Archive for September, 2007

I’ve recently found myself ‘hooked’ on TripAdviser forums, scanning the entries for new questions or new responses to ongoing sagas.

Of late, we’ve had people asking where they can get ‘good English food’ when they’re in Tenerife, whether it’s true that there’s a Marks & Spencer in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and if so, where it is, where they can watch football while they’re here and whether anyone knows if there’s a “nudist swimming pool” anywhere (not a nudist beach you understand, a nudist swimming pool).

And the one that’s really got me resolved to break this newly-formed addiction on the grounds that, like Eastenders, it’s just too depressing to continue watching, is the couple from the USA who are looking for a ‘budget’ holiday in Tenerife.
They began by asking (reasonably) what the quickest route from the south airport to Puerto de la Cruz was. Local ‘experts’ gave them directions and told them the journey would be 50 mins to an hour, less if they wanted to rent a car on Tenerife. The couple responded with apparent horror at “such a long journey”(presumably no-one in Wisconsin would dream of driving that far…yeah, right) and asked if anyone knew of cheap accommodation in the south. They very specifically wanted a room in a family house or a pension with the emphasis on cheap and specified that they wanted culture, not swimming pools and local, not International cuisine.
Patient responses gave advice, an assortment of web addresses and suggestions about keeping away from the main coastal resorts and going instead for more rural accommodation.

Last night the US couple said they’d resolved their problem and had booked an apartment in Costa del Silencio ( a purpose-built tourist resort on the island where Tenerife culture is conspicuous by its absence) where they would be staying for the whole week and incidentally, did anyone know where they could get to see some good Flamenco while they were here!

I despair!
Does nobody whose planning to come here want to see the Real Tenerife??!!!

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A neighbour lent me a book entitled “The Canary Islands” which was written by Florence du Cane and illustrated by her sister, Ella. The book was published in 1911. In it, Florence describes her feelings on landing at Santa Cruz:
“…the utter hideousness of the capital of Teneriffe was a shock to me.”

I guess it’s fair to say she wasn’t impressed. And if that’s how she felt in 1911, I seriously doubt that the addition of the now present sprawling eyesore of the CEPSA refinery would have done much to improve her mood.

Warrior statues in Plaza EspanaOn the other hand, she might have cast a more favourable eye on the iconic curves of the Santiago Calatrava– designed Auditorio de Tenerife and would almost certainly have raised a Victorian eyebrow at the perfect Callipygian curves of the warrior statues that adorn Plaza España, or at least, that did adorn it and will do again once building work is complete.

Santa Cruz is a city going through the same sort of transformation that Manchester went through after the bombing of the late 1990s when it rose from the ashes of terrorist attack and post-industrial revolution grime to emerge as Britain’s most vibrant 21st century city (no bias there then).
In Santa Cruz there are plans afoot for a vast pedestrianised quayside with shops, walkways, bars, restaurants and cinemas. There’s already a growing tide of chill-out lounges, cocktail bars and chic restaurants opening their doors in the Noria district. The newly re-vamped Parque García Sanabria breathes air, beauty and calm into the heart of the city and the gentle whirr and ‘ding, ding’ of the trams that swish down palm lined avenues like peacocks on rails add that final 21st century touch to the city that so disappointed Florence.
If she arrived today, I’d like to think she’d have something a bit nicer to say about Santa Cruz, even if it’s only that the trams are nicer than they were in her day. But if she arrives in siesta time, she might find that some things haven’t changed much at all:
“The crowd of swarthy loafers who lounge about the quay in tight yellow or white garments, are true sons of a southern race, and chatter gaily with handsome black-eyed girls.”  Florence du Cane 1911.

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You know you’re in the vicinity of El Médano on Tenerife’s southern coast the moment you open the car doors to get out; if the passenger opens their door at the same time as you, a rush of warm air takes everything inside that isn’t actually fastened down and sends it spiralling out in a frantic bid for freedom.

The wind in El Médano is what makes it the laid back, Bohemian resort that it is. Long sweeping stretches of ivory sand form patterns beneath the sculptured rock formations and carry the eye to the horizon on which, multi-coloured sails bob, weave and glisten in the sun. Windsurfers, kite boarders and power kiters create a chaotic canvas of colour against the endless blue sky, their sails turning and weaving in an ever-changing matrix, orchestrated by the wind.

Last weekend, an intermittent cast of characters joined the usual wind catchers on the breezy expanse of Playa de La Tejita in the Internacional Festival de Cometas or Kite Festival of Granadilla; kites of all shapes and sizes rode the currents, tethered on their strings like prisoners enjoying a fleeting moment of freedom while others fluttered like Tibetan Prayer Flags on poles buried into the sand. Dragons, mermaids and ghosts played alongside planes, diamonds and giant rays, diving and swooping above the heads of onlookers. Grabbing a beer from the bar, I watched as children constructed their own kites in the little workshop before learning to trap the gusts and make them play. We spent an idyllic hour, just me and my beach towel, inventing the new sport of living sand sculpture as the wind whipped up the fine sand and coated us with its glistening presence.

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One of the really cool things about the north of Tenerife is that it’s so easy to access loads of the island’s fiestas and ferías. Today I went to Pinolere in the hills above La Orotava to the annual craft fair which is dedicated to ‘that which the sea brings to our shores’. It’s a celebration of Canarian traditional craftsmanship from across the seven islands and has the most fantastic displays of produce, both modern and traditional, involving palm weaving, wicker basketry, leather work, ceramics, pottery, jewellery making and wood carving (and that’s just the ones I can remember). In the stunning beauty of the valley of Pinolere, over 100 stalls surround small thatched houses within which are exhibitions of the evolution of these crafts from the earliest photographs of the islands, to modern interpretations of the art from around the world, like fabulous handbags made from painted palm leaves and a tray made from beer cans ( I know it sounds tacky but it was actually really cool). Dotted about amongst the stalls and the huts, are groups of Islanders in traditional costumes producing hats, baskets and intricate ornamental displays with the sort of dexterity childrens’s TV presenters could only dream of.
In the midst of the proceedings, a large bar is dispensing delicious ‘pinchos’ (spiced pork kebabs) at €2 a go served with little slices of anis flavoured bread and washed down with vino del pais or beer at €1.50 a glass.
I gained a few pounds just looking at the homemade cakes, soft goats’ cheeses, biscuits, sauces and honey stalls that lined the first courtyard and, as if that wasn’t enough to hold my attention, there was live music involving musical instruments from across the archipelago and a man doing things with a spinning top that would have Ronaldhino considering retirement from the professional game. And all for the entrance fee of €2.50…brilliant!There was one particular shoe, boot and handbag stalll belonging to Pisaverde that had THE most wonderful boots I’ve seen in a long time and I might just have to nip back tomorrow and throw my entire wardrobe into chaos with one of their creations!

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