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.

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