When I stop, occasionally, to wonder at what fuels travel addiction the answer I usually come up with is something like “variety” or “stimulation,” the antithesis of “same old, same old.” Despite my fascination with Tenerife, I sometimes drift into a rut, and then, knowing that the cure, travel, is momentarily unavailable, I mutter and curse to myself and Trixy (who is very tolerant of my mutterings).
I was at such an impasse earlier this week. Of course it was my own fault. I doubt that there is anywhere in the world with Tenerife’s diversification of scenery and culture packed into less than 800 square miles. Yet, yes, it is possible to tire of breathtaking sunsets, fiestas and blue skies. And, yes, I know I’m a spoiled b*tch, but I was overdue for something novel and new, and everything on offer seemed too expensive!
You know how it is when you feel that way, I was looking forward to seeing the Mueca Festival in Puerto de la Cruz, but not expecting too much. I had the blahs.
There is no English word for Mueca. It means “pulling faces” or “funny faces.” It’s a street arts/performance festival, which, of course, includes clowns, but I suspect a nuance to the word which I haven’t caught, because it turned out to be so much more than clowns and face paint.
Maria and I set off early, but not at the crack of dawn. The drive was pleasant, the conversation excellent, and there was, as ever, that little inward sigh when we switched autopistas, and the roadsides were green. The drive between, say, Los Cristianos and Santa Cruz is without doubt the un-prettiest scenery on the island, and we were heading north, away from it.
We were a trifle early, artists and performers were still setting up. This is not an island for early risers. We consoled ourselves with coffee and cake in a café which felt more like Vienna than Tenerife, (What is it about the South which reduces interiors to plastic or over-the-top?) and then we wandered back, and the atmosphere began to filter through the clutter in my head. People were strolling not aimlessly, but not purposefully either, bent on seeing and enjoying.
The streets and plazas of the town center had been designated specific areas, so that there was “the dance street,” “the music street,” “the magic street” and so on. We let ourselves drift with the tide of people. It was busy, but not crowded, so that moving around, changing direction, skirting small children wasn’t difficult. We snapped silly pictures of each other with a “work of art,” and met up with Maria’s son and family.
It was all so much nicer than I’d expected, but also more or less what I’d expected…..that was until we discovered the clowns. By that time we’d pretty much stopped trying to figure out exactly where each event was, and we stumbled across them by accident. Hard to imagine that, when they were in what was probably the largest stage area, down by the harbor. We managed to sneak into second row seats and decided that if it got too warm we would just sneak out again.
I need to explain something here. When I was a kid I went to the circus at least once every year. My hometown, Blackpool, on England’s north-west coast has a permanent circus ring, which nestles under the four, arched legs of its famous Tower, a structure inspired by the Eiffel Tower, which opened in 1894. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, Blackpool Tower’s legs are encased in a building, which also housed, at that time, an aquarium, a small zoo and a rather magnificent ballroom. But the circus ring was at its core, and my annual visit was the high point of my summer. One day I’ll write something about it, today that’s just background.
When my older son was two, the ex and I took him to the circus for the first time. As we settled into our seats, I was drawn back to childhood, as my spirit absorbed the familiar, forgotten smells and sounds. I was captivated again, a kid again, singing with and shouting to the clowns, just the way we’d always done. I was so immersed that I wasn’t even aware of it, until my partner remarked afterwards that I’d behaved like a child myself. So that was my second bite of the cherry.
Saturday was my third. The clowns emerged from an improvised backdrop, which the wind constantly tried to rip free, and within a couple of minutes I was time traveling again. Sandalio and Margarito gave a classic clown performance, so that, even though it was updated, I knew seconds before each movement or glance what was going to happen next.The red-nosed loveable clown who always gets it wrong; the apparent demise of a clown who has to be revived by his partner; the dragging members of the audience onto the stage to aid and abet their silliness – it was all there. I remembered how each clown has his own face, his own name and way of dressing came back, and I remembered that I’d even once dreamed of running away to join a traveling circus …… was that what inspired my wanderlust, I wonder?
By the end of a very happy hour every muscle in my body felt relaxed and happy, except perhaps for my cheeks, which ached from laughing so much. Beers, tapas, more cake, iced coffees and we plunged back onto the lively streets. This time to catch a ska fusion band called Big Band Boom Fire, joyously singing, playing and strutting atop an articulated truck, to an adoring audience, surrounding the truck, and swaying to the beat. Then on to catch a balancing act, with an Angus Young lookalike performer – more laughter, more engagement with the willing audience.
At that point I had to leave, Maria was staying with her family for the night, and I had a faithful mouth to feed waiting patiently at home. I wish I’d stayed. I wish I’d stayed in Puerto de la Cruz for the entire weekend in fact. Sitting here now looking at the program I realize I saw only a small part of what was there.
I don’t remember a better atmosphere in a crowd, a time when nothing about the crowd irritated me (I’m an only child, I don’t do crowds that well!). With none of the religious overtones of a fiesta or the excesses or competition of Carnival this was only about enjoyment and laughter and spreading happiness. The only other place I can think of is Disney World and for the same reasons. Plus they both necessitate that childlike suspension of disbelief, which we scorn as adults. A journey back in time is just as good as a journey across the miles. I adored it, returned home feeling as I’d been on vacation, so stimulating had it been.
Right now the wanderlust is back under control, for how long I have no idea, but I’m quite happy to be on this ever-surprising island.