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I feel like I’ve been watching back to back movies in some dingy cinema for weeks and have finally emerged, blinking into the sunlight.
I’m not complaining (okay, that’s clearly a lie) but I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to meet my Simonseeks deadlines for their Tenerife pages that I’ve neglected everything else, including this blog, Twitter, Facebook, hiking, cooking and most importantly of all – R and R.

So when Jack’s sister and her boyfriend arrived on Tenerife for a two week holiday which coincided with hitting the second of three arduous deadlines, it was time to cut loose and take a break.

We’ve been hearing great things about a band called Traveller who regularly play Friday nights at the Tajinaste restaurant outside Los Gigantes so I figured I’d kill three birds with one stone – see Traveller, eat at the Tajinaste restaurant which I could then review for Simonseeks and have a good night out with Rhonda and Graeme.

But with typical bad timing, the day before we were due to see them, I got a mailshot from  Traveller to say that the new management of Tajinaste were closing for refurbishment…no band to watch, no restaurant to review and a disappointment for our night out in the west.
Except that it wasn’t really. Sure it would have been great to see a good live band but not seeing one didn’t spoil our night.
We headed into the resort to eat at Domingos and then to the Pilgrim for a few drinks. Domingos was pretty much full but it’s fair to say that the rest of the resort was very quiet. It was a great night and we enjoyed ourselves but to be honest, there was really not very much there in the way of bars and if I was on holiday in the resort, I guess I’d be heading elsewhere for my Friday night out.

Playa de la Arena

Most bar owners blame the lack of after-dark customers in Playa de la Arena on the proliferation of all-inclusive hotels in the resort but a few nights later Rhonda and Graeme were in Route 66 in Puerto Santiago where, with the usual full house, they watched the excellent Old Dogs New Tricks. One of the things that they noticed was the number of people in the audience wearing tell tale all-inclusive wrist bands.
It seems that if you give them a good enough reason, people will give up their free beer and bring you their custom. If you don’t, they won’t.

Fast forward to last Saturday night when Rhonda and Graeme came over to Puerto de la Cruz for a change of scene.
After spending the afternoon testing tapas we headed back into town around 8.30 pm and arrived in a packed Plaza Charco where every seat around the red hot braziers was taken. We had to sit on the harbour wall to eat our roasted chestnuts hors-d’oevre and drink our vino del país aperitif.  There was no entertainment, no live band or cabaret – just the old fishing town, the chestnuts, the wine and that old Puerto charm.

Blanco Bar

After eating we headed into Blanco Bar where some tables in the courtyards were still vacant and we tried a new instant favourite cocktail – Bailey’s Colada – courtesy of the bar staff, before relocating to the downstairs bar to see a local band. We watched and listened for a while before moving on to Limbo where we arrived at the upstairs bar to find that even standing room was limited. It was packed to beyond capacity.
A couple of rounds of beer and much gawping (mainly from me) at the group of young seven footer basketball players who were standing at the bar like Aragorns amongst the hobbits of the Shire, it was on to the next venue.

Courtyard entrance to Limbo

No Saturday night out in Puerto is complete without a visit to Azucar, the town’s liveliest Cuban bar and despite its temporary relocation to the ground floor while the former gentleman’s club upstairs is refurbished, it was good to see the place still packed to the rafters with people of all ages and a range of nationalities.

Suan Chill

After the madness and salsa of Azucar it was time to chill out so around 2 am, just as the town was beginning to reach its Saturday night zenith, we headed for Suan Chill where  we settled in amongst the sequined cushions and relaxed until fatigue got the better of us at around 3.20am and we headed for a taxi home.

The contrast between our two nights out couldn’t have been more marked, as indeed is the contrast between the two areas.
Happily, despite the move to all-inclusive by many of its hotels, Puerto has a thriving local population who don’t rely on bars laying on good entertainment to get them out into the town at night.  I really like Playa de la Arena and think it’s a lovely family resort but if you want night life, it’s not going to deliver the goods, or at least, not until the bar owners stop bitching about all-inclusive and start giving holidaymakers something other than sports coverage and Karaoke to leave their hotels for.

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It has been a really nice week for catching up with friends from the UK.

At the beginning of the week we went to see Chris and Alan from tenerife.co.uk who are holidaying with their families in Playa Paraíso. For 24 luxurious hours we enjoyed the excellent hospitality of the Roca Nivaria Hotel and managed to combine fun and relaxation with work. I feel certain that were I to be permanently ensconced in such a peel-me-a-grape environment that I could produce some of my best work…

Then yesterday we went into Santa Cruz to meet up with Sarah and Denise who are currently enjoying a free week’s holiday in Golf Del Sur which Denise won in a competition in the UK. Not, I hasten to add, one of Tenerife Magazine’s incredible free holiday prizes; this one had nothing to do with us.

Meeting up a little after 1pm it was the perfect opportunity to combine showing Sarah and Denise around the city with enjoying lunch. How fortuitous then that their visit just happened to coincide with the Ruta del Chicharro tapas route; a stroll around the city taking in tasty tapas served with cold Dorada beers in some of the city’s oldest and newest eateries. Throw into the mix an ambient temperature of around 25°C and the resident Santa Cruz sunshine and you’ve got what amounts to a perfect Friday in the city.

First stop was the Noria District and the Museo bar/restaurant under the arches. A table on their sunny terrace; four tapas of sweet potato and cod in mojo sauce served with garlic bread and kept company by four Doradas, and the endless chat and catch-up could begin. Time slipped by as it always does when we meet Sarah and next thing we knew, four different tapas winged their way to the table – montaditos (small toasted breads) with garlic sausage and cheese. We explained that two of our number didn’t eat meat and in two glints of the waiter’s smile montaditos with seafood arrived in addition to the sausage ones.

The bill came to a princely €10 and we moved along a few hundred metres to the terrace of El Marques de la Noria to receive the most artistically beautiful and tastiest of the day’s tapas.
A single wooden skewer lay across the plate which held a crispy chunk of sweet roasted potato with an apple puree and caviar coating; and a deep fried, battered prawn with jamón Iberico (the girls gave us their jamón – the benefits of lunching with non meat eaters). The skewer was sealed with a cherry tomato and drizzled with a raspberry and a rich soya sauce.
Looking too good to eat and tasting even better, we again drained our Doradas, left the €10 settlement and moved on to our next venue.

Strolling back along Antonio Dominguez Alfonso, cutting through Plaza Principe past the Belles Artes Museum and onto Imeldo Seris, our guests were enthralled by the architecture, the flora and the beauty of this city about which so little makes it onto the tourist radar.
This is Denise’s first visit to Tenerife and she was thrilled to be out of the Karaoke bars and burger and chips offerings of Golf Del Sur and experiencing some of the ‘real Tenerife’.

As usual, Jack and I were in full tour guide mode and the compulsory potted history of the island was being delivered as we arrived at one of the capital’s iconic traditional restaurants; La Hierbita.

A hotch potch of tiny rooms on varying levels with original wooden floors and ceilings, we made our way through the ground floor to the back room bar, then out into the back alley and along a couple of doors to the second part of the restaurant. We climbed the narrow stairs and took the table in the window from which, the waiter helpfully pointed out, you could throw crumbs onto passing pedestrians. We resisted the crumb throwing impulse and settled instead to perusing the cornucopia of antiques that fill this personality-rich restaurant.
This time our tapas consisted of a small dish of cherne (grouper) fish in onion and potato sauce and was served with bread and mojo sauces.

Appetites sated and time slipping dangerously close to Sarah and Denise’s bus departure, we made our way back past the lake of Plaza España where we stopped for the customary photo shoot at the statue to the fallen, and made it back to the bus station in time for a choc ice postre and fond farewells.

Santa Cruz – discover it before everyone else does!

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Picking wild freesias for the house this morning reminded me that it’s just a week since I was doing the same thing for Jo’s birthday party in Los Aceviños on La Gomera – which is where the freesia’s came from several years ago.
Like today, it was a beautiful spring morning and the sun was blazing down on the terrace as preparations got underway for the party.

Deliberating over summer pudding prep' the night before the party - notice the use of red wine to help with decision making

We’d already made the summer puddings the night before and they were sitting in the fridge with weights pressing down on them, ready to be turned out. We’d de-frosted the fish and prawns for the Caribbean curry; and the home made lemon ice cream was in the freezer for first freeze stage. We’d filled large platters with slivers of jamon Serrano and slices of smoked salmon and cream cheese roulade; we’d taken the brie out of the fridge to warm and we’d whipped up a big bowl of hummus. The neighbours were bringing homemade breads, goat’s cheese and salads.
Now it was time to get the garden and terrace ready.

A casual approach to party seating - notice the early 'guest' trying out the cushion.

Jo wanted the party to mainly congregate around her ‘new’ garden; the widest part of the terrace. So we carried the table and chairs out from the kitchen and placed them on the terrace, scattering cushions onto the flat stones and a small rug onto the ledge of the mountain for extra seating.
Then we cleared and swept the main terrace and Jo sprinkled glitter that she’d bought from the Chinese supermarket.
In what used to be the old ‘shed’, Jo had cleared the floor space and placed a fat log beneath the arbour where the jasmine and vine were just establishing themselves around the new fairy lights.

With everything ready, we cracked a beer and sat in the new garden, liberally applying factor 30 to our already-pink arms and faces and breathing in the amazing view over the valley.
At 4pm the first of the guests arrived and the cava corks began to pop. As we chatted, we felt a drop of rain and looked up to see bruma (low cloud) beginning to wisp its way across the valley. Ignoring the spits of rain in the firm belief that, if we didn’t acknowledge them they didn’t exist, we carried on chatting until we could no longer ignore the fact that it was in fact raining.

As more guests arrived, we grabbed the table and chairs and made a hasty retreat to the terrace just in time for the heavens to open. The valley entirely disappeared from view in dense bruma and the temperature slowly fell, sending factor 30-coated arms into fleeces.

There was nothing else for it; it was time to break out Steve’s home brewed cider – central heating for adults.
More guests arrived, laden with food goodies and the cava and wine flowed freely alongside the cider. As darkness fell and the smallest members of the party were whisked away to bed, the terrace fairy lights were switched on, Jack and I whipped up the Caribbean curry with rice; and the summer puddings were turned out and served with big dollops of lemon ice cream and whipped cream.

The summer pudding turned out pretty well.

By 11.30pm the clouds had cleared to be replaced by the twinkling lights of the valley and, suitable fuelled by Steve’s cider, the guests began to wend their way into the forest and the darkness, leaving just five of us to try our best to defeat the cider and polish off the summer pudding and ice cream.

No DJ spinning sounds of the seventies that we all thought were crap at the time; no streamers with big, glittery ‘50 Today’ signs on them and most of all; no anonymous room in a pub with egg butties and shop bought quiche. Just the mountains, the rain forest, friends and neighbours and good, home cooked food.

Happy Birthday, Jo!

If you’ve never been to La Gomera, take a look at this but take my advice – watch it with the volume off, voice-over man is just awful!

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It was a tough decision to make and an even tougher one to enforce, but the sad fact was, after five years living in Tenerife we simply could not make ends meet and it didn’t take a genius to figure out why.

Fun at Carnaval with The Largies

We’d had a ball. We’d been blessed with visits from more friends and family than we could ever have imagined when we packed our cases and left the UK. And we’d had real quality time with them, not just a night out or dinner or even a camping weekend, but entire weeks, often a fortnight and sometimes even three weeks at a time. Long days on the beach, picnics in the forest, Carnaval nights, cavorting in the crater – we’d introduced so many people to the delights of the Real Tenerife and naturally, they were hooked and wanted more.
But each time they left, we had to work like demented beings to catch up with our work and we could never get ahead of ourselves.

With nephew, Liam at the Fiesta del Carmen

As we faced Christmas 2008 with just €49 in the bank, money owed from features written which was now almost certainly never going to materialise and savings that were dwindling faster then the snow on the Cumbre, Jack calculated that, out of five years, we’d had 16 months of visitors. That was 16 months of earning less and spending more.
We had to face reality.
If we didn’t knuckle down to building this business, within five months we were going to have to sell up and move on.

When you’re faced with that kind of a scenario, it becomes easier to make the tough decisions.
We declared 2009 ‘The Year of No Visitors’.
Giving out the news was difficult. It felt like we were telling people we didn’t want to know them anymore and we very nearly crumbled and gave in, knowing what the consequences would be. But then we checked ourselves and realised how stupid it would be to lose all of this just because we didn’t want to hurt or offend anyone. How very British of us!

Hiking in Teide National Park with Sarah

So we held fast and apart from the occasional one-night stay by Jo en route to or from her home on La Gomera, we’ve been a visitor-free zone for 12 months.

And has it made a difference? Well, for one thing, we’re still here.
For another, we’re now earning more money than we ever have since we moved to Tenerife and for the first time, this month our bank balance has actually gone up instead of down. That statistic alone is enough to send me into whoop whoops of joy and I’m tempted to pop the cork on a cava!
We’ve got more work than we can comfortably handle, which is great because we both work best when stretched to well beyond comfort levels and for the bonus ball, we’ve started to get a bit of a social life too.
This year we’ve actually made new friends on Tenerife.

The only trouble is, although The Year of No Visitors is over, we can’t go back to where we were before. We’re working flat out to finally get ourselves established here and we’re not willing to put that at risk. Besides, in six years of living here, we’ve never actually had a holiday; we’ve just shared other people’s.
So we’ve declared 2010 The Year of Our Holiday. Of course, I haven’t broken the news to friends and family yet…

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I can understand how the Canarios have become so entrenched in their Sunday routines; they’re very addictive.

We’ve been working 24/7 for several weeks now, which is brilliant in terms of having lots of work, but ultimately exhausting. When I learned that our neighbour, Nicole, was going back to her homeland in France for the whole of Christmas and New Year, I thought it only neighbourly to have lunch with her before she goes. So last Sunday we arranged to meet her at Los Faroles restaurant behind Playa Jardín in Puerto de la Cruz

Nicole’s a bubbly 58 year old (she won’t thank me for telling you that) of the Brigitte Bardot school who was obviously a stunner in her youth and is still very attractive now. She has long auburn hair and tattoed lip liner and she’s extremely petite so wears high heels that she totters around on. Nicole is always tired (she works incredibly long hours as a courier), is health obsessed and is constantly fending off suitors for whom she feels no passion and therefore cannot possible consent to have sex with them, much to their chagrin.
In short, she’s great entertainment value.

Nicole - she's very French.

Managing always to be at least a half hour late so that she can make an entrance (I think it’s a French thing), Nicole finally arrived at Los Faroles wearing a crimson velvet tracksuit and orange, yellow and red platform sandals. The waiter (an old friend and ever-hopeful suitor) announced that Miss World had arrived which Nicole acknowledged with a twirl and a giggle. I glanced over my shoulder, half expecting the paparazzi to be lined up with their cameras.
We ordered our food – Nicole chose hake, plain grilled, with papas arrugadas and mojo and a tomato salad with oregano. Jack ordered the rabbit stew and I went for hake stuffed with salmon.
A bottle of crianza arrived at the table, compliments of the waiter, and we settled back to listen to the latest instalments of Nicole’s nearly-love life.

The sun shone, Nicole was on sparkling form, the food was absolutely delicious, the wine was dangerously quaffable and the time flew. When Jack commented that his conejo en salmorejo was the best on Tenerife, the waiter corrected him and said it was the best in the Canaries – no-one disagreed.

It was the kind of Sunday that Tinerfeños  enjoy every weekend and I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re not daft. I sit at this screen every weekend social networking and marketing like my life depended on it and sometimes I’m deafened by the empty echo that bounces back at me as everyone else is having a weekend.

My New Year’s resolution is to have more Sundays, Tenerife style, and I’m getting some practice in now.

Today we planned a hike through the Güímar malpaís with Richard, followed by a fish lunch at Puertito.
The hike was excellent but unfortunately, ‘pressing’ business took Richard away so we shelved lunch for another day. Next Sunday perhaps…

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We were hiking in the Chinyero Reserve on Tuesday and when we finished

Almond blossom in the Santiago del Teide valley in late January

Almond blossom in the Santiago del Teide valley in late January

we headed to the Las Fleytas bar and restaurant for our customary post-hike beer. The restaurant has a deservedly good reputation for tasty, plentiful food and is also known for its almond cakes.
With Richard and Nikki (and of course Basil, the Tenerife Dogs spokesman) as hiking companions, I thought introducing them to ‘almendras’ would be the perfect excuse for me to finally get to try one.

We ordered our beers and I hesitantly asked if the barman had ‘almendras’ as I wasn’t sure if that was what they were called.
He shook his head and said he didn’t have any.
Disappointed but now having the ‘taste’ for something sweet in our heads, Jack was despatched inside to see what they had that would serve as an adequate substitute. He re-emerged moments later with a broad grin on his face and a plate containing four large, circular almond cakes.

He later told me that the barman had said that they never have almendras for sale and when Jack had pointed to the cakes in the glass food cabinet under the bar and asked, “So what are these?” the guy had said, “They’re almendras”, before adding, “Oh! You meant you wanted these?”
Jack’s raised eyebrow must have been a recognisable clue because he then realised what he’d said and tagged on “almendras dulces” to the order.

I have to say, looking at the large, flat, biscuits I was very disappointed. I had expected soft, moist sponge with an almond essence and I dunno, maybe even the slightest hint of vanilla icing on top, or desiccated coconut maybe.
As it was, Basil got an unexpected few lumps of biscuit.

For biscuit lovers, it was probably perfectly nice. But for a cake lover, it was definitely a disappointment and a complete misnomer if you ask me.

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One of the delights of living in the north of Tenerife is that, although we’re now into our fifth month of proper summer (glossing swiftly over September’s propensity to cloud over in the afternoons at the moment) and looking forward to another six weeks or so of it, we do still have seasons.

With November comes the rain, usually tremendous monsoon showers which swell the summer’s parched earth. Then the nights grow cooler signalling time to put the quilt back on the bed. By late December or early January we’re ready for the winter’s first fire, when the logs are brought in to sit by the wood burning stove, the kindling is laid and the ritual first flames fill the living room with their flickering glow.

Of course, having a wood burning stove means you have to have wood, and lots of it. Stoves are hungry and can eat their way through a wood pile in no time. Last winter was the longest and coolest we’ve experienced since moving here and left our wood supply seriously depleted. So when a couple of weeks ago our neighbour gave us 18 small pine logs, the remains of trees that had been pruned to death last year, it was very good news indeed.
The logs were gratefully received and ‘temporarily’ dumped onto the back terrace where they made a great deal of mess of sawdust, pine resin and dirt.

Our new rustic feature...

Our new rustic feature...

A couple of days later we offered to host a meeting of our friends and colleagues John (Sorted Sites), Julie (Tenerife Tattle) and Colin (Colin Kirby). The weather was extremely hot and the shady terrace was the perfect venue so something had to be done – fast.
Laying the logs diagonally in front of the kindling store at the bottom of the path was the ingenious solution. We created an instant rustic feature that hid the messy kindling pile and provided a rather elegant staircase for Whiskas to use at the same time. Purr-fect (ouch).

Whiskas new staircase

...and Whiskas' new staircase

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