Posts Tagged ‘fiesta’

The creature dancing in the rain had us spellbound; not because she was a Dalmatian with a girl’s head (that’s commonplace); she was doing a sizzling hot routine that turned the rain to steam as it hit the ground.

If Dal-girl wasn’t a professional pole dancer she should have been; her long black mane swirled in MTV music video fashion sending spray in all directions. Beside her, a basketball player-sized African man-women in bikini top and thong danced in circles oblivious to the downpour. It was 1.30am and it was wet, wet, wet…but it was 17C and the carnaval drug was coursing through the veins like an electrical current. This is what carnaval is really all about.

The carnaval day had begun nine hours earlier with the Gran Coso Apoteosis (closing parade). It’s a visually vibrant affair and I always go to take photographs. But it’s a spectator event and to be honest, jostling with the united nations of visitors to try to get a decent shot isn’t my idea of fun. After an hour I’d seen what I’d wanted to see and swapped the jostling for watching Man Utd defeat Arsenal in the FA Cup before heading for home, making dinner, watching two episodes of Desperate Housewives on Spanish TV and getting into costume to head back into town.

Where we live you can forget calling a taxi or catching a bus on the last night of carnaval. The only way in is to drive (that means no drinking) or walk the three kilometres into Puerto de la Cruz. We opted to walk.

However, two unexpected downpours had us pausing mid dressing up. The first was the rain which had made an appearance most nights at about 10pm; the second was something I’d eaten decided to turn everything in my intestines into liquid. Three visits to the loo in an hour presented a much worse prospect than the rain. Carnaval toilets aren’t exactly Glastonbury levels, but neither are they places where you want to spend a lot of time.

As it was the last night of carnaval we decided to take on the fates and, telling myself that at least my brown monk’s robe might act as camouflage in the worse case scenario, at 11pm we set off through the banana plantation.

The walk into town is always bizarre. We pass through the tourist areas of La Paz and the newer side of town where virtually no-one dresses up and it was unnervingly quiet to the point that we though the carnaval street parties must have finished early (we go through this year after year).

Then at Plaza del Charco you enter the world where the wild things are; the domain of the weird and the wonderful where dullness has no place.

Almost as soon as we arrived the rain returned and we sought shelter at a beer kiosk – cañas (glasses of beer) €1; combinados (triple spirit measure and mixer) €3. It was here that Dal-girl started her dancing in the rain routine.

A canopy reached from the kiosk to Mi Pequeño Mexico (a new bar/restaurant that’s on our list to try) and Café del Mar. The canopy acted as a sort of bizarroland’s Noah’s Ark (many couples dress up the same so the two by two ruling also fitted). Vampires, witches, N’Avi, Vikings, pirates, giant mice and sexy female airline pilots in mini dresses filled the space under the canopy as the braver creatures danced in the rain. Andy and I had pole position under a metal shutter at the bar so that all I had to do was raise two fingers and a buxom wench (not sure what sex) kept refilling our beers.


The rain became heavier and the Latino music louder so that Dal-girl’s routine became more frantic and she shed the Dalmation skin until she was left dancing in T-shirt and shorts. At that point it dawned on me that the rain hadn’t actually dampened the carnaval spirit; if anything it showed how strong it is and why the street parties are so special. It’s easy to be smiley happy people when it’s dry and temperatures are positively balmy but the rain hadn’t changed the expressions on the faces around me. Some people sheltered, others danced…and everyone but everyone smiled and laughed. What the weather got up to was incidental and that is what’s addictive about the street parties. Dressed up, you’re part of a surreal community where everyone knows all the words to Shakira’s Waka Waka and strangers with painted faces hug you and talk to you for no reason other than they’re tripping on happiness. Standing in that colourful crowd with drips from the metal shutter watering down my beer I experienced one of those moments where I loved the world and the wonderful people who populated it – this little section at least. This is why Andy and I are always extolling the virtues of leaving the sidelines and getting into the thick of things when it comes to carnaval or any other fiesta on Tenerife for that matter. It’s here where the real deal is and once you plunge in you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The rain stopped after about and hour and stayed away for the remainder of the night. We spent the rest of carnaval’s last bash dancing to the same music we hear year after year with the thousands upon thousands of other creatures who filled the streets. (Carnaval tip: the best way to get through the most crowded street is to dance your way through in a sort of chained feet, slave shuffle routine. For some reason it works.) At 4am, when the party was at its zenith, we decided to head for home. Even the forty minute uphill trek to home and bed didn’t dilute the feeling of wellbeing.

Carnaval 2011 has been demanding and exhausting but most of all it has been exhilarating. I’m already looking forward to next year’s.

Advertisements

By Friday night when I expected my enthusiasm for Tenerife carnaval to be very much on the wane it completely surprised me by heading in the opposite direction and soaring into the carnaval spirit stratosphere. There were a couple of reasons for this.

The first was thanks to a humongous chorizo and grilled green pepper catalana at Mesón California (basically a sausage butty Spanish style). I know I rabbit on about this stall, but the eating experience here is more akin to enjoying a culinary theatre performance than simply eating at a carnaval kiosk. The doorstep-thick chunk of bread that the chorizos and peppers rest on is too bready for Andy and she opted for the spicy pinchos (pork kebabs) which she declared to be the best tasting pinchos ever… and she’s tested quite a few. As I exercised my jaw and snapped a few shots, ignoring the warning by the camarero to not photograph the chef as his ugliness would break the camera lens, I also nosied at what others were eating. A plate of calamari on one side of me, a mountain of gueldes (fried whitebait) on the other and opposite was the king of carbs – a catalana consisting of a slab of tortilla as chunky as the bread it was resting on topped by what can only be described as an erect gherkin. Fantastic…and perfect as a carnaval alcohol sponge.

The second reason my carnaval spirit was soaring was that we were in Puerto de la Cruz to see the best carnaval event on Tenerife; the Mascarita Ponte Tacón (high heels marathon). The outrageous drag queen race has become so popular over the last few years that around 50,000 spectators turn up to see the 250+ contestants and their over the top costumes.

There are two ways to enjoy the Mascarita Ponte Tacón; either camp out along the route for hours until the ‘ladies’ stop parading and decide to run – or get close to the contestants’ free beer pump. We opt for the latter as the beer pump is a magnet to every stiletto-wearing giant chicken, Chilean miner and…err high heel shoe itself. The Mascarita Ponte Tacón goes against everything connected with sense and sensibility. Contestants have to tackle an assault course on vertigo-inducing heels after being plied with gallons of alcohol. Not only that, the more outrageous and politically incorrect the costume is, the more the crowd lap it up…oh, and brandishing a penis (fake clearly- I think) seems to be obligatory.

Add a charismatic and very funny compere; the best carnival music in Puerto de la Cruz, blasted out at such a volume that contestants sway on their heel as they pass the speakers, and an atmosphere bordering on pure elation and you’ve got an anarchic spectacle that blasts away any carnival fatigue. By the time the free beer ran out and the now staggering drag queens inelegantly headed for the race’s starting line (way, way, way behind schedule) I was relishing the prospect of donning a fancy dress costume and getting into the thick of the action for the final end of carnaval bash the following night.

The Burial of the Sardine procession is probably my least favourite carnaval event on Tenerife. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like its absurdity; it’s just that it’s a one joke gig – huge make-up wearing sardine followed by shrieking widows flashing plastic penises and mock vaginas. It’s surreal, it’s funny and it’s shocking but after you’ve seen it once the joke’s over really.

I don’t mean to put anyone off going to see it. Lots of people love the spectacle and the widows’ shocking behaviour has the older Canarian women screaming with glee, but the eagle-eyed out there will notice that, in Puerto de la Cruz at least, the best looking widows don’t even join the procession.


Like many of carnival’s events, the real fun lies in the street parties and what goes on after the parades are over. I get more of a buzz seeing a group of burly six foot blokes in black evening gowns and high heels standing outside one of the fishermen’s bars chatting to each other as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Or the gangs of thirteen year old lads in tight sparkling black mini dresses, fishnets and flowing wigs, which they flick back from their eyes just a little bit too convincingly. Quite a few of them look more glamorous than the ‘real’ girls that are with them. A visiting friend was amazed at seeing so many local boys ‘girlied up’ and remarked that lads of that age in the UK would never have enough confidence in their sexuality to dress up in girls’ clothing.  Ha…it ain’t only lads that age. I know plenty of men who wouldn’t.

Whilst most visitors crowd the harbour area waiting for the sardine to be cremated and the subsequent firework display, hordes of young and not so young ladyboys arrive at the carnaval kiosks at the top of Calle Perdomo. It’s here that some of the most imaginative and outrageous outfits are to be seen. And it’s here that we tend to hang about. But not for too long this year as we weren’t in costume and when you’re not in costume it’s impossible not to feel as though you’ve crashed the party.

However this year the sardine did actually manage to surprise us… and we discovered its lair. We were driving to the harbour car park when a policeman stopped us in our tracks. Lo and behold right in front of us the 20 foot long giant fish emerged from its secret den in full make-up and…get this…a plastic mac in case it rained. A fish wearing a mac! How crazy is that?

There should have been another street party before this post, but a downpour at around 9.30pm on Monday night had us stocking up the fire instead of slapping on the make-up and street party – the sequel was rescheduled.

My first attempt to photograph the carnaval queens in Puerto de la Cruz hadn’t exactly been successful. Luckily there was one more chance to meet the queens in the lovely little Plaza Iglesia last night before their appearance at the closing parade on Saturday.

Despite a weather pattern which has seen sunny days and occasional party dampening rain in the evening, the weather behaved itself for the carnaval queens and dames and I was able to get  close for some decent shots. It wasn’t totally successful as the inhabitant of the best costume was mysteriously missing. Her African themed costume was there, but not her. However, the lovely Esther Yanes García, Puerto’s carnaval queen, was present and I was finally able to get some decent shots of a queen who, for me, outshines that of Santa Cruz.

Whilst I was snapping away I was brusquely nudged once, and then again as someone tried to bump me out of the way. I turned to see a severe looking couple staring at me. It came as no real surprise when I heard what language they spoke.

Whereas the Spanish women in the crowd beside me laughed and chatted with the queens and thanked me when I knelt down to let them take photos over my head (they didn’t realise I was just trying a different angle), these two glared at me with expressions that could have curdled milk.

I try very hard not to stereotype, but sometimes it can be difficult…so I’ve got to say it. What is it about the Germans that makes some of them appear so rude? No let me rephrase that. The younger Germans are fine. It’s Germans of a certain age that seem to lack social etiquette. I’ve been bumped out of the way in shops and been the victim of attempted queue jumps at the post office and in the supermarket more times than I can mention and it’s nearly always Germans in their late 60s and above who are the culprits.

I’ve posed the question to German friends about why their compatriots behave in such a manner and their answers have been varied. Friends in La Gomera claim it’s because we get a different sort of German on Tenerife than they do – ours are common and uneducated. But then they say that about the Brits on Tenerife as well. However, a German friend from Santa Ursula agrees.

My favourite explanation is from Schwäbisch friends who simply put it down to the stern, rude Germans being from the north of the country whereas the southern Schwäbisch like them are more amenable, fun loving and artistic and would never behave in such a disagreeable manner.

Anyway the woman bumped again. Instead of doing what I instinctively wanted to do by coming over all Basil Fawlty/David Brent with a ‘it’s that sort of behaviour that got you into trouble in 1939’ reply, I simply smiled at the couple and turned back to the more appealing visions in front of my camera.

I was at a tapas party in El Médano on the night the Santa Cruz Carnaval (I’m swapping to the Spanish version here as that’s what’s on the posters) Queen was elected. But my adopted Tenerife hometown, Puerto de la Cruz, held their carnaval beauty queen contest the following night so I didn’t completely miss out on seeing a parade of beautiful girls in costumes that barely cover their white bits yet are the size of a small house at the same time (check out the pics and you’ll see what I mean).

To be honest, I didn’t fancy driving into town on a cool evening (15C…I know, I’m a wuss), but it’s important to keep my stock of carnaval photos up to date (place an ironic HA here).

A night-long gala is built around the election, so even though all anybody is really there to see are the potential queens in their works of wonder costumes, we have to sit through traditional music, murga groups and comedians before the queen is chosen. This year the line up included Bitter & Twisted which was a break from tradition (you don’t usually get a British act at these events). Unfortunately their act coincided with a brief and not very heavy downpour and as they went through their ‘Beauty Queen’ routine there was a bit of a mass exodus from the open air venue of Plaza Europa.

Watching people leg it for dry ground was interesting in itself and prompted me to wonder ‘when did people become so uncool’? The rain wasn’t heavy enough for me to put the hood of my hoodie up, yet a lot of people, who hadn’t checked the weather forecast and brought a brolly, adopted a ridiculous way to shield their heads; they placed plastic carrier bags on their bonces. I know it’s carnaval and all that, but scurrying through the streets with an Al Campo (local supermarket) bag on your head just looks silly…and totally unattractive.

Anyway, on to the girls. As a result of the crisis there were only five potential queens this year, prompting some disgruntled comments from the group of hobbit-sized Spanish women next to me.

The five, however, looked splendid and their costumes were spectacular works of fantasy as always. Esther Yanes García was probably the right choice of Carnaval Queen, but my favourite costume was a vibrant African themed affair (see below).


The main reason I was there was for the bit at the end of the show when the press and all and sundry can get up close to the girls to take some decent photos.

However, I’d only just started snapping away when the girls were whisked off as though their elaborate costumes came complete with jet engines. All I was left with, apart from some faraway grainy images, were a few shots of the third placed dame.


I’ll give Puerto council the benefit of the doubt here and assume it was as a precaution to save the girls’ costumes from the rain rather than an attempt at curtailing publicity (don’t laugh, it does happen here).

But whatever the reason, it wasn’t the best of starts to my carnaval experience this year.

Last night I saw something that sent a shiver of excitement down my spine and brought a tingle to my tastebuds; something that seductively whispered ‘carnaval is here’ in my ears and had me licking my lips in anticipation of the maelstrom that was about to assault the senses of anyone who had the courage to plunge into its all-consuming madness.

I’m not talking about seeing the carnaval stage taking shape or the mini taster parade to announce this year’s carnaval queen candidates…no, I’m talking about a force that was responsible for pulling me out of a decade of being a pescatarian and back, grunting with desire, into the world of the carnivores again.

I’m talking about a food stall extraordinaire…Mesón California.

Forget the wussy bite-sized montaditos of the Madrids and the Barcelonas of this world; at Mesón California you get Desperate Dan-sized, jaw testing versions. Check out the picture if you think I’m exaggerating. These are montaditos for real men – and women of course – and being carnival, also for ghouls, vampires and slutty nuns and nurses etc.

Its erection is the sign for me that carnaval has arrived and I’m positively salivating at the thought of my annual pilgrimage to worship at this exquisite shrine to Spanish street cuisine.

Everybody knows Tenerife, course they do – sun, sand, Brit bars aplenty and feels about as abroad as Skegness.

Oh yeah? Well anyone who really believes that clearly knows jack about Tenerife. A visit to one of the biggest fiestas in January, the Fiesta de San Abad in San Antonio in the La Matanza hills, might make them reconsider their views.

On a damp and dreary day we made our annual trip to the ganadera (livestock fair) to mingle with the farmers and caballeros and share a Pepsi bottle carafe and a goatskin of vino del país.

These are some of the faces of the real Tenerife.

If you want a real taste of the Fiesta de San Abad and get some tips on what colour not to wear at a gathering that includes bison-sized bulls , have a look at Andy’s blog and video.