Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


Roque del Conde: Tenerife’s Answer to Table Mountain

It seems as if all I’ve written about of late has been walking and mountains and landscapes. That’s because it’s mostly how I’ve spent my leisure time the past few weeks – taking advantage of Austin’s presence until he moves to UK. The other day we took a hike that’s long been on my bucket list.

From almost everywhere in Los Cristianos or Playa de las Americas, you can spy a flat-topped mountain standing like a sentinel over the coast, frequently, its peak shrouded in low cloud, it exudes an air of mystery.

Roque del Conde seen from the entrance to Los Cristianos

This is Roque del Conde, towering over Barranco del Rey (King’s Canyon) where we went rappelling at the end of last year. Formerly it was known as Roque Ichasagua in memory of the Guanche ruler who, rather than face possible slavery, or worse, at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadors, threw himself from its heights. Are you beginning to see a pattern to these legends, perhaps? Before that the Guanches knew it as Ahío o Hío.

The mountain lies in the municipality of Adeje, one of the oldest parts of the island, along with Teno and Anaga. It’s because Tenerife was formed gradually by volcanic eruptions millions of years apart that there is so much discussion still about its “age.” It’s something impossible to quantify in terms of the island we know today, and it’s one factor in the enormous variety of landscape to be found in something less than 800 square miles, but whatever type of landscape you are admiring, be it “lunar” or lush forest, I can guarantee one word they have in common – dramatic, and this day was to be no exception to that rule, despite the cloud, the views were breathtaking.

Although the mountain itself is in the municipality of Adeje, the walk begins in neighboring Arona. We set off from the hamlet of Vento, just as we had when we went rappelling. Passing the ramshackle outhouses and accompanied by the same tinkling of goats’ bells and barking of dogs, we stepped over the modern water pipe which lies alongside the old stone troughs which used to bring water down to irrigate these dry lands, and descended into Barranco del Rey.

This time, instead of turning left deeper into the canyon we crossed it, and once we began the climb up from there it was uphill all the way, at first up well-maintained steps and paths, and then onto rougher but much-used trails. It was a bank holiday and, going late morning, we passed several walkers of different ages and nationalities returning from a morning ramble, including a mutual friend neither of us had seen for some years – Tenerife is like that. Move through the busy streets of a resort and you don’t meet a soul you know, but take a wild mountain trail and you bump into someone.

Austin perched on the crumbling wall assessing the possibilities for a photo.

Around a third of the way into the climb, we passed a long-abandoned house, most of the timbers and all the roof tiles missing, just a rectangular, stone structure remained, with a sad hole where a door had once been. The views from here were magnificent, over the southern coast, and back in the day they must have been even more so, with less buildings and more countryside to admire. I have no idea why I am so drawn to these tumble-down old shells of homes. There have a mystery and sadness about them I can’t quite put my finger on. I vaguely mused about how severe life must have been, and how hardy the inhabitants of this small farm, trying to coax a living out of this arid dust, but I was in for a surprise which provoked more serious thoughts. Passing the house we came upon a threshing circle, just like the ones I had seen in El Tanque on El Día de la Trilla last year. It was even in decent condition, given the state of the house, but what intrigued me was what animals had been used to turn grind the crops, surely oxen or horses couldn’t have been used way up here. I’m presuming that donkeys were used, but I don’t know that for a fact. It’s one of those mysteries I would like to chase up sometime.

What’s for sure is that much of the land, even at this altitude had been terraced, and so had been cultivated, and I remembered a conversation I had with an elderly taxi driver years ago. He told me that when he was a boy the land around Adeje had been rich farmland, overflowing with corn and other crops. At the time I thought that he was probably exaggerating, and my Spanish wasn’t up to asking too many questions back then either. I’d love to have that same conversation today!

Note how parched the landscape looks – it’s been almost twelve months now without rain in this area.

Almost at the top!

My photo op taken full advantage of, we continued upwards, along narrow paths which dwindled to almost nothing in places, stopping now and then to take our bearings and watch what appeared to be a boat on fire just outside Los Cristianos’s harbour. We came to the conclusion it was a drill, since nothing seemed to be dashing to its aid. On the smudgy, blue horizon the island of La Gomera hovered like a purple shadow, and we could make out El Hierro and La Palma, although the visibility wasn’t too good. Above, however, the peak of Roque del Conde was clear and beckoned.

We scrapped around proud cardon, the multi-pronged cactus which thrives just about everywhere here, and thick clumps of tabaiba, the super-hardy endemic plant found even in the harshest and most arid island landscape. It’s been a long time without rainfall in the south, and most every other sign of flora looked pinched and forlorn. We scuffled on loose stones and clambered over rocks, and then we were almost there, and striding along the open path to the mountain’s flat summit.

It’s quite something to eat your lunch sitting on top of the world. At around 3,280 feet Roque del Conde is a fair bit lower than Alto de Guajara where we’d breakfasted the previous week, and the views were quite different. From Guajara we’d overlooked more or less east on the oceanside, seeing the airport and Grandadilla de Abona below, and a wide sweep of the caldera to the other side. From Roque del Conde we had a 360º view which swept the foothills purple and grey or hidden in cloud, a motorbike gang whining its way up from Arona towards Vilaflor could be heard quite clearly. Turning we could just make out Montaña Roja lying in the sunny space between the low cloud and the shadowy valleys and volcanic cones between us. The plastic-covered banana plantations around Costa del Silencio blotted our view, and immediately below Arona strung out, and even at this height the barking dogs intruded on the silence. The resorts cluttered the south western side of the island, and for a while we played at picking out familiar places. I’m told that on a clear day you can see the cliffs of Los Gigantes, but this day wasn’t that clear. In fact, those familiar mists were beginning to filter down from the mountains, and inch their cold fingers across the flat peak, making us shiver and pack up to make our way down.

Tabaiba in the foreground clinging to the hillside and to life, as the mists roll in from above.

I’ve always considered going down easier than ascending, and I merrily set off thinking it was going to be an easy and quick descent – silly me! Whilst it there was no puffing and panting, there was a bit of slipping and sliding, and it was much slower than I expected. Even so I wanted to linger a while in Barranco del Rey when we reached it, knowing that this is such an ancient slice of the earth, knowing that the Guanches inhabited caves here, and just the sheer beauty and loneliness of the place kind of seeps into your skin.

To my surprise I found the final climb back to Vento much easier than I had done last time – I must be getting used to this walking lark – my only problem is how do I follow the experiences I’ve had so far this year!



Fine Dining in Tenerife, or Why Should the Tourists Get All the Good Stuff?

I often ramble on about the great eateries on my island home, we have a huge variety of international restaurants and bars, and an abundance of excellent bars and cafés serving local food of one kind or another, but I don’t, in these difficult times, often have the opportunity to eat in a restaurant which would come under the “fine dining” heading.

How can I put this?  I love food!  I don’t consider myself to be “a foodie,” but I might come  close, and I’ve missed the subtleties and innovations of dining somewhere special, so when gfhoteles offered me dinner in their restaurant La Laja in the Costa Adeje Gran Hotel I jumped at the chance.

First, a word of explanation; I’ve stubbornly and intentionally kept this blog fairly low-key because I am very jealous my independence and integrity (long story for another time), and I wasn’t totally sure how accepting invitations fitted into that vision. After spending the past year observing how bloggers for whom I have a lot of respect deal with invitations, links, advertising,  etc I think I’ve worked out the way to go.

Invitations which are worded like this from gfhotels are okay: “You can write about your opinion, you can Tweet it, Facebook it or whatever, and you can say whatever you want.  If there are things you don’t like we will find your feedback useful, and we encourage you to write as you find, or to write nothing at all if you don’t want to.”  That sold me, plus there was also the opportunity to meet fellow blogger, Cailin O’Neil, who was here to write about the variety of Tenerife.

The Costa Adeje Gran is one of those very posh-looking establishments in the up-market Costa Adeje area, not somewhere with which I am especially familiar. Living here, many of us tend to ignore the tourist resorts, which is almost certainly our loss.  We tend to lump everything together as a “concrete jungle,” as do many writers and travel pundits. Generalizing is always a mistake.  Sure, there is a tacky side to Tenerife, there is a tacky side to Monte Carlo, and it doesn’t mean that there is nothing of quality to be enjoyed.  Certainly Adeje Town Hall has been pulling out the stops to present the municipality as the classier face of the island’s tourism, and it’s obvious that in the Costa Adeje Gran, as in some of the other finer hotels in the neighbourhood, they’ve found willing collaborators.

Calin and I arrived at the hotel’s main foyer, but there is a separate entrance to the restaurant. Still, it was interesting to observe the quality of the surroundings and the  well-dressed clientele. The lobby is huge and very impressive, and you can actually see the bottom of the swimming pool from beneath – very innovative but unfortunately it was evening, of course, so we didn’t get to see swimmers!  We had a warm welcome from Kathrin Jansen, and she gave us a peek at the main hotel dining room before going over to the restaurant, and the aroma made my mouth water. My anticipation mounted – if that was the ordinary dining room, what was La Laja going to be like?

What we entered was an elegant restaurant, with a strong Canarian connection, not minimalist, but something along those lines, and warmer and chic in the modern way.  This hotel belongs to a local group, gfhoteles, which has three more hotels on the island, and the walls of the restaurant’s reception area are lined with old, sepia photographs of Canarian life, including some of the family who began the venture. Fascinating for me – I would have gone just to see those!

We were shown to a stylishly-set corner table, and greeted by waiters who all had that knack of being both friendly but deferential, which is a sign of good training.  I have no complaints about the very friendly service in any of the places I like (I won’t go if service is bad), but it goes without saying that a restaurant of this quality needs something more, and that was the first box ticked. The area is divided into what I can only describe as nooks, with two or three table in each, and a longer section, all fashionably decorated.

Chef Pablo Aznar came out to have a word and talk us through the menu, my mouth watering at every syllable!  Pablo is from Zaragoza but has worked inTenerifefor eleven years now. Something life has taught me is that if you can get chance to talk with a chef or cook before you eat you get a sense of how good the meal is going to be, because when they talk with love and passion, as Pablo did, then all of that love and passion goes into their cooking. The anticipation mounted.

He explained about sourcing the best ingredients, and when he talked about receiving phone calls directly from the fishermen, telling of their latest catch and asking if he was in the market for whatever it was, there was no question in my mind that my choice was going to be fish, and then I spied the word “cinnamon” on a fish course, which clinched it! He recommended his  lasagne de pulpo for a local touch and a very Canarian desert of bananas and gofio ice cream.  Phew, decisions made I could concentrate on the enjoyment!

Ordering done, and menus handed back, fresh rolls and flavoured butters arrived. It was late by my dining norms, so I forwent those, but have it on good authority from  Cailin that they were delicious. This was a taste of things to come. I had been prompted by curiosity and recommendation (rather than a “Wow, that sounds good” feeling) to try the pulpo lasagne, so it was delightful to find that it easily surpassed expectations, it was tasty, slightly spicy but not too much and very melt-in-the-mouth.  I also had a slight reservation about pasta as a starter, but it wasn’t at all heavy and the portion was perfect, satisfying but not too filling! I began to feel as if I was floating!

For a split second, I regretted my choice of cod in a cinnamon reduction when my companions’ filet steaks arrived.  The presentation was charming, the steak in a little dish to collect the jus, and elegantly flambéed at the table. That reaction passed the moment I popped a morsel of the cod into my mouth though.  It was heavenly.  High expectations this time were quite justified, happily.

When my dessert came, I was pleased that I’d passed on bread and on red meat.  It was quite yummy – though I did covet Kathrin’s chocolate confection too!  My only regret is that I couldn’t try more than a glass of wine to accompany this feast, since  I was driving, so I can’t comment on the wine cellar.

Conversation over dinner turned towards why more locals don’t sample the dining opportunities local hotels offer.  In New York or in London or other European cities it’s quite normal to patronize a restaurant situated in a hotel, but here there is reluctance, and I hold up my hand.  For me I think it was to do with hotels being sited in tourist resorts, and the attendant problems, parking for one, but nearby La Laja there is ample parking.  I think that there is also probably a kind of snobbery (for want of a better word), in not wanting to mix with tourists.  Again that isn’t a problem with La Laja. The hotel’s clientele is clearly not of the beer belly and sunburn brigade, but judging by those I saw, altogether more sophisticated and elegant.  On the other hand, there is no need to be put off by the prices, which, at around €9.50 for a main course of high quality is only a little more than some very average restaurants.

Do I have any critique?  It seems fussy in the face of such scrumptiousness, but I would have like vegetables with my main course.  I’m a big fan of veggies, though no way vegetarian.  I did note on their New Year menu that they have vegetarian options – more about that later!

We, ex-pats, need, I think, to accept that there is a new kind of tourist attracted to the islands now, and why, on earth, should we not avail ourselves of the excellent facilities and opportunities that brings for us too?

Thanks to La Laja for a memorable meal, and apologies all round for the quality of the photos, which is well below the standard I aim for.  I think I was too aware of not using the flash so as not to annoy other diners, but I just hope the pix of the food are enough to whet your appetites if you live in Tenerife!


















Of Art By the People for the People: Rock Balancing

I don’t make any bones about the fact that I normally try to stay away from the tourist resorts.  They simply aren’t my cup of tea, for one thing, they have no history or sense of community…….or do they?

The other week I was persuaded to go to Playa Beril to snorkel.  I’m not very brave with waves and such, but I adore to have my face in the water (I’d actually prefer to have it under the water, but that’s not in my current budget!), and this beach is really as safe as it gets, with a surprising amount of sea life to see so close to where tourists stir up the bottom.  It’s still all pebbles, sandwiched between the psuedo-sophisticated Playa del Duque and Playa Enramada (probably yet to be “developed”), and just at the end of the beach there is an area which is all pebbles, and where what seems to be spontaneous “street” art has broken out.

The entire area is covered with these rock balances, which, so far as I can make out, is the correct way to describe them.  No-one I’ve spoken to knows how it began, and because it’s an area I don’t know that well, I can’t even tell you how or when or how long it has taken to grow to this stage, but it is now quite remarkable, giving a very mysterious kind of atmosphere to the beach, especially at sunset. I was quite captivated the first time I saw them in broad daylight, but since I was there to snorkel, it was one of the few times I didn’t have a camera with me – not even a phone!  For a couple of weeks now I’ve been itching to get back.  I actually wanted to go at sunrise, but the other day found me in the area just before sunset, so I thought I’d make the most of it.

I was tip toeing between all the works of art.  In some places there are so many it’s actually hard to walk around them.  I do want to go back at sunrise, and I also want to go back and try the infamous HDR, about which I’ve had so many snidey thoughts, but which I know would have taken these photos to a whole different level….

Of course, it also taught me that there is beauty to be found everywhere, and that people, perhaps as a reaction against the swathes of concrete covering the coast, have created their own art.  Even if it was started deliberately by the local authority, it certainly has been claimed by the people now.

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Easter on the Island

Did I ever mention that I loathe Easter weekend?  It’s something I learned  early in life, by the time I was old enough to go into Blackpool on my own.  “Don’t go on Easter weekend – it’s like sardines out there!”  was the advice we’d give each other, and once we learned to drive it was even worse – Sunday drivers and no parking!   The trouble with Easter is that, compared to summer vacations, everyone is on holiday at the same time, which means crowds everywhere.  Narrow Lake District roads are another place to avoid at this time of year.  Gridlock – and usually gridlock accompanied by the slapping of windscreen wipers.

Basically, it’s the same here, but without the windscreen wipers.  Chaos for the most part, especially if you are unlucky enough to be working in the accommodation sector, though I suppose these days one’s just lucky to be working, anywhere.  Next year I am thinking it would be nice to be somewhere which doesn’t holiday over this particular weekend.

Take a look at the photo below.  This was El Médano beach on Wednesday afternoon, before the weekend even, although most tourists arrived the previous weekend, given the lateness of the date this year. By Thursday the numbers had swollen, with the influx of affluent northerners, who have second homes around here.  Parking became a nightmare, and, inevitably, the weather took a turn for the worse ……… happens here too, you see……not quite windscreen wipers though!

However, apparently,  not everyone was on the beaches, even though it seemed like it.  According to yesterday’s local newspapers 23,000 of them turned up in Adeje on Friday morning for the annual passion play, that included me and Maria and Isabel.  I’d heard so much about this event, but often worked Good Fridays in recent years, so this was my first opportunity to see it for myself, and I was looking forward to it.

We arrived early, as advised, and after  coffee and tortilla we  staked our claim at the roadside barrier about  an hour before the performance was due to begin.  This, however, didn’t stop a very rude, old, Italian man from pushing in and spoiling the view with his flowerpot of a hat……..not at all Giorgio Armani!

The play takes place all along the main street of the town, so getting to see or photograph it all is impossible, unless you have a press pass, of course, and although the tv cameras broadcast it all, there seemed to be an absence of press en masse.    If you would like to see professional photos check out these from local guide Tinerguia.

We were able to wander Calle Grande, arriving as early as we did, and take a close look at the sets which had been constructed, the scene of the Last Supper with a table laden with real food, the Garden of Gethsemane with olive branches stuck into the stumps of trees, the palaces were Jesus was judged and flogged, and, finally Calvary in the small square at the beginning of the street. All the participants in the cast of 300 are townspeople, and along the street “shops” and food stalls had been constructed, and real food was being stacked onto them, pedestrian crossings had been covered over with leaves and straw, and telephone boxes and other modern inventions had been disguised as far as possible.  Everything was first-class, so much so that in one photo I snapped I wasn’t sure where the set ended and the real street began.  I saw these guys in their smocks and sneakers, and for one, horrible moment thought that this was going to be the standard, but soon realized that they were camera crew, blending in as much as practical, which was great.

Remarkably for Tenerife, it began on the dot. As the town hall clock struck 12 the “extras” entered and took up their places along the route, children played along the road, looking for all the world as if this was real life, women sold produce from those stalls, and the general public ambled along.  Truly it didn’t take much effort to imagine oneself back in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

The cast dotted about, cue the entry of the badies, Roman soldiers, rabbis and, of course, Pontius Pilate.

You can see how excellent the costumes were.  I’m not saying those breastplates were metal, but the details were amazing. Movie buff that I am (and I love noting continuity goofs etc) I tried to spot a wristwatch or two, but didn’t see one, although there were a few wedding rings.  Maybe they wore wedding rings back then, I don’t know, just that the costumes and sets were wonderful, a much, much higher standard than I expected.

We were close to the Last Supper, and yet another nice surprise was the quality of the sound system, as the performance began, which broadcast to the entire street quite clearly.  Obviously, the people waiting at Calvary were couldn’t see what was happening around the table, at the opposite end of the street, but they must have heard the dialogue just fine.

Feet washed, and Judas having stormed out of dinner, the cast prepared to move onto the next set along the street, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the police took down the ropes from the sides of the street and formed a line across, so that watchers could follow on and get a good view of the next scene.  At that point Isabel and I went in search of a loo, which we found in the Cultural Center, where  the event was being shown on a huge tv.  We opted to return to the streets, though.  We found it almost impossible to see very much from then on, however, people from higher up the street were crushing around, as were we, and we caught glimpses, but nothing more until the tableau arrived at “Calvary” where a pop-concert-style screen was showing the recording.  Everything could be heard quite clearly though.  The standard of acting and singing was outstanding, worthy of the London stage, even if the script was, at times, at little corny, but, then, perhaps that’s what it’s all about.  That said, it’s exactly that blind attachment to the fairy story aspect of all this I find difficult to swallow.  It’s clearly not the case for most of the people in the photo below.  Just look at their faces, nothing if not in the moment.

That was one of those making-lemonade moments.  The crowd was dense, and I simply held up the camera and clicked blindly.  Of course, I would have liked a better picture of Jesus, but I thought the faces were interesting.  After he passed, and that crowd following the police cordon massed behind, it seemed like time to retreat.  We had no hope of seeing anything more in detail, and the sound system and the big screen on Calvary were going to carry the rest of the performance to us.

Feeling peckish we were happy to find that the produce from those “stalls” was being given away.  This lady was tearing off chunks of bread and ladling gooey jam into it as she joked with “customers”.

As we stood in the middle of the street, munching, we thought it had come to an end as Jesus was lowered from the cross, and Mary wept over his body.  Certainly, applause rippled through the audience.  However, we grabbed our cameras again when we realized that at least some of the cast were still in character and returning in our direction.

I thought this picture might give you an idea of just how many people there were, but I don’t think it really does.

Jesus’s body returning to the church to await Sunday.  At this stage it is not the actor, but one of the plaster figures from the church.

It was certainly a memorable event, and I am delighted to have seen it.  As a spectacle it was marvellous, perfectly executed, prepared and dressed.  If there were any hitches, I didn’t notice them.  Will I go next year?  Not sure, mainly because of the crush.  Would I go to see another one elsewhere?  Definitely.  Not as a religious experience, though I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a man whose message should be heeded, I don’t think that churches have really lived up to that message in a very, very long time.  However, as theater it was quite remarkable, and I will fill in now with some faces from the day.

And a couple which made me smile!


Trying to Live up to Expectations

Wow, but it was a thrill seeing my blog on the Freshly Pressed, front page of WordPress, but, after the happy dance was over, I got to fretting – what should I write next? How could I “live up to” the post which earned that distinction? So is it true that numbers of random strangers read my ramblings? Do I have a responsibility to them now to produce something similar to that post, or can I meander off chunnering on about the events in the Middle East or the state of Canarian education?

As you can see, I wimped out, and posted photos.  I would probably have done that anyway.  The weekend’s full moon was spectacular and a global event and a test (failed, clearly, in execution if not in composition) of my newly-acquired photographic skills.

The thing is, I’m not entirely sure where this blog is going, it’s a bit of a runaway train, and of course, I don’t want it to end up being a wreck.  It’s evolved, and it’s taken on a life of its own to some extent.  I often find myself sitting down to write one thing and ending up posting something entirely different – like now.

My life is, like Shirley Valentine’s, very ordinary at the moment, though I appreciate that its setting is extra-ordinary to many people. So I sit and wonder, having started up this train, what on earth I can write about.  It certainly doesn’t snow here every day, and I don’t go up into the mountains every day either, and yet I can see where the mundane for me might be something different for someone else, and so I ramble on.

I’m lucky that this ordinariness includes moments like today’s lunch of tapas including a salpicón de marisco (a mixture of prawns, mussels, crabsticks, peppers and onions in a light vinaigrette dressing), pimientos de padrón (small, green peppers, fried in olive oil until they are about to crisp and liberally sprinkled with salt) and churros de pescado (battered and fried chunks of white fish) washed down with chilled white wine, followed by the coffee I have christened the super barraquito, and all consumed under a sky and next to an ocean so blue that they defy description.

I’m lucky that a trip to sort out car taxes led to a breakfast of milky coffee and a slice of moist tortilla española under shady trees in a street cafe where the early morning breeze was balmy enough to be wearing only cotton cargoes and a T-shirt.

I’m lucky that driving to a class yesterday the road wound me through hills and vineyards for a while.

And I’m lucky that most days I can forget the frazzled traffic on the autopista and take the long way home, just so I can take in this view.

I’m fond of saying that everywhere is interesting, that you can find the interest and the beauty even in the midst of the ugly, and I firmly believe that. I also would prefer to be in any number of places rather than here, places I know and love more, and places I have yet to see that are calling me, sometimes so strongly I want to stamp my feet like a child and sulk that I can’t go right now.  Yet, if I have to be stuck somewhere I have to admit that this ain’t half bad.  The climate is nigh perfect; the landscapes, which range from lush to spectacular are unequalled; there are historical towns and cities, and there are modern resorts; there are fresh foods including “mango and papaya you can pick right off the tree”. (Okaaaaay hands up if you know which song in which musical that came from!); and there are wines, there are fruity reds and there are chilled,  floral whites which slide down so easily on a warm day like today.

In short, I suppose, I am counting my blessings, or some of them………for now.


The Real Adeje Knocks Socks off the Coast

Most tourists and many ex-pats think they’ve visited Adeje when they visit the island.  Sure, the coastal resorts of Costa Adeje are a vast improvement on the way Playa de las Americas used to be, but Adeje “proper” is light-years away in style and atmosphere. If you think of Adeje as a county and Adeje village/town as the county seat, then you will get the idea.

The municipality of Adeje, which, together with neighboring Guia de Isora formed the Guanche kingdom or Mencey, of Adeje prior to the Spanish conquest, is a thriving and prosperous community. That’s because the area has the most hours of sunshine on the island, that for which most tourists still come. This coast is crammed with names familiar to the tourist trade, Playa de las Americas, Torviscas, La Caleta, Costa Fañabe, Costa Adeje, Playa Paraiso and Callao Salvaje, maybe others I’ve forgotten. However, the county town, sitting around 250m above sea level overlooks them, and it’s still a lively, but laid back, local community.

Neighbor on the other side, Arona, has moved much of its paperwork and offices down to the coast, but main post office, town hall and cultural center of Adeje are all still sited in the heart of town. This week I needed to make a trip to the town hall, and had the luck to choose a blissfully clear and sunny day. I like to get paperwork and such stuff out of the way as early in the day as I can to avoid the queues and delays which build up as the morning grinds on (laid back, remember!), so I arrived a little early and wandered around for a while. I’d been meaning to come and take a look at the new town square, which was much publicized when it was dedicated not so long ago. With the town hall on one side and the parish church on the other it teeters on the very edge of the Barranco del Infierno, and is a fabulous vantage point to view the valley and surrounding hills, which at the moment, after the winter rains, look as if they are covered in green velvet.

As you can see in the picture above, it is a stunning juxtaposition of natural beauty, history and modern architecture, not something you see very often elsewhere, and yet, for all the concrete construction and spoiling of the coastline, it’s not that uncommon on this island.

Clock atop the Town Hall

Sitting on the steps of the plaza I fell into a conversation with an old guy who was watching his two small and elderly dogs frisking about.  “That one’s 70, the same age as me,” he boasted.  I resisted the temptation to scream or to reveal my age.  I noted the walking stick laid next to him, and also the fact he was quite heftily over-weight.  “People in Adeje don’t like dogs,” he commented.  I agreed, having stayed there for a few months some years back.  I told him that El Médano was a much friendlier place for dogs.  “Used to work there,” he said, “On the banana plantation.”  This sounded interesting.  I’ve seen workers being bused in to work there, and I figured that the conditions were quite hard under the plastic sheeting used to protect the plants from the high winds, and I was thinking of sitting down next to him.  I knew if I did my morning was probably shot at, and it would be hard to get away.  Then he said, “All Communists there, you know.”  No, I hadn’t realized that.  “Oh you need to be careful.  I’ve worked there, and they’re all Communists.”  OK, I figured it was probably time to go see if the motor taxation department was open yet, so I wished him a nice day and strolled off, wishing maybe I’d had that conversation a few years back when possibly his mind was a bit more agile.

My business done, I wound my way through the one-way system out of town and passed this canon which stands in front of the old Casa Fuerte, or fortified residence. Adeje was a prosperous area almost from the beginning of Spanish rule. Sugar cane, which was a major crop on the islands for a long time was grown there and shipped to Europe from the port of La Caleta, where I watched the ceremonial bathing of livestock on festival of San Sebastian last month. tI would be a bit grand to call Casa Fuerte a fort, but the historical marker provides a sketch of the original layout of the building you see behind the canon. It included the lookout tower, residence and servants quarters, a small chapel, grain storage and an archive room, and it reminds me for all the world of something from one of those old movies about colonial Mexico….and, I suppose, with reason. There are parallels and comparisons to be made between colonization in the archipelago and that in South America. . The building was more or less destroyed by fire over a hundred years ago (does it seem ripe for renovation and exploitation to you, or is it just me?), but happily those archives were rescued and turned over to the local authority.

This morning is pretty much what an average day can be like here.  The motor tax thing was pretty straightforward for once; I had a glimpse of history and of Mother Nature’s allure; I admired modern architecture and I had a quirky conversation – and in the midst of all that I forgot to get myself a coffee on the pretty main street, which is a very tempting place to sit under the trees on a warm morning.


The Fiesta Where Two Worlds Collide

According to the official website of the bishopric of  Santa Cruz de Tenerife, around 30,000 people took part in or observed Thursday’s celebration of the feast day of San Sebastian in Adeje.  I’m hopeless at judging numbers, but it was clear that there were already several thousand there by the time we had scoffed the empanadas after our short pilgrimage, which I described yesterday.  The picture below shows the beach in only direction, with people perched on every vantage point the rocky shoreline presented.  It was the same in the other direction, along the beach and up steps to the road beyond.

The fiestas of late summer can be compared to harvest time in the northern countries, but I don’t know how to compare this season.  Last week in Santiago del Teide it was San Antonio Abad (Abbott), this week in Adeje it was San Sebastian, and next week sees more celebrations involving San Antonio in Los Silos and Buenavista del Norte.  The connection is animals, and perhaps knowing that San Sebastian is the saint in charge of warding off pests and plagues, and that San Antonio is the patron of domestic animals explains it.  Seems to me if they worked together it might help, but hey, what does an old agnostic know!  The idea is that the animals are blessed and hopefully fruitful (in one way or the other!) in the year ahead.

This horse was my absolute favorite.  He almost took away my breath with his shiny coat and his elegant stride, and what seemed to be pride and enjoyment emanating from him!

I’ve always kind of liked San Sebastian.  He’s always portrayed as being so young and handsome for one thing (check out the painting by El Greco, ladies), not to mention that he was a soldier, and I’m a sucker for a man in uniform (especially back in the 3rd  century when they displayed their well-toned legs too).  For another, years ago I visited the catacombs outside of Rome, where his body supposedly lay for some time, and whatever one believes there is an extraordinary atmosphere there.  What I thought was the manner of his death, portrayed as he always is, pierced by arrows, seemed a bit different to most too, but checking him out online (aren’t they all there now!) before the fiesta, I found out that he didn’t die from those wounds, but was rescued, nursed back to health, returned to taunt Diocletian, who then, of course, furious, had him beaten to death.  What any of that has to do with plagues and pests I don’t know, but it all makes for an excuse to fiesta.

On Wednesday night he’d enjoyed his annual trip to see the fireworks, which I missed, and Thursday his job was to follow the procession of animals from the elegant hermitage in La Caleta de Adeje, where a mass was conducted,  down to the shore to make sure they all had a dip before his blessing.  I’m not sure that I ever touched on religion here before, other than simply talking about the different fiestas, but by now you may have guessed that I am not a fan.  I do wonder, however, what would happen to local traditions if the entire population overnight came to think as I do.  So many of them were based originally in religion.   Would they be rejected, or would they continue just for fun?  Carnaval, after all, has nothing to do with a pre-Lent cleansing any longer.  The fact is that I’m perfectly ok with the idea of people like saints; persons, living or dead, who may have closer links to the universe than the rest of us, but I’m not ok with the misinformation about them, nor the power of organized religions, so if I ruled the world this would, actually, still go on.

We took a peek inside the churches, the pretty new one, built in 1961, and the tiny old one, which had fallen into disrepair, but is now beautifully restored, before heading down to the beach.  Although I’d seen pictures of this fiesta from previous years I was surprised at the number of people so early, waiting for the action.  We checked with a local policeman, who was struggling, charmingly to answer questions in at least four languages that I overheard, and he indicated the route of the procession, and we found a shady spot to wait.  It was then that the contrast between the fairly simple celebrations in Santiago del Teide the previous weekend, and what was happening in La Caleta struck me.  It wasn’t the sincerity of the proceedings or that they were not genuine in any way whatsoever, but that so many tourists were attracted to them.  It seemed like two worlds colliding.

The tourists waited impatiently in their spotless white shorts, clutching their cameras; locals sat patiently on the pavements and clutched their cameras too.  It was a longish wait.  Very little here happens at the appointed hour, and it occurred to me that with the huge crowd the priest might have run out of wafers, but in due time we spotted the procession coming down the street, and the nice policeman indicated that we should move out of its way a bit.

It was a wonderfully mixed group of riders who approached first, some dressed in traditional Canarian vests and hats, others looking like polo players, and yet others looking as if they were just there for fun in jeans and vests, and there was the inevitable guy with a cellphone to his ear,  but all in great good humor, and seeming to be relishing every minute.  There was a cute donkey with a sunhat, looking as if he belonged in an old western, and immaculately groomed steeds with plaited manes.  There were graceful women riders, and those who looked like businessmen on a day off, farmers, punks and some seriously cute children.  The riders were followed by a couple of pony and traps, and then came the shepherds and goatherds with their flocks.  Many of them carried the traditional long staffs which were carried by the Guanches long before the Conquistadors set foot on this island.  You’ll see them in the pictures below.  Not only were they used for keeping steady on the rocky terrain, but also used to launch the goatherd as he jumped from rock to rock.

The rear of the procession was brought up by San Sebastian and the mayor, priest and other local dignitaries, and we followed as they made their way down to the beachfront.  Dexterous use of elbows and not being afraid of the water got us views of the fun as horses, goats and sheep were pulled, coaxed or willingly trotted into the water.  It is, I think,  the most fun festival I’ve witnessed, and having done the “pilgrimage” it felt quite cool to be a little part of it, but by the time all the dunking was over we were starving and headed straight for the hotdog stand.  That the procession was then winding its way up to El Humilladero didn’t mean we escaped the queues, half the world, it seemed, had decided the same.  Roughly the queue and one hotdog later they returned to the roadside in front of the church, where animals, riders and keepers received a sprinkling of holy water to protect them from the plagues and pests of the coming year, and in all seriousness I hope it works.

For Cristina and me there was now the challenge of an hour to hour and half walking back to Adeje.  We were on the beach, and Adeje lies at 280 m above sea level.  My boots were falling apart.  The sun was hot, and I’d been on my feet since 9am.  Even so, the walk was fun (at least until we reached the road, then not-so-much), and it had all been well worth it.

I couldn’t begin to guess just how many of that 30,000 crowd were tourists, and I don’t begrudge the popularization of the fiesta one bit.  We are in crisis, and tourist euros are essential to the economy.  In fact, it’s a good thing that so many people realize that there is at least one whole other aspect to life on this lovely island.  Still, it seemed incongruous, the sheep and goats bleating, the horses prancing and the stalls selling hotdogs and ice cream as well as sardines and turrón, and in the background the swish hotels of Costa Adeje.  This festival is still able to happen because the beach there is still stones, and hasn’t been blasted with golden sand stolen from the seabed, and because there is still waste ground, not yet built on.  I suppose one day grand hotels will rise on that waste ground too, and I wonder what will happen then to this tradition.