Saturday, March 31, 2007

2007 Easter in Tenerife

Reenactment of the Crucifiction in Adeje

With tomorrow being Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), we start Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Easter Celebrations proper in Tenerife. There have been processions from last Friday, March 30, known as Viernes de Dolores and before, but the main events are on Jueves y Viernes Santo (Maunday Thursday and Good Friday, April 5th and 6th).

Whist most towns and villages have their own Easter processions, the main ones on the island are in La Laguna, La Orotava and Puerto de la Cruz.

Vía Crucis reenactment in Adeje

However, for my money, the very best of the Easter events to see in Tenerife is the Vía Crucis in Adeje. This is held on Good Friday from 12:00 midday (which still gives you time to go to some of the other processions elsewhere in the evening), in the open air, in and around the main street in the town of Adeje.

Vía Crucis is a reenactment of the most relevant scenes from the last hours of the life of Jesus Christ. More than 300 amateur actors take part and, as a mark of how important this has become, the two hour event is transmitted live on TVCanaria. Do not misunderstand the word amateur. In this case, it merely refers to the fact that actors are not being paid to partake - well, for this, you wouldn't expect them to be - because the performances are first rate, with operatic singing, superb costumes and realistic attention to detail, including an almost alarmingly convincing crucifixion!

Personally, I think some of the Roman soldiers cracking the whips might have been getting a little too enthusiastically into character, but I'm sure it is only red dye that provides the "blood stains". Various buildings, such as the town hall, take on new roles too, though we couldn't help but find a little amusement in the appearance of white lines for parking spaces painted near the bases of Biblical scenery.

Easter processions

Festivals of a religious nature involving worship and processions take place. They are held in various districts all over the island, but some which deserve a special mention are: Santa Cruz, Puerto de la Cruz, La Orotava, Los Realejos, Icod, Garachico, Arona, Adeje and in particular the ones in the city of San Cristóbal de La Laguna.

The processions in La Laguna, with the Magna procession on Viernes Santo (Friday 6th April), starting at 17:00hrs from the Holy church of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, followed at 21:30hrs by the Silent procession, where all the city brotherhoods go with the Santísimo Cristo Difunto to the parish of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, and then every one of them return in silence to its corresponding church.

Cofradías - Brotherhoods

The most notable thing about these Easter processions is the Cofradías or Brotherhoods who dress in the Ku Klux Klan like garb with pointy hats. This is actually a throwback to the Inquisition, to hide the identity of an accuser. (In those days, probably not a bad idea, when the accusation was an unprovable offence, such as witchcraft, I guess.) These brotherhoods are associations of faithful catholics who unite in devotion to a particular advocation of Christ, the Virgin or a particular Saint. Most of these Cofradías were formed in the 16th Century, at least as we know them today, as religious associations that make processions during Holy Week.

Traditional Food For Easter

Other than the tradition remaining in many households to eat fish on Good Friday, there don't seem to be any traditions for particular foodstuffs for Easter in Spain and the Canary Islands. What, no Easter Eggs? No, they were not a tradition here, until very recently. Imported ones have been creeping into shops in areas with expat communities.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tenerife commemorates Los Rodeos tragedy

International Tenerife Memorial March 27, 1977
Image: Jesús Manuel Pérez Triana [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

On the 30th Anniversary of the Tenerife Disaster on March 27th, 1977, Tenerife paid homage to the victims of the accident at Los Rodeos. Families of the those who died, as well as survivors of the tragedy and members of the island's authorities, celebrated a memorial service at the Auditorio de Tenerife. Karen Tafuri, who lost her mother, Jeanne Wilder, in the crash, spoke of her experience, in representation of victims from the United States. While, Jan Groenewoud, President of the Foundation for families of the victims, remembered the seven people - among them, both of his parents and two sisters - that he lost on that date.

The 583 victims now have their Stairway to Heaven

An emotional homage was paid to the 583 victims of the crash yesterday afternoon, when the International Tenerife Memorial was inaugurated on the Mesa Mota mountain in La Laguna, Tenerife, overlooking the airport and site of the disaster. Penas compartidas en Los Rodeos

It was also revealed yesterday, that the Dutch artist, Rudi van de Wint, who designed the over 18 metres tall monument, sadly died shortly after completing it.

The Foundation Relatives Victims Tenerife donated the International Tenerife Memorial to the island's authorities. The Cabildo accepted the monument with gratitude: an artwork 18 metres tall designed by the Dutch artist Rudi van de Wint. The Corten steel monument arrived on the Canary island of Tenerife at the end of January, aboard ship from Flushing (Vlissingen).

The artwork, entitled 'De Wenteltrap' (literally translated, spiral staircase) - symbol of infinity - will serve as a monument to commemorate all the victims of the largest disaster in the history of civil aviation, which occurred on March 27, 1977 at Los Rodeos airport, Tenerife-Norte (TFN). KLM Boeing 747 flight number KL4805 crashed on the runway into a Boeing 747 of Pan American Airlines (Pan Am 1736). All 248 people aboard the KLM aircraft died; 335 of the 396 aboard the Pan Am aircraft perished, with 61 survivors.

INAUGURATION INTERNATIONAL TENERIFE MEMORIAL - MARCH 27 1977 - 2007 - English version from Int on Vimeo.

The monument was unveiled in the presence of Spanish, American and Dutch surviving relatives and government representatives. Prior to the formal dedication, for the first time since the disaster occurred 30 years ago there was an international memorial service in the Auditorio de Tenerife, in the port of the capital, Santa Cruz. Dutch and Spanish heads of state have been invited to both ceremonies.

Air Traffic Controller speaks to the media for the first time

Fernando Azcúnaga, who was one of the three controllers on duty in the tower at Los Rodeos on that fateful day in 1977, has spoken to the media for the first time in these 30 years. Previously, he had refused to speak publicly, but finally conceded on the request of his wife. Azcúnaga talked of his frustration at not having been able to do anything.

Now 71 and retired in 2000, Azcúnaga is married and father of four children (one of whom died in a traffic accident). He now lives in Tegueste, in the north of Tenerife and runs a parquet flooring company. Although he considers himself a strong person, Azcúnaga tells how the disaster changed his character and how he felt very saddened. "It was not my fault, but I was implicated.", he says. The accident still moves him enormously and it is something he carries in his heart.

The insurance companies, he adds, harassed him a lot in the aftermath of the crash. "There were a load of insurance companies and the easiest for them would be to put the blame on the controller so that everything would be paid by the Spanish Government", he says. (In 1977, ATC was still handled by the military in Spain.)

He has also spoken out about the rumour, reported on various occasions and included in certain documentaries, that the controllers were listening to a football match on the radio. This, Azcúnaga considers absurd. For one thing, Air Traffic Controllers work with headphones on, secondly, there is the evidence that in none of the tapes is there any sound of a goal or anything of the like.

Runway Safety Debated on Anniversary of Deadly Crash

Meanwhile yesterday, Robert Bragg, former Pan American World Airlines co-pilot, spoke to the National Transportation Safety Board at a safety forum in Washington, D.C., to recall the moment when his 747 was taxiing at Los Rodeos Airport and a KLM jumbo jet came barreling down the runway for its takeoff.


Much has already been written about the entire chain of events and circumstances that added up to allow this accident to happen, any one of which, if it hadn't occurred might have helped to prevent it from doing so ... If only it hadn't been foggy, if only there had been lights on the runway, ground radar (which Los Rodeos does now have), if only there hadn't been a terrorist bomb in Gran Canaria ... One could go back to "if only the Wright Brothers hadn't discovered flight."

Nevertheless, there is one further piece of anecdotal information that I found at the foot of this article about the crash. I have never been able to confirm this information, but it is certainly ironic, if not a bit creepy, if it is indeed fact and, while it sounds like the kind of story that the English might tell about "Spanish builders", the thing is, I have only ever read this report in Spanish, it says:
During the Second World War, Hitler insisted to Franco's regime on the construction of an aerodrome in Tenerife to give cover for his troops in North Africa. German technicians were sent to initiate studies for the design of the airport, which were later presented to the Spanish authorities. These latter decided to postpone the construction, but they held onto the plans made by the Germans, who in those days were considered as the experts in airport design and construction.

Some years later, after the end of the war, the Spanish authorities decided that it was time to construct the airport in Tenerife, for which they decided to resort to the valuable documents provided by the Germans. Amongst these was a map of the area, on which was clearly marked a great big red cross. The Spanish "supposed" that this marked the ideal location for the airport and, commenced its construction based on the German maps. What they did not know, is that the big red cross indicated the area where an airport should never be built.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Those dastardly British in Tenerife

The resorts on the south of Tenerife are, as everyone knows, full of British bars, with British names, run by Brits, serving the British clientele. In the island's capital, but that globalization in general has added sights like a McDonalds, a branch of The Body Shop and many other foreign businesses, Santa Cruz does still manage to put on a face of being a Spanish city port, even today.

Little more than a century previously, Santa Cruz had successfully repelled a British attack, but one hundred years ago (OK, 101, who's counting?) in 1906, Tenerife and, particularly Santa Cruz, may have seemed more British than it does now.

When King Alfonso XIII disembarked at the port of Santa Cruz on March 26th, 1906, for an 11 day stay, it was the first ever visit of a Spanish monarch to the archipelago.

Later in that same year, on May 31, 1906, King Alfonso XIII married British Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg (1887-1969) - a wedding marred by an assassination attempt - grandmother of King Juan Carlos. Victoria Eugenie was a niece of King Edward VII and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, making the Spanish Royal Family direct descendants of Queen Victoria.

Perhaps this British link was the motivation for a huge sign for King Alfonso XIII's November 1906 visit, proclaiming "God Save King Alfonso", in English, seen here in the Plaza de la Candelaria (opposite the current McDonalds, if I'm not mistaken). Look closely and you'll see that it was above a Cafe Belge (Belgian Cafe), premises named "The Standard" and, with a Union Jack draped over the top of the door.

Amazing! But this still seems rather a surprising sight in Santa Cruz of the 1900s.

In 1889, those "Brits abroad" - described as the British colony - in Tenerife had gathered to celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday. Colony is right: it's all "jolly afternoon tea and hats", but still looks uncomfortably just like the British Raj in India.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Tajinastes at the base of Teide, Tenerife

Tajinastes in the Teide National Park

As if all the fantastic shapes of the rocks around the Teide National Park weren't enough, nature goes and does these marvelous things with the plants too.

Tajinaste rojo (Echium wildpretii) is the name given in the Canary Islands to some species, generally endemic to the islands, of plants of the genus Echium. The name comes from the language of the aborigines (Guanches) and has pervaded until the present day. A large number of tajinastes in a group that forms a little forest of them, is called a tajinastal.

The tajinaste rojo (red tajinaste) is endemic to the island of Tenerife and is found mainly in the Teide National Park. The plant blooms from late spring to early summer in Tenerife and, as the video below shows, it was flowering last year in June, which would indicate that this may be a good time of year to come to see them.

(How do you pronounce the word tajinaste? The letter "j" in this word, as well as when it appears in the place name, Adeje, is closer to the English sound for the letter "k". An approximation of the pronunciation is "tacky nasty" (using northern English short vowel sounds). Of course it is neither, but it makes it easy to remember!)

Video: Tajinastes en la base del Teide - Junio / June de 2006

Image: Mataparda [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Carnaval in Buenavista del Norte, Tenerife

Carnaval Parade in Buenavista del Norte

Los Cristianos is not the only place holding it's carnaval this week. While the tiny hamlet of Teno Alto, which comes under the municipality of Buenavista, held it's annual carnaval event, the Baile de la Piñata, last Saturday, February 24th, this week also there are carnaval events going on in the town of Buenavista del Norte itself.

There was a infant carnival festival, yesterday, February 28th, in the town center's municipal cine-theatre and there was a parade of kids in costume tonight.

Slated as this year's novelty is an exhibition of "matar la culebra" that will take place tomorrow night, Friday, March 2nd, in the Plaza de Los Remedios. We're intrigued.

Translated literally, it means "to kill the snake", but betting that this "ancestral Canarian tradition with a marked Afro-Cuban origin" had nothing whatsoever to do with slimy serpents, we discover that this is a dance. After the snake has been done in (figuratively), from 8 p.m., are performances by a folklore group from the University of La Laguna, a visiting group from El Golfo on the island of El Hierro and by murga group, Los que son son. The night itself will be finished off with dancing to local orchestra, La Caprichosa.

Prior to these events, from 5 p.m., the carnaval's main parade takes place in the main streets, in which pupils from all of the schools in the area will be taking part.

But, without doubt, says the press release, one of the most popular events of the carnaval in Buenavista del Norte, is the "Burial of the Sardine", which takes place on Saturday, March 3rd, from 8 p.m. onwards from the Plaza de San Sebastián. The "inconsolable" widows and widowers will gather there to accompany the defunct sardine through every moment as the funeral retinue passes through the main streets of the town until it arrives in the central, Plaza de Los Remedios, where it will be finally cremated. R.I.P.

Sardine effigy at Buenavists

Carnaval in Los Cristianos, Tenerife

Carnaval in Los Cristianos

You thought that the Tenerife Carnaval was over, didn't you? Well, while it might be in Santa Cruz, for this year anyway, the party has now moved on to other spots around the island. Currently, it's the turn of Los Cristianos to host their carnaval, the theme of which is the cinematic and literary genre of emotion, tension and suspense: the thriller.

Los Cristianos Carnaval's ample program of events kicked off last Sunday with the presentation of the candidates for Carnaval Queen, who will be chosen in a gala to be held tonight, March 1, in the fair's enclosure located opposite the Valdés Center.

The old folk have their own dance from 6 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, March 2nd and, at 8.30 p.m. on the same evening will be the selection of the Junior Carnaval Queen.

On Saturday, March 3rd, at 7 p.m. is a Festival of Comparsas (dance troupes) and from 11 p.m. the dancing in the streets to various local orchestras starts.

The main Carnaval Parade in Los Cristianos is being held on Sunday, March 4th, from 4 p.m. onwards, with the procession starting from Paloma Beach and progressing along Avenida Juan Carlos I to end up at the fairs enclosure.

Finally, the traditional "Burial of the Sardine" is on Monday, March 5th, at 8 p.m., beginning at the Cultural Center and passing through the streets of Amalia Alayón, Barranquillo, Avenida de Suecia, Calle El Espigón de Benchijigua to the Los Cristianos beach. The Widows' Ball starts at 9.30 p.m.

But, if you manage to miss all of that, on Tuesday, March 6th, costumes from the carnaval will go on display in the Cultural Center and the fiestas will be brought to a close on Saturday, March 10th, with another parade of various of the carnaval groups from 5 p.m. and performances by the same groups, from 7 p.m. in the City Center shopping complex, annexed to the hotel La Siesta in Playa de Las Américas.

Carnaval en Los Cristianos