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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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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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I like Latino music, I really do, but not at the expense of every other type of music in the Universe and unfortunately, here in the north of Tenerife Latino is aired, played and listened to as if no other order of notes has ever been invented.

Still, it was New Year’s Eve at the annual street party in Puerto de la Cruz and I resigned myself to another night of salsa, salsa and more salsa which certainly improves in direct relation to the quantity of alcohol consumed.

Midnight strikes, grapes are swallowed, fireworks explode into life and the champagne corks are popped – hello 2011.
Jack, Nicole, Sebastian and I wander back to Plaza Charco where the evening’s Latino band are in full swing and the dance floor is packed with salsa dancers. I do my best to shake up an explosion by attempting (badly I suspect) to emulate the moves while carrying a rucksack in which our chilled cava supply is stashed.

Shortly after 1am Nicole and Sebastian bid their farewells and Jack and I  finish off a bottle of cava and head over to the other side of the harbour to see what’s happening.

Lo and behold, what we find is the alternative New Year’s Eve – the one that has loud, throbbing rhythms and multi coloured strobe lights and joy upon joy, the unmistakeable chords of Insomnia!
With unrestrained delirium we launch ourselves into the middle of the pulsating dance floor and let the music wash over us in a tsunami of nostalgia.
I don’t think I have ever been more happy to hear Faithless, and the atmosphere alongside the harbour with the neon Big Wheel of the funfair slowly turning in the distance is nothing short of electric.
Now this is what I call party music.

We video’d snippets of the two sides to our NYE party so that anyone who has never experienced New Year’s Eve in Puerto de la Cruz can see what they’re missing and book now for 2011/2012. Oh, and in the interests of editing, I’ve culled the 5 minute firework display down to 1½ minutes.

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I’ve heard it said that Puerto de la Cruz in the north of Tenerife is a quiet, traditional town favoured by elderley Brit and German holidaymakers who choose the resort for their holidays on Tenerife. In fact, for some regular visitors to TripAdvisor, that image is promoted as a selling point. But in reality, Puerto is probably the most misrepresented resort on Tenerife.
You see, it just doesn’t fit the mould of other popular Tenerife resorts.

For one thing, its character is essentially Tinerfeñan. Although the first resort on the island and the victim of mass tourism development in the 1960s and 1970s, the town has never given up its identity to fit in with tourist expectations. The vast majority of its almost 32,000 population are Tinerfeñan, Canarian or Spanish and they live, work and play in the town year-round.

Nightlife in Puerto doesn’t fit the mould of other Tenerife resorts either. Conspicuous by their absence are cabaret bars (with the notable exception of the excellent and hilarious Bitter & Twisted), tribute bands and Karaoke bars. Absent too are über-stylish lounge bars where the beautiful people gather to pay extortionate prices for their vodka and Red Bull. Instead, Puerto prefers to conduct its social life the same way it does its family life – in the community; sitting at one of the tables beside the harbour or in one of the squares people-watching over a carafe of wine; chatting in a local bar with a glass of vino del pais and shots of brandy; open air concerts, fiestas and entertainment at the harbour and dancing in night clubs that don’t open until midnight and unless you knew where they were, you would probably never find them.

But more than anything else, the thing that separates Puerto from other Tenerife resorts is that it’s at its very liveliest in summer when Spanish mainlanders and Canarios descend on the town in their droves to enjoy a non-stop party. Beaches become a busy playground of brightly coloured sun umbrellas at the water’s edge; the harbour, streets and squares buzz day and night with holiday makers strolling with ice creams, candy-floss and almendras; tapas restaurants fill the streets with candlelit tables and the night air with irresistible aromas and there’s barely a Brit or a German to be seen.

Puerto de la Cruz – about as sleepy as a convention of insomniacs.

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Puerto at Christmas - pretty as a picture

I think it’s fair to say that our first couple of Christmases on Tenerife were not quite what I’d hoped they’d be.

The first year we’d only been here for a couple of months when Jack’s family descended on us en masse – bless them. Not wanting Jack and I to be lonely on our first Christmas in a foreign land, mum, sister and brother-in-law and their two teenage sons and Aunty Barbara all arrived four days before Christmas to stay with us in our rented house.

All was going swimmingly and remarkably well considering 8 of us were sharing 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom until we went to Loro Parque the day before Christmas Eve. It was raining and we were all dressed like yellow parakeets in our Loro Parque rain capes. We were flying (ouch) to get to the parrot show before it started when Aunty Barbara slipped on the wet tiles and broke her wrist in three places.
Pins were inserted into Barbara’s arm on Christmas Eve, party frocks stayed in the suitcases and the mood was sombre.

The following year we had our friend Jo coming to stay with us and decided to make up for the year before.
Dressed to the nines, we jumped on the bus and got off at Poco Loco, a Mexican restaurant that we’d long wanted to try and had settled on for our Christmas Eve dinner. Walking down the dirt road leading to the restaurant we thought the lighting was a little subdued and got to the door to find that they were closed. We were gutted…and hungry.

Plan B kicked into operation and we walked down to town to peruse other menus. The next 40 minutes or so was a nightmare as restaurant after restaurant was closed or just closing its doors as we got there. We wandered incredulous through empty streets as if in some kind of play where everyone else had a script. We even began to doubt that this was Christmas Eve; we’d never seen the town so quiet.

Poinsettias are in abundance on Tenerife at Christmas

Eventually, the only place we could find that was open was the Chinese at San Telmo and we ended up having an overpriced and distinctly average meal there.

Never mind, we mused, we’ll just have to party instead and headed into the night in search of the hot spots. But the nightmare continued. Bars were either closed or closing and apart from a handful of motley German tourists, no-one was around.
Finally, we gave up and headed to the Beehive, a Brit bar, on Calle La Hoya, where the only party in town was happening.

Admittedly we had rather a good time. In fact, we had such a good time that Christmas Day was ruined by the hangover from hell.

The moral of this story is simple…if you’re coming to Tenerife for the Christmas season, make sure you know what you’re likely to find, and not find, when you get here. Other wise, you could end up going home with a suntan and the feeling that somehow, you missed out on Christmas altogether.

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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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Only for Bravehearts

Only for Bravehearts

As it was Bryan’s last night, we felt that it would have been mean to dump him in Playa de Las Américas whilst we joined the smart set at Siam Park’s inauguration. So whilst I noseyed around ‘The Water Kingdom’ amongst the designer suits and Audrey Hepburn print dresses of the invited guests, Andy showed Bryan the sights and bright lights of the ‘revamped’ face of Tenerife’s tourist Mecca.

Siam Park has had its detractors, but transforming the bland desert-like landscape into a lush Thai paradise is no mean feat and, in my opinion, an improvement. Like the resorts below it, Siam Park is designed with the pleasure of its visitors in mind; its white knuckle ride attractions are meant to be brought alive with excited screams and the sound of laughter. Whilst the Thai themed water park looked splendid in the golden twilight, the perfectly attired guests seemed strangely out of place below the menacing ‘Dragon’ or the gaudy features of the ‘Giant’ water rides; maybe the invitations should have advised ‘bikini’s and Speedos’ as the preferred dress mode.

The mighty Palace of the Waves

The mighty 'Palace of the Waves'

Once I’d listened to the speeches and decided I’d seen enough for the moment, I headed into Playa de las Américas (PDLA) to meet up with Andy and Bryan in a pleasant, but unremarkable pavement bar/restaurant on the ‘Patch’. After I’d baulked at the prices (I’d forgotten how much more expensive restaurants were in the ‘upmarket’ tourist areas of PDLA and Costa Adeje) and I told Andy and Bryan all about Siam Park, they told me all about their impressions.

Bryan had been to PDLA some years ago and had stayed around the infamous or famous, depending on your point of view, ‘Veronicas’ area. He hadn’t been impressed. The area around the ‘Patch’ with its smart restaurants, stylish bars, designer shops and Las Vegas type hotels was not the PDLA he remembered. The mock Roman pillars and statues of the ‘Palacio de Congresos’ had apparently elicited a “What’s that all about?”
Around us, visitors from a host of countries were stylishly dressed in expensive looking clothes; not the cheap and cheerful image of Tenerife that is too often portrayed in the UK.

PDLA or Las Vegas?

PDLA or Las Vegas?

And then Bryan said something that we initially laughed at, but then it occurred to us that it might not be as far fetched as it first sounded.
“Do you think that people in places like Benijos have ever visited PDLA, or do you think that they talk about it like some mythical land which may or may not exist on the other side of the island,” he pondered. “Like that M. Night Shyamalan movie, ‘The Village’.”

It was an interesting thought. Most of the people around us certainly never knew Benijos, or places like it, existed. To many of them this was Tenerife and the idea of a little village surrounded by vines and pines where people play imaginary ‘timples’ and you’re as likely to see horses on the roads as cars might seem a ridiculous notion, so why not the other way around? I’m pretty positive that if you told some of the older folk in Benijos, that in PDLA people pay over €7 for a hamburger, they’d run you out of town for being a fanciful fool.

And that is one of the beauties of Tenerife; you can find your Benijos if you want, or you can wallow in the amenities of a modern tourist resort if that’s your preference. Tenerife is nothing if not diverse.

Guest Blogger – Jack M

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The cloud had descended to just above our heads; so close that it felt if you stretched out an arm it would disappear into grey cotton wool. The man in front of us swayed to the music as he played an imaginary timple; tears rolled down his creased cheeks in response to the emotional ballad booming out over the loudspeakers; his watery eyes already glazed and slightly unfocussed; a consequence of the previous day’s fiesta. A toothless woman in gaily coloured traditional costume cackled (she was, what in bygone days would have been called, an old crone) and flashed a gaping grin at our friend Bryan as she invited him to join her at the fiesta.
Bryan reacted to this a bit like Patsy in the episode of Absolutely Fabulous set in France and scowled at us with an expression which said; ‘Why don’t I have friends who do normal things like go to the beach on a Sunday instead of dragging me to the land that time forgot where the chances are I’ll end up as the meat in the puchero.’

Boy Racer - Benijos Style

Boy Racer - Benijos Style

We’re used to processions at fiestas on Tenerife running a bit late, but the romería at the tiny hamlet of Benijos in the hills above La Orotava was taking unpunctuality to new levels. Due to start at 3pm, by 5pm townsfolk in traditional costume were still making their way to the romería’s starting point a couple of kilometres along the road. I suspected that the previous days festivities, which our imaginary guitar playing friend slurringly informed us had gone on till 7am, had taken their toll on attempts to stick to any sort of organised timetable. It didn’t matter to the people of Benijos, they were the parade; this was their party and the longer it was drawn out the better. And it didn’t really matter to Andy and me; there were wonderful images all around. Two teenage fiesta queens in tiaras were made up like seventies beauty queens, except instead of gowns they were wearing denims and T-shirts; chavette queens perhaps. A seriously drunken caballero swaying precariously on his thankfully sober steed, Tenerife’s Cat Ballou, sparked a discussion as to whether you could be charged with drunk driving on a horse.

The procession finally got underway around 6pm, but it moved at such an interminably slow pace, the palm

Isnt that Robbie Williams on the right?

Isn't that Robbie Williams on the right?

frond bedecked floats stopping at every house along the road, that we calculated that it would be 9pm before it reached us. We decided to speed things up by leaving our vantage point and meeting it halfway, dragging a grumbling Bryan “once you’ve seen one harvest float, you’ve seen them all” for whom the slow pace of life in Benijos was rapidly losing its charm.

When we reached the procession Bryan’s mood changed. Whilst I wandered around taking photographs, being stopped by every other person in the procession who shouted “Saque un foto, saque un foto,” (“take a photograph”) buxom matrons bombarded Andy and Bryan with eggs, pork fillets, gofio, chorizo paste montaditos, plastic glasses of country wine and, bizarrely, popcorn. By the time I rejoined them Bryan was beaming.
“This is great,” he mumbled through a mouthful of pork tenderloin; the previous four hours apparently compensated for by the mountain of free food and wine in his arms.

As a fiesta it was a disorganised shambling rough and ready affair, but as always the incredibly friendly and generous Canarios were full of the joie de vivre at doing what they do best – havin’ a party and their enthusiasm was infectious.

Twenty four hours later I might as well have been on the other side of the world as the other side of the island when I went to the biggest event on Tenerife this year; the opening of the island’s spectacular newest tourist attraction, Siam Park in the hills behind Costa Adeje, or is that Playa de Las Américas?

Guest Blogger: Jack M

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From barrels at either side of the stage, draught Dorada is being dispensed in small plastic glasses and disorderly queues are forming. In the mêlée, there are several minor casualties; two wigs, a bedside cabinet whose contents are spilling from its drawers, a fortune-teller’s headscarf and a false nail. When everyone’s got a least one drink in their hands there’s a short interlude of repairing hair and gathering spilt accessories before resuming the promenade of the arena, posing for the hundreds of camera flashes that fill the plaza like fireflies. When the beer runs out there’s a human chain of drinks being passed from the vendors in the square, above the heads of onlookers, to the waiting manicured hands of drag queens. Small measures of coke are being liberally topped up with lashings of Arehucas rum and guzzled in the flutter of an eyelash.

drag queens at Puerto's CarnavalIt’s the 14th Annual High Heel Drag Marathon in Tenerife’s Puerto de la Cruz and it’s the most popular event in the Carnaval calendar. This year, there are over 200 contestants and more than 35,000 spectators.
The area in front of the stage is teeming with contestants, many of them topping seven foot tall in their shoes. The minimum height of heels for entry in the race is 8 cm but most contestants prefer a staggering 15 centimetre stack; calf muscles are pulled tight and backs must be near to breaking but alcohol helps to dull the pain and more than anything else, the show must go on.

For 2 hours, the event’s compère and real star of the show, ‘Lupita’, calls contestants onto the stage to introduce them, indulge in a great deal of witty, double-entendre banter and tell us all how high the heels are; in this race, size matters.drag mayhem at Puerto's Carnaval
Costumes are extraordinary, witty, fabulous, sometimes bawdy, often weighty but always worn with panache and attitude. The size of the heels is rivalled only by the height of the headgear, most of which has clearly been modelled on Marge Simpson. There are more false eyelashes than at a Miss World Pageant and the make-up is louder than the steady Salsa beat that pounds out from banks of speakers at either side of the stage while Lupita and her ‘guapas’, ‘cariñas’ and occasionally ‘muchachos’ dance and whoop their way through the never-ending list of contestants.
The further down her list Lupita gets, the more unsteady the contestants become on their well-oiled heels and the steps up to the stage are proving to be the first real obstacle in an entire race of obstacles. There are several heart-stopping moments, particularly on the dismount, and several ankles have dress-rehearsal sprains.
By the time Lupita introduces contestant number 78, it’s already 10pm and the contestants are only just beginning to make their way to the starting point. It’s going to be a long night. Very few of the contestants will attempt anything more than a fast totter on Puerto’s cobbled streets; in this drag race, there’s very little speed involved, just a great deal of pantomime and thousands of memory sticks filled to capacity with unforgettable images.

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