Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Summer Carnaval in Playa de las Américas

I’ve got to admit to being a tad sceptical when I heard that a summer carnaval was going to be held in Playa de las Américas. I mean you can’t just hold a ‘carnaval’; it doesn’t work like that. Apart from the months of prep that goes into the main carnavals around the island, the furiously beating heart and soul of the carnaval spirit comes from what’s happening in the streets. Carnaval is all about holding a last wild hedonistic bash before giving up the good stuff in life for Lent…and you can’t simply replicate that with a click of the fingers and some sticky tape.

The second point which had me cringing at the idea of a summer carnaval was that I’d witnessed a ‘mock’ carnaval of sorts not so long ago when the British Guild of Travel Writers visited Tenerife. It was tacky and embarrassing and, from the comments I heard, had the opposite effect on the BGTW than that which the organisers intended.

As we were in the area we decided to head to the milla de oro (golden mile) in Playa de las Américas to have a look. The parade was due to begin at 7.30pm, but there were still cars streaming down the ‘golden mile’ at that point – so a late start at least was authentic enough.

Furthermore, the scaled down madness outside the Hotel Villa Cortes was exactly like the scenes before carnaval parades; girls from comparsa groups struggled to squeeze into tiny costumes; there were surreal elements like a tyrannosaurus rex glaring at passers-by; Fidel Castro, Charlie Chaplin, Michael Jackson and Popeye posed for photos and the animals from the movie Madagascar ran around aimlessly before being herded by a girl in skins with a bone through her hair whilst a DJ in a bar opposite blasted out the obligatory Latino music.

Eventually the parade got underway and the drums, dancing, bright costumes and bizarre characters brought the tourists from the bars to line the streets in impressive numbers.

I might have been snotty about the whole thing beforehand but although it’s not the real thing, at least it was a taster of an authentic carnaval parade. Credit to all those involved, they did it in the right spirit and the result was thoroughly enjoyable. Many visitors to the south are never going to make the trip to Santa Cruz or even Puerto de la Cruz, to see a full blown version; so at least the ‘summer carnaval’ will have given them some idea of the flamboyance and fun of carnaval in Tenerife.

However, if in a few days time I read somewhere about someone saying that, after watching the parade, they’ve ‘done’ carnaval’, you’ll be able to hear my head banging against the wall on the other side of the island.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Where is the Real Tenerife?

That title could also have read ‘What is the real Tenerife?’ On our blogs and websites we talk a lot about the ‘Real Tenerife’, but what do we actually mean when we use that term?

We use it to differentiate between the parts of Tenerife that were built purely for tourism and the parts where people live and work and where customs and traditions stretch back centuries. This isn’t meant to suggest that one is better than the other, but it’s vitally important to let people know that they are very different worlds and have qualities that appeal to the varying likes and dislikes of people looking at Tenerife as a holiday destination .

Before we considered moving to Tenerife we had a very clear idea of what we thought Tenerife was like. This perception had been painted partly by the newspapers and partly by British TV, but some of it had also come from our own experiences passing through certain areas on the way to catch the ferry to La Gomera. Some of it had also been derived from researching English language sites on Tenerife which tended to feature topics mainly based around life and holidays in one area of Tenerife and that area was the one that most people knew and visited – the area around the main southern resorts.

It came as a surprise to us to discover that this area that most English speaking people talked about was in reality very small geographically and that most of Tenerife was quite different. I’m not talking about a north south divide here, I’m talking about anywhere at all that lies 5 minutes outside of the heart of Playa de las Américas or Costa Adeje.

If you read the Spanish press, this is obvious. The locations which feature in the main topics of conversation for many British people hardly warrant a mention in local Spanish language papers.

This was a revelation to us and once our eyes were opened to the truth, we moved to Tenerife and began to try to spread the word about this ‘real Tenerife’ that only a few people seemed to talk about.

To us the real Tenerife is a place where the traffic is stopped for goats; you wonder how people get any work done because of the amount of fiestas; if you don’t speak Spanish you’ll never be able to sort anything out; menus offer cabra, conejo and cherne; any music other than traditional Canarian or Latino is considered ‘alternative’; mas o menos is a mantra and advice from anyone other than a Canario is received in the same manner as a poisoned chalice would be. Most of the places on Tenerife we spend time in are like this.

However, someone on a Tenerife Forum said something recently that was very valid. They made a comment that to 90% of British visitors, the Tenerife of the resorts was the ‘real Tenerife’. The person might have plucked the figure from thin air, but it was an interesting and well made point that probably wasn’t too far off the mark.

You could argue that the real Tenerife is the Tenerife that each and every individual on the island experiences. To 90% of British visitors (or whatever the real figure is) the real Tenerife continues to be the tourist resorts they love and return to regularly. On the other hand, for the majority of Canarios and the Brits who venture outside of the resorts, the real Tenerife is something completely different.

If you’re one of the 90% you know exactly what you’re getting and that’s great. However, if you want to become one of the 10% who experience a different ‘real Tenerife’, venture away from the resorts and you’re in for a surprise and a treat.

It’s one of the unexpected delights of Tenerife. Mass tourism has thrived on this island for nearly half a century…and yet most of Tenerife is still a secret waiting to be discovered.