Islandmomma

Searching for Stories Around the Islands of the World and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Empire: a Restaurant Worth Wearing Shoes For!

Food isn’t, especially, a theme of this blog, but anyone who knows me can tell you that my interest in it is more than just a matter of fueling up!

To be sure, these days I waffle on about the delights of the hearty, traditional dishes of Tenerife, but of course there are whole other dining experiences here in the island’s south……thing is, you may need to venture into a resort to find one………something I try to avoid,  and if I do recommend somewhere I generally will prefix with “don’t think this is typical of Tenerife!” Of course it is typical of one face of Tenerife, just not one that I care for very much personally.

I came back from London last November not only with my wanderlust turned up to max (not only because of WTM but because of having had a great time there overall), but with my taste buds refreshed, and still dreaming of the memorable meal I had at PJs in Covent Garden, and feeling not a little despondent that, although there is great food around here, I wouldn’t find the variety I had in England…..so …Yay! I was proven wrong within just a couple of weeks.

Empire's elegant interior, with just a touch of British "colonial" feel to live up to the restaurant's name.

Empire’s elegant interior, with just a touch of British “colonial” feel to live up to the restaurant’s name.

Just before Christmas Venture Restaurants opened a new eatery in the Safari Center (sometimes considered Playa de las Americas, sometimes considered Los Cristianos, take your pick – but definitely grockleland), so when a friend suggested eating out one evening my first throught was ” try the new place” – and let me, right away, tell you that this opinion wasn’t solicited in any way. The meal was paid for in the normal fashion, and I didn’t speak with anyone about the possibility of writing about it until it was pretty much over, so this is a totally honest verdict. I’m quite the fan of Venture’s other restaurants, so my expectations were high.

The Safari Center is quite swish, and the surrounding area, home to some relatively up-market shops like Escada – in other words I felt a need to wear shoes, although Tenerife is very much the sort of place where dress rules go by the board, and you see girls in cocktail dresses and guys in shorts and vests dining in the same restaurant. Still, old habits die hard!  It’s a daily delight to shrug on casual clothes, even after all these years, and I don’t even own really formal clothes any longer, but I think it’s both respectful and fun to wear what passes for decent gear for dining in a “proper” restaurant i.e. shoes!

We had a drink first in Harry’s Bar – no, not somewhere I’d recommend, but their view of the dancing fountains, which happens on the hour in the center of the mall is the best, and it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it before. You can be forgiven for thinking you’re in Las Vegas as Ride of the Valkyries heralds the beginning of the display, which melds into Elvis and the Hawaiian Wedding Song if you’re feeling romantic. I wasn’t. I was feeling irritated because the barman didn’t know what a spritzer was – remember I’d just come back from London, so that was a bit of a shock, almost as much of a shock as noting that he didn’t even care. Ah the sub-standard service so typical of Tenerife! (T’ongue firmly in cheek -it’s only typical of certain type of places.)

Trotting across to Empire which is just at right-angles to the bar I was inwardly muttering to myself about this possibly not having been a good idea. See, this is exactly one reason I don’t come to these places. Hey, but one smile from the greeter at the restaurant entrance dispeled my mood. Even if the food wasn’t as good as it is, it would be worth visiting a Venture establishment just for the service. Since it’s the same in every one, I conclude it’s the training. They walk that tightrope between friendliness and efficiency which is not easy to balance. You know – overfriendly and your food goes cold whilst they’re talking, or so formal that you worry about your elbows on the table and which knife and fork to use all night.

Truly, truly melt-in-the-mouth Wild Mushroom Wellington, a veggie alternative to Beef Wellington.

Truly, truly melt-in-the-mouth Wild Mushroom Wellington, a veggie alternative to Beef Wellington.

We settled into comfortable chairs close to one of those patio heaters on the large terrace…….always, always be outdoors if you can and the place isn’t full of smokers (which it wasn’t, happily) anywhere that is, not specifically in Empire. Why live in a climate like this and be indoors if you don’t need to be?? I eagerly studied the menu. Hmmm……hard not to squeal in delight……talking to the Venture owner later, he described the theme as “upmarket pub grub,” and I’m guessing that’s perhaps the best description, though my intimacy with English pub grub is a thing of the past.

Let me regale you with a few items from the starters: Seared Queen Scallops on sliced crispy belly pork with crushed cream peas; Quiche Tartlet with pumpkin, goat’s cheese and artichoke; and Empire’s Exclusive Scotch Egg – made with our exclusive Empire sausgage meat, carefully prepared by our butcher using only finest local ingredients, served on a bed of mixed green leaves with beetroot chutney – really? This is pub grub? Even the traditional prawn cocktail had a new twist. OK – perhaps another visit to England is necessary to bring myself up to date! Continue reading


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Just an Average Island Day

At 6.30am El Médano wears a very different face from its usual sunny but breezy one.  There’s a faint chill in the air, little wind (it blows in with the sunshine), the  lights in the square  are still atwinklin’, but there are no kids skateboarding beneath them, and the air clanks with the sound of dumpsters and recycling bins being emptied, and the whoosh of the high pressure hose as streets are cleaned.

Trixy and I place hesitant feet (well, paws in her case) on the damp pavement.  Sometimes the paving they use here gets dangerous when wet. Trix is always suspicious in the dark,  she sniffs along less than usual and sticks close to my legs.

I hang around at the end of the street, where pavement meets beach, waiting for her to do that which she has to do, when a beaten-up old truck passes slowly by, then reverses.  I tense.  Now I’m the suspicious one, and I hope that Trixy looks suitably fierce, even when performing her toilet.  However, they are simply surveying the dumpsters to see if there is anything worth taking before the council truck arrives to empty them.

It’s a familiar kind of sight these days. When I moved last  I put out some old, surplus furniture alongside the containers, and it disappeared within the hour, possibly to be tarted up and reappear at the car boot sale. I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of these guys.  They don’t let pride get in the way of their trying to keep body and soul together – unlike some of us.  I shudder.  It’s a thought which has crossed my mind in these times, the need to get so desperate, especially since my pension rights got lost in the fog of bureaucracy.

The sun announces its imminent appearance in a thin, bright light which ekes along the edge of the low cloud which is hugging the horizon. A brighter flash, like the gleam of a lighthouse, and then it emerges, slowly, but much quicker than it does further north. Soon it is a flaming sphere, balanced on those clouds, melting those clouds, and I have to look away.

We return home, greeting neighbors on a similar mission to ours. Feed Trixy, mop the floor, the coffee is ready and welcome. I swear I feel it touching each nerve in my body to bring it to life. I know it doesn’t work like that, but the notion helps wake me fully. Breakfast, shower, dress, check emails and Facebook and Twitter, then the big question: how many hits did the blog get yesterday? I know it isn’t important, but, dammit, there is a little thrill when it proves to be more than normal. I’m certainly not in the big time, and not sure I even want to be, but it’s nice to know that people actually read what I write.

Toss Trixy a biscuit and head out the door. It’s just after 9, and the autopista isn’t too bad. May through June is low season, and this year especially as the recession grinds unceasingly on, so traffic is light. I pull into the Vehicle Inspection Center, my van is due for its biannual check over. There is no queue (things are improving!), and the paperwork is quick, drive to lane indicated and honk the horn, brake when instructed and wiggle the wheel a lot. It passes. Phew! I find this on a par with going to the dentist, always afraid it will result in them finding something wrong which will result in a big bill.

Stop by the supermarket. Drive into Los Cristianos. The fountain at the town’s entrance looks bright and inviting against the sky’s intense blue. It’s hot and sticky in the car, and I have to seriously resist the impulse to stop & climb into it! Post office, book store, bank, office supplies, record store to sell some unwanted cds. I walk slowly back to the car park, enjoying the warmth and the fresh air, envious of the folk on the beach – but then, they’re probably envious of me, living here. Backpackers scurry past, bent under the weight of their packs, heading for the ferry to another island. The sight of it makes my feet itch.

Back to El Médano. I park the car in the garage, unload the shopping, whizz Trixy to the end of the road, and then toss her another biscuit as I close the door again. I meet a friend for lunch in Cafe M on the boardwalk. We order loops, a kind of bagel which they overfill with salad stuff and meat or fish as you choose, and large intense fresh fruit juices. Nothing stops the chatter, though. We laugh and we people watch, and we lay plans for a future hike, talk of future journeys, and I idly wonder why we are sitting next to the beach and not on it.

It doesn’t take long to answer that question. I have a class at 5, and haven’t finished preparing it yet, so I make a move. I walk slowly again, because, well, I’m just that way out today. Sort of “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!”  I stop to smile at the latest sand sculpture on the beach, reluctant to leave.

I’d rather stop in this bar by the harbor and have a mojito or two.

I’m not in a working mood at all today, but I turn the key, clear the table and settle down to finish what I should have done yesterday.

5pm my students arrive. Lethargy is out the window. It’s a good lesson. Sometimes I enjoy teaching ESL so  much that I feel guilty being paid to do this, but I love the feeling when I know that students have grasped something, are improving, more confident. We also laugh quite a lot.

6.30 It’s too hot for June. I skip across the plaza for an ice cream. I don’t even want my favorite Chocolate Brownie, I choose refreshing passion fruit, and sit on a bench overlooking the harbor to enjoy it before it melts. I stop, as I almost always do when passing through Plaza Roja to gaze at my favorite piece of Médano sculpture, entitled Homage to Magellan. Its original and bold, and he looks out to sea, dreaming of places over the ocean, planing voyages and biding his time.

Time for another walk. I don’t enjoy evening walks nearly as much as morning ones,when we are almost alone, when I feel as if the world is ours. In summer we don’t see much of the sunset. Children squeal in the playground. Skateboarder dudes scud past. Trixy sniffs other dogs. Other dogs sniff Trixy. The waves cream onto the pebbles, and a few hopeful windsurfers coax some mileage out of the light breeze.

Soup, salad. Resist the strong desire for a cold beer (tomorrow is a run day). Check emails, and Facebook and Twitter and stats. I sit here and write this. Amazingly I have three early starts lined up over the next three days, so at just after 10 it’s time for bed.

This in response to a question my friend and I asked ourselves yesterday, “What do we do all day?” This wasn’t a creative nor an adventurous day, it wasn’t especially happy nor sad. I didn’t angst because I couldn’t find the right word, or curse the inefficiency in some office or other. I didn’t walk or run or climb or swim, though I do all of those things from time to time, some more than others.  It was ordinary. Too many of these and I would get bored! This was a slow, leisurely day, if it hadn’t been I couldn’t have written this. It’s a snapshot of an average, slow, leisurely day. It’s doing the sorts of things women the world over do, the difference is that my backdrop is kind of nice, isn’t it? And because this place, much as I love it, isn’t my home I still have that tingly feeling that I’m just passing through. OK, OK it’s been a long sojourn, and the island’s tentacles have proved to have a long reach whenever I’ve been away for too long, but, still it will “do” for now. That said, it’s been interesting to note how many times in a day I reference travel, even on a day when I don’t read about it or watch tv………..


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A Dramatic Sunset: My Reward for Procrastination

I’d been glued to the keyboard all day yesterday, all the while gnawing at the back of my mind were chores I needed to do in Los Cristianos. Now this is only a 15 or 20 minute drive, so it’s no big deal, is it?  especially when you consider the distances some of you drive daily without thought, those of you who live on continents, rather than on islands, of course. Island living definitely alters your perspective sometimes. Procrastination can become a way of life.

Finally, I dragged myself out in time for the business day re-opening. Although in the resort areas loads of businesses and many shops now stay open throughout the day, there are probably just as many which resolutely close their doors either at 1pm or at 2pm so workers can lunch and siesta the afternoon away, before returning at 4 or at 5. In Los Cristianos mostly they close at 2, so I aimed to be there for 5.

The advantage is that the parking is much better in the afternoons. Deliveries seem to be concentrated into the morning hours, and generally if you think about making an appointment with your lawyer or accountant or any other professional you think “before lunch”.

The other advantage is that you get everything done much more quickly because there are fewer folk around, not only are less locals doing businesses, but in Winter at least, the tourists are ambling back to their hotels and apartments to clean up for dinner. Yesterday, in fact, there were a few visitors mooching about the shopping area, because we have winter right now. That is, it’s the few weeks of the year we get at some time between December and March, when temperatures drop a bit, so not exactly beach weather then, we even had a few drops of rain over the last couple of days.

Fred, my faithful, old car, not being in the best of health these days, I was aiming to be home before it was too dark, but as I drove out of town the skyline caught my eye. Brooding, purple clouds were hovering over the horizon, and the sun, not far from its setting, was playing hide and seek with them. I pulled over, and sat and watched for a while, and the allure proved too much. It’s clouds which make those dramatic sunset pictures, and who knew what these fleecy beauties might do.

Playa El Callao’s 400 m or so of bedraggled sands mark the terminus of Los Cristianos, most of it is pebbles with a few parched-looking junipers surviving here and there.  Although it is within the resort it certainly isn’t a tourist beach, and its scraggy-ness isn’t unappealing. It’s close to where I lived in 2009.  It’s tranquil, last night only the slapping of the waves on rock from the wake as the ferries came and went could be heard, other than a couple of dog-walkers calling or whistling their pets.

I trudged down to the scrubby beach, on the approach dodging the dog poo, plastic bags and other fast food detritus, wondering whether the photos I knew would make this forlorn beach look like paradise were fair.  There are so many times I scratch my head over things which seem to me obvious: why isn’t this beach “adopted” and prettified? There is a smart hotel right next to it, The Arona Gran – what do its residents think about this beach? If there is some reason (and right now if you asked the town hall will tell you there’s no money, obviously) it isn’t being developed, at least why isn’t it kept clean? There were quite a few folk around, walking down to the beach or headland to watch the sunset.  I’m very much in favor of “wild” beaches myself, but how can the filth be allowed?

Fact is, the Canary Islands in general have benefited enormously from the Arab Spring, from rioting in Greece and other problems which have made people think twice about holidaying in other places (not that the queues at the employment offices get any shorter), and whilst enterprising and imaginative promotion is done in some quarters, in others it leads to complacency.

So I have to say that whilst these photos represent Nature’s passion and splendor, and it’s very true that sights like this are the norm here, what lay behind me was mankind’s disgusting mess.


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Burial of the Sardine – One of Spain’s weird festivals!

OK, so I implied a few posts back that I was a bit jaded on the subject of Carnaval.  Sunday’s parade in Los Cristianos had been impressive, and I enjoyed it, but there isn’t that tingle of excitement there any more for me.  Monday, however, was a whole other kettle of fish (***sorry about that***)!

In all the years of living here I’d never been to the Burial of the Sardine before,  maybe because the following day was a school day, and by the time the kids were older the shine had worn off.  So perhaps I enjoyed Monday so much because it was a novelty, or perhaps it was because it was more spontaneous and fun and more informal than the big parade.

Spain is known for its weird and wonderful ways of celebrating certain events, and often there is only the flimsiest idea of how some of these traditions began.  The Burial of the Sardine is no exception.  Why would a bunch of perfectly straight, often macho, guys dress up in fishnets, high heels and widow’s weeds, and parade themselves through town, bewailing (and take the “wailing” part of that literally!) the “death” of a giant, papier mache fish?

This year’s sardine, attended by a couple of “widows”.

So far as I can make out, putting together the different stories so that they make sense, this is what I came up with.  First off, you have to know that Carnaval represents the last blow out before Lent begins.  Lent being the 40 day period when Christians used to forgo meat.  These days it’s generally beer or chocolate people give up, if anything, but back when, they used to become pescatarian until Easter.  Tradition was that a side of pork was buried symbolically marking the beginning of Lent.  So, one year not on record, probably in the 18th Century in Madrid, due to the heat and the fact that Madrid is a fair distance from the coast, sardines which had been taken by the crowds attending the burial of the pork for their lunch, began to go very off, and had to be buried, before the stink got to be too much!

Twilight and the Fish prepares for the journey to meet its fate.

Fast forward a hundred years or so and a group of merry-making Madrileños decide to re-enact the Burial of the Sardines……. and the rest is history, these days it is tradition all over Spain to mark the end of Carnaval by burying a mock sardine.  That’s about as much as I knew Monday evening when I met my friends outside the Cultural Center of Los Cristianos.

The funeral procession was schedule to begin at 8, but when I arrived there were just a few curious tourists, and the odd “widow” hanging around.  I figured someone had forgotten about changing to daylight saving the day before, because clearly this was going to be  more fun in the dark.  Then again, remember, we are on “island time” here. As people began to turn up, it was clear that the fancy dress was more fun than professional – mostly guys, mostly wearing stockings and mini skirts and wigs, and each one funnier than the last, and many with what I will just describe as false phallic symbols!

Tradition has it that these “widows” dress in black with a touch of red, but some I guess were recycling last year’s carnaval costumes.  Miss Piggy, as you can see above, was attired in her traditional pink, and what you can’t see in this photo is the “thing” which dangled between her legs and touched the floor!  The guy below in glam mode looks as if he has borrowed his girlfriend’s dance costume …. nice contrast  with his hairy chest.

As darkness began to descend, the procession, headed by a “priest,” set off.  I thought that the “priest” was to give last rites to the sardine, but apparently he is also to “pardon” the sins of the masses committed during Carnaval…..and you can believe that  they are plenty!  Following the priest, a vehicle draped in red and black blared not so much the salsaof Carnaval, as disco music,  more wake than funeral.  Some maneuvering to get the giant fish onto the street and we were off, dodging between some very puzzled tourists as we tried to follow and take snaps, and stopping to buy beers en route.

We stayed with the fish, and it wasn’t long before a long gap appeared between the dance music and the “hearse”.  This was due to the frequent and loud mourning wails of the accompanying windows, who also lay in front of the catafalque from time to time waving their legs in the air, to the astonishment of the already bemused onlookers, and also due in no small measure to constant stops to hand out booze to soften their pain.  Basically, if you can lower your natural reserve enough to imagine being the midst of a bunch of seriously good-natured drunks intent on being really, really silly, that’s how it was.  It was a pain that I had a 20 minute drive home which meant I couldn’t drink that much, but it was fun to have a ringside seat!

It felt much more like being a part of the local community than simply standing, watching and admiring the Sunday Parade.  People often say that local carnavals don’t compare with Santa Cruz, claiming that they are staged largely for tourists, which is partly true, and there isn’t a problem with that, as I’ve said about different things before, we need the tourist euros, but Monday was just a real, let-your-hair-down, anything-goes occasion.  Of course, from the religious angle, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent were long-gone, but the spirit was still here!

Eventually, steering of the hearse having gotten much more erratic along the route through the main street of town, as the “widows” became more intoxicated, the merry cortege arrived at the beach, where an area had been set aside for the funeral pyre.  The quantity of tourists lining the promenade surprised me, because not too many had followed the procession, but they watched as the sardine was maneuvered into position in the center of the area, and, under the watchful eye of the Protección Civil, the last rites were pronounced, in the form of a good dousing with something  inflammable to provoke combustion when the torch was applied.  Suddenly flames burst from the sardine’s back, and I felt a bit sad that his jolly presence was soon going to give a whole new meaning to my idea of grilled sardines!

Once established that the fire was under control, the “widows” were allowed their final farewells, dancing around the fire, wailing and a last salute of waving legs.  It wasn’t long before all that remained was the skeleton……..and sins were forgiven, fasting became order of the day, and Carnaval was over for another year.


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Where I go to Carnival afterall

The good thing about the Los Cristianos Carnaval not being on Shrove Tuesday (as it should be to really qualify being described as a carnaval) is that it’s later and so the weather is invariably good. So it was yesterday, warm and sunny but not too hot. Perfect! And an opportunity to practice photography which is hard to pass up if you really have nothing better to do. Well, I did, but I went anyway – hang the ironing and the filing!

Of course, the Sunday Parade is the tip of the iceberg. There has been much singing and dancing and judging going on, so that the participants and winners can display their talents in the parade, and much sewing and painting and rehearsing too, not to mention designing some of the fabulous costumes you will see in the photos to follow. Designers, once recovered from this year´s efforts will already be dreaming up ideas for next year, as you can imagine. The details on some of these are ingenious and just breathtaking!

Murgas are musical groups, who perform what are best described as satirical songs, usually aimed at local or national politicians or events which are asking for some criticism, much like the comics of Comedy Central, really, well, the same kind of targets anyway. Their costumes are often very outlandish, other times just amusing, and there is a category for children’s groups too.

For me the group above really represent the spirit of Carnaval – they were having so much fun it was catching! But most people think of the Queen and her Ladies of Honor, and those fantastic costumes when they think of this fiesta. This year’s costumes were stunning. So glad I wasn’t a judge! There is an infant queen too, but she was having running repairs to her headgear at the time she passed by our spot, so I didn’t get a snap! The first picture is the Queen of the Carnival, and others of the runners-up.

The other image which sticks is of the comparsas, the dance troupes in their sexy outfits…..who all deserved medals for tripping along the streets of town in their high heels yesterday!

And some people are here just for the fun!

And other people just seem to find it a chore, mind you, this group was well towards the end of the Parade, so they’d been waiting around for some time by the time I snapped them……and they had a long way to go. It all slows down as you get nearer to the end, because the beginning becomes gridlocked as people get to the end of the route, and peel off in different directions.

These guys looked as if they could have gone on walking and clowning around all night though!

As the last float passed we walked up with the stragglers towards the fairground and that gridlock. This guy jumped onto the rail of his float and serenaded the crowd with “Chicharrero de Corazón”, the anthem of the carnival goers.

“Chicharrero, chicharrero,
chicharrero de corazón.
Salta a la calle y dale al tambor
que el carnaval ya empezó.”

which means, more or less:

“Chicharrero, chicharrero,
chicharrero of my heart.
Pour into the streets and pick up the drum,
the carnival has already started”

A Chicharrero/a is a local word for a native of Tenerife, and for sure at Carnival time you kind of wish that’s what you were.  I don’t take back what I said before, nothing will be the same as actually taking part, but this year the town did itself proud, and the fun was infectious!  We headed off for hot dogs and beer, and churros and chocolate …….. and I’m pleased to report they were so enjoyable I don’t feel in the least bit guilty today!


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Carnaval : Is it Better Late or Never?

It’s Lent now.  Carnavals the world over are done and dusted.  Costumes are stored away, and the Lenten fasting has begun (Carnaval is supposed the time to be  using up  the fats and goodies before Lent).  Or has it?

Not in Los Cristianos it hasn’t.  The fun only began a few days back.  The travelling fair, of course, was way too busy up in Santa Cruz, at the Carnaval described by some as second only to Rio de Janeiro’s, to have been here for Shrove Tuesday, but last weekend it began to arrive, and the town was buzzing with preparations.

The truth is that many people, having exhausted themselves up in Santa Cruz over the weeks of the “real” carnaval, can’t be bothered with the local one.  I’ve been told frequently over the years that this Carnaval is just for the tourists and the children.  It certainly seems to be smaller than it used to be.  They changed the route some years back, so that the procession is now over with more quickly, and doesn’t weave through the heart of town, which detracts from it somehow.

I had to go to Los Cristianos a couple of times during the week (It’s a place I do my best to avoid these days. My favorite way to describe it is to say that it sold its soul. To compare how it was when I first arrived and how it is now is a whole other post), so it was a quick dash, because the parking is nigh impossible when the fair’s in town, and the car parks are prohibitively expensive for my financial situation. Even so, I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps.

Fairgrounds, even when they are in the course of being erected, fascinate me. They are so full of color.  To be sure it’s the screams and laughter, and the smell of hotdogs and churros which complete the picture, but with a sky so clear and a mountain backdrop like this, the vibrancy is there even at this stage.

The fair takes over a large site on the edge of town, which one day will be built on, and where it will go after that heaven only knows.  You have to wonder if the day of the travelling fair is past, as towns expand, and these vacant lots and spaces are gobbled up by developments.  It takes days to get everything up and running.  You can see the difference between the first photo and the next, two, which were taken about 3 days apart, from the second floor of an apartment/commercial complex.  Given that the festivities go on into the wee, small hours for the best part of a week, I can’t begin to imagine how residents sleep at night.

Around the corner kiosks were arriving and lining up in the street, which is closed to traffic for the duration.

“Duck” shoots and candy floss, baked potatoes, bars and bingo will echo and waft their ways through the night as the celebrations gather momentum.  At the end of the street is a stage, where bands will salsa for the nightly verbenas, and folk can dance off the beer and wine.  This Carnaval isn’t so much about dressing up as the bigger ones in the north, but it will not lack merriment.  A few yards further on, outside the Cultural Center, is another stage, where the Queen of the Carnaval will be chosen. If you’re here on vacation, for sure, you won’t be disappointed. Despite it being in this tourist resort, it is still very much a local event, and not aimed directly at foreigners. It’s authentic.

As you can see from the picture on the left, there are other residential blocks cheek by jowl with what is really an outdoor disco. I imagine that the only way to deal with it if you live so close is to join in!

Me, I haven’t bother too much with Carnaval for a long time now. I wrote about why here. It is, basically, that after that experience nothing can top it. You have to know when something’s time is past because going back can be very disappointing. Still, that was as a participant, and standing on the sidelines as a spectator could never cut it, but in my “new incarnation” (**tongue in cheek there**, people) as a blogger maybe I will see things from a different perspective, and so inshall’ah I shall be standing on the sidelines tomorrow for the big parade…….and I can’t help wondering what photos from the top of this would look like!


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Shopping for a Sub-Tropical Xmas

Well, all the family shopping and the food shopping is done.  The base of the trifle is soaking nicely in sweet sherry,  the pumpkin and the sweet potato (recent additions to my Xmas menu since Guy lived in the US) are puréed and ready to mix, the breadcrumbs and the chestnuts are ready to make stuffing.  Tomorrow I will be elbow deep in all sorts of disgusting stuff which will, I hope, end up tasting ok the following day!

Is this the most patient dog in the world, or what?!

The church square in Los Cristianos two nights ago, with the nativity scene (belén) on the right.

When we wondered about how Christmas would be before emigrating we thought about the stories we’d heard from Australia about barbeques on the beach and Christmas morning swims, but in truth that doesn’t happen here much.  For one thing, although it’s a heck of a lot warmer than England, it’s still winter, and the weather can be unpredictable.  For another thing, because Spaniards celebrate on Christmas Eve, what the English know as Christmas Day is kind of just another bank holiday.  People go to the beach if the weather’s ok, but the beaches are not anything out of the ordinary, and are mainly for tourists or resident “furriners” in wintertime.  So we fell into the habit of celebrating Christmas more-or-less in the traditional English way, as so many ex-pats do, and that meant ordering turkey, which was almost unheard of here back then, specially from the butcher, instead of scooping it from the supermarket shelf, as I now do.  Almost everything else came over in someone or other’s suitcase………perish THAT thought now with weight restrictions, not to mention security! ……. can you believe up to 1997 we used to bring boxes of crackers even!  Luton 1997 was the first time they were taken off me!    It was kind of fun doing things that way, though, I must say.

So the food’s a doddle now, what with the big English supermarket in Las Chafiras, which was hotting up something awful by 10am this morning.  Phew, thank god that’s all done!    Christmas shopping this year was a bit blah.  At a glance, it can be pretty much the same as anywhere, shiny stores like El Corté Ingles in Santa Cruz, and shopping malls like the Carrefour and El Campo ones in the North are the places to go these days.  None of those existed when we arrived, and Xmas shopping used to begin on my annual summer trip to the UK,  just in case I couldn’t get back again before the big day.  In more recent years one of the delights of Christmas was strolling along Avendia Juan XXlll in Los Cristianos, which was full of interesting shops, the sort you normally only go in at Christmas or shopping for other presents.  The overhead lights twinkled and a warm and gentle breeze would ruffle your hair, and as you passed some of the stores scents of vanilla and cinnamon would waft by,  and you knew this was just the nicest place to be at this time of year.

Closer look at the belén in Los Cristianos’s church square

Sadly Avendia Juan XXlll has changed, the shops are become yet more dress shops or cafés, and the fun of knowing that you knew just where to find that extra stocking filler is gone.  Christmas lights adorn the lamp posts of most towns, but look as if they have been stuck up as a kind of after-thought. Maybe it’s because I come from Blackpool, where, as any English person knows, they KNOW how to do street lights, but seems to me it would be better to put them all in a few square meters of glory,  instead of dotting them about the place so that it all looks very half-hearted.  The only place which looks a bit magical is the church square in Los Cristianos, which, as you can see in one of the pictures above, despite the warmth does look like a winter wonderland.  Maybe it’s because it’s all done with tourism in mind –  because the north is clearly a different matter altogether. Take a look at this lovely picture and story from local writer Andy Montgomery.  That says to me that the effect has been created for the pleasure of local people, enjoying the atmosphere and the season.

In their favor, the local business community of Los Cristianos at least knew that they needed to drum up some trade, so they commissioned sand sculptors to create a belén in the corner of the main beach, which was opened officially by the mayor yesterday, and to which the finishing touches were being made when I snapped it Tuesday evening.  Undoubtedly, it’s a work of art, and a difficult creation given the weather we’ve had of late.

This nativity graces the main roundabout when you enter Los Cristianos

At home, with my overburdened tree and my tacky tinsel adorning pictures and bookshelves, it feel like Christmas, but out there – not so much.  It’s not because it never has.  It used to.  Maybe it’s this bl**dy awful recession, maybe it’s lack of imagination where needed, maybe it’s that greed has turned the warmth sour.  This is going to be the first Christmas since 2000 that both my sons have been here at the same time, so I have reason to be jolly, so I don’t think it’s me being bah humbug either.  Time to pull up the mental drawbridge for a while perhaps……but not before wishing anyone who happens across this post A VERY VERY HAPPY AND MERRY AND JOYFUL HOLIDAY SEASON!


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Not the Lunar Eclipse

I had the alarm all set.  It seemed quite reasonable – 6am.  Only a half hour earlier than my alarm usually summons me from slumber.  As my mind began to clear and register that the alarm was going off, it also registered how very dark it seemed, and for a moment scenes from last night’s movie, “Tron: Legacy”, swirled around my brain in tandem with visions of the moon and shadows and eclipses.  It was then that my inner sloth surfaced first, told me if I’ve seen one, I’ve seen them all, and my arm fumbled out, hit the alarm, and I turned over.  It was light and sunny when I woke eventually.  I missed the lunar eclipse.

Justifying my laziness during the day, I convinced myself that really it was all a fuss over nothing.  Morning tv camped out with the astronomers on Mt Teide, my Facebook homepage full of grainy pictures of the event, and Twitter, well, twittering about it.  So the earth’s shadow passed between the moon and the sun, this has WHAT impact on our lives?  Changes WHAT in the world’s plight?  It’s a phenomenon that happens now and then.  We aren’t pre-historic people believing it’s the end of the world or anything.  It’s not like a meteor shower that won’t be around again for another forty years.

The last time it happened saw me at the base of Mt Teide with friends and hot chocolate.  It was exactly 0º, and the atmosphere was something like a party, as dozens of people who’d driven up waited with bated breath, and a silence fell as what, indeed, seemed like a supernatural happening began.  The previous time saw me and Guy wrapped in our duvets lying on sunbeds on our terrace.  That was my first, so it was pretty exciting.

As today wore on I had pretty much convinced myself that sitting on my roof terrace at 6am, duvet and sunbed again, was an event worth missing.  That was until I was out Christmas shopping this evening.  I thought I’d snap the Christmas lights and the belen in Los Cristianos, but I got far more than I expected.  I left the church square and all the pretty lights, and turned to the shopping streets.  Halfway down Avendia de Suecia I turned to see how the street lights looked, and instead what drew my attention was the moon, huge and incandescent, its glow reflecting off wisps of cloud, and far outshining man’s paltry attempts at radiance.  The photos don’t do it justice by any stretch of the imagination.  It was majestic, a reminder of this world’s natural beauty, and now I SO wish I’d bothered to get up to watch the eclipse!


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Even a Quiet Week Has its Highlights

I’ve been pretty out of it for a few days now with a chronic tooth infection which has limited my diet, and given me more pain than I could have believed, so I’ve not caught up with a lot of what’s been happening, and I’ve missed quite a bit of fun (**stamping foot and pouting**), but yesterday, pepped up by antibiotics and painkillers I popped down to Las Galletas, a still fairly small fishing village roughly half way between Los Cristianos and El Médano.  The occasion was a Crafts Fair, and after the mega-fair in Pinolere in the Summer I was expecting to be disappointed, but quite to the contrary came away very happy.  It wasn’t billed as a Christmas Fair, but had that kind of feel about it, or maybe it was just the general mood as the festive season approaches.

My plan was to meet a friend, take a turn around the fair, have a coffee, spend an hour or half hour with some other friends who were coming later, and home to an early night, assuming my tooth would demand it, but I ended up both arriving earlier than intended, and staying later….which obviously indicates that it was very enjoyable.

The first plus was the seascape which greeted me on the short promenade. Some clouds were still hanging around yesterday, after two weeks of stormy weather, but they were making their exit with a grace which put me in mind of Swan Lake, beginning as startling white wisps and banks, they shifted and drifted to leave the sky eventually for a classic sunset.

On to the fair, then. The richness of the island’s traditions and the quality of craftmanship are a testament to the originality and endurance of its people.  There were leather workers, and lace makers, crafted candles, carpentry, glassware, jewellery and weavers who made straw into hats and baskets, and barely an item which stank of commercialization of any sort.  This fair was “the real thing”, from the replicas of toys of yore to my new friends from the apiary in Aldea Blanca it was all genuinely crafted with skill and love.  I asked a man displaying those beautiful knives I mentioned seeing in Pinolere how long it took him to make just the small one, and the answer was two weeks, so carefully and painstakingly are they created.

It was probably a good thing that this Christmas finds me stoney, because I would otherwise have spent a fortune!  As it was, I settled for an amazing cinnamon scented candle for my Christmas table, plus some cinnamon crystals to store away with the decorations, so that they smell of Christmas when I take out the box in a year’s time; and I loaded up on cured goats’ cheeses and fennel honey, and a bottle of coffee liquor from the ladies below, which, it seems to be, will be the perfect way to top off the Christmas feast.

I was disappointed that there was only piped music when I arrived around 3 o’clock, which made me glad I stayed later, because the folk singing and dancing in the evening had a lovely community feel to it, especially for the last dance when the group pulled very willing people from the audience for the last waltz. Canarian folk music, like many forms of traditional music is probably an acquired taste, with solos by rich tenor voices, the same sort of sound you get from a Welsh Male Voice Choir in a way, but I never fail to be impressed by the enjoyment of the performers, their commitment to what they do, and the fact there are so many young people, both male and female who are happy to carry on these traditions.

Backpack clinking pleasantly as bottles of honey jostled with the coffee liquor, I made my way back to the car, full of local cheese and homemade bread, as the Christmas lights twinkled around and about,  with a little of the bonhomie rubbed off too.

Today, by contrast was a modern tradition, and one which, it has to be said, we wish there was no need for, and that would be the annual Carrera por la Vida, the annual walk from Playa de las Americas to Los Cristianos to raise awareness for breast cancer research.

It wasn’t a day for dwelling on the necessity for the walk, as much as to celebrate having had in our lives those we’ve loved and lost to cancer, and to hope that maybe just one person seeing the parade pass by might learn something which might save their or someone else’s life one day.

It’s a “glamorous” cause compared to some. Women worldwide have labored long and with much imagination to raise awareness, so that it’s hard to believe that there are still women (especially, but it can happen to men too) who don’t know about self-examination or the necessity for mammograms or the urgency of getting to the doctor if they find an abnormality, but it seems that there are. You could hear the comments as we passed by, some people just don’t want to know until it happens to them.

On this island it was also nice to see a thoroughly integrated affair, despite some stumbles from the English anchor, the spirit of co-operation was nice to see, and it would be nice to think that it might extend to other areas, and that more ex-pats might genuinely care for and become involved in the community in which they live.

The Triatlon Team from Adeje who swam the route in an hour and a half in a rough sea. Austin on the left (no apologies for motherly pride!)

Sorry about the quality of these photos, I’ve been having some camera problems over the weekend!

Last but by no means least, (yessss it’s food again!), let me tell you about cinnamon ice cream with dark chocolate sauce, which, you see, requires no chewing so I could indulge on Friday lunchtime. The ice cream rich and solid and so laden with cinnamon I christened it “Christmas on a spoon”, and the sauce so perfectly dark and yet sweet that it made me dream of Inca kings!   This is where my week turned on its heel and dismissed the pains and inconveniences,  the ice cream having been preceeded by a salad so fresh and with flavors so perfectly blended that we wondered if it even had dressing on it, and a sweet potato stuffed with cod and topped with grated cheese.  Such a way to break an unintended fast!  Anyone wanting to know where this was will need to submit requests in writing for my approval, because I SO do not want this place to be over-run! Just one clue, which will not surprise many, it ain’t in the south!


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Never Be Without a Camera

It’s no secret that I fell in love in January, no, not with Mr Right, and not, even with the Nikon 70D, I was lusting after, (and whose picture was the wallpaper on my computer at work the day I was fired), but with my Canon EOS 500D.  It was, in many ways, an impulse buy and an extravagance, but I haven’t regretted it for one second.  Well, only one or two, seconds that is.  It’s not that I would swap it for all the tea in China, it’s just that I’d like a nice, wee one to slip into a pocket when dog walking, or going out for dinner.  The Canon is almost always with me, but just isn’t practical sometimes……….but far be it from me to whinge, one day it will have a little brother, this I know.

I’ve had a couple of reasons to be happy it was with me this week, outings when I really didn’t expect to use it, but took it anyway, because you never know what will turn up on this remarkable island.  I’m sure it’s the same anywhere.  Carrying a camera makes you look for photo-ops, and look at things in a different way, makes you more aware of the journey.  What you would spot in England or in Tennessee wouldn’t be the same things I spot here, but I guess this is the draw of photography, sharing impressions and how we see them.

The first time was returning from a late afternoon lunch in Adeje.  It really had been late, because the sun was about to set, as I drove along, parallel with the coast.  To be honest, what I’d expected to use the camera for this day was the shoreline (too bright), the food (forgot because it was so delicious!), or the restaurant (light was all wrong), so none of the shots which had been in my head were in the camera, and I was chastising myself a bit even though the wonderful lunch had left a mellow glow.  So I was delighted when I glanced out to sea and saw that we might be due for a really gorgeous sunset, and I looked for somewhere to pull over.  Though it was a busy road, basically a motorway access road, which I knew well, the spot I chose wasn’t familiar, but turned out to be a bonus, because not only did I get the snaps in the previous post, but also these (more about where they are another time):

This morning I decided to take myself to the ER after a restless night with the mother of all toothaches.  Last night we had heavy rains again, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to drive with combination of extreme pain and washed out roads – good call, because the road up to the medical center had some deep puddles, even at 9.30am.  I took the camera because, well, after that kind of rain, and the orange alert we’re under you never know what you might find, plus the center is on a hillside, with always the chance of a good view down to Los Cristianos.  It stuck me afterwards just how much I love this camera, because  I was in so much pain I couldn’t even eat, and had difficulty downing my very necessary morning coffee.  After one of those shots in the bum that seem to go on forever, (but hardly felt a thing …. I am full of praise for the staff in the ER at El Mojon!) and by the time I found a pharmacy open to get my prescriptions filled, I was beginning to chill at last, so when I noticed the surf on the beach at Las Vistas I had to stop.

The novel thing about this site, on an island of surfers, is that this beach doesn’t normally have waves at all.  The main surf breaks end on rock or pebble, as you would expect from a volcanic island, so to be able to ride a wave right onto the sand of this man-made beach must have been cool I imagine.  I have seen it in this state before, but not too often, so this is kind a historic little collection of snaps here.

The day was warm and very humid, and mist from atop the waves drifted across the beach.  Even then there were a few vacationers stretched out on sunbeds, and a goodly crowd watching the surfers.

I was tempted to take a look at the ocean from the El Médano side as I drove home, but the meds were kicking in, and I was beginning to feel a bit drowsy, so I headed straight home, but later, I decided to break one of my own rules and take a camera when walking Trixy.  I have to be very careful, she’s a great subject, but not a very patient assistant, so I took the car down to Montaña Pelada to see how that was looking:

Not so much surf here, although there are some guys waiting in the water.  Still a bit drowsy, I wasn’t in a mood to clamber down there, so we turned tail, but not before I had chance to catch this incoming plane and its vapor trail.  In a blue sky you barely see that, and right now they are approaching from the opposite direction to normal.  I’ll know when the weather is on the turn when I begin to hear to roar of takeoff again.

So, when you’re remembering that Life’s a Journey, Not a Destination – remember to take your camera!

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