Clowns” smiles have never been wider, jugglers” props have never flown higher and widows have never wailed so mournfully. Los Cristianos pulled out all the stops as Carnaval came to town and the circus theme had them rolling up in their thousands.
It was an eerie Sunday afternoon in the heart of this popular Tenerife holiday resort, the streets were strangely deserted. Was it the baking sun, or hangovers from the previous nights dancing to Orquesta Wamampy? Looking a little deeper I could see tell tale signs that the big Coso parade was due in a few hours – road signs indicated diversions, bars were digging out every last wonky table and seat to line the streets, and at the showground below the Valdes Centre floats were being decorated as performers squeezed into bizarre costumes.
The Sunday market was packing away stalls as I headed down to the gathering point where Montaña Guaza bathed in sunlight as musical groups swigged chilled water and practiced dance routines. Friday night had been a late and hazy one, not just due to flowing drinks but also the swirling smoke on stage as 6 adults and infants competed to be Carnaval Queens. The 2 winners were now united on one float, 17 year old Khar Ndoye in her Queen Of Africa creation, and 5 year old Claudia Morales Asencio doing justice to her outfit From The Sky Of Peking.
Pre show nerves were jangling, as were the ice cubes in the encouragement juice being liberally sipped on and around the floats. A few loud shrill whistles and everyone fell into line and the colourful chorus snaked up the road cheered on by joyful crowds perched on every possible vantage point. Some drummed, some danced, some pirouetted, and many did all three but somehow they managed to move along at a brisk pace even allowing for plenty of hand shaking and photo posing along the way.
Heading up the hill those enclosed in bulky costumes must have been shedding most of their body weight while others had plenty of exposed flesh to sizzle. The noise was infectious, as one rhythm lulled there was always another band to take up the pace, it was staggering to think how many hours had gone into creating all these costumes. With the evening creeping in, the cavalcade hit the city centre with a final flourish before partly disrobing in the side streets and joining the throng in the showground to dance the night away.
The sardine was ready and waiting to bring down the curtain on Monday, with a lip stick pout and an army of black veiled admirers the forecourt of the cultural centre was the rallying point. Last year’s will-it-wont-it-happen debacle was thankfully replaced with forward planning and the increased number of mourners showed that. Carnaval was later this year so with the clocks moved forward, an 8pm start in the light was always unrealistic.
As night fell, the lead carriage arrived belting out dance music, the widows lifted their skirt tails and the mock clergy led the way into the main street with a beach destination vaguely kept in mind. The costumes seem to get ruder every year but the crowds following were enjoying being shocked as frocks were lifted to reveal all sorts of underwear and gender defying extras. The sardine on its wheeled trolley lagged behind at the back for much of the journey, the salsa and disco beats at the front were a magnet for the widows. Progress was slow, every few yards the main group chanted their homage to the sardine and then fell to the floor crying and writhing in mock despair.
Many had waited hours down at the beach for a good view of the cremation but surprisingly few joined the stampede onto the sand to greet the weary fish as it made its noisy entrance into its penned off death zone. A liberal sprinkling of fuel basted the sardine before it was lit and it did its dog impression, going woof as the flames shot up. A few fireworks were released into the night sky as the mourners danced around the charred remains, this was an ex sardine. It may have been the end of the funeral but just the start of one last night of late partying as Los Cristianos said goodbye to carnival for another year.