In 23 years I’ve been to quite a few fiestas I guess. I remember the first one distinctly. It was in Los Abrigos, back when, to get there, you still had to bump and twist along a road so narrow it reduced to one lane in places , and when the pathway by the harbor was potholed, and you could pull up and park right outside the restaurant at which you’d chosen to eat. The locals had been savvy enough to create restaurants from the buildings along that harbor front by then. I don’t know when the transition from quiet fishing village to “the” place for tourists to eat fish began, but it was when the now-nearby golf monstrosities were only twinkles in the eyes of greedy developers. In 1988 no lesser person than Kevin Keegan told me that his first thought when he arrived in Tenerife was a platter of fresh fish and papas arrugadas in Los Abrigos.
We had arrived in July, and the fiesta there is in September, so we must have very much still been feeling our way around everywhere, when, as we dined right on the roadside, a little procession wound its way past, the men shouldering a religious statue. It was a scene I’d seen in the South of France and in movies, so I understood what it was, though we were absolutely knocked out by the firework display which followed the mass and the blessing of the seas. That was something quite remarkable to our northern European eyes.
Looking back, I’m surprised how low key the celebrations must have been for us to be taken by surprise by the procession. Today’s Los Abrigos fiestas are much grander affairs, with a firework display which packs the Promenade, sardine-fashion, with hundred of locals, residents and tourists, who have easy access from the smooth road constructed some years back, and which, effectively, put Los Abrigos “on the map” I guess. The Sunday procession is still a fairly quiet affair, but visitors to the nightly verbenas, or open-air dances, in the church square party till the wee small hours throughout the week to the latest pop music or salsa……as I found out when I lived there! The village is far too small for anyone not to be affected by the noise!
For a while that was my impression of local fiestas – a few, die-hard religious people shouldering the statues and shouting “Viva whoever” as they paraded along the street, great firework displays (arriving in Disney World for the first time the only disappointment was the firework displays – not that they were inferior to Tenerife, just about the same), and lots of boozing and dancing. Romerias, as distinct from fiestas, seemed much more traditional, interesting and photogenic. Over the years I learned about different fiestas and romerías (and am not 100% sure what the difference is), some of which I’ve now seen, some of which I’ve seen on tv and some of which I’ve only heard stories. I know that each different celebration of each town or village has its own style, its own personality, and I know that, as the years pass, they evolve, they have changed in my time here. I guess Los Abrigos, having been such a tiny place, well, didn’t really have much in the way of tradition.
Fiestas in other places have become commercialized, most notably, of course, in Los Cristianos, where it was years before I understood the real traditions behind the wonderful firework display there. Ex-pats and tourists think is put on just for them, and like to mumble and grumble about things “not starting on time” here. Maybe that’s inevitable, Los Cristianos sold its soul years ago.
You have to pity El Médano in a way. In some villages now decorations for fiesta are much more extravagant than here, but the almost constant wind can make “short work” of almost anything they put up!
At any rate, I was undecided about going to the El Médano fiesta this weekend, but a trot down to the market on Saturday morning, seeing the preparations in the town square, the portabars, festoons and lively atmosphere, which was already in the air, prompted me, and later that evening I arrived just in time to see the statue of Our Lady (don’t ask me which one) being shouldered along the street by the square, being taken to her ringside seat for the fireworks. The truth is that, although there were hundreds of folk there, most of them were there for the firework display. Whilst the procession was winding its way along the streets, most of them were at the fair, buying cotton candy and hotdogs, or throwing back a quick beer, although the rides on the street side did dim their lights and tone down their music as the parade passed.
What really prompted me to go was to take some snaps of the fireworks. For the hours I put into the course at the beginning of the year, and for the time I’ve had, I’ve really just totally neglected photography as a hobby. It’s just been a way to record where I’ve been, and I could have done that just as well with my beloved, little Nikon Coolpix. This was my first opportunity to photograph fireworks, and I was surprised to find a decent place on the beach, despite the crowds…..most people don’t want to get sand in their nightime shoes it seems. I perched by a shower, and had a good position to be able to steady the camera, although I had to bum-shuffle across the wet sand a bit when some people came and stood right in front of us (hence they appear in at least one of the following photos!).
A buzz of expectation in the air
Looking at the moon, as the lights dimmed, you really have to wonder if we “need” fireworks
The procession passed behind me, with its morbid drumbeat and a few scattered “Vivas” (absolutely no wonder that William Booth decided that the devil shouldn’t be the only one to have some jolly music!). The streetlights went out. A kind of little gasp went through the crowd. Then silence, followed seconds later by the first glorious, colorful, exuberant burst lighting up the sky. The show was on.
No-one reading this needs to have a firework display described. Most of us in the “Western” world are suckers for them, no matter how many we see, and the ones in Tenerife are superb, rivalling Disney, the Olympics and most any others you can think of. Making the fireworks is one of the few non-tourist and non-agricultural industries here.
Remember these were a first attempt when you look at the pictures, please!
If you squint you can see is two surfer dudes who’d paddled out for a real ringside seat. You can see them in some other shots too, but best in this one.
What I hadn’t realized was how the colors of the starbursts and sparkles would bathe the ocean, turning it from red to purple to green according to the color of the display, and how they would reflect off the wet sand as the tide trickled back from the beach. There is a constant internal struggle if you like to snap away. It’s making the decision between immortalizing what you see, and simply turning off the camera and enjoying the spectacle. I tried to do a bit of both.
As the last sparkle faded and the air hung heavy with smoke, which made the nostrils twitch, and which even lay on the tongue, the streetlights flickered back on, and Mary was reshouldered to be locked away for another year. It would be logical to think that little will be left when the current generation of old women has died off, but the traditions of the island are so tied to religion that I wonder about that. The young seem more eager than ever to keep traditions alive, which seems like a good thing.
You certainly can’t beat the sense of fellowship and shared enjoyment which these events bestow on their respective communities, whether that could happen without the religious element I don’t know, but I really would like to think so. What I do know is you can get the best hotdogs eveh (sorry NY!), the tastiest pinchos and the coldest beers to round off your night.
The band hadn’t even struck up when I left, but I was supposed to be up early the next morning…..not so early that I didn’t make time to swing by my favorite ice cream parlor for a quick fix to make the night really complete though!