Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Foreign Fields of Tenerife

The most foreign feeling country I’ve ever visited was…France. Until I visited France it had been Sri Lanka. The first time we visited Sri Lanka was a serious culture shock, there was virtually nothing that was familiar to me; from the crowds clinging to the wire fencing at the airport, road blocks manned by kids with Kalashnikovs (it was during the civil war), shanty towns amidst palm groves and children in rags whose smiles were as white as the surf, but there was the occasional Coca-Cola billboard…and the people did speak English.

France on the other hand was a shock. It was the first time I’d been anywhere where the people couldn’t, or wouldn’t speak English. Thank god for Andy’s grasp of the language and the difference that a couple of bottles of French country wine can make in helping you understand the lingo.

Tenerife on the other hand is a place which is as foreign as the La Tasca restaurant on Deansgate in Manchester…if you believed some.

On Sunday at a popular fiesta, the Corazones de Tejina (hearts of Tejina) in the north of Tenerife, the only other English speaking voices I heard were that of Tenerife blogger, Islandmomma and her friend Colleen.

Despite the thousands of British ex-pat residents and tens of thousands of British visitors who descend for their holidays on Tenerife every month, this isn’t something that’s uncommon. Recently at the Riscos del Fuego in Garachico we heard another English speaking voice and expressed surprise. That might seem an odd thing to say, but after years of visiting fiestas all over the island, some of which attract thousands upon thousands of people, it still comes as a surprise when we see or hear many other Brits at one (apart from those close to resort areas in the north and south).

By far the majority of people at most fiestas are Spanish speakers – most fiestas have their roots in a very strong communal bond and are held by the community for the community.
Why these fiestas don’t attract more British, I don’t know. They’re fun, visually enthralling and the people are always welcoming. In the past (before the internet changed the world) promoting them on Tenerife wasn’t a strong point and people have said to me in the past that they just weren’t aware of all the things that were going on. This might still be the case, especially if people don’t use the internet.
But the Corazones de Tejina had pride of place on billboards all over the tourist resorts and there were no more Brits there than on any other year I’ve been.

Fiestas aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and neither is local culture and that’s cool. We all have different likes and dislikes, but it still amazes me that on an island whose reputation has been one of being overdeveloped for tourism, that the reality is that so much of its towns and the events that take place in them are still invisible to most visitors.

The upside of this is that anyone looking for a holiday experience in a land that feels deliciously foreign with a culture that is quite fascinating and with traditions that border on the bizarre then…don’t laugh…Tenerife is your place.

And if you do happen to scoff at that suggestion, next time you’re in the area let me know and I’ll take you to a town away from the resorts and plonk you in the middle of a fiesta - if you’re still scoffing at that point, I promise to pay for the carafe of vino del país.


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