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Archive for the ‘carnival’ Category

It’s the highlight of Carnaval week in Puerto de la Cruz and last year it attracted more than 35,000 spectators.
It’s only 7.30pm. Registration of contestants isn’t scheduled to begin for another hour but already crowds are claiming their places along the route and against the barriers in Plaza Charco.

Tonight is double pleasure for us; not only are we here to watch the arrival and registration of the contestants in this surreal event, but its early start gives us the perfect excuse to eat at the Meson California guachinche in Plaza Charco.

The music strikes up and the beer barrels beside the stage are loaded, ready to oil the heels of contenders. Then it begins – a trickle at first but quickly gaining strength into a river of weird and fabulous costumes emerging from the crowds to be registered, have their heels measured for minimum height and be introduced to the audience.

It’s a process that takes in excess of two hours during which time the contestants imbibe copious amounts of alcohol, building nerve and diminishing co-ordination until heels morph into shifting mountains beneath their feet.

This year the costumes were a triumph with the Cinderella shoes and the chickens coming out top of my list.

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As soon as we heard that Ministry of Sound were going to be appearing in Santa Cruz on the first Saturday night of Carnaval 2011 it was a foregone conclusion. We would be there.

There was much debate over how we would get in and out of the city, tales of traffic mayhem being rife, but the prospect of long walks, a bus ride dressed as Hit Girl and Brother Jack, another long walk and no idea of how we would get home again settled it. We’d take our chances and drive into the city.

I drew the designated driver short straw and we set off around 10.40pm to give ourselves plenty of time to check out all the venues in the city before heading to Plaza Europa to share the Ministry of Sound experience. As it turned out, driving into the city couldn’t have been easier. We arrived at the bus station car park to find plenty of spaces (the Canarios don’t tend to like paying for parking when an empty pedestrian crossing costs nothing) and with the final touches applied to our costumes, headed off into the surreal pandemonium that is carnival.

Everywhere we went, the sights and smells of food assailed us, from candy floss and sugared almonds at the fairground, through baked potatoes and hot dogs along the paseo marítima to the amazing food stall in Plaza Candelaria with its Desperate Dan– sized montaditos and its rotating barbecue on which half suckling pigs sizzled.

Everyone who wasn’t eating, and most of those who were, were drinking, and the ground was littered with carrier bags bulging with bags of ice, bottles of Jack Daniels, Smirnoff, Arehucas, cans of Red Bull and bottles of coke from which groups were serving themselves generous refills in between salsas. Beer stalls lined every street, their counters propped up by escapees from a drug-induced nightmare, and a giant plastic lime with its top half sliced and opened served as a bar for a mojito mixing barman dressed as a bee.

We made our way first to Plaza Principe where a very traditional band was just warming up a crowd who were enjoying their salsa under the stars. Next it was on to the small stage below the Plaza where a rock band were belting out Spanish and US classic rock anthems to a select gathering. As the clock ticked towards Ministry of Sound time we headed to the main stage at Plaza Candelaria where thousands of fancy dress clad revellers were getting into their stride to the Maquinería boy band who were belting out a lively stream of carnival favourites accompanied by some very nifty dance moves.

By now, the Carnaval spirit had us by the throat and there was only one place that we needed to be. As the lasers scanned the night sky, and over a steady dance beat, a deep voice intoned a monologue that told us of a night when it was written that a new generation would come and dance until the ground shook.
As the volume pumped up and the Ministry of Sound roadshow took to the stage, the prophecy came true.

Unfortunately, my flip camera also shook and the microphone gave up the ghost on the volume. So with suitable apologies to Ministry of Sound for failing to capture the full force of your music, here’s a taster of Santa Cruz Carnaval 2011 . the food, the music and the people.

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Anyone visiting Tenerife over the next month is quite likely to find themselves witnessing events that are a little out of the ordinary as Carnaval 2011 hits the island like a tropical storm in costume.

Depending on which part of the island you’re based in, you’re quite likely to witness party goers dressed as smurfs, witches, angels and Marvel comic characters either fresh faced and bright eyed on their way to the street party, sleeping precariously on a harbour wall or still propping up a bar mid-morning with eyes as red as the sunrise.

You’ll also probably stumble over exhibitions, vintage car rallies, dancing competitions and even, as in the case of the unsuspecting holidaymakers in Puerto de la Cruz a few days ago, a mini carnival parade.

As visitors and locals strolled the cobbled streets of the town centre on an average Sunday morning, the peace was shattered by the persistent sounding on a tinny horn which heralded the arrival of the candidates for the town’s Carnaval Queen 2011 elections in vintage cars accompanied by a mini parade of dancers and musicians.

You don’t have to attend the main events to know that party time has arrived; unlike the mountain to Mohammed, Carnaval will come to you 🙂

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It was no surprise during yesterday’s weekly shopping trip to see the rows and rows of Carnaval costumes on sale. Every year Al Campo has a huge display of fancy dress costumes and essential carnival paraphernalia such as hats, wigs, theatrical make-up, plastic guns and swords and naturally, the obligatory false breasts.

Jack and I always think that we should really get something now while there’s still a decent choice but of course, we never do. We wait a couple more weeks until Carnaval is upon us and then we spend a desultory 20 minutes perusing the cheap and nasty hippie and naughty nun outfits which are the only ones left before reverting once more to old Halloween props and active imaginations. I digress.

But yesterday, Al Campo having extended its sales floor space by about a third before Christmas and now revelling in additional displays, we encountered a new Carnaval section – the essential party ingredients – laid out in the order in which they would be consumed.
Front of stage, naturally, was the alcohol.
Shelves stacked with six packs of countless brands of beer with the central block dedicated to the pride of Tenerife – Dorada – and including its snazzy carnival design cans in six, 12 and 24 packs. Flanking right came the spirits, Jack Daniels, Guajiro rum and Smirnoff taking the leading roles with a star studded cast of hundreds of other brands in supporting roles. Then came was the sea of Coca Cola, Pepsi, 7-Up and enough Red Bull to fill every heart attack ward on the island.


Next in the order of consumption came the obligatory munchies fodder – row upon row of crisps, Quavers, roasted peanuts, Pringles, snack foods, choccie biscuits and sweeties.

And filling the rear of the aisle was a huge display dedicated to the final lap in the Carnaval circle – breakfast. In true Spanish style the displays consisted predominantly of cakes of every description; lemon sponges, almond sponges, fruit cakes, madeleines, churros and doughnuts. In a vain attempt to balance the nutritional scales were pre-packed fruit trays containing an apple, a pear, an orange, a kiwi and a banana. Flanking the cakes were shelves stacked high with little cartons of fresh juices.

The only thing missing as far as I could see, was a display of paracetamol.

You’ve got to hand it to Al Campo – they know their market.

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Anyone who knows the Canary Islands will affirm that Carnaval (carnival) and bad weather are inextricably linked. So when the Spanish Met Office showed the island this week – Carnaval week – to be on orange alert status, no-one was really too surprised.
Thankfully Opening Night Parades (where they actually happened…) passed off without weather incident but Sunday night was a bit of a wash out here in Puerto de la Cruz and lacking a Paddington Bear outfit, I didn’t bother venturing down to the Plaza. But after a damp start, Monday turned bright and sunny and the traditional Monday night party looked good to go.
Tuesday is the Gran Coso Apoteosis (closing) Parade in the capital city of Santa Cruz and so naturally, the entire island is given a Public Holiday in order to attend (this is a very civilised island as far as workers are concerned and Public Holidays are declared at the drop of a sombrero). Consequently, the Monday night street party is usually one of the best.

We’d heard reports of bad weather starting to come in from other parts of the island during the evening; strong winds mainly with some early reports of heavy rain, but here in Puerto de la Cruz we set off to walk the 3km into town at around 11.30pm beneath clear, starry skies in a balmy 21°C, sweating considerably by the time we reached Plaza Charco.

Marge Simpson and her twin sister, out on the town without Homer...d'oh!

Despite fewer numbers than in previous years, the atmosphere was buoyant and the standard of costumes was, if anything, better than ever. Almost entirely absent were the all-in-one Dalmation costumes which have dogged us (ouch!) for many years, particularly amongst the young. There were fewer gangsters too and those that did wear the black trousers, white T shirts and braces, added some excellent facial designs to lift the effect. Pirates were still strongly in evidence but the authenticity of costumes (well, Hollywood style) was very high.
My favourites amongst the rest of the highly original, witty and professional outfits were the N’avi, who looked nothing short of sensational; two Marge Simpsons and Shrek and Fiona – all incredibly authentic looking.

Somewhere around 3am/3.30am – it’s difficult  to be exact, time has a way of skipping continuity at the Carnaval street parties and you can lose entire hours amongst the madness – we noticed that the breeze was starting to pick up. By 4am it had turned into a decent wind, gusting plastic beer cups and debris all around the harbour. The gusts grew stronger and the atmosphere took on a hurricane party feel with groups of revellers climbing onto the wall of Casa Aduana and dancing into its headlong blast.
A male Marilyn Monroe who had spent the entire evening swishing up his dress to reveal his underwear suddenly went into reverse mode as he reproduced the famous ‘Seven Year Itch’ scene to brilliant effect.

The atmosphere took on a distinct 'hurricane party' feel - madness.

At around 4.30am we left the party and headed home. As soon as we moved away from the coast the wind dropped and we were back into sultry, still, clear night that left us once again sweating by the time we reached home. Lengthy make-up removal meant that it was 5.40am before we finally got to bed and at 7am I was woken by the sound of the wind howling around the house and sending debris from the trees smashing against the patio doors.
By 7.30am all was once again still as the grave.

When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed at 10.30am, it was to clear blue skies, unbroken sunshine and barely a flutter of a breeze but reports showed that much of the rest of the island was being lashed by heavy rain and strong winds.

The orange alert remains in place for the foreseeable future; of course it does, it’ll be here as long as Carnaval is.

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Meson California - possibly the best Carnaval street food in the world

Last night was opening night of Carnaval in Puerto de la Cruz and we headed down to the town to catch the Opening Parade which was scheduled to begin around 9pm.

Walking down Calle La Hoya we passed the usual smattering of visitors who’d made some sort of effort to get into the Carnaval spirit; the occasional feather boa slung around the neck, a neon wig or flashing sunglasses. But we were still firmly in ‘civvies’ hours – the fancy dress brigade wouldn’t begin to appear for another 3 hours or more.

On Calle Quintana the first of the food smells assailed our nostrils; the sweet, sticky smell of candy floss being spun and rolled onto a wooden stick and the perfumed almonds roasting brown in their crunchy sugar coating.
Reaching Plaza Charco, the sweet smells were replaced with the unmistakeable smoky aroma of Mesón California, possibly the best street food stall in the entire world.
As much a part of carnival tradition in Puerto de la Cruz as the High Heels Drag Marathon, Mesón California is in effect a huge Guachinche set up every year in pole position between the main stage and the harbour. Kitchen, larder, shop front and restaurant all rolled into one; a dozen men in matching T shirts cook, take orders, serve and clean up in full view of diners. It’s a magnet for foodies, photographers and everyone passing by – all are drawn to its visual, audible and olfactory presence.

Surrounded by tables and chairs with dainty red and white chequered tablecloths, the all-in-one food market takes centre stage, its rafters adorned with hanging strings of salchichas (sausages), chorizos and Jamon Serrano (cured hams).  High stools sit around a counter packed beyond capacity with glass display cabinets filled with tapas and topped with sample dishes from the inexhaustible options of available things to eat. Crates of dishes lie ready to be laden with food, flanked by towers of upturned plastic glasses, condensation covered Dorada hand pumps, loaves of bread the size of small islands, whole cheeses and row upon row of wine and spirits

In the centre of the stall is a long work-station piled high with ready-prepared food; four different types of sausages, morcilla (sweet black pudding), pinchos (kebabs of savoury pork), chips, papas pobres (poor man’s potatoes – a savoury potato, onion and pepper stew topped with fried eggs), fried green peppers, tortillas (Spanish omelettes), calamari Romano (crispy fried squid rings), croquetas (breadcrumb-coated rolls of potato with cheese or cod), chocos (cuttlefish), pork chops, chorizos and sardines.
Along one side of the work-station a small army of cooks prepare dishes for orders taken and shouted from the other side of the bench by two servers who patrol the counter like linesmen at a football match.
Two waiters move between stall and tables shouting and collecting orders from the tables.
It’s a whole carnival in its own right.

The 'tapa catalan' - just a light bite!

We grab two high stools at the counter and immediately the order-taker arrives. We order a couple of beers while my decision-making skills phone for a therapist. The beers arrive, Jack places his order and my brain is still a riot of indecision fuelled by succulent aromas and frenzied by the bewildering choice. I want to order everything. After what seems like a couple of days, I make a decision and the order is snatched from my lips and thrown across the stall.

Within minutes the food arrives. Mine is a huge chunk of bread the size of a doorstop, toasted and spread with savoury garlic and tomato paste (a tapa catalana) and topped with sausages and morcilla. Jack’s is a catalana topped with three fat, sizzling chorizos. A large, fried green pepper sits alongside each catalana, showered in chips. The side order of chips arrives and we think “D’oh!”
I’m pretty sure we make that mistake every year…

As we eat, the Latino band strikes up, vibrating the Plaza with its volume and sending shock waves up through the legs of the stool and into our throats. It’s that carnaval moment when the atmosphere suddenly hits you, a broad grin fixes itself onto your face and the adrenalin starts to pump.
The Opening Parade turns out to be a complete non-event but it doesn’t matter. In a few hours the opening party will get into swing, thousands of people in fancy dress will descend onto the beer kiosks and food stalls like locusts on ecstasy and a week of hedonistic overindulgence will begin.

For tonight our bellies are sated, ready for the party, but we’ll be back to Mesón California; Carnaval street food is just too good to resist.

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