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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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Sunset views over Las Vistas beach from The Watermelon's terrace

When Chris Clarkson and Alan Gilmour of tenerife.co.uk came to visit from the UK last week, Jack and I jumped at the chance of spending an evening in the bright lights of Los Cristianos. So we checked into The Pearly Grey Ocean Club Resort in Calleo Salvaje, joined John Beckley of Sorted Sites and headed to The Watermelon Tapas Bar/Restaurant in the chic San Telmo district of Los Cristianos.

Although we were extremely impressed with the rather chic décor (frosted glass sheet water fountain, Gaudi-esque tiled mosaics on the walls and stone benches and sleek, silver and black furnishings) and the fabulous views from the terrace over Las Vistas beach and the sun setting behind La Gomera; we were less impressed with the food and the service.
There was a good ten minute delay between the first two dishes arriving and the other three which meant that Jack and I either had to start eating before everyone else or Jack’s scrambled eggs with chistorras (Canarian sausage) and mushrooms was headed to the stone cold zone.

My toasted bread with smoked salmon and tomatoes served with rocket and parmesan was beautifully presented but was bland and there was too much bread. The other specials when they arrived were kebabs served in foil parcels with fresh vegetables and everyone seemed to enjoy them but they lacked any real wow factor.
The house red wine on the other hand was delicious and slipped down very easily.

Postres proved to be a bit disappointing but that was more a case of confused recommendation rather than any fault with the food. Alan and I being chocolate lovers, I asked the waitress to recommend the chocoholic’s choice and after a great deal of chatting and an admittance that she didn’t particularly like chocolate herself, she told us to go for dish number one. When it arrived, dish number one turned out to be mainly ice cream with some chocolate shortcake slices. Alan and I waited for everyone else’s to arrive, convinced that this wasn’t the one we ordered but it took so long that our ice cream began to melt so we started eating. Dish number four when it finally arrived for everyone else turned out to be hot chocolate fudge cake covered in chocolate sauce and served with ice cream – d’oh!

I didn’t see the bill but I wouldn’t mind betting it wasn’t cheap.
The atmosphere was lively and the venue was unsurpassable but for me, the culinary offerings had a touch of the Emperor’s new clothes about them.

Dinner over, we lingered over that delicious red before heading back towards the Arona Gran Hotel, where Chris and Alan were staying, and heading into Legend’s Snooker Club. While Tenerife Magazine took on Tenerife.co.uk on the pool table, Carol and I reminisced about our misspent youth in the clubs of Manchester and we all chilled out over some more drinks in the über-friendly atmosphere before Jack and I got a taxi back to our fabulous room in Pearly Grey.

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When was the last time you walked away from a Tenerife bar, having just bought your round, with a grin on your face as wide as the crater?

For me, it was Sunday at the fiestas of San Antonio Abad in La Matanza where we took our friend Bob along for the ride.

We found a pavement to park on (not just acceptable at these affairs but positively de rigeur) and set off up a street that, were it ever to snow here, would prove a good practice ground for the down hill ski slalom; picking our way over evidence that much of the livestock had also used this route.

Why can't you just have a cat like everyone else?

We wondered through row upon row of horses from Shetlands to pure bred Arabs and Andalusians tethered alongside donkeys and mules that looked like they’d arrived at the party and no-one had told them it was formal wear.
Then it was over the road, past the pens of goats where tiny, fluffy kids were busy redefining the cute scale, to the stalls where mighty oxen were tethered, drooled over by butchers.

We lined the small street of San Antonio opposite the church and watched as the livestock paraded its way to the trophy table and locals wondered past with their various pets which they’d brought along for the San Antonio blessing. You have to hand it to these people, when it comes to choice of pets they’re not tied by convention. As we stood there we spotted pet iguanas, snakes, chinchilla rabbits (on leads) and a couple of eagles.
An hour or so into the proceedings it was time for some liquid refreshment and I fought my way through the farmers and musicians to the bar of a chiringuito and ordered three red wines. The barman asked if I wanted a quarter or half litre and as it was the first of the day I plumped for the quarter.
He reached into the large fridge and pulled out a chilled ¼ litre carafe into which he siphoned some home produced vino del país and, grabbing 3 small plastic glasses on the way back, he placed them on the bar and said “ €1.50 please”.

Standing room only at the bar and a distinct lack of women...

The grin remained on our faces as we sat on the wall in the sunshine and made very short work of the immensely quaffable ¼ litre. In fact, we made very short work of the next 2 carafes too – well, everyone has to get their round in, it’s only polite.

Feeling very mellow by this time we decided it was probably sensible to get something to eat and set off in search of some pinchos. Unfortunately, every bar we went to had run out of pinchos and was only offering carne fiesta (spicy pork chunks – come to think of it, not unlike pinchos). Eventually we were forced to declare at the final and largest of the chiringuitos that carne fiesta would suffice nicely, especially as this particular establishment was peppering the dishes liberally with home made chips.

Drink and ride

Squashed onto a narrow pavement bordering the main thoroughfare for the livestock, Jack ordered the food and the wine, which arrived in a Pepsi bottle – not as classy as the last place.
As we devoured the savoury pork chunks and drank our wine a steady procession of caballeros pranced and stamped their way to the spot right in front of us. One of the barmen was dispensing large glasses of wine to each rider, many of whom we recognised as fellow imbibers from the other chiringuito. Where they’d been positively unsteady on their feet, they now looked perfectly at home in the saddle and drained every glass in one.

There were one or two very nervous moments as horse buttocks backed close to Bob’s toes while he was trying to photograph a particularly attractive female rider – the words “serve” and “right” come to mind – bringing an exciting and dangerous finale to the afternoon’s proceedings.

If Guardia Civil had thought to get the breath tests out along the La Matanza to Puerto road on Sunday they’d have financed their next three fiestas – assuming they have jurisdiction over four legged vehicles.

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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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The neon street temperatures may have fallen to 20° C and the sock box may have been retrieved from underneath the bed where it lives for a good eight months of the year, but autumn in the north of Tenerife brings more than adequate compensation for the official end to long summer days.

The Jackass antics of riding the boards in Icod de los Vinos

The Jackass antics of riding the boards in Icod de los Vinos

Not least, November brings the year’s new wine harvest, reason enough on its own for a fiesta, but throw in to the mix the happy chronological co-incidence of the celebration of Saint Andrew’s Day (fiesta de San Andrés) and you’ve got all the excuses you need for a very merry affair indeed.

On Saturday afternoon we headed up to Icod de los Vinos on Tenerife’s north coast to watch how their youth like to celebrate this time of year.
First they take their town’s tradition of rolling wine barrels down its impossibly steep streets on wooden boards pulled by oxen, then they add a little Jackass element and what they come up with is ‘arrastre de las tablas’ or riding the boards. From the top of Calle del Plano (the sort of street that sends a small cramp to the calves at the mere sight of it) teenage lads sit on waxed, wooden trays and career down at breakneck speed, negotiating a small undulation at the halfway mark that bounces the tray off the road’s surface and sends it ever faster towards a heap of old tyres at the bottom of the street.

The only brakes are a pile of old tyres; its like the crash test dummies Tenerife style!

The only brakes are a pile of old tyres; it's like the crash test dummies Tenerife style!

It’s addictively good fun to watch, particularly as the afternoon progresses and the town’s daredevils take to their boards, resolutely refusing to attempt any slow down before smashing into the tyres, travelling several feet into the air and landing in a heap of sprawled limbs amongst the rubber.
It’s the sort of event that would have UK and US lawyers rubbing their hands at the prospect of juicy law suits that would lead perfunctorily to a complete ban on the event.
Luckily, the Tinerfeños don’t have a litigious bone in their bodies and have never allowed the likelihood of personal injury to get in the way of having a good time.

Later, we headed down into Puerto de la Cruz for the rather more sedate, but much more participatory celebrations.
In Plaza Charco small children ran across the cobbled surface pulling long strings of empty cans and assorted pieces of metal, providing endless ‘cute’ poses for grinning mums and dads to capture for posterity.
Around the harbour, the air was filled with the fragrant smoke of chestnuts being roasted on open coals, sardines sizzling on grills and succulent pinchos (skewered beef and pork) browning on hot plates as food stalls did a brisk trade with the hundreds of visitors and residents occupying the al fresco tables and chairs.

Savoury roasted chestnuts, succulent beef pinchos and sizzling sardines are just some of the flavours on offer at the street food stalls in Puerto de la Cruz on fiesta de San Andrés

Savoury roasted chestnuts, succulent beef pinchos and sizzling sardines are just some of the flavours on offer at the street food stalls in Puerto de la Cruz on fiesta de San Andrés

Proving to be extremely popular were the rows of ‘bodega’ stalls where, for 50 cents a time, you could sample any number of excellent wines from local wine producers. It was a difficult choice and I have to admit, the type of ‘nibbles’ that were being offered by each bodega had considerable influence over which stall was favoured by our custom.
After half a dozen varieties of both red and white had been tasted and points awarded, I would have had a go on one of Icod’s ‘tablas’ had one been handy. Thankfully for all concerned none was, and we headed off to one of the food stalls for pinchos, crusty bread, spicey mojo sauces and roasted chestnuts to soak up the alcohol. Of course, you can’t have chestnuts without wine and so we ordered a small carafe of the new ‘vino del país‘, or country wine, just to see how it compared with its more upmarket cousins.

Fiesta de San Andrés…one of my favourite Tenerife fiestas, hic!

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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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