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Posts Tagged ‘Carnaval’

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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I recently read a blog in which the blogger posed the question, what is it about Puerto de la Cruz that makes some people recommend it so frequently on forums such as Tripadvisor. After all, you can number the ‘what to dos’ of the resort on the fingers of one hand, particularly for teenagers, whereas the resorts of the south are jam packed with theme parks.

It got me wondering how many holidaymakers from the UK now rely on manufactured entertainment in order to enjoy themselves?

I can honestly say that in all our years of traveling, Jack and I have never once, even remotely, considered what a place had to offer in terms of things laid on for visitors before deciding to travel there. In fact, if anything that would be a factor against going.

All the fun of Siam Park without the entrance fee

Our very good friends,  the Largies’ have been coming to stay in Puerto de la Cruz ever since we moved here. To begin with they just brought their then 14 year old daughter and her friend but they had so much fun that next time the party had grown to include their 17 year old son and his friend. Now completely hooked, they all arrived again the following year when the offspring and their friends were16 yrs and 19 yrs respectively.
In fact, they all enjoyed it so much and wanted to come back so frequently that we had to put a stop to it as we were having far too much fun and not actually working for a living – a balance that can only lead to one destination – Skintville.

Crater capers

In all the times the Largies came they only left the resort twice – once to go to Mount Teide with which they were blown away, and once to go to Aqualand which they thought was an overpriced  disappointment.
I have no doubt they would have enjoyed Siam Park, on the other hand the waves at  Playa Jardín gave them just as many adrenalin-packed thrills and spills and didn’t cost anything. They may  have enjoyed a visit to Veronica’s or Starco’s but instead they danced the nights away in the streets at Carnaval and in the local clubs where they met a cosmopolitan set of new friends. Perhaps Castillo de San Miguel would have been a novelty for them but instead they played Russian roulette over plates of pimientos de padrón in Bar Louis and practised their Spanish over ordering postres and drinks.

I don’t consider that Puerto de la Cruz is the only resort on Tenerife and it certainly won’t suit the majority of visitors who seem to want their sun, sand and sea accompanied by cabaret and theme parks. But I’m not convinced that everyone needs their entertainment to be packaged, admission charged and sold as ‘get your fun here’, regardless of what age they are…are you?

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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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You may imagine that living on a tropical island I must spend a great deal of my time lying on a beach topping up an all-year tan. You’d be mistaken.

For one thing, I’m desperately trying to make a living which is proving particularly difficult in these times of ‘economic crisis’ and for another, my standards for what I consider to be a beach day have changed somewhat. In other words, I’ve become fussy.

Before I moved to Tenerife, any small break in the clouds would have me stripping off and lying prone until the cold became intolerable and I’ve spent many an hour on some beach or in the garden, wrapped in a towel waiting for the sun to reappear.
Nowadays, when the rare opportunity to spend a day on the beach presents itself, nothing less than unbroken sunshine in an azure sky and air temperatures of at least 24°C will hack it.

Our local beach,Bollullo...bliss!

Our local beach,Bollullo...bliss!

For those two reasons, as I sit here I’m as pale as milk and haven’t been to the beach since early November.

Well this week was post-Carnaval week; a period traditionally dedicated to R&R after the excesses of alcohol, the disrupted eating and sleeping patterns and the physical demands of repeatedly walking the 3 kilometres to town and back, partying until morning and spending hours on our feet parade watching. Coupled with an impending visit from our friend Jo en route from the UK to her home on La Gomera, this week presented the perfect opportunity to put in some beach time.

Unfortunately, having spent all day Tuesday cleaning the house and converting the small room from office to guest bedroom, when Jo arrived my visions of two days feeling the warmth of the sun on my face and the heat of the sand beneath my toes vanished in 18°C temperatures and cloudy skies. By way of a double whammy, the now abandoned hope of beach time was replaced by Jo’s busy schedule of ‘things we could do instead’.
Cleaning, shopping, cooking, baking, gardening (including weeding our neighbour’s garden while he played golf!) and walking, plus a few hours of essential work is not my idea of complete rest.

Admittedly watching football, Mamma Mia! and Blackpool went some way to compensating and it’s always a joy to spend time with Jo, but nevertheless, as far as I’m concerned I’m OWED beach time. So I hope the weather Gods have enjoyed their R&R since Carnaval ended because at the first sign of sun next week I’m beach bound …provided the thermometer’s moved up about six degrees of course.

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This weekend Patricia Rodríguez, a girl from Granadilla de Abona in the south of Tenerife, won the Miss Spain 2008 title.
Like Pamela, once I get past the whole ‘women seen solely as articles of ornament and objects of sexual desire’ bit, I can confess to a politically incorrect twinge of pride on behalf of Tenerife.
Patricia Rodriguez, photo from ABC.esWhat struck me most about Patricia, apart from her obvious stunning beauty, was her height; a slightly-above-average-for-anywhere-else but bordering-on-giant-for-Tenerife, 5’10”.  Exactly my height in fact, although there the similarity unfortunately ends.

Before I moved to Tenerife I had never considered myself to be abnormally large. I may have gained a few excess inches around the midriff as middle age and I become far more closely acquainted than I would like but that’s nothing that a dozen weeks of fruit, boiled rice, water and intensive exercise won’t shift.
But since moving here, I’ve developed a certain affinity with Gulliver, which is useful for the inhabitants of this real life Lilliput when it comes to getting me to reach for their favourite brand of flour/biscuits/soap powder from the upper shelves in Al Campo supermarket in La Orotava.

The Tinerfeños are not what you’d describe as tall people. Today at the supermarket, an eight year old girl had her arm across her mum’s shoulders as they strolled back to their car and from the back, if it wasn’t for the school uniform, I wouldn’t have known the difference in their ages. And that’s the norm for both sexes here.
Even in flat shoes, I’m a good head and shoulders above the rest of the population and when the high heeled boots come out I’m apt to get the sort of second glances that I just know are of the ‘Dutch or Carnaval Trannie?’ variety.

So why then are the trousers here so ridiculously long? Jack (tall for a Tinerfeño, short for a Brit and average for a Scot) can’t get trousers here for love nor money. Every purchase results in either a trip to the dry cleaners to have a yard or so lopped off, or turn-ups to the knee. I on the other hand, who in the UK could only buy trousers that either had a large hem which I could take down, or, God help me, as a last resort had to buy from the M & S ‘tall’ range, bought a pair of trousers in the sales at Zara in La Villa last week that are actually slightly too long for me.
Someone should tell the manufacturers of clothing destined for the Canary Islands that their target market is ‘below average height’. I know that these things are taken into consideration in the world of clothing manufacture because large bosoms and protruding bottoms are both accommodated in the women’s department and Jack assures me that a lack of dance floor (ie no Ballroom) is evident in the gent’s department.

So congratulations, Patricia Rodríguez for your double achievement; for winning Miss Spain 2008 and for getting an entire island to stock long trousers just so you can shop anywhere you like!

P.S. Yes, I do know where M&S is in Santa Cruz and no, I am not going to give you directions, get a life and some better trousers!

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The fluorescent red grass-skirt did its very best to save the night. I don’t quite know where it came from. I found it in the dressing-up box and I have a vague recollection of someone in our party acquiring it last year but I can’t quite remember who…or why.

It’s 10pm on Carnaval’s opening night and, exhausted from a full day of activities (mental note to self: next year do NOTHING on first day), we’ve just got back from watching the opening parade and have emptied the contents of the dressing-up box onto the bed. I’m staring at the assorted masks, hats, wigs and props and I’m feeling singularly uninspired. Large vodka with Sprite appears at my elbow and the strains of Ministry of Sound reach my eardrums but even those two party starters are failing to muster enthusiasm for the motley bundle on the bed.
Then I spot the grass skirt. “Hmm…this looks interesting.”

Waistband tied in a circle and placed on my head over my pinned up hair and beneath a top hat. Fringe (of sorts) cut and hey presto! Well, more of a “what the…” but it’s late, I’m tired and quite frankly, I can’t think of anything else. So, face is painted white, eyes and lips black; long black velvet skirt and black velvet bodice are donned, full length pink gloves are pulled up above the elbows and it’s time to fill a carrier bag with booze and head off into the night.

Fifty minutes of brisk walking keeps the night chill at bay and gets us to Plaza Charco by 1 am (ish), just as the party’s warming up. We mingle into the dancing hordes of Geishas, trannies, super heroes, Stylistics, spacemen, cowboys and girls, witches, dead rock stars, punks and aliens who fill every square metre of space in the Plaza and surrounding streets.
The competition is simply too good. No-one takes our photo and we barely elicit a second glance from the impeccably costumed throng.
That’s it, I decide, I can no longer get away with my high-on-imagination,-low-on-content approach to Carnaval. It’s time to clear out the dressing-up box and splash out on some real fancy dress costumes.
The photos confirm it; we were simply out-classed in every direction. It’s no good adopting a Canarian approach to doing Carnaval; in future, there’s simply going to have to be some planning.

So what on earth am I going to wear tomorrow night?!!!

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It’s the clothes crisis to end all clothes crises; the one where my anguished cry of “I’ve got nothing to wear!” is more founded that at any other time of the year.
It’s the clothes crisis that has me eyeing up the bedroom curtains sideways while my mind concocts some vision of me looking like Cleopatra in an episode of Romeand I have to summon reality back to the front of my brain to remind me that I’m far more likely just to look like some ‘saddo’ wearing a curtain.

Carnaval’s so early this year; it feels like I’ve barely had time to put the Christmas decorations away before it’s arrived. I’ve had visitors, still do in fact, and they’re not due to leave until Thursday afternoon; just 2½ days away from the opening night. I’ve had loads of work to do; once Carnaval starts, it’ll be impossible to arrange visits or interviews and deadlines still have to be met.
I can rattle off excuses until the first float leaves Castillo San Felipe on it’s way to the town and I’ll still be kidding myself; it’s the same every year, regardless of when it falls, I’m never ready.

The old mosquito net created the Corpse Bride lookTwo years ago we were watching the Barcelona match on TV just 3 hours before the start of the opening party and it wasn’t until half time that we even started thinking about a costume. That year it was the old mosquito net that saved the day, creating a wedding dress for the Corpse Bride, its torn surface and dusty seams lending just the right look to the ensemble.
Last year, final reductions in the January sales at the supermarket yielded 2 very cheap and nasty Boho/gypsy skirts which, worn one over the other, accompanied by fishnet tights and ankle boots and hitched up to reveal one knee, created the Folies Bergère look to go with the ‘Paris in the 1920s’ theme for 2007.

So I might as well resign myself to the inevitable last minute panic of scrabbling about in the box under the bed where we keep all the accumulated ‘props’ from Halloweens, fancy dress parties and Carnavals and hope that, with the addition of some yet-to-be-discovered item of clothing or of household furnishing, I’ll be able to enter Puerto’s Plaza Charco on Saturday night with some semblance of confidence.
On the plus side, as this year’s theme is ‘fear’, I might even get away with the bedroom curtain outfit and pass myself off as a nightmare.

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