for your swim and made your way back, you’ve worked up a serious thirst. What better to quench it than with some cactus lemonade?

The prickly plants are abundant in these parts and apart from adding a touch of sub-tropical exoticism to the landscape, you can eat their ‘pears’ and, as the sign says, make lemonade from them.

I tried it once – you’ve got to really – and it didn’t really have any distinctive flavours. It certainly wasn’t unpleasant. But these days I tend to be boringly conventional and go for the seductively icy friendship of a cerveza after a strenuous hike.

Sadly the bar no longer looks like this… but the cactus lemonade is still there.

It looks like a squeeze bottle, it’s got a nozzle like one and it smells like washing up liquid but it sure as hell doesn’t act like one.

Even being throttled into a deformed shape such as this results in a piddling, good for nothing, little drip of washing liquid. You could argue that it’s environmentally friendly as it’s impossible to get a decent amount of liquid out of the damn bottle.

When we forgot to buy our favourite brand of coffee during the weekly shop we picked up this replacement from our nearest supermarket. I don’t really have to say anything else…

When I was about 18 I had a thing; a weird notion that there was a 15 minute window on Friday and Saturday nights when I became suave, witty and irresistibly charming (or thought I did).

This 15 minute window was my best chance of copping off at the local disco. This 15 minute window lay in a sort of the eye of an alcohol fuelled storm in between the seven or so pints that was the prelim to the disco and the subsequent double vodkas whose ‘sharpness’ I foolishly felt might sober me up a bit after the lager fest.  It was a wonderful little period between being an awkward, self-conscious human lad and a bumbling, incoherent drunken ape.

Waiting to feel grown up has been a bit like that. For years I wondered when I’d feel the same as colleagues at conferences and work related dinners etc. who could easily enter into an adult conversation with another adult who was a stranger. I always felt like a young lad standing on the fringes never really knowing what to say. The bottom line was I could rabbit on about the silly things that interested me but the corporate blather always sounded like ‘blah, blah, blah’.

‘Never mind, when you grow up you’ll be able to talk like that too and fit in,’ I would reassure myself even though by the time my 30s started to run behind me with an outstretched hand pleading ‘don’t leave’ it still hadn’t happened.

A couple of weeks ago Andy asked me. “How do you feel being 50?”

It was a question that had me pulling on the metaphorical hand-break and screeching to a stop. Fifty? Fifty? How the hell did that happen? We’d been in Porto for my birthday. It was part of the reason we were in Porto. But when we travel, the actual celebration/acknowledgement of events like birthdays tends to get lost in being wide-eyed and dazzled at exploring somewhere new, shiny and interesting.

So I didn’t really think much about reaching a half century. It’s a bit of a sell out really as at 20 I’d vowed to go out in a blaze of glory by the time I was 36 (don’t ask me why 36 was a cut-off point).

Anyway, I pondered it for a second… and dismissed it. A number’s a number and a word’s a word.

I don’t know what being 50 means any more than I did being 40, 30 or 21. they’re all just train stations on life’s journey that I half registered as they passed by. It is what’s going on inside the carriage that is important. That and the journey the train takes.

Still feeling as though I’m waiting to grow up, it intrigues and fascinates when I read questions on travel forums from people who say really odd things like ‘We’re in our 50s but we still like to go somewhere lively.’

Why the hell wouldn’t they? In the last year I’ve jumped out of a plane and dived beneath the deep blue for the first time in my life. The opportunities occurred and I jumped at the chance to do both (well with the plane it was more a case of being cajoled). Thought of age just wasn’t/isn’t a factor. It’s meaningless. I am who I am. That’s it. I don’t define myself or feel defined by a number – I’m not The Prisoner.

But by the number of ‘we are a couple in our 50s but…’ comments, there are plenty who do feel the shackles of numbers which must be terribly restricting.

George Clooney is 50. Tom Cruise is 49. Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp are both 48.

Can you honestly imagine any of them ever saying ‘I’m a man in my late 40s/early 50s but I still like somewhere with a bit of life. Nothing too lively though…’

Dump the numbers and live. Growing up is overrated and will only make you old.

It seems mighty bizarre to book into a hotel we can see from our bedroom window. But this week we checked into the Hotel Las Águilas, a hotel you really can’t miss in Puerto de la Cruz as it sits atop one of two volcanic cones left in the La Orotava Valley.

A week’s half board at the hotel is the latest prize in our Tenerife Magazine holiday competition and if we’re going to recommend a hotel then we stay in it first so we can give first hand experience of what it’s like. This first hand experience is important to us…no that’s wrong, it’s essential.

Andy and I have long felt that the Achilles heel in Puerto relating to tourism is the hotels in the town, many of whom are in need of being dragged into the 21st century. Historic is quaint and you might even get away with old fashioned charm, but many of Puerto’s hotels don’t tick these boxes. They’re simply dated. I recently read a sharp piece of copywriting which cleverly described a hotel’s décor as being authentic 1960s. Well some of Puerto’s hotels have authentic 1980s décor.

Not so the Hotel Las Aguilas. It bucks the trend by revealing an individualistic style that mixes pop art and ethnic designs with what is simply an aesthetically pleasing style. It’s vibrant and a breath of fresh air and showed us that not all of Puerto’s hotels are doing the timewarp again.

The other myth the Hotel Las Águilas helps dispel is the one that I’d almost come to believe myself. In winter only ‘mature’ Northern Europeans holiday in Puerto de la Cruz.

The other guests in the hotel ranged from couples in their 20s upwards, with the average age being around 40-ish. Not exactly fitting the picture that is often painted. Of course, with each passing year ‘mature’ takes on a different meaning for me.

I was going to say that maybe the ‘mature’ tag might be related to British visitors as the majority of the hotel’s guests were not English speaking (mainly Spanish, German and Scandinavian). But as the bar I watched Man Utd see off Fulham (to the obvious chagrin of the Man Utd hating bar manager) was packed with Brits a lot younger than me, it seems as though that doesn’t apply there either.

In Puerto, and no doubt other places on Tenerife, if you go to bars that are popular with more mature visitors then guess what you’re going to find? On the other hand, if you go to different bars you find a totally different scene.

I hadn’t realised the same applied to hotels until the Hotel Las Águilas opened my eyes.

Puerto de la Cruz? Who the hell would want to take a holiday here? It’s cold all year – I have an igloo in my back garden; It never, ever stops raining – whereas folks in the south of Tenerife wear flip flops, I’ve got wellie boots. As for the people, what a weird language they speak and don’t get me started on the food; things with tentacles and all sorts of rubbish like that.

Honestly, trust me on this – I live there – stay away from Puerto de la Cruz.

After years of trying to convince people what it’s really like to live in or visit Puerto de la Cruz, I’ve decided to do a complete U-turn. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is more irritating than anything else. I can preach about Puerto de la Cruz until the cows come home, bed down for the night and start to dream of grassy meadows. But somebody visits the place on an excursion for 5 minutes and suddenly they know better – if they say it’s always cold, wet and cloudy, then it must be. What the hell do I know?

But the main reason is that, after witnessing an unusual situation involving pissed up young Brits making an ass of themselves a few weeks ago and then reading a couple of reviews on Tripadvisor this week, I really don’t want a certain type of Brit holidaymaker to believe that Puerto is warm and sunny all the year round – or for any part of the year. Simple as that.

Some people just aren’t suited to the north of Tenerife just as some people wouldn’t enjoy staying in the purpose built resorts in the south. The north is never going to ring their bells and these comments taken from a Tripadvisor review illustrate exactly why.

A seriously disappointed holidaymaker moaned about their hotel that –‘The staff at hotel were bad mannered,rude,hardly understood English language’ and even worse, the ‘entertainment that was on every night was Spanish and all the locals came in for a night out,nothing aimed at British people’.

Puerto itself fared little better as the reviewer continued their moan – ‘No British entertainment on in area either,just Spanish singers with Spanish locals sitting in all the seats’.

Their final piece of advice was ‘I would seriously urge anyone from the UK not to go to Puerto de la Cruz…as it will be the worst holiday you’l ever have.’

Absolutely…if the idea of being full of Spanish and having no Brit bars has you penning an ‘outraged’ letter to Puerto’s tourist board for not turning the place into Britain in the sun then please, please, please follow the reviewer’s advice.

It’s not just Puerto who has to suffer these Philistines. On the same day I read hotel reviews for La Gomera; an island ‘more discerning’ holidaymakers head for (or so some of them would like to have you believe) and came across a scathing review from a holidaymaker who, clearly having been seduced by a tour brochure description, had opted to stay in the hill town of Vallehermoso – which is a ‘real’ Gomeran town.

First they complained that their receptionist didn’t carry their bags (it’s a small rural hotel in the country, not a 4 star All Inclusive) then they bitched about breakfast (coming face to face with the continental variety was clearly a shock to the system). They commented that there were a few pubs but nothing special (PUBS? PUBS? Where did they think they were – the Lake District). But the most inconvenient aspect of the place was that families filled the local plaza at night, music was played and everyone had the nerve to have a noisy good time (obviously no-one had told them they would have to come into contact with any foreigners).

The best line of the review was their conclusion that ‘Vallehermoso is a total DUMP’ to be avoided at all costs.

Vallehermoso means beautiful valley in English – it is aptly named…but not if you’re a total moron. It has not, however, been built for tourists. It is the real deal. These plebs apparently couldn’t even find the hotel’s sun terrace they were that clueless.

Finally they were moved to the Hotel Tecina – ‘a lovely place’ where they decided that La Gomera was indeed beautiful…that would be the La Gomera found inside the biggest hotel complex on the island then.

So here’s a tip for everyone out there of similar mind to these two, Puerto de la Cruz and anywhere remotely Canario should definitely be avoided at all costs. You really won’t like it.

Living on Tenerife involves a lot more than simply moving to a climate where you can sit back and soak up the sun…well unless you live in a bubble that keeps you well away from having any interaction with the real Tenerife.

In some ways, the British and the Canarios are similar and in some ways the culture couldn’t be more different, occasionally to the extent that it can make your head want to explode.

This week as Andy dropped off some Real Tenerife guides at the post office, I spent my time waiting for her at the car by, as usual, observing daily life in Puerto de la Cruz. This normally involves listening to the old guys at Bar Aqui Me Quedo sounding as though they’re arguing about everything under the golden globe, and enviously watching the slick moves of the pupils at the dance academy opposite where we park. But on this occasion there was the added bonus of a car crash right in front of me.
Actually it was more of a gentle bump, but what developed illustrated the gulf in cultural responses to certain situations.

The road where the bus station is now located is a slow one and accidents like running into the back of another car when you’re driving at 20 kph shouldn’t occur. Who knows what had grabbed the woman driver’s attention as she drove too close to the car in front, maybe it was the moves at the dance academy, but when the car in front stopped for people at pedestrian crossing, the woman behind didn’t and subsequently drove straight into the back of it.

It wasn’t a big bump, but it did result in a small dent on both cars. Both drivers were out of their cars pronto to inspect the damage and that’s when the cultural differences came to the fore.

The car in front wasn’t a Toyota but was a hire car and was occupied by two German visitors who looked at the bump on the fender and then reached for their documents. This didn’t go down well with the Spanish driver who didn’t feel that the damage was serious enough to warrant exchanging insurance details.

The Germans couldn’t speak Spanish but clearly understood the gist of what was going on. One of them pointed to the hire car label on their car. It was obvious to me that they were trying to communicate with the woman that as theirs was a hire car, they had to do this by the book. But she was having none of it and became more and more agitated, flinging her arms in the air and pointing out over and over again that the damage was minimal. Despite their requests she refused to give the Germans her insurance details.

Then, with an impasse looming, the German woman did something really smart. She took out her digital camera and snapped a photo of the ‘culprit’ driver’s number plate. When the Spanish driver asked what she was doing a ‘helpful’ local onlooker stepped into the fray.

Instead of pointing out that the Germans were in the right, he told the Spanish driver they were taking a photo of her number plate because ‘they were German and were trying to get money out of her.’

It was an interesting take on events and not a conclusion that I would have reached. This is what I mean about the occasional chasm between our cultures. In this case the Germans were judged to be in the wrong because they wanted to do things by the book which the culprit believed justified her annoyance at them.

She was the one who drove into them…yet she was the one who was angry. That is the sort of skewed logic that makes your head want to explode.

A few months ago Andy was sitting in the car when a local man we know reversed straight into her. Our car was in a car park and was stationary at the time which made it all the more bizarre. But the guy’s reaction was even more incredible.

Instead of apologising, he rushed across to the car, furious with Andy for, get this, ‘being parked there’. This type of thinking just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Similarly, what did the driver do when the Germans took a photo of her number plate? She jumped into her car, reversed (nearly hitting another car in the process), pulled around the bemused Germans’ car and drove off,  leaving them and their car isolated in the middle of the road.

Thirty seconds later the police arrived. I was gutted as I really wanted to see how they would have dealt with the situation.

When I witness situations like this and the approach to what I’d consider are basic laws of the road, Pirates of the Caribbean always enters my head.

I have a sneaking suspicion some drivers on Tenerife have a similar view to the highway code (codigo de la circulación) as Captain Barbossa does to the Code of the Order of the Brethren – i.e. that ‘the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.’