We all know that carnival on Tenerife means madness, mayhem and over the top parades. But the carnivals that take place outside of Santa Cruz, Puerto de la Cruz, Los Gigantes and Los Cristianos rarely make it onto visitors” radar. And yet it’s at these where you can find some of the most unusual ways to celebrate carnival.
Each year GÃ¼Ãmar produces one of the most stylish and sexy carnival posters on Tenerife and 2012 is no exception. The poster by Luis Marrero, titled The Transformation, illustrates one of the town’s main celebrations, Las Burras de GÃ¼Ãmar.
Mysticism and GÃ¼Ãmar, the home of the much debated pyramids, are no strangers. Neither is superstition or tales of witchcraft. So a carnival street event involving satanic dances, witches who transform themselves into donkeys to cause mischief and destroy farmers” crops and a full on battle between the forces of good and evil seems quite an appropriate way for the young people of the town to let their hair down and have a bit of fun.
Las Burras de GÃ¼Ãmar has become one of the highlights of GÃ¼Ãmar’s carnival, growing in popularity each year since the first witches took to the street in 1992.
The question in some people’s minds will be ‘do the witches actually ‘dress up’ like the one on the poster?’
You’ll have to go along to Plaza de San Pedro Apóstol de GÃ¼Ãmar at 9pm on Friday 24th February to find out for yourself.
Sunshine and hay are two commodities they’re not short of in the hills of El Tanque where they’ve always been an integral part of community life, made all the more precious when one of those commodities was taken away from them for over 200 years.
Perched at the top of the Acantilados de La Culata, the 16th century settlement of El Tanque took its name from the large water tank which fed the farming needs of Garachico on the coast far below. A community began to grow around the tank and they worked the fertile land to produce cereals and grain which provided them with a living and a rural idyll… until the fateful 1706 eruption.
Destroying the crops of El Tanque en route to Garachico’s demise, the eruption left a trail of barren wasteland where once fields of golden corn had reflected the sun. Poverty ensued and the Tanqueros departed in their droves, immigrating to South America in search of a living. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that they returned and used their acquired wealth to reclaim the lands and recreate and preserve the traditions of their forefathers.
Today those traditions are a treasured part of everyday life in El Tanque where high summer means two things ““ thermometers are turning red and it’s time to gather in the wheat.
DÃa de La Trilla begins early on Friday morning when the farmers take to the fields with their traditional hand held scythes. Gathering, cutting and bundling the long straws of gold, it’s back-breaking, hot and dusty work under the relentless sun of an El Tanque summer. When the last bales of wheat have finally been transferred to the era (threshing circle), folklore bands strike up their song and the kegs are opened. Tomorrow the wheat will be threshed, but for now, it’s time to celebrate the harvest with friends and neighbours.
Now in its 16th year, DÃa de La Trilla attracts farmers and neighbours by the (literally) truckload to the site of the Eco Museum in the hills above the village of El Tanque to watch the wheat being threshed traditionally. As every year, it’s a hot and windy day for the fiesta and despite being damped down with hoses, the ground wants to join in the fun, sending swirling plumes of dust to parch already dry throats and colour bare feet a rusty shade of brown.
At the gate a religious painting is being raffled and a few feet further on, the same fate awaits a live pig on the back of a truck. It’s the perfect analogy for El Tanque where farming and religion go hand in hand.
First in the row of stalls is the straw hat vendor who’s doing brisk business and whose products can be seen at regular intervals sailing over the heads of horses and oxen before coming to rest in the straw or escaping into the distant hills. A handful of stallholders are selling honey, miniature carvings, musical instruments, farm implements and clothing but as tradition dictates, it’s the bar that’s doing the best business.
Beyond the era, several stalls are occupied by the Taller Empleo Recupera group who create and conserve the parks, gardens and greenery of El Tanque. Using only ecological methods to create their gardens, they’re giving away free plants to encourage and educate others to do likewise.
When the folklore groups take their bow, it’s time for the horses to take to the ring. Tethered in teams they canter through the stacked wheat, their hooves breaking the straws down as they go. Clockwise and counter clockwise they’re driven by their handler, the sweat glistening on their necks until it’s time to tag the next team and to pitchfork more bales into the circle.
When the mountains of straw are finally laid flat by the horses, it’s time to tether the oxen. Two by two the placid beasts of burden are led by the nose into the era and harnessed to a thrashing board. Adding weight to the board and claiming a mini fairground ride are hordes of local children who ride the boards as they’re pulled around the circle, breaking the wheat down to a size that’s small enough to flail and winnow.
As the sound of the children’s laughter carries on the wind, locally grown potatoes are being boiled and fish from the coast is being fried for the traditional meal that will follow the threshing and signify the end to another DÃa de La Trilla. Accompanied by home made saffron mojo and gofio amasado and washed down with red wine from the area’s own vineyards, it’s easy to taste why keeping their traditional farming methods alive is so important to the Tanqueros and why they’ll continue to make hay while the sun shines.
Tenerife Magazine was in the beautiful old quarter of La Orotava to film the arrival of the Tres Reyes (Three Kings).
In Spain, it isn’t Father Christmas who brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve, but rather the Three Kings who, just as they brought gifts to the baby Jesus, bring gifts to children on the night before the Epiphany – January 5th.
In main towns all over Spain the Three Kings arrive bearing gifts of sweeties which are thrown to the crowds of excited children for whom sleep will be slow to come on this magical night.
In the morning, if they’ve been good they’ll find presents left by Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. If they haven’t been good, they’ll find a lump of coal, but remarkably it seems no children are ever less than as good as gold 🙂
In La Orotava, as in many places on Tenerife, the Three Kings arrive on camels and this year Balthazar got a bit of a scare as his seat threatened to slip off and his camel decided he was going no further until it was all sorted out.
It’s very simple. Go into any rent-a-car office on Tenerife, hire a car ““ it doesn’t have to be a DeLorean ““ and, instead of bumming it at the beach, head inland and into the mountains. If you’re very lucky you might even stumble across fascinating little agricultural fiestas like the Dia de la Trilla (threshing day) which took place on the site of the planned Eco Museum in El Tanque at the end of July.
Life in Tenerife’s hills is very different from that in its popular tourist resorts. Across much of the island, the land is farmed using agricultural practices that haven’t changed greatly in a hundred years. The Dia de la Trilla celebrates some of the most ingenious of these.
The first thing that anyone attending a fiesta in the hills during the height of summer should know is that temperatures are often hotter than at the coast; a hat is an essential accessory. Almost everyone at Dia de la Trilla sports a straw sombrero to avoid being fried by a vengeful sun. In July’s searing temperatures, the hat didn’t exactly keep a person cool, but it did stave off death; the probable alternative.
With a soundtrack of Latino and traditional music blaring from speakers beside stalls selling handicrafts, breads, jams, cheese and the lifesaving straw hats, the main focus of the fiesta takes place around the era ( a large stone threshing circle).
First, El Tanque’s male elders filled the era with wheat using pitchforks one of which was a wonderful, traditional three pronged wooden affair. Then, when the wheat was waist high, horses were brought into the arena and “˜encouraged’ to race around it, threshing the wheat in the process. The final part of the threshing process was clearly the highlight for the local children. Two pairs of seriously big oxen were hooked up to a wooden threshing board, a sign was given and hordes of children raced to try to secure a prized spot on one of the boards.
It’s an inspired technique. The wheat gets threshed and the local niños get to enjoy the equivalent of an agricultural white knuckle ride ““ the white knuckle part being when the tank-sized beasts of burden, travelling in the opposite direction from the ones pulling your board, stray far too close for comfort and faces with wide smiles change to faces with saucer wide eyes.
By early afternoon, with the wheat well and truly threshed, everyone drifted away from the era towards either the grub tent for a plate piled with hearty rustic fare, or the sanctuary of the shade provided by the cerveza kiosk’s awning.
There’s no flash, bling or pomp and circumstance at these types of agricultural fiestas, just a wonderful sense of community, an infectiously laid back atmosphere and an insight into what rural life is like outside of Tenerife’s resorts.
Some people describe the neighbouring island of La Gomera as being like Tenerife before tourism. The truth is that you don’t have to travel as far as La Gomera to discover what Tenerife was like Tenerife before tourism and you definitely don’t need a time machine.
Why do they call it Midsummer’s day?
Rapidly approaching, the night of June 23rd is the longest day and shortest night in nature’s annual cycle and as such, it has been a significant time of change since ancients all over the world lived their lives, planted their crops and tended their livestock in time to the rhythms of nature.
The point at which the sun reaches its zenith and appears to stand still for three days before switching direction on its solar journey, Midsummer’s Eve is the time to cast out the old and welcome in the new; a time of re-birth and a time of heightened magic.
Fire and water are two of the four ancient elements, the building blocks of existence itself and powerful symbols of life and purification; all over the northern hemisphere bonfires will burn on the night of San Juan (Saint John) aka Midsummer’s Eve.
A tradition since the days of the Guanche, for many coastal towns in Tenerife that entails bonfires on the beach in which everything from old furniture to last year’s flip-flops are cast into the flames to make way for the new.
Any time of magic and tradition is also a time of celebration and San Juan is the perfect excuse to pack a hamper and head to the beach for some summer night partying.
By far the biggest beach party on the island takes place in Puerto de la Cruz where thousands of people descend onto Playa JardÃn and Punta Brava late afternoon, armed to the sunglasses with food, booze and candles. While a huge bonfire burns on the beach, each family or group of friends creates their own ritual fire by placing candles in a shallow basin in the sand. Decorated with flowers and scented with incense, the candles turn the beach into a magical scene where you wouldn’t be too surprised to see Hobbits drinking tankards of ale and dancing around the flames.
A Health and Safety Officer’s nightmare, in San Juan de la Rambla, Icod and Garachico large balls are fashioned from straw stuffed into sacks, then doused with petrol, set on fire and rolled down the mountainsides trailing a fiery path of sparks that must surely goad the God of volcanic eruptions.
You’d think Garachico of all places would know better.
After the fire comes the water, and tradition dictates that bathing in the midnight waters on Noche de San Juan will cleanse ailments from the past and bring good health and fertility for the forthcoming year – talk about the good news and the bad.
That may be a mixed blessing for many humans but when it comes to livestock, fertility is paramount which is why the Guanche bathed their animals in the healing waters of San Juan. In various parts of the island horses are ridden into the sea on the morning of the 24th June to bless the animals and ensure their health and fertility.
Once again, Puerto de la Cruz gets the prize for the biggest celebrations where, on the morning of 24th June, goats driven down from surrounding towns and villages throughout the La Orotava Valley are dragged, kicking and screaming into the harbour waters. Joined by several caballeros on their magnificent steeds, the spectacle leaves visitors open-mouthed and the harbour beach pretty much assured of never achieving Blue Flag status.
So, with a time that so clearly denotes seasonal changeover and the official start of the summer, why, oh why is it called midsummer?
Noche de San Juan 2010, Puerto de la Cruz
- 23rd June 2010 Beach Party from late afternoon on Playa JardÃn and Punta Brava. Fireworks display and entertainment provided by folk groups El Chirato and Portuense, and live bands Vocal 7, Jóvenes Cantadores, The Hits and Señor Natilla.
- 24th June 2010 Bathing of the goats in the town harbour from 8am to midday (ish)
Put the butter back in the fridge, the hot cross buns back in the bread bin and head to Adeje town for the real meaning of Easter. Those chocolate eggs will wait till later but even the most cynical of you will regret not experiencing the Good Friday (2nd April) street theatre that is The Passion.
The last hours and crucifixion of Christ are about to be played out for you in a stunning piece of street theatre that involves a whole town. It’s best to arrive in good time, partly to get a good vantage point, but also to feel the sense of anticipation as thousands line the road waiting for the noon start. Calle Grande meanders down from the town hall and the cool tree lined streets add to the intimacy and shared wonder that is to unfold.
Preparations go on for months, a cast of hundreds, adults, children and even livestock have been building up to this morning. Lamp posts and balconies are draped with red sashes and small stages at intervals down the road hint at the key scenes in this biblical epic. Prompt at noon trumpets sound and clopping hoofs herald the arrival at the top of the road of roman centurions, some on foot and some on horseback. Following behind in regal splendour the emperor and his wife are carried on their thrones with followers in sandals mixing composure with nifty footwork to avoid hazards left by the horses.
The procession makes way at the first stage, as the first tableau springs to life with The Last Supper taking place. The only professional actor in the event is Jesus but all the key players are wired up with microphones so the crowds can hear the dialogue and strident music on a series of speakers all the way down the road. As the story moves on we see Jesus betrayed by Judas in the garden of Gethsemane.
The power and realism are pretty graphic, be warned young children could find it very disturbing. The next scene is the court room, crowds press for better views as Jesus is sentenced, stripped by the guards and whipped. Disciples and supporters wail and protest but he is forced to take up his cross and carry it down the last stretch of road and nailed to the cross. The sombre silence is electric as the cross is raised high, every contortion and cry of pain captured by the television cameras and relayed into thousands of homes by the local station.
Regardless of your own religious convictions, or lack of them, the two hour tour de force is always gripping and a real insight into the faith and commitment of the local community.
December 12th is National Poinsettia Day.
Tradition dictates that you should give a poinsettia on that day and it gives us an excuse to feature this most enduring of Christmas icons which brings a splash of crimson delight to the festive season.
On Tenerife, poinsettias grow wild at the side of the road, particularly around the north of the island where fed by winter showers they can reach up to ten feet in height and produce huge double heads of bracts (clustered leaves). From the end of November through to early February they turn the landscape into one big Christmas wonderland, well… a sort of tropical Christmas wonderland.
Originally from Mexico, it’s the plant’s bracts that produce their trademark crimson hue; the flowers are yellow and quite insignificant. Contrary to popular opinion, the poinsettia isn’t actually poisonous although the sap can cause minor skin irritation. Tests have shown that vast quantities of the plant would have to be consumed to cause any stomach upset, so here’s a piece of advice”¦ don’t eat all the poinsettias!
What’s in a name?
The botanical name for poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima, meaning “˜very beautiful’. In Chile and Peru the plant is known as the Crown of the Andes but in its native Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries, they are known as Flores de Noche Buena or flowers of the Holy Night.
This name comes from the story of Pepita, a poor Mexican girl who had no gift to lay at the feet of the baby Jesus at Christmas Eve mass. Her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up by telling Pepita that if given in love, even the humblest of gifts would please Christ. So Pepita picked some weeds from the side of the road and as she laid them at the feet of the Christ, they burst into brilliant red blooms ““ flores de noche buena.
Business is blooming
Poinsettias are the biggest selling flowering potted plant in the US and over the six-week run up to Christmas a staggering $300 million will be spent on some $75 million plants to decorate homes and offices.
There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias available and according to the Vancouver Sun, many attempts have been made over the years to seduce consumers away from the traditional red.
Horticultural experimentation to date has seen the production of blue and speckled poinsettias which sound rather nice. There was an attempt to create a poinsettia for the punk era by giving it crinkly bracts, but to be honest it’s more Wrinkled Rose than Johnny Rotten. But things went too far a few years ago when horticulturalists attempting to produce psychedelic poinsettias were clearly under the influence of hallucinogenics themselves and produced plants featuring pink with purple blotches and yellow with orange blotches.
Despite these floral seductresses the overwhelmingly most popular choice for the Christmas poinsettia remains pure, true red.
Aah what a lovely nativity scene, there’s the manger, the shepherds, the bloke having a poo, the wise men ““ whoa rewind, did I really see that? I don’t care how many sprouts he had, that’s just rude and untraditional. Well you are wrong on both counts, El Caganer is a fine old Catalan tradition that is seen as an integral part of any festive nativity.
Originally it was a shepherd or peasant delivering his unique present, and it represented the regeneration of the soil and the natural circle of nature. In recent years the tradition has grown into a more fun event with celebrities squatting in place of the peasant. As Catalans travelled they took their cheeky habit with them, El Caganer has been spotted in Tenerife, La Villa commercial centre in La Orotava is a good place to look.
Every year new faces pop out to join the ranks of the infamous, President Obama has been honoured and this year HRH The Queen has briefly stepped down from the throne to join in. I have spared Her Majesty’s blushes here, I don’t want to be greeted on my next UK visit by Beefeaters ready to make mincemeat out of me. Don’t think it’s just outsiders that get the treatment, the Spanish politicians and royalty are also shown doing what comes naturally.
Surely there must be outrage and disgust at these festive interlopers, far from it. In 2005 Barcelona council decided there was no place for El Caganer in the modern age and banned it from their official nativity, there were howls of protest, the council relented and the campaigners were flushed with success.
You can buy any El Caganer at www.caganer.com all you have to do is log on, snigger, snigger.
Popular folklore on Tenerife has it that when Saint Andrew arrived on the island to preach the gospel he arrived late, discovered the island’s new wine and, just to be polite, partook of it liberally before giving in to a deep sleep. The story goes that local children tied pots and pans to the disciple’s clothes so that he’d wake up every time he tried to turn over.
Fact or fable, that’s the reason why the eve of San Andrés (29th November) has hordes of children running riot around the cobbled streets of Puerto de la Cruz from about 7pm pulling long trains of string decorated with old tins and bits of metal making an almighty racket.
If it’s raining the whole thing is usually called off, presumably so the little darlings don’t get wet, or rusty or something.
In the run up to San Andrés, Puerto’s harbour is filled with hot braziers roasting the season’s castañas (chestnuts) and serving them up with the new wine produced from local harvests, aniseed bread and succulent, spicy pork kebabs known as pinchos. It’s an aromatic, savoury fiesta and you can start to enjoy it from now until the 30th November.
Just along the road, young lads in Icod de los Vinos celebrate a past Saint Andrew’s day tradition by giving it some Jackass credentials.
In days of yore, wine producers transported their barrels down Icod’s nose-bleed-inducing streets on wooden sleds pulled by oxen and using a long stick which acted as both rudder and brake. Today, Icod’s daredevil teenagers take to greased boards and hurtle at breakneck speed down those same pass-me-my-crampons streets without the aid of brakes at all and plough into huge piles of old tyres, often featuring several feet of airborne anarchy.
If you’d like to witness this madness, head to Icod’s Calle El Plano on the nights of the 29th and the 30th. You’ll know you’re there by the presence of one or more Cruz Roja (ambulance) vehicles, which gives you some idea of the health and safety standards you’re about to NOT witness.
Naturally, the new wines will also be on sale from stalls around the town and should help to steady the nerves”¦ of spectators.
Those of a more nervous disposition may want to stay around the nursery slopes, some of the less steep streets where the juniors learn their trade.