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Posts Tagged ‘guachinche’

We’d already had one false start for the fiesta of San Abad in La Matanza when we’d got our calendar dates crossed and had nearly set off a week early. The weather that day had been atrocious and we consoled ourselves with the fact that it would be better next Sunday…it wasn’t. The day dawned as wet and miserable as every day had for the past 8 days. The rain I had so desperately wanted was now outstaying its welcome – big time.

Unsure if the event would go ahead, Jack took to the internet to see if there was any notice of a deferral but there was nothing, which meant either it was going ahead or, more likely, no-one had bothered to update the website.
So we donned fleeces, jeans, hiking boots and hooded jackets, collected our friend Bob and headed up to La Matanza.

We arrived at the steep climb to the village of San Antonio in persistent drizzle. Last year the roads here were jam packed with parked cars but this year cars were conspicuous by their absence.
For a moment we wondered if it had been a wasted trip, but there were two clues that the event was going ahead: firstly the road was cordoned off and secondly a trail of scattered goats’ droppings carpeted the tarmac.
Picking our way through the rain sodden manure, we joined a thin band of spectators stretching their calf muscles up 1in1 streets along which smoking barbecues lay ready to turn private garages into guachinches for the day.

The horse paddocks which in previous years have seen hundreds of magnificent steeds and a motley assortment of asses, donkeys and mules held only a couple of dozen wet horses tethered in the rain and a couple of Shetland ponies which were posing for photographs.

Making our way past the pens filled with wet goats and sheep, we arrived at the main square where several hundred head of cattle were tethered.
Strolling past them, we noticed that one or two of the bulls seemed to be eyeing Bob suspiciously. It was only then that we realised Bob had chosen to wear a bright scarlet fleece…to a show of bulls. We feared for his safety, and ours.

Stopping to admire the sheer size and power of the biggest and meanest of the bulls in their isolated pen above the main cattle, Jack was going in for a close up when he was gently but firmly moved back by the herdsman who told us that the bull would head butt anyone who got within range. We didn’t need telling twice and we kept Bob behind as we passed the pen.

The rain was still driving across the horizon and there was nothing else for it but to head to the guachinche and order some wine to take the nip out of the air.
A quarter litre of red vino del país arrived rather ignominiously in a used Pepsi bottle for the princely sum of €1.50 and the barman placed three glasses alongside. Bob remarked that it tasted better than the wine he’d paid €6 for in the supermarket the day before and we made short work of it. The second bottle tasted just as good.

By this time I was beginning to feel the effects of an early start on the alcohol and suggested some food might not go amiss. Jack spotted some farmers next to us tucking into a plate of bit-sized, gofio-coated something or other and asked the barman what it was.
Chicharrón” replied the barman.
“Ahhh” said Jack, none the wiser and promptly ordered a plate.
It turned out to be pork crackling coated in gofio. Some pieces were soft and chewy, others were the rock hard variety sold in pubs in the UK. Bob and I weren’t keen. Jack, being Scottish and loving all things deep fried and preferably fatty, enjoyed them – or at least, he said he did.

Another bottle of pseudo-Pepsi arrived and I ordered some proper food – carne y papas, or spicy pork with chips.
Leaning on a plastic bar top in the rain, in San Antonio, surrounded by cattle, bulls, sheep, goats and horses with the air perfumed by wet goat, that carne y papas tasted marvellous.
While we ate, another bottle of wine mysteriously appeared on the bar and Jack said the barman had slipped it there behind my back with a conspiratorial finger to his lips.

By this time San Abad in the rain was turning into one of the best fiestas we’d been to and the bar area was turning into one big party. When the barman slipped another bottle beside our almost empty glasses we began to wonder if he was just being efficient and would ask for the bill shortly. But no, the wine was complimentary and as we got close to finishing what was in our glasses we decided we had better move away from the bar in the interests of still being able to walk.

This isn’t a fiesta put on for tourists. Other than ourselves, I didn’t hear another foreign voice all day. It’s a real, traditional agricultural fair with no frills or pretensions, just muck and animals. But it’s indicative of the good humour and friendliness of the Tinerfeños away from the main tourist resorts of the south who welcomed us into their community for the day with open arms and copious amounts of wine.
Roll on San Abad 2012.

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As we ate breakfast on the terrace yesterday morning, the sun was being very coy.
Typical. Pretty much all summer the default setting for our weather has been clear blue skies and sun, sun, sun. But Friday was the start of the annual craft fair of Pinolere in the hills above La Orotava and if belly of the donkey was going to make a re-appearance anywhere, it would be there.

800 meters above sea level and hemmed in by barrancos to the east and west, Pinolere is a community of some 700 inhabitants living in the shadow of Tenerife’s mountainous spine, and more often than not, beneath a sea of clouds. It may mean that Pinolere is never going to topple Playa de Las Americas as Tenerife’s number one tourist destination, but the clouds bring high humidity ensuring that everything here grows in abundance.

Birdsong whistles (€3) make great gifts for kids

But yesterday, as we snaked our way high above the coast of Puerto de la Cruz, the sun finally broke free and the clouds ran for their lives leaving another glorious day in the La Orotava Valley.
Even though it was barely 11.30am when we arrived, the car parking was choc a bloc and we ended up parking on a small dirt track which led off to fincas set amongst the vines of the valley. Bemoaning the fact that we hadn’t thought to bring ropes and crampons, we toiled up a near-vertical street, back to the site of the craft fair wishing that the clouds had chosen to descend as sweat trickled down our backs.

The last time we visited the fair, the trademark bruma (cloud) had entirely obscured its location but yesterday, under clear skies, the true beauty of our surroundings was nothing less than awesome. The emerald, forest-clad slopes of the upper La Orotava Valley rose to dizzying heights in a shimmering heat haze beyond the thatched roofs and vines of the hamlet.

A Crafty Piece of Work
For the majority of Pinolere’s inhabitants, the land provides their livelihood and allows them to be almost entirely self-sufficient. For generations, the community have been basket weavers, iron workers, charcoal producers, carpenters, farmers and muleteers. It’s only recently that they’ve ceased to construct their homes in the traditional manner of many of the country dwellings of Tenerife; walls of dry stone roofed with chestnut wood entwined with branches and then thatched with straw.

25 years ago Pinolere made plans to introduce a new aspect to their local fiestas and came up with the idea of showcasing the wide range of crafts and skills that they held. Calling it ‘The Day of the Traditional Canaries’, they brought together all the craftspeople from the local area and invited them to exhibit the best of their products. Over the course of the years that event has grown from a local fair to the Canary Islands’ largest showcase for crafts made from traditional produce.

Handmade ceramic dolls, €24

The Pinolere Craft Fair is set in 10,000 square metres of terraces and pathways that meander as randomly as the surrounding barrancos and contain hundreds of stalls filled with jewellery; woven baskets; clothes; hand carved furniture; ceramics; pottery; toys; herbs and spices; cheeses; jams and mojos; cakes; glassware; cane furniture; iron and copper ornaments…the list is endless.

As we made our way up level after level filled with stalls, the stone-built thatched houses provided small exhibitions on the history of wheat production in the area and a short-lived refuge from the hot sun.
Arriving finally at the top level we reached the welcome sight of a large guachinche where the aroma of sizzling pork pinchos (kebabs) and the sight of condensation running down the side of cold beer bottles was too much to resist. Finding a small section of vacant wall we sat down to enjoy our pinchos and beer and peruse our collection of purchases while gawping at the incredible scenery.

Our haul of goodies

It’s probably a good job that Pinolere doesn’t enjoy this kind of weather continuously or the fields of wheat, vines, vegetables and cereals would soon get replaced by villas and apartments and we’d have lost something really, really special.

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I wasn’t really too surprised to hear that yet another yellow alert for high temperatures in Tenerife had been issued by the Spanish Met Office last week. After all, Día de la Trilla was fast approaching.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, some events on Tenerife are linked inextricably with certain weather conditions. For example, Carnaval season pretty much guarantees rain; Puerto’s Fiesta Del Carmen simply couldn’t happen on anything but the most glorious of days and Día de la Trilla seems to need blisteringly hot days before a single straw of wheat can be threshed.

Last year we set off into the hills of Tenerife and found temperatures in excess of 40°C waiting for us in El Tanque. This year, with the tail end of a calima still in evidence, the mercury was  only somewhere around the 39°C mark as we arrived at the site of what is soon to be an agricultural eco-museum.

A fancy new concrete car park greeted us where previously only fields provided space for the mainly 4x4s and horse boxes that gather in El Tanque for the annual traditional wheat gathering and threshing.
Unfortunately, the work being undertaken to create a centre where traditional farming methods are showcased meant that the venue for the day’s fun was largely a building site and certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty prizes. But neither the surroundings nor the excessive temperatures could detract from the festive air as we made our way past stalls selling home made produce, hand made ornaments, Bonsai trees and naturally, lots of home made bread, to a soundtrack of folk music blaring from speakers across the ground.

Horses, oxen and people all mingled under a heat-leaden sky, blinded by the glare off the gold mountain of wheat that filled the small era, or threshing circle in which most of the day’s action would take place.


Barely had we got video and camera lens in place when the first of the teams of horses arrived and the threshing began. Teased from the centre of the era, the two horses cantered in circles, knee deep in wheat, or in the case of the smaller of the two, belly deep. As the level of the sea of wheat visibly fell, pitchforks worked to replenish the bales.
A second team of horses took over to bring renewed energy to the proceedings and slowly, the wheat levelled out and broke down enough for the big guns to take over.

Enter two teams of oxen. Beautiful, placid creatures with big cow eyes and haunches the size of  bulldozers, the oxen stood patiently while they were tethered to heavy wooden threshing boards before setting off effortlessly, the boards, a driver and several squealing local children in tow for what in El Tanque, passes for a fairground ride.
Round and round the oxen were driven, stopping to take on board fresh young passengers, until the wheat was fine enough for winnowing to begin and the fine chaff to be whisked away on the breeze leaving the wheat to be gathered.

But we didn’t stay long enough to see the process through to its conclusion. With my nose already twitching from the hay dust, we made our way to the busy beer tent where bodies vied for space under the limited shade of its awning. After downing possibly the most refreshing beer I’ve ever drunk, we made our way past the guachinche with its burgeoning dinner line and headed to the car, a picnic and the sanctuary shade of the local pine forest.

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Getting anywhere for midday on a Sunday seems for some reason to be a tall order in our house and yesterday was no exception. A late night followed by a late morning and a leisurely Sunday breakfast and before I knew it the clock was scraping towards the eleven hand and Jack was standing at the door rattling the car keys.

The Hearts of Tejina 2009

The Hearts of Tejina 2009

We got to the plaza in Tejina just in time to hear the prayer being read over the three Alice in Wonderland hearts as they were held in front of the church to receive the holy blessing.
Then the three teams each hauled their 800 kilo charges towards their waiting wooden cross and the race to erect the hearts began. The insults were a little less vocal than they had been last time we came to see the Hearts of Tejina fiesta, but then looking at the fruity, flowery works of art it was difficult to see how anyone could find fault even though tradition dictated they should.

Within minutes the El Pico heart was being raised onto its cross and

Now thats waht I call a bouquet!

Now that's what I call a bouquet!

cheering rang out from the crowd assembled around the plaza. Five minutes later the Calle Arriba heart was hoisted leaving Calle Abajo in third place.
Once the hearts were securely fastened to their crosses and the ladders removed, the parrandas struck up and the crowd began to filter towards the bars, fairground, stalls and guachinches. That left space for Jack and I to leisurely stroll and examine these extraordinary, transient works of art.

A virtual recluse from Tenerife guide books (except Going Native of course), Tejina is set in a humid, fertile valley in the northeast of Tenerife in what is known locally as ‘greenhouse valley’. The climate and the rich volcanic earth in this area are perfect for the cultivation of tropical plants and exotic fruits. It’s also where the island’s last remaining rum distillery lies, so unsurprisingly the village is known for its singing.

Produce is fresh, local and flawless

Produce is fresh, local and flawless

Yesterday was the Sunday following the Feast of San Bartolomé, the town’s Patron Saint, and every year in the Saint’s honour three local streets construct enormous hearts from the boughs of trees and decorate them in fruit and flowers. The streets are fierce rivals and there’s a great deal of secrecy during the construction of the hearts. When they’re finally revealed and brought to the church to be blessed and then erected onto wooden crosses, it’s traditional for each street to slag off the other hearts and sing (literally) the praises of their own.

The streets each have their own colour and the hearts are constructed to match, using only the best of local produce, which in Tejina means absolute flawless perfection. So El Pico’s hearts are framed by rich green Conference pears; Calle Arriba’s heart has succulent, fragrant, orange pineapples and Calle Abajo’s heart is bordered with enormous, vibrant lemons.
As well as the fruit and the spectacular flower display which tops each double heart, the main body is decorated in tarts; pastry discs on which scenes from island life have been constructed in 3D pastry models. There

Detail on the tarts is incredible

Detail on the tarts is incredible

are butter churners, grape treaders, fishermen, musicians, woodpeckers, traditional balconies, tajinaste and Drago trees. The detail in the tarts is incredible so you can see the fisherman’s beard, a notebook with writing in it, a fish caught in the nets.

Today the hearts will be de-constructed and their bounty distributed to the townsfolk in an aerial, fruit throwing free-for-all where you risk injury from flying pineapples and pears.
It’s amazing how much beauty is lovingly created on Tenerife only to be destroyed within hours of its completion; flower carpets, sand tapestries and hearts too big for their sleeves.

More pictures of Hearts of Tejina 2009 by Snapjacs

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Meals on wheels

Service with a smile

It’s a perfect day for standing ankle deep in ox manure watching small wooden galleons and rice and grain decorated carts trundle past while being plied with free wine and popcorn and trying not to lose an eye to a flying hard boiled egg.

Although I’m certain that Freudian analysts could dine out on such a scenario were it to come from the sub-conscious; this one’s real. And as if it wasn’t already weird enough, I’ve managed to completely lose Jack in the crowd and the battery on the mobile just died.

I can’t understand how Jack doesn’t stand out a mile as he’s just about the only man not dressed in a bright scarlet waistcoat, rough wool breeches and a cummerbund. But scouring the crowds is fruitless; Jack’s very blandness of attire on this occasion is his, and my, undoing.

Followers of this blog and proud owners of ‘Going Native in Tenerife’ will be well aware of my affection for the little town of Tegueste which floats in the big sea of La Laguna in the humid northeast of the island. Bursting at the seams with charm and character, it’s truly Tenerife’s ‘hidden gem’ in my book and I don’t take a lot of persuading to pay a visit.

Having already witnessed the bizarre re-enactment of a sea-faring battle staged in the town square last year, this year’s Romería was the perfect opportunity to see the pretty galleons which the town is famed for back in action once more.

You acquire a good deal of ‘fiesta savvy’ when you attend these events and one of the things you learn is this; when you see other cars parking anywhere they can, no matter how far you are from the epicenter of proceedings, park the car.
We parked half way to Tejina and began the long walk into Tegueste in the hot sunshine accompanied by large and growing crowds of traditionally dressed party-goers, most of them under the age of forty. All along the route friends and families were eating and drinking from open car boots, picnicking on small grassy knolls and gathering outside guachinches (small, make-shift bars set up at fiestas in the north of Tenerife).

Idyllic setting for an all day party

Idyllic setting for an all day party

We arrived in the main street just in time to see the Romería set off. Preceeded by a herd of goats and sheep, the famous Tegueste galleons with their pretty white sails headed up the procession of ox-pulled carts as it began its journey through the narrow town streets to the main square. The carts are the most beautifully and ornately decorated of any I have seen on Tenerife and their occupants are the most gifted at firing food into the crowds to be scooped up in waiting up-turned hats, snatched from the air with the dexterity of a wicket keeper or fought over like a bride’s bouquet.

Are you the guy with the carrots?

"Are you the guy with the carrots?"

In between the carts, dozens of parrandas (local musicians) and dancing troupes swell the ranks of the moving spectacle and with nigh on 40,000 people in attendance, it’s soon pretty much impossible to move anywhere. I resign myself to my static situation and amuse myself by seeing how many potatoes and chunks of pork I can catch while I wait for the procession to pass.

When the crowds finally thin Jack emerges from his anonymity and we head to the square to join the carnival atmosphere around the beer stands and to sink a much needed cold Dorada.
Like every time I come to Tegueste, I find myself completely caught up in the atmosphere of well being, relaxation and sheer enjoyment of life. It may not be the biggest Romería on the island but for my money, it’s definitely the best.

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