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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Garachico Remembers its History

Garachico from behind the Parque Puerta de la Tierra

"A community which doesn't know its history, has no future", commented Garachico's mayor, Ramón Miranda, during his speech at Friday's inauguration ceremony.

On Friday, Garachico commemorated the 300th Anniversary of the eruption which had destroyed the town's port and, on Monday, Miranda, who has been mayor of the town for 11 years, will celebrate his 43rd birthday. How do I know this? His mum told me!

The suits arrive for the inauguration of the obelisk. Left to right: Mayor of Garachico, Ramón Miranda; President of the Canary Islands Government, Adán Martín and Councillor for Roads and Transport, Lorenzo Dorta.

Figuring it was unlikely I'd be around to see the celebrations at the next centenary, I decided I had to go to Garachico on Friday afternoon. As there were to be scenes taking place in the port, the car park there was closed. The other car park, at the football ground, was marked for coaches only and, after a round of all the back streets, I was nearly ready to give up, when someone left and I grabbed the space between the park and the sea front. It was a gift and situated right by the park where the events  were about to begin.

It was already past six p.m., but on my way to go to the obelisk for the inauguration, I'd seen Doña Lola standing outside her restaurant, Casa Ramón, on the Calle Esteban de Ponte. As I've eaten there  regularly for years, we're on chatting terms, so I stopped to say hello. Not that I needed to worry, because late is normal here and, even after I had climbed the steep hill behind the Parque Puerta de la Tierra to where the obelisk has been placed, there was still only the local TV and press in attendance. Plenty of time to take photos and have a chat to the camera man, while we waited for the suits to arrive.

The President gets waylaid for a chat before proceedings commence. Former mayor of Arona, now councillor for Cultural Affairs of the Tenerife Cabildo (Corporation), Miguel Delgado (on the right).

Also amongst the party of dignitaries and their entourage was former mayor of Arona, now councillor for Cultural Affairs of the Tenerife Cabildo (Corporation), Miguel Delgado. It is possible that from my days working for the local press that, if he has a really good memory, he might know my face, however, I was still surprised that he said hello to me. The President smiled at me (I expect he smiles at everyone) and Ramón Miranda nodded, which is no surprise, since we've coincided at numerous events in the town before.

There was not a particularly huge crowd at this point; a few locals, maybe half a dozen Germans (tourists, rather than residents, from their attire), but considering how much English pirates and merchants had to do with the growth of Garachico back in its early days, a blinking disgrace that I appeared to be Britain's one and only representative.

A classic obelisk, before the unveiling. The detail shows the symbol of a phoenix rising from it's ashes. The real surprise comes after dark.

What was said in the inaugural speeches, was, as one would expect, pretty obvious stuff, but I am glad I had been there, because now the obelisk means something more to me than a mere pointy thing on a cliff side. I also made a point of having a few words with its designer as the party made its way down to the next event in the Plaza.

Dignitaries line up once more for the presentation of a sand carpet, made by alfombristas from La Orotava.

The next event was the presentation of a sand carpet outside the Casa de la Piedra (former mansion of the Counts of La Gomera), with the saint, San Roque, whose worship is celebrating its fourth centenary and a scene depicting the eruption.

The Mayor of La Orotava, who had been hired as the comedy turn, I think, spent some time proudly recounting his recent visit to San Antonio, Texas. It has been much criticized that 140 kilos of Teide soil had been transported across the pond for that particular event, but one thing I did learn from this speech is why. Yes, they do also have coloured sands in the United States. What they did was to mix the two as a symbolic mixing of the people from the Canary Islands and the United States. Considering how immigration is constantly making headlines in both locations, this symbolic act now looks well timed.

Isaac Valencia Domínguez, La Orotava's Mayor, was explaining how the sand carpets, which are an annual feature for Corpus Cristi, are made to be walked on. Ramón Miranda took the microphone at the end of the discourse to say, "Don't even think of walking on the carpet!" It was to remain in place over the weekend so that more people could see it and he didn't want anyone walking on it until Monday. As soon as we all moved on to the next act, I notice that barriers were quickly placed around it, with police hovering nearby.

Inside the former Convent of San Fransisco, Juan Carlos Carracedo, Scientist in charge of the Volcanological Station of the Canary Islands, in La Laguna, Tenerife, takes another opportunity to assure us that there is no need to panic about volcanoes.

The next part in the proceedings was what I had been looking forward to - the opening of the exhibition in the former convent. Questions that have been circling in my head for years have revolved around, where did the lava go, how big was Garachico's port before it was filled in, which bits of land weren't there before the eruption and, indeed, which buildings in the town had existed before or were built after. I didn't quite get all of the last question answered, yet, but there was enough information, maps, photos, etc., to answer the rest.

Route of the two lava flows of the 1706 volcanic eruption in Garahico.

The image shows the two major lava flows that affected the town. The green one, at 9 p.m. on May 5th, 1706 was the one which filled in the port. You can see from the dotted blue line shown on this image of a modern aerial photo, overlaid with the paths of the 1706 lava flows, where the limits of the former deep water port had been. Just to the left edge of that blue dotted line is a square dark green patch: that's the Parque Puerta de la Tierra.

You can clearly see the pretty large piece of land outside of that dotted blue line, marked "Antiguo Puerto" - meaning Old Port, which now houses about four streets in either direction, another plaza in the middle of those streets and all of the jetty and current port of Garachico - all are built on land that, before the 1706 eruption, had not existed.

The second lava flow, shown in yellow, which occurred at 8 a.m. on May 13th, 1706, came right into the town, but (some would say, miraculously) skirted around the former convent in which were were standing. (Circled and labelled "ESTA AQUI" (You Are Here))

Several of us were doing the same thing: comparing maps to photos to our own knowledge of the town, retracing the blue dotted line on photos with our fingers and exclaiming in similarly coloured words about the extent of the difference. Apparently, no lives were lost in the catastrophe, but it still sends cold chills down one's spine, though it is impossible to imagine how the inhabitants really must have felt.

The good news, thanks to wonga provided by the La Caixa foundation, is this exhibition will now be permanently housed in this former Franciscan Convent for all to see.

There was also a conference, entitled, "Garachico The Eruption of 1706", starting at 8 p.m., but no matter if I would understand it and would undoubtedly learn a lot from it, I thought it was going to be a bit heavy going after an already long day and decided to skip that and headed for the kiosk in the Plaza de la Libertad for a coffee before setting off home.

However, on the way back to the car, I spotted Doña Lola, still standing at the door outside her restaurant and we ended up chatting, about this and that, for another hour or so.

Various people came and went asking if the kitchen was open (there is definitely a lack of eating places open in the evening here) and a couple more, known to the proprietress, whom she was happy to serve with a glass of wine and tapas of fresh goat cheese.

During this time too, the streets began to fill with life; a melee of spectators as well as actors and extras in all kinds of historical costume; the street theatre, with Punch and Judy style puppets arrived in the Plaza de Juan Gonzalez de la Torre and dusk befell, which afforded us a grand view of the obelisk's secret. It throbs. Er, I mean, it lights up from inside and pulsates with a red glow at night, symbolizing the volcanic eruption.

Knowing that I had been up to the inauguration and presentation, Doña Lola was asking me who (of the dignitaries) had been present. As I began rattling off the names, she asked, "You do know that Ramón Miranda is my son?" I didn't. I do now. LOL!

Energy flagging, I didn't stay for the fireworks or the rest of the theatre. Some of these events required invitations, which I did not have and numbers of spectators were already showing themselves to be much higher than anyone expected. Some 5,000 people (not bad for a town of c. 6,000), were there to watch events, according to the local police.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the most inopportune shower in the last 300 years threatened to put out the fires of the man-made, simulated eruption. As El Día reported the next day, "Three centuries later, the rain appeared without warning, perhaps because it had a debt owing to the town it was unable to help in 1706."

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