Last Sunday, to make sure that our drive to Tegueste to the Farmers’ Market was leisurely enough, with time for coffee before the watching the cookery demonstration, we set off at 9.30, which isn’t really early, except it’s Sunday, and although I’m not chained to a desk any longer, I try to keep some sort of routine lest all should go to pot (in the old-fashioned sense of that expression!), so the question is – do I really want to do that again this Sunday? The answer is yes, of course, I’ve heard so much about this fiesta in Tejina, in the north of the island, over the past, few weeks that there is no way I want to miss it.
So here I am in McDonald’s car park to meet Colleen at 9.30, before, in fact, I’m hoping they might be open for breakfasts or at least iced coffee, but no, I have to trot across to the gas station to get sustenance. The wind is blowing hot from Africa, and even my very coolest cotton top is sticking to me already, but it’s going to be worth it. The Sunday traffic is light again, and we stop off for coffee in Tegueste (about ten minutes away from Tejina) in the same bar as last week — Colleen has developed an addiction for their coffee already!
Tejina surprises me. It’s a much bigger place than I expected. Remember everything is relative here, so when I say big I’m not talking London or New York. This entire island is around 2034.38 square kilometers according to Wikipedia, (and I can’t see why they should be wrong on that). They also list the number of inhabitants at just under 900,000, which, of course, is the number of registered inhabitants. Lots of foreigners don’t bother to register with their town halls or consulates, so that figure is on the low side, and after that you have to add a considerable number of visitors at any one time, including those snowbirds who spend the winter here. At any rate, apparently, around 10,000 of them live in Tejina, so it’s not as if when you blink driving through you’ll miss it.
We drive as far as we can into the village center, where the road in blocked ready for the procession, so we turn around and park as close as we can and still find a shady spot. It’s hot, but I’m happy to be away from the winds for a while – this is more like it! A friendly local policeman explains the route and the best place to wait and so we take ourselves down to the church square, where at least a half of the population appear to be waiting. Happily, right outside the church there are large, shady trees, so you can guess where most of them are :=) Around the square and the street are dotted porta-bars (one right outside the church steps, which kind of amuses me – remember, whatever my later leanings, I was brought up as a protestant, so church and booze seem to be odd bedfellows to me still). Then there are the usual stalls selling candies, toys, and so on. It’s maybe a sign of the times that one of these stalls is manned by a Chinese lady, another by a lady from Ecuador and that there are one or two Senegalese vendedores ambulantes plying their trade……..and, before you ask, yes, I bought another hat!! Which I promptly lost but which was rescued by a kind local man!
Tejina is a very traditional Canarian village, named after a Guanche princess, and with its heart still very much in agriculture rather than tourism. In fact, the fiesta we have come to see is named La Fiesta de los Corazones (The Holiday of the Hearts), and it’s thought to be named that to celebrate that connection to Mother Earth which the residents have. It’s a kind of harvest festival, dedicated to St Bartholomew, the village’s patron saint, and quite unique even on an island laden with fiestas. The festival itself is a Bienes de Interés Cultural, which means that the autonomous island government recognizes it as an event of historical, cultural interest.
We wait around, trying to figure out which direction the parade will take. What we know is that there are three hearts, created by three neighbourhoods of the village, and that there is fierce competition amongst them to produce the best, and have it erected in the church square first, which is going to be a sight to see, since they are over 12 ft high, so they say.
Without much warning, we hear music, and we see a procession approaching, but clearly going straight past the church, heading, in fact, straight in our direction. The assembly of yellow-T-Shirted vecinos is led, traditionally, by six children, although this number seems to mushroom!
This is the group from Calle de Abajo, and the children are followed by the band of men carrying the floral and fruit decorated eponymous heart, which is also decorated with pastries (which is what the guy above is carrying) depicting various traditional and topical themes. They are followed by a kind of raggle-taggle bunch of musicians, who, indeed pass the church, then us, and carry on up the street.
Surely, this isn’t it? But everyone begins to wander around a bit and look a tad lost. I spot a photographer I know who works for a Spanish news agency (who tells me how busy he is kept at the moment with all the local fiestas!), so I reckon if I keep him in sight I won’t go far wrong! And before too long the group from Calle Abjao reappears, and is soon followed by a band of white T-shirts.
Believe me he deserved that beer after walking around the streets with the heart!
These are the vecinos of El Pico – all in fine voice – and there is much singing of “Campeones”, which surely, football fans or not, the whole world knows by now!
Finally, the neighbourhood of Calle Arriba arrives, brightly clad in orange, no mistaking them! The line-up is the same for each – children/heart/musicians, and they all, plus their followers crowd into the church yard (well, thank goodness we didn’t wait there – it would have been great to have been in the midst of it all, but the increase in heat when we are surrounded by more people is noticeable!)
Clad in serious, dark suits and formal attire, the town’s big wigs and beauty queens have been waiting all this time in the not-inconsiderable heat (much more fun being in the parade, eh?!) on the steps of the church, to where the three hearts are taken, and the statue of patron, Saint Bartholomew is briefly brought out to bless them.
After that it’s every barrio for itself as the race is on to erect their heart first! No mean feat. I have no idea how much they weigh – but lots. They are laden with fresh fruit and pastries, some of the fruit just looks too good to be real, but we are assured it’s all the real thing.
What follows the erection of the first heart is a kind of bantering between the different groups about the quality of their creation and how good they are, the winners rubbing it in, which we are too far away to hear properly, and anyway I imagine you have to be “in the know” to understand. I spot some awesome candy on one of the stalls at this point, and head straight for it. Just as I’m completing my purchase I hear my name spoken by a voice neither Colleen’s nor Manolo’s, and turn, a bit puzzled that’s when I have the pleasure of meeting local writer and blogger Jack Montgomery (see here for one of his pieces about the fiesta, and below for a different view), and so we pass a very pleasant time comparing our impressions of the island and fiestas and such until there are stirrings from the churchyard, and Saint Bartholomew emerges again on the steps. He’s off on his rounds to bless the village in clouds of incense and trailed by the suits and beauty queens.
It’s a this point in any fiesta that you wonder what to do next. If you’re in your home town it’s easy, but finding somewhere to eat and drink in a town crowded out for fiesta? Not so much. The parade is over, and it will be a few hours before anything else of note will happen. Half of you wants to stay, to stay all night and join in the verbena which will surely begin later, (and I would so like to think that this one would be traditional music, and not the pop stuff which dominated the music at the fiesta in Los Abrigos), but common sense is saying that home is a good hour’s drive away, so even an ice-cold beer is out of the question, and so we meander down to the coast in hopes of finding somewhere pleasant to grab some tapas, overlooking the ocean, maybe, totally forgetting, of course, that it’s the last Sunday of the summer……not a chance!
It was well worth the hot journey to see this fiesta. It’s totally different to anything here I’ve ever seen before, and I had the strongest urge to stay and see what happened later. The celebration is known for its sporting events and music, which is spread over the week surround August 24th (Saint Bartholomew’s day) , and I suspect that to get the full flavor you need to see much more. It would be great to find a rural hotel or a B & B another year, and really get the feel of it.
The more I yak on about the lack of interest in local events in the ex-pat British community, the more of a mystery it is to me. Jack Montgomery gives a much more objective view in this article the other day. suffice it to say in 23 years living here I’d never even heard of the event until this year. Of course, that’s because I now have more focus on local life, and I have the time and opportunity to check events out, but the truth is that I could have done this before had I not been so fixated on the idea of travelling to discover new worlds, and neglecting that which is on my own current doorstep. It wasn’t that I was completely oblivious, just that I hadn’t opened my eyes wide enough, I will p*ss off some friends now by comparing my viewpoint to “standing on the desk”, which any aficianados or haters (seems to be an even split) of Dead Poets’ Society will understand. Change your point of view, take a sideways glance, think about something or somewhere from a different perspective and you will be amazed at what you find out.