Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Nightlife in Puerto de la Cruz - You Need to Go Native to Get the Best of it

Tenerife in May
May is a quiet month in Tenerife for visitors. The British and German swallows who spend their winters at the coastal resorts have flown back to their homeland and the Spanish mainlanders won’t descend in their thousands (to the north anyway) until late June.

Many restaurateurs in the north of Tenerife choose May to take their holidays and some restaurants in Puerto de la Cruz can be shut for a whole month.
It’s a quiet month for sure and for anyone who opts to stay in somewhere like Puerto de la Cruz it might seem as empty as a graveyard…if they simply stick to the sort of hours and patterns they keep at home.

Nightlife in Puerto de la Cruz
Watching the football in the bar on Sunday I heard a British visitor comment that the town was dead. He mentioned that he’d been to the Shamrock Bar, an Irish hostelry in the more modern part of town, close to many hotels. He’d arrived at about nine and was the first person in the bar.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard people commenting that Puerto is quiet at night. A couple of years ago, again whilst watching football on a Sunday, another British holidaymaker had mentioned that the British bar he’d spent his Saturday night in had been nearly empty; he also commented that there wasn’t much nightlife in Puerto. This time it was in November, the other ‘quiet’ month.

It’s interesting how different people form different perspectives about the places they visit.

Take visitor number two. At the same time he was sitting with a handful of other punters in the bar, it was the Fiesta of San Andrés in the old town. There were live bands playing in Plaza del Charco and kiosks selling wine, chestnuts and sardines beside the harbour. The place was buzzing.

Visitor number one was a bit different, there weren’t any live bands playing in the harbour, but by the time he wandered back to his hotel, grumbling about how there was no-one around, the local population were probably only just coming out to play.

How to Go Native
Some of our visiting friends have been horrified when we told them that there was no point in going out till midnight. But the fact is that the liveliest bars in the bigger authentic Canarian towns don’t hit their peak till after one in the morning. Because of this many, many visitors miss the best of the nightlife. The other thing is that much of the fun doesn’t take place inside; it takes place in the streets.

If you want to really ‘go native’ you have to set aside your normal patterns and embrace those of the place you’re visiting.

On Sunday after the football finished we left the bar and wandered back to the old town via the harbour. It was about seven o’clock and the low sun bathed the cobbles in a warm golden light. The harbour was packed with people; there was a Brazilian butacada competition taking place beside the old customs house and young Canarios stood on the harbour wall swaying in time to the seductive samba rhythms. The place had a wonderful atmosphere which felt more South American than Spanish.

Of course from his position on his stool, the man in the bar wouldn’t have been aware of any of this.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Around La Caldera in North Tenerife – Fresh Food Guaranteed

Sometimes I experience moments of profound well-being on Tenerife. At other times I experience moments where I want to tear my hair out in frustration, but that’s part and parcel of really ‘Going Native’. Thankfully the well-being moments outnumber the others.

Yesterday we’d just finished a walk in the upper La Orotava Valley; one of our favourite routes on Tenerife as it opens up the sort of views that had ‘wowed’ the German naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt two centuries previously.

The log cabin bar at La Caldera zona recreativa which serves as the venue for a post walk cerveza is shut on a Wednesday, so we decamped to the bigger Restaurant Aguamansa in the nearby hamlet of the same name.

Aguamansa is the last village on the northern road to Mount Teide and the restaurant is the last building in the village, so the views up the hill are of virgin pine and laurel forest and the spine of the island not that far above. In the warm sunshine it is the most wonderful spot.

As we eased our feet out of our walking boots and into sandals we watched a trio of miniature ponies framed against the columns of the Los Órganos rock formations frolic amongst the wild flowers in the field beside the restaurant.
A pick-up with a load of hay three times its size wobbled past on the road going about 20 kilometres an hour (fast for up there). Its rasping engine woke up the recovering birds of prey in the sanctuary and trout farm opposite and they added their shrieking cries to the scene. Everyone who entered the restaurant smiled a ‘buenas tardes’ as they passed us. It was the perfect spot to relax with a cold beer after a long walk.

The exertions of the walk had brought on an appetite and I had a look at the menu. It was pretty typical of restaurants in the hills: grilled meats and fish. But as well as the usual veal, cherne (grouper), steak and pork this one had fresh trout (as you might expect being opposite a trout farm), rabbit (a Tenerife favourite) and goat.

As I read the word cabra (goat) on the menu I heard a bleating from around the back of the restaurant. I’d spotted the goats when I arrived, but the penny didn’t drop until that moment. At least you knew that the meat here was going to be super fresh.

I try not to be a hypocrite when it comes to eating meat. I don’t balk when I see whole skinned pigs and rabbits in the supermarket or when served with a fish with head and tail intact (wouldn’t have it any other way). But in this case I failed. There’s one thing knowing that your food was once an animal, but knowing which individual animal it was is another kettle of fish…that makes it far too personal.

I’ve clearly still got a long way to go before I can truly say I’ve completely gone native.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Going Native in Tenerife - Now on Sale in Tenerife

At long last Going Native in Tenerife is available to buy on Tenerife itself. There is only a limited supply available on the island so there are only two outlets selling Tenerife’s latest and most honest guidebook. These are:

The Bookswap on the 1st floor of the Marina at Puerto Colón


Barbara’s Bookshop, Calle Amalia Frías, 3; Los Cristianos

Send an email to editor@realtenerifeislanddrives.com telling me what the man is carrying in the photograph on page 89 of the book and I’ll email you a free copy of ‘A Captivating Coastline’, our short guide to the best coastal walks on Tenerife.

A Day Going Native in Tenerife Part 2 – …and the Old

15 minutes after I’d left the frantic tourist resorts I was in the little town of Arona. Arona is the administrative centre for some of the southern resorts, but its character couldn’t be more different; quiet and quaint as opposed to modern and brash. As I got out of the car an old lady smiled at me and bade me a ‘buenas tardes’. I went into the first tasca that I spotted. Inside a barman was cleaning glasses whilst his only two customers, a bearded pair who had the wiry grizzled look of Yukon gold prospectors, sat glued to the television.

“¿Hay bocadillos para llevar?” (do you have baguettes to takeaway)
“Of course.”
“What do you have?”
He pointed to a glass cabinet which was full of cheese and salami.
“Hmmm, I guess I’ll have cheese and salami then.”

As he made up the bocadillo on a loaf-of-bread sized roll I turned my attention to the TV. There was a football report about the Champion’s League final.
‘Barcelona V Manchester United will be a much better game than Chelsea V Manchester,” I commented to the gold prospectors and that was it, they were off and running.

For ten minutes we debated the outcome of the game.
“It’ll be 2-1 to Barcelona,” shouted the barman.
“Nah, we’ll score two,” I countered.
“Then Barça will score three,” laughed the barman as he slapped a slice of salami on the roll.

And so it went on with the prospectors telling me why they didn’t like Chelsea (too physical) and why they liked Liverpool (England’s Spanish team). I grabbed the bocadillo and headed for the door.
“Good luck for the final,” shouted the barman as a parting shot.
I replied with a wave.

I ate the bocadillo in the tranquil setting of a mirador (viewpoint) overlooking the lovely alpine-esque village of Vilaflor with its pumice coloured patchwork quilt of potato terraces then headed through the pine forest and into the Mount Teide crater.

The crater’s landscape is rather surreal at the best of times, but passing the wrecked prow of an Ancient Greek galley was the first indication that the scenery was even more mythical than usual. An amphitheatre of Ancient gods sitting nobly on their thrones amidst the volcanic terrain should have seemed out of place…but didn’t. The Clash of the Titans movie set was looking pretty impressive and as though it had been there forever. I spent some time watching the workmen put the final touches to the polystyrene pillars before heading for home via a wonderful drive through the dappled pines on the northern slopes accompanied by tantalising glimpses of the coast way below. The road twisted and turned, passing little agricultural communities where Shetland ponies played in the fields and the occasional thatched roof gave a glimpse of life in the past on these verdant slopes.

People continually try to categorize Tenerife as nothing more than an oversized tourist resort. You really don’t have to travel far from any of the resorts to discover that this perception really couldn’t be further from the truth.

Monday, 11 May 2009

A Day Going Native in Tenerife Part 1 – The New…

Last Thursday I experienced one of those uniquely Tinerfeño days when the island showed me a few of its many faces.

I’d travelled south for a few meetings and by mid morning had already spent time in Los Cristianos and Playa de las América and was heading for my final meeting in Puerto Colón. Puerto Colón is a nightmare for parking, but I got lucky as I cruised along the narrow dead end road which runs parallel to the beach. Unsure as to whether I was illegally parked or not (there were no yellow lines, but a policeman was taking notes of number plates further along the beach) I spent as little time as possible dropping off a small supply of Going Native in Tenerife guidebooks with Ted, the owner of The Bookswap in the Marina in Puerto Colón.

Playa la Pinta at Puerto Colón is quite an attractive little beach, book-ended at one end by the marina and a mock fortress at the other, but strolling along the path above the beach I was swamped by PR guys asking if I fancied a pint. They did this even though I was dressed, inappropriately considering it was 26+ degrees, in a shirt, long black trousers and was carrying a folder - not exactly the get up of a holiday maker enjoying a day at the beach. I know these guys are only doing a job, but their attentions can be a bit overwhelming.

It was lunchtime by the time I left the Bookswap. I had planned to pick up a bocadillo at the first place that sold them, but the constant verbal assault by the PR guys was so claustrophobic I decided to stop at one of the villages on way home instead and hot footed it out of there.

The remake of Clash of the Titans is about to start filming in Tenerife and I wanted to have a look at the movie set in the Mount Teide crater, so whereas I’d taken the motorway to get to the south, I opted for the scenic route back to Puerto de la Cruz; up and over the middle of the island. Almost as soon as I left the TF1 motorway to head up the hill past Chayofa toward Arona, Vilaflor and then Mount Teide, I felt as though I'd arrived on a different island; one where the pace of life dropped a couple of gears...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Romería de San Marcos, Tegueste

The quality isn't great and we forgot to turn the sound on, but hey it was our first go. This is just to give you a taste of what a traditional Romería looks like. This one is a bit different; you don't normally get boats.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Going Native in Tenerife – Fiesta of the Cross and Paragliding Rabbits

We’ve been hardly able to keep up with what’s going on this week, but that’s May for you; the start of the serious fiesta season when there are concerts, fiestas and all sorts happening…and yet it is low season in terms of tourism.

We started the week at the Romería de San Marcos in the little town of Tegueste; overlooked by most tourist guides (not Going Native in Tenerife) it’s a little gem of a place, tucked away in pretty rural surroundings, yet it’s proximity to La Laguna and Santa Cruz means that it’s fiestas are lively affairs. This one was no different; a whirlwind of sights, sounds and smells and boats and goats.

Midweek we headed over to Playa de la Arena on the south west of Tenerife. The difference in atmosphere between a tourist resort in May and a traditional Canarian town was marked. Whereas Tegueste was buzzing, the south west resorts were whispering, but the weather, as normal, was better than just about anywhere else on the island.

However, as the south west has the most amount of sunshine on Tenerife and it was a bank holiday weekend, the influx of Canarian visitors from the north on Friday afternoon brought the area to life.

We had to go against the flow and head back north for the Flypa International Paragliding Festival and the celebrations for the Fiestas of the Cross on the 3rd May.

A stubborn bank of cloud meant that the Flypa festival wasn’t quite as spectacular as last year’s and the odd transformation of Playa Socorro from sandy to boulder strewn beach didn’t help with the photography, but as always it was fascinating to watch the air displays and madmen plummet from fellow para-glider's harnesses only to open their own chutes a few yards from the sea. The most surreal sight for me was the arrival of a paragliding rabbit; the festival’s mascot.

In the evening we headed to Los Realejos, another town ignored by many guidebooks and tourists, to wander the dimly lit old streets occasionally popping into locals' houses to murmur compliments about their lovingly decorated crosses. Although the crosses are what the fiesta is all about, the big event here is the firework competition between rival streets. We positioned ourselves in a prime position and waited to be wowed. I’d wondered if the ‘crisis’ might have had an effect on what is claimed to be Europe’s biggest display. I needn’t have worried. The show was, if anything, bigger than last year’s; it was certainly better. A beautifully clear night sky provided the perfect backdrop for atom bomb sized pyrotechnic after pyrotechnic; some so explosive that I swear I felt the shock wave pull at my face and clothes.
For a couple of hours we stood transfixed as the rival streets battled it out in dramatic fashion in the sky and neighbours shouted good natured abuse at rival displays.

It was a week which illustrated the paradox that is Tenerife. Ask your average tourist what their impression of the island was during the last week and they’ll probably reply ‘quiet with nothing much happening.’ Ask a Canarian and you’ll get a completely different answer.