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Posts Tagged ‘oxen’

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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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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I have a friend who insists that when she was a girl her family holidayed in France near a small village where free wine was dispensed from a standing pipe in the village square and you could just wander along with your bottles and fill them up whenever you liked.
I’d have hot-footed it to this town had my friend been able to remember, even vaguely, where it was. As she couldn’t, it became to me a French urban myth and the stuff that only dreams are made of. Until last week that is.

I went to the Romería San Roque in a little town called Garachico on the north coast of Tenerife. I’ve been to many fiestas since moving to Tenerife almost four years ago but I’ve never been to a Romería before and I was completely unprepared for what took place.
In an impossibly quaint town on a warm Thursday afternoon in August, hundreds of people gathered in traditional Canarian dress, both sexes and all ages. The streets were lined with flags and bunting as they usually are for fiestas and there were loads of stalls selling CDs, T-shirts, wicker baskets, jewellery and mechanical toys to name but a few.
But the best thing about the Romería, was the Romería itself; a whole series of floats, each pulled by a team of two oxen and packed to the gunwales with people in traditional costume playing music, dancing, drinking and handing out FREE grilled prime cuts of beef and pork, skewers of kebabs, sausages and spare ribs from barbecues mounted onto the back of the floats as they slowly paraded through the narrow streets.

As well as the meat, there were boiled potatoes, hard boiled eggs, small cakes made from ground corn known as gofio, bread rolls, peaches, melon slices and lemon pears being thrown to waiting hands, through open windows and onto crowded balconies. One such ‘missile’ of a nectarine nearly broke the nose of an elderly Canarian woman sitting behind her open window right next to me.
And to wash it all down?
Barrel after barrel of vino del país (a strong, fruity, locally produced red wine) from which plastic pipes and ladles dispersed a never-ending supply of FREE WINE to anyone who held out a cup, a glass, a beaker or a bottle.

This is no urban myth. This is simply the wonderful people of Garachico sharing the bounty of their harvest with their friends, family, neighbours and complete strangers alike…qu’el bon idée!

Read more about the San Roque Romería in Garachico…

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