Archive for August, 2009

Getting anywhere for midday on a Sunday seems for some reason to be a tall order in our house and yesterday was no exception. A late night followed by a late morning and a leisurely Sunday breakfast and before I knew it the clock was scraping towards the eleven hand and Jack was standing at the door rattling the car keys.

The Hearts of Tejina 2009

The Hearts of Tejina 2009

We got to the plaza in Tejina just in time to hear the prayer being read over the three Alice in Wonderland hearts as they were held in front of the church to receive the holy blessing.
Then the three teams each hauled their 800 kilo charges towards their waiting wooden cross and the race to erect the hearts began. The insults were a little less vocal than they had been last time we came to see the Hearts of Tejina fiesta, but then looking at the fruity, flowery works of art it was difficult to see how anyone could find fault even though tradition dictated they should.

Within minutes the El Pico heart was being raised onto its cross and

Now thats waht I call a bouquet!

Now that's what I call a bouquet!

cheering rang out from the crowd assembled around the plaza. Five minutes later the Calle Arriba heart was hoisted leaving Calle Abajo in third place.
Once the hearts were securely fastened to their crosses and the ladders removed, the parrandas struck up and the crowd began to filter towards the bars, fairground, stalls and guachinches. That left space for Jack and I to leisurely stroll and examine these extraordinary, transient works of art.

A virtual recluse from Tenerife guide books (except Going Native of course), Tejina is set in a humid, fertile valley in the northeast of Tenerife in what is known locally as ‘greenhouse valley’. The climate and the rich volcanic earth in this area are perfect for the cultivation of tropical plants and exotic fruits. It’s also where the island’s last remaining rum distillery lies, so unsurprisingly the village is known for its singing.

Produce is fresh, local and flawless

Produce is fresh, local and flawless

Yesterday was the Sunday following the Feast of San Bartolomé, the town’s Patron Saint, and every year in the Saint’s honour three local streets construct enormous hearts from the boughs of trees and decorate them in fruit and flowers. The streets are fierce rivals and there’s a great deal of secrecy during the construction of the hearts. When they’re finally revealed and brought to the church to be blessed and then erected onto wooden crosses, it’s traditional for each street to slag off the other hearts and sing (literally) the praises of their own.

The streets each have their own colour and the hearts are constructed to match, using only the best of local produce, which in Tejina means absolute flawless perfection. So El Pico’s hearts are framed by rich green Conference pears; Calle Arriba’s heart has succulent, fragrant, orange pineapples and Calle Abajo’s heart is bordered with enormous, vibrant lemons.
As well as the fruit and the spectacular flower display which tops each double heart, the main body is decorated in tarts; pastry discs on which scenes from island life have been constructed in 3D pastry models. There

Detail on the tarts is incredible

Detail on the tarts is incredible

are butter churners, grape treaders, fishermen, musicians, woodpeckers, traditional balconies, tajinaste and Drago trees. The detail in the tarts is incredible so you can see the fisherman’s beard, a notebook with writing in it, a fish caught in the nets.

Today the hearts will be de-constructed and their bounty distributed to the townsfolk in an aerial, fruit throwing free-for-all where you risk injury from flying pineapples and pears.
It’s amazing how much beauty is lovingly created on Tenerife only to be destroyed within hours of its completion; flower carpets, sand tapestries and hearts too big for their sleeves.

More pictures of Hearts of Tejina 2009 by Snapjacs

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Since finally managing to register for my tarjeta de sanitoria (health card), the process of getting my repeat prescriptions has been fairly straightforward, apart from one small glitch a couple of months ago when I rang the central number for an appointment only to be told that I had been assigned to a different doctor.
Which wouldn’t have been a problem, if only someone had had the gumption to inform Doctor Peña that several patients had been arbitrarily re-assigned to his caseload.
Instead, there was a 20 minute comedy farce involving myself, Doctor Peña and several other re-assigned patients relaying between the surgery and the administration desk on the next floor before someone enlightened the good doctor and we could all settle down to an amicable routine.

Pink diamonds this large are apparently as rare as a tarjeta de sanitoria electrónica

Pink diamonds this large are apparently as rare as a tarjeta de sanitoria electrónica

Then last week I had to go back for my repeat prescription.
Instead of giving me my usual multi-layered, multi-coloured prescriptions, Doctor Peña just printed off a single note and explained that there was a new system.
I felt the hairs on my arms bristle even as he spoke. In my experience “new systems” in Tenerife are rarely a good thing, particularly when the old system appears to be running perfectly well. Jack and I call it the This is Tenerife or TiT syndrome and if you’ve ever seen the movie Blood Diamond in which Leo diCaprio talks about TiA (This is Africa), you’ll know exactly what it means. No matter what they try to do to move forward, at the end of the day, there will always be a deep rooted inability to get things right. On good days, it’s an endearing quality, on bad days it’s TiT.

It seems that from now on, all I have to do is take this certificate along to the pharmacy, give them my tarjeta sanitaria and they give me my tablets. Then I can go back again in a month’s time and get another month’s worth of tablets. No prescription and no need to go back to the doctor for 3 whole months. Espléndido!

So off I went to the pharmacy and handed over the certificate and my tarjeta santaria. The assistant looked at me and asked for my electronic card.
“What electronic card?” I asked.
“Your electronic tarjeta sanitaria,” she said, pointing to a large poster behind me which showed a shiny turquoise credit-sized card and explained the new system of swiping the patient’s electronic card through the bar code reader before dispensing the medication.
“I don’t have one” I said, my TiT antennae now on full alert.

The assistant went off to make a phone call and emerged moments later.
“You’ll have to go back to the medical centre and get a print-out of your code so that I can input it. Without that I can’t give you the tablets. Sorry.”

I groaned and my head went down.
I drove back all the way across town to the clinic and went to the reception.
“The pharmacy won’t give me my tablets unless I have an electronic card” I said.
“That’s right. It’s the new system.”
“But I don’t have an electronic card.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll print you out a code to take to the pharmacy and you can use that instead.”
“Why don’t I have an electronic card?” I asked, I felt, not unreasonably.
Hombre” she said, shrugging her shoulders and widening her eyes, “Most people haven’t got an electronic card yet!”

This is Tenerife – I rest my case.

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“Sweet dreams are made of this.
Who am I to disagree?
Travel the World and the seven seas;
Everybody’s looking for something.”

If you’re thinking of moving to Tenerife, ask yourself this; “What am I looking for?”

We were invited to a barbeque last weekend, in an exquisite contemporary villa in the south of the island. It was a sumptuous feast and we met lots of new people, some of whom had re-located relatively recently to Tenerife.

During the course of conversations, it was interesting to find out what people were doing; what their expectations were of life on the island and how long they saw themselves living here.

Playa de Las Americas where life can be very good indeed

Playa de Las Americas where life can be very good indeed

Some had grown weary of the demands of life in consumer Britain and had traded long hours in an office for endless days in the surf. Others were investing time and money in setting up new businesses on the island and hoping to combine quality of life with entrepreneurial success.
So far, it seemed like life was living up to expectations for them.

Coincidentally this weekend saw our neighbour Jesús leaving the island and heading back to the Basque Country. It’s doubtful that Jesús will return and it was strange to hear him telling us on Sunday night that he was finally able to see that Tenerife hadn’t been right for him. It was as if he couldn’t see what was in front of his face until he’d made the decision to leave and then the veil was lifted.

We’d often joked to Jesús that he had the money of a pauper and the lifestyle of a rich man, spending all day every day playing golf to the detriment of his wallet, his social life and his health. It was clear to us that Jesús was stagnating in his casita at the bottom of our path but he couldn’t see it until he went back to the Basque Country for a holiday, got some temporary work as a masseur and realised how much happier he was working and socialising.

It got me thinking about what it was that Jack and I had been looking for

Life in the sun, sea and sand in El Medano

Life in the sun, sea and sand in El Medano

when we left Britain and whether we’d found it.
In terms of getting out of the rat race and spending time together in a beautiful environment in which we could spend most of our lives outside, there’s no doubt we’ve achieved that.

We never moved here with the intentions of getting rich – we had enough of that cycle of earning and spending in Britain – but what has been far more difficult than we predicted has been the ability to make a decent living here. To some extent that’s to do with adjusting our expectations; Jack has adapted much better than I have to the vagaries of getting work and the even greater unpredictability of getting paid once you’ve done it. But I’m getting there.

My choice, though clearly not everyones

My choice, though clearly not everyone's

The people I spoke to on Saturday agreed that, having made the initial move from the UK, they wouldn’t hesitate to move again and that’s important to know if you’re scared of leaving everything you’ve ever known; it doesn’t have to be a one way ticket.
For us, when the time is right we’ll simply sell up and move on, but it’s unlikely to be back to the UK if we do. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be discovered and you never really know a place until you’ve spent some time living in it.

Of course, the other thing that separates Jack and I from many of the Brits who re-locate to the island is the fact that we have chosen to live in the north, which for some, would just be a step too far but for us is because we’ve chosen to live in the real Tenerife.

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I noticed on the news yesterday that Lufthansa airlines were offering compensation to holidaymakers who got rainy days while they were away.
I reckon it’s a fairly safe bet that the UK won’t be one of the 36 destinations for which the insurance company will pay out, but I guess Tenerife might be. The chances of seeing rain at the coast anywhere between June and October on Tenerife are low enough even for me to consider giving good odds.

We’ve had weeks and weeks of cloudless searing heat here so, for those of us who live on the island, the occasional cloud cover we’re having this week is a merciful relief.
Of course, if this is your two weeks R&R away from the sort of ‘barbecue summer’ that sent Noah heading briskly towards the woodshed, the last thing you want to see is clouds.

But worry not, there are so many excellent things to do on Tenerife that you should really look on cloudy days, not as disappointments, but as opportunities.

So, here is my list of things to do when it’s cloudy in Tenerife; it’s by no means exhaustive

Beat the clouds – if you absolutely must have the sun, you can pretty much guarantee finding it in Teide National

Life above the clouds

Life above the clouds

Park and at least you get to see a bit of the island in the process. Simply drive up through the pine forests to emerge above the clouds and into the blue. In this volcanic wonderland you can take a cable to the top of the world (well, nearly); eat lunch in Spain’s highest restaurant; wander amongst incredible rock formations at Roques García or simply soak up the sun. But be warned, the air at this height is thinner and the sun’s rays more intense, slap on the factor 25, wear a hat and drink plenty of water.

Go wild – leave the barren landscape of the south and head to the north’s verdant Puerto de la Cruz and Tenerife’s number one ‘must-see’; Loro Parque.
Dolphin, sea lion, Orca and parrot shows are all great fun and entertainment while the penguins at the incredible artificial iceberg are compulsive watching. You’ll need at least five hours in the park so give yourself plenty of time for this one.

In Santa Cruz, just be cool

In Santa Cruz, just be cool

See summer in the city – the island’s capital city of Santa Cruz has a surprising number of things to see and do and cloudy days afford some respite for wandering the shops (tax free shopping), chilling out in the tranquil Parque García Sanabria, exploring the museums and galleries or just kicking back in one of the pavement cafes and watching the world go by. And if the sun re-emerges (as it usually does in Santa Cruz), you’re just a hop and skip away from the island’s best beach at Las Teresitas and the best seafood lunch at beach-side San Andrés.

Tour mini-Tenerife – at Pueblo Chico in La Orotava. Spend a

Its a small world at Pueblo Chico

It's a small world at Pueblo Chico

couple of hours wandering around beautifully crafted models of the Canaries in miniature with meticulous attention to detail and lots of funny bits.
When you’re done, head up the hill to the full sized La Orotava, the jewel in Tenerife’s crown, and explore the streets of the old quarter. You’ll find parks and gardens, historic houses lining narrow cobbled streets, old monasteries, a Gothic church and some nice little antique shops.

Take a hike – along some of Tenerife’s stunning walking trails. Summer can be murderous for tackling some stamina-sapping parts of the island so take advantage of cloud cover to trek the parts that don’t have wide vistas crying out for sunshine, like Masca Barranco or Hell’s Ravine.

Dive in –to the deep, blue Atlantic at one of the island’s fascinating dive sites around the coast of Las Galletas or take the whole family and head to San Miguel marina for a trip in a Yellow Submarine…all together now; “we all live ” tum ti tum.

Mummified Guanche at Museum of Man & Nature

Mummified Guanche at Museum of Man & Nature

Mooch – around one of Tenerife’s museums. Now before you yawn and skip to the end…not all museums are dull. Science and Cosmos in La Laguna is an oversized playground of optical illusions; Man and Nature in Santa Cruz has some gruesome mummies and the Anthropological in Valle Guerra is like Tenerife’s version of the set of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’. And on Sundays they’re all free to get in.

So…bring on the clouds, see if we care!

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A new survey conducted in May by Confused.com has come up with some rather surprising statistics for what Brits get up to in their cars. Apparently, of the 2000 motorists surveyed, 47% of Southwest drivers admitted to having sex in their car, hotly pursued by the South East (44%) and Scotland (43%).

It’s not entirely clear from the report in RealTravel.magazine whether the sex is happening at the same time as the driving but a quote from one of the Confused.com people which refers to “the distraction element some drivers are exposing themselves to when multi tasking”, would certainly suggest that this is the case (personally, I would have chosen a different phrase there if I’d been their spokesperson).

Other in-car entertainment options to come out of the survey are eating (75% of respondents) and sleeping (50%), though whether the sleeping comes after the sex is unclear and what exactly is being referred to by ‘eating’ is somewhere I’m not prepared to go.
Apparently 33% of the Welsh have been dumped by their partners whilst behind the wheel, presumably because they fell asleep while having sex and got crumbs all over the seat…the mind boggles!

All I can say is, British drivers must be very bored with the scenery on their doorsteps and really ought to get out more.
I can whole heartedly recommend picking up a copy of Island Drives, renting a car on Tenerife and taking to the Tinerfeño roads where you’ll be far too busy gawping at the scenery to indulge in auto-intimacy, or at least, not whilst the vehicle is actually in motion.

And if you can have sex whilst simultaneously driving down the mountain into Masca, you’re either having bad sex or else you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

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