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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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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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There were lots of great costumes at the high heels marathon (mascarita ponte tacon) on the penultimate night of carnaval in Puerto de la Cruz. But for me the best of them was this guy – at least I think it’s a guy – Shiva. I just love the beer can in one of his hands.

Many Hands Make...Holding the Beer Easy

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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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It’s 11pm and I’ve spent the past five hours scanning Google images for inspiration, cutting up old curtains and duvet covers, glueing material to pieces of cardboard, my fingers and the dining table and I still look more like someone wearing an old net curtain than Cleopatra.

Jack looking effortlessly good...and warm

Jack looking effortlessly good... and warm

Jack, on the other hand, has taken half an hour to pull some bits together and paint his face and he looks more like William Wallace than Mel Gibson did. What’s more, he’s got a nice warm cloak to wear and I’ve got bare arms. I don’t suppose the Ancient Egyptians had cardies did they?

The forty minute walk from our house to Plaza Charco is a lonely affair when you’re Braveheart and Cleopatra. Passing through the La Paz district we draw sidelong glances from the elderly visitors which are not dissimilar to the sort of looks on the faces of people in my dreams when, for some perfectly good reason, I’m the only one who’s naked.

It’s not until we reach Calle Quintana that the mantle of paranoia is lifted and suddenly, it’s the ones not in fancy dress that look out of place.
As we enter Plaza Charco it’s evident that the costumes are of a very high standard this year. The furry animal jumpsuits and gangster outfits are very few and far between, instead, everyone seems to have doubled their efforts and outfits are bolder, more professional,  more varied and every bit as politically incorrect as we’ve come to expect.

The benches around the fountain act as base camp for various groups who fuel up on rum or whiskey and coke before heading off into the melee, returning at intervals to replenish glasses. One bench is occupied by a dozen or so men dressed in Victorian baby costumes, another has witches and warlocks draped across it. There’s a bench of Charleston dancers and one of zombie nurses.
We spot several Batmen, an Incredible Hulk and three Spider Men but only one ‘Joker’ and clearly outnumbered, he didn’t try anything.

Hey! Im over here, to the left!

Hey! I'm over here, to the left!

As usual, the Trannies are show-stoppers. Standing well over six foot in their high heels with their dazzling frocks and theatrical make-up, it’s difficult to take your eyes off them but the draft from their false eyelashes is making me shiver so we move on.

At the newly created disco zone Jack decides to take my photo as I’m dancing like an Egyptian to Orishas. It seems to me the camera is a little off centre as he takes shot after shot and further investigation uncovers several frames of the Go-Go dancer and just one of me… dark and practically out of range.

I feel decidedly dull by comparison to everyone else and by the time we get home it’s 5 in the morning and I’ve got arms the temperature of a corpse.

I’ve got just a few days to come up with another outfit, one that’s warm, comfy and sexy…God, the stress of living in the Real Tenerife.

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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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Saturday 24th February
4pm
– closing parade. Another 3 hour standing marathon as the various dancing troupes, floats, Carnaval Queens and multitudinous winners of fancy dress prizes parade through the streets from Costa Martiánez to Castillo San Felipe.

10pm – Everyone’s in fancy dress for the closing party and looking forward to the final blow-out. I’ve opted for the Folies Bergère look in line with this year’s theme of ‘Paris in the 1920s’ and Jack’s gone for ‘Zombie Funeral Director’ – all white face, black eyes and top hat – very ghoulish.
Walk down to Casa Blanca and collect a Bishop, a fellow Folies Bergère, a monk, 2 angels and Chris wearing an outfit that no-one knew what it was supposed to be, including Chris.
Things are just beginning to liven up as we arrive in Plaza del Charco and, teenagers despatched to their various peer groups, we open a couple of bottles of wine that we’ve carried down with us, purely for the purposes of reducing the weight we’re carrying…
By 1 am the Plaza and harbour are jam packed with revellers and the music’s just beginning to take the crowd. By 3am the place is bouncing and it’s impossible to move in any direction at will. Allowing the ebb and flow of the crowd to drift us harbour side, we pop into Frigata and run into Cap’n Barbosa (alias Bob) who hasn’t managed to leave the bar yet and is almost oblivious to the thousands who are thronging the streets outside. A circuit of Calle Marina to Calle Perdomo and then to Calle Mequinez, which on an average day takes about 3 mins, takes us over an hour as we dance, centimetre by centimetre, tacking our way through the masses. By 5 am we’re danced out and exhausted, finally making our way homeward to sleep while the party continues to rage, ever more numbers arriving.
Our friends return to Blighty filled with memories and stories to bore their friends with, dates for next year’s Carnaval already noted.

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Tonight we leave the fancy dress to the experts and head down to town to watch the High Heels Honey Drag Marathon. Join thousands of observers lining Calle de Santo Domingo as contestants make their way to starting line. Visitors highly amused and shocked at some of the politically incorrect outfits of some group entries and the ingenuity of others. The 9pm scheduled start of the race stretches to 10pm and then 10.30 pm as increasing numbers of participants year on year make their way along the cobbled streets playing to the crowds. By the time the race gets underway and all but two or three of the contestants have ignored the normal rules of racing by making no attempt whatsoever to hurry through the course, it’s after midnight before prizes are finally awarded. The ‘hog’s head on a table set for a banquet’ wins first prize this year for the wittiest individual costume.
The night’s party in the square takes on an even more surreal aspect as contestants join the throngs of revellers on the dance floor.
With legs and feet sore from the cumulative effects of standing for 3 hours to watch the marathon and the week of partying, we call it an early night and leave at 1 am (ish).

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