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Santa Blues 2011

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of this weekend’s Santa Blues festival in Santa Cruz which, for me, is the highlight of a summer packed with music.

It’s not just the artists who make this festival so special, although I have seen some truly memorable performances at this gig – Robert Cray in 2008, The Deans in 2009 and Kenny Neal in 2010 – it’s the venue too. Standing beneath the flowering branches of the flamboyance trees at the foot of the clock tower of Iglesia de Concepción has to rank as one of the most atmospheric venues in the Blues calendar. Throw a sultry night into the mix and you’ve got the perfect Louisiana setting for artists to exploit.

Well, with midsummer’s Eve almost upon us and calima in full flow keeping the Tenerife thermostat stuck on ‘hot’, the stage is set for another great year of live Blues. The festival opens on Thursday 23rd with local boys Lightnin’ Blues kicking off proceedings and bringing a welcome local flavour to the event. They’ll be followed by the Andy J. Forest Band all the way from New Orleans.

The organizer’s haven’t done this charismatic little festival any favours by holding the opening night on Noche de San Juan when much of the local population will be decamping to their nearest sand for the biggest beach party of the year, so opening night is going to need all the help it can muster to ensure the continuation of this very special annual festival.

On Friday night Emerging Sound take to the stage followed by Red House Blues and Saturday rounds off with the Spanish Three Bones and Mississippi’s Zac Harmen.
Be there – or miss one of the best music events of the year. Your call.

Cast your mind back to the days when you sat with a pile of blank postcards in front of you and a head filled with sea breezes, the whiff of Ambre Solaire and diddly squat in terms of what to write, and you’ll have just the vaguest inkling of what it’s like to be a travel writer.

It’s funny how so many people who don’t write seem to think that writing is the easiest job in the world, and if you throw travelling into the equation you’re just taking the piss if you even use the words work and travel writing in the same sentence.

There can be no doubt that writing comes more easily to some people than to others, in the same way that drawing, or carpentry or accounts are second nature to some and a miracle of human achievement to others. But I wouldn’t expect an artist or a carpenter or an accountant to churn out the same drawing, cabinet or spreadsheet time after time, and neither should a travel writer. Travel writing has to be as fit for purpose as anything else we seek to create and whenever I put fingers to keyboard, I have to think very carefully about who it is I’m writing for.

There is absolutely no point in a travel writer or blogger writing a feature about staying in five star hotels and eating at the best restaurants in the destination if their audience is primarily backpackers and gap year students travelling the globe. Equally, to expound the virtues of trekking to off the beaten track locations and staying with a local family in their one room stilt house is going to be as appealing as a dose of the noro virus to professionals who have limited holidays and unlimited budgets.

If I am going to write about a trip for a tour company that markets itself to low cost, mass tourism destinations, they won’t be too happy if I wax lyrically for 300 words about the wines, the culture and the gastronomy of a region when their market really wants to know about the theme parks, the beaches and the best place to get a proper English breakfast.

But here’s an interesting thought. If I produce a feature for a mass market that uses simple language and short sentences, is it written to a lower standard than one that uses complex imagery and dictionary required adjectives? Surely, if my writing is fit for purpose, then it’s good writing isn’t it? And if I fail to meet the specific needs of my commissioning editor because I like to write a certain way regardless of who the audience is, doesn’t that make me a bad writer  – or just an unsuccessful one?

Whatever else a travel writer or blogger may or may not be, unless they’re at the top of their profession one thing’s for sure, they won’t be getting paid vast sums of money for the articles they write. As a professional travel writer, there’s only one way to make a living and that’s to keep outputs as high as possible by producing work for as many different commissioning editors as you can muster. And that means being able to adapt your style and content to suit each customer you’re writing for.
Isn’t that what a good travel writer is?

Opinions on a postcard please – or you could just use the comments space.

Early in May 2011 I was lucky enough to be a part of what must surely be one of the best blog trips ever, the Costa Brava blog trip.

For those who are not familiar with the term, a blog trip is like a press trip but for travel bloggers. A tourism destination invites a group of the most influential travel bloggers to visit their region, discover the beauty of their landscape, sample their hospitality, their gastronomy and their activities. For their part, the bloggers promote the destination on their blogs before, during and after the trip and use social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to broadcast their experiences in real time.

During the seven day trip to Costa Brava, 16 international bloggers were wowed and wooed with experiences that ranged from lunch prepared by fishermen in a hut with no running water to a twenty course lunch at the second best restaurant in the world. They hiked to volcanoes in the rural interior and jumped from aircraft over the stunning coastline and they stayed in idyllic coves, seaside resorts and in Girona; in five star, family run and city centre hotels.

Most importantly of all, the bloggers met fascinating people from across the region who brought Costa Brava alive for them. They met famous chefs and painters, fishermen, sailors and vineyard owners. Everywhere they went they were welcomed with open arms, photographed, filmed and interviewed for TV and press and for their entire trip they were given access to WiFi to ensure that they could effectively do the job they had been brought to Costa Brava to do.

Costa Brava didn’t need a blog trip to raise awareness of a region of Spain that hitherto lay hidden from the tourist trail. Quite the contrary. Resorts like Lloret de Mar, Tossa de Mar and Roses have long been on the holiday destination map. But Costa Brava wants to  promote itself as much more than just a seaside resort and has used the blog trip to position itself as a destination for activities, gastronomy, diversity, culture and scenic beauty.

Now, cut to Tenerife
A popular holiday destination that desperately wants to reposition itself on the travel radar. A destination known only for the sun, sea and sand of its south and west coast resorts while the epic scenery of its mountains, its stunning volcanic interior and its cultural heritage go largely unseen.

The opportunities for activity holidays on Tenerife are endless, with everything from walking to paragliding to highlight. We may not have the world’s best chefs or restaurants but there is first class gastronomy to be enjoyed on the island and there’s a heritage of fine wine production that dates back to Shakepeare. There are five star hotels and rural idylls; festivals and fireworks; mountains, valleys and palm grove coastlines all waiting to be discovered and showcased to the world.

So why do I think a blog trip is unlikely ever to happen on Tenerife? Because any such publicity opportunity would be taken over by the politicians rather than focussing on local people interacting with the bloggers. Because in order to pull this off successfully you would have to have local and island-wide government working in seamless unity, something I have yet to witness on Tenerife. Because in Costa Brava local businesses, hoteliers, restaurateurs and tour operators opened their eyes to the power of social media; on Tenerife most of those people are oblivious to its existence and blind to its power. Because you can’t achieve millions of tweets and retweets and broadcast in real time to the world on an island where high speed WiFi is still a luxury and not a given. Because you can never move forward when you’re stuck in the past.

Wake up Tenerife, the world is passing you by.

It amazes me why, despite having an absolutely perfect year-round climate, the vast majority of Northern Europeans only vacation on Tenerife during the winter months and it’s ironic that, when the summer arrives and Brits flock instead to Spain and the Balearics – the Spanish head to Tenerife in their droves to escape the heat of the mainland!

It’s a sad fact that flights to Tenerife from the UK are not as cheap in the summer as they are in the winter and it poses the question: are flights more expensive because demand is low, or is demand low because flights are more expensive? Either way, it would appear to buck the trend in market forces which traditionally see prices dropping in line with falling demand, not rising.

There are a few things about summer in Tenerife that are worth mentioning, particularly for those who have a penchant for putting.
Firstly, the temperatures during the summer months average an 18 holes ideal of 25° to 27° C (75° to 80° F) with virtually no rainfall. Even in heat waves, the mercury rarely climbs beyond 35° degrees and is short lived. Contrast that with the likes of Majorca and the Algarve in Portugal where the summer averages are above 30°C and regularly send the thermometer into 40° C plus sweaty, slicing mode.

The second thing to note is that Tenerife has one of the highest concentrations of four and five star hotels in Europe and if you’ve ever enjoyed the exclusivity and luxury of somewhere like the Hotel Las Madrigueras, you’ll already know how tailored their services are towards the needs of golfers. But what you may not know is that unlike hotels in mainland Spain and the Balearics for whom summer represents high season, Tenerife’s hotels drop their prices in line with reduced demand which means that you can get considerably more for your money in summer than you can in winter. Fabulously stylish hotels such as the Hotel Jardín Tropical even include  green fees in their room rates during summer.

But the real birdie in the benefits of summer golfing on Tenerife are the island’s summer green fees which are cropped as closely as the grass, which means you can tee off on some of Spain’s finest golf courses, like Golf Las Américas, Golf Costa Adeje and the Abama, at prices that will put an ace on every golfer’s scorecard.

Around 5pm on Sunday afternoon I decided to break free from the keyboard, take advantage of the warm sunshine and head out from home for a walk.

My circuit took me through the banana plantations, along the headland, across a ravine and back along a quiet, palm tree lined road until I reached the junction with the main road. Reluctant to end my idyllic rural walk with a hundred metres of busy tarmac, I opted instead to divert through the tiny hamlet of Los Rechazos which lies hidden behind the main road.

Presumably before they built the ‘new’ road, this would have been the main thoroughfare. Barely wide enough for a single vehicle to drive down, tiny cottages with Hobbit-height front doors donate most of what little pavement lies outside to window boxes and planters filled with tumbling geranuims.

Rounding a bend in the lane, I spotted a gathering ahead. Four small, dilapidated tables teetered single file on the pavement with a chair either end, on which eight elderly people were sitting, marking off numbers on bingo cards. Some were using paper cut-outs to cover the numbers, others were using assorted old buttons, and the ‘cards’ were dirty old paper ones which looked as if they’d been handmade many years ago. On the other side of the street, about two yards away, two women were sitting. One held a cloth bag which she shook continuously while the other reached in, pulled out what looked like a child’s building brick, and shouted the number across the street.

I walked quietly past the intently concentrating faces and smiled to myself. So this is what passes for nightlife in Los Rechazos? Street bingo – I can see it catching on.

Sometimes, the depth of my own stupidity confounds and amazes me and it’s little compensation that on this occasion, Jack is equally guilty of being thick … or is it just astoundingly naïve?

Those who know me will be aware that I have long yearned for the pruning of the thirty foot avocado tree that dominates our garden shedding seeds that reach ankle depth every spring and creating a state of perpetual autumn and shade.

At the end of November 2010, a storm brought down a branch onto the roof of the house. The damage was negligible, just some broken roof tiles, but the warning was enough to convince me that it was time to take the threat of the tree seriously. So when, just before Christmas, a couple of guys who were cutting back trees on the golf course asked us if we would like them to tackle the avocado tree, we naturally jumped at the chance. I explained that we have a hungry wood burning stove and a rapidly diminishing wood supply and the guys said they would cut the wood into logs for me as part of the job.

From this....

Fast forward to two weeks ago when the presupuesto (estimate) for doing the job finally arrived. We felt it was a very fair price for the work involved and agreed that work could begin last Monday morning. Jack and I cleared all the breakables from the garden on Sunday, set the alarm clock for pre-light and waited for our team of arboriculturalists to arrive. Monday was a no-show, as was Tuesday and we feared that the endemic Tenerife work ethic of ‘I can’t be arsed’ had reared it’s ugly head to scupper us.

But on Wednesday, at the crack of 9am, our two valiant wood cutters arrived, armed to the teeth with ladders and chainsaws and began to peruse the job in hand. By 1.30pm, not a single branch had been cut and two more workers had arrived to join the discussions. By the time the chainsaw gang clocked off at around 6pm, we could already discern sunlight where there had been none before and a small pile of cuttings had begun to appear at the bottom of the garden where we’d cleared space for them.

The next morning the gang of what was now five workers arrived bright and early and the chainsaws began in earnest. Jack and I fought back the urge to stand and gawp as branches began to rain down just feet from the house. Instead we got on with our work. We were due to go south that afternoon to stay the night at the Hotel Jardín Tropical and complete a review for Tenerife Magazine.  At the point we left, a good fifty percent of the tree had been cut, the garden was completely buried in cut branches and there were two piles of logs on the go, one at the back of the garden and another at the side.

We returned the following afternoon to find that the tree had been cut to the agreed height. Sunlight flooded the garden and the branches and debris had largely been removed leaving a whole mess of sawdust and leaves across the garden. Now returned to our original workforce of two, they laughed and chatted about the fact that we could now put a swimming pool on the lawn and a barbecue on the raised patio and that the house would now be considerably warmer in winter.

On the lawn – and this is the part where our inexplicable stupidity comes to the fore – were the same two piles of logs that had been there when we left.

The drastically pruned tree

 

We were tired and had just a two hour turnaround in which to catch up with some work before we were due to go back out to meet friends in Puerto. We could hear the clean up operation in full swing and stayed out of the way, until I noticed wheelbarrows full of logs being pushed down the garden path. On enquiring where they were going we got a long and desperate explanation about the job being bigger and more dangerous than at first anticipated and that extra workers had had to be drafted in, with promises of payment in wood being made.

We could see what an amazing job they’d done and that they had in fact used five people to do it so we agreed that they could take the pile of logs at the side as long as they gave us some more of them first. Amidst much huffing and puffing, they agreed and reluctantly sent some logs flying onto our pile at the back of the garden. Finally, the job was done and we were due to leave so we paid them in cash, along with a little bonus and a dozen bottles of beer for a job well done.

It wasn’t until we spoke to our neighbour on our way out and she told us that a lorry stacked high with logs had left from our garden the night before, that we realised what had happened.
Arriving back after dark on Friday, we had to wait for daylight before we could examine the garden properly. When we did, we found that our pile consisted mainly of cuts of wood that would struggle to keep a barbecue alive over a summer, hidden beneath a few slightly bigger, kindling sized branch cuts, and the dozen or so decent sized logs that we had insisted they put back. The whole of the rest of the 100 year old, thirty foot avocado tree had vanished without trace leaving us with a garden full of sun, and no wood.

Our wood pile - less than 10% of the tree's yield

 

It’s hard to know which emotion takes centre stage – anger, resentment, stupidity, naivety or just plain astonishment that we could let someone steal a giant avocado tree from the garden and we gave them a bonus and beer as they’d made such a clean job of it.

Before I left the UK to live in Tenerife, I was an avid watcher of programmes like A Place in the Sun, Through the Keyhole and Location, Location, Location.
Okay, I admit it, I’m nosey and seeing around other people’s homes is something I never tire of. But it seems I’m not alone, as all of these programmes attracted millions of equally nosey viewers many of whom, like me, were inspired enough to make the move themselves.

When it comes to buying a new home, particularly if you’re looking to move somewhere abroad, having as much visual information about the property and the area as possible is essential. Photographs are naturally a major tool in any Estate Agent’s kit but having a video of a property goes that step further, allowing you to get a better idea of the size, shape and layout of a property and to see exactly where your new home is located.

Well now you can browse your dream home in the sun from the comfort of your keyboard as Tenerife Magazine has launched their new ‘Through the Keyhole’ feature in which  Sarah Negrin not only provides a whole portfolio of photographs and detailed descriptions, but also takes us on a video tour of properties for sale.

The series kicks off this month with a beautiful house in the very popular residential area of Chayofa which lies in the hills above Los Cristianos and ticks those location, location, location boxes beautifully. Currently on the market with local estate agents Crossley, Morfitt and Lennox, this is one of those perfect properties where all you have to do is move in and make it your very own place in the sun.