As we drove around the wide El Guincho corner of the fancy new road on Sunday night we saw the line of red tail lights ahead in the darkness and thought “uh oh”.
A small patch of flat earth lay just before the opening of the tunnel that took six years to build and replaced a ½ km of road with 500 km of space-age concrete tubing.
“What about parking there?” I tentatively suggested, following the Golden Rule of fiesta attending on Tenerife which clearly states ‘as soon as you see vehicles beginning to back up, park at the very first available space you see’.
But we were still a good 2 km from Garachico and fatally, we nudged forward and the opportunity was lost.
It took us 20 minutes to crawl, bumper to bumper through that tunnel before we finally emerged and Jack did a nifty u-turn manoeuvre, drove up the slip road to El Guincho and parked to one side. Within seconds others were following suit.
We joined the ranks of fellow car-abandoners all walking in the direction of Garachico, and it now being 9.30pm, desperately hoped that the scheduled 9.45pm start for the fuegos (fires) would follow the usual Tenerife mas o menos punctuality.
By the time we reached Garachico our numbers had swelled and we joined the thousands already crammed into El Caletón and the harbour area.
Once every five years the charismatic little town of Garachico commemorates the event that changed its history; the night Arena Negras volcano erupted and sent rivers of burning lava down the cliffs to engulf its streets and destroy its harbour.
Almost overnight Garachico’s status plunged from Tenerife’s wealthiest town, to the town that got buried by an eruption. Any other place might have thrown in the towel at that point, but not the folks who have Glorioso en su Adversidad (Strength in Adversity) embroidered on their coat of arms. Garachico rose from the volcanic ash and re-built its town and its pride. Today it’s one of Tenerife’s most popular excursions where folks flock to swim in the delicious rock pools hewn out of its trademark frozen lava.
At somewhere around 10.30pm a small procession arrived at the harbour carrying the candlelit Santísimo Cristo de la Misericordia. When the procession came to a standstill we saw the first bonfire flare up on the cliffside above the beach and large drops of molten fire began to drip from the road above the cliff into the flames. A cheer went up from the crowd and all heads turned to watch as fire after fire was lighted. With the rocks ablaze, the street lights all went out and we were plunged into total darkness, the glow of the fires blazing on our retinas.
As the fires spread around the cliffside and a pall of scarlet smoke began to rise, our eyes were drawn to a flare in the cliffside, high above the road. A fire sprang into life, the flames licking the rock face as they gained strength from the breeze. In seconds, a ball of fire broke free from the conflagration and to roars of “fuego!” from the crowd, began to careen down the hillside leaving a fiery tail in its wake. But its progress was short-lived and to theatrical disappointment from the crowd it came to rest.
Seconds later four fire balls began their descent, this time gathering pace and strength as they fell and bounced off the cliff face. Roars of approval, shouts of “bravo!” and wild applause greeted each new fireball as one after another they scorched down the cliffside to the barranco where the Bomberos were waiting to douse the flames.
Finally, their display spent, the fire chasers took a well deserved bow to tumultuous applause and we turned our backs to the cliffs to face an explosive kaleidoscope of colour splitting the night sky over the harbour.
To an impassioned performance of classical music; rockets, flares and air bombs burst open sending cascades of illuminated colours across the sky and sound-waves ricocheting around the harbour.
As Handel’s Messiah Hallelujah reached its crescendo, a full sized Christ on the crucifix burst into golden fire on the cliff below the mirador, every feature of the face alive in its flames.
When finally the fireworks climaxed, we made our way through the beautifully garlanded and paper-flowered town, booms still ringing in our ears, and headed towards the tunnel and the long trek back to the car.
Provided Mother Nature doesn’t try to upstage the night with her own version before then, it’ll be 2015 before Garachico next stages the Fuegos Del Risco and I for one, can’t wait.