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Sunday, June 24, 2007

San Juan Fiesta of Traditions and Sustainability

My how things are changing. The 20,000 or so expected San Juan beach bonfire party goers to the fiestas in Puerto de la Cruz - that are still going on, as we type - were in for a bit of a shock this year. The "big novelty" of this year's Midsummer celebrations is that the new council announced that it's going to make them all responsible for cleaning up after themselves, with the aim of leaving the beach with the "good image expected in a prestige tourist resort" when dawn breaks tomorrow morning. And so they should!

By contrast, cooking and bonfires were outright banned on the beaches in Las Palmas in Gran Canaria and people recommended to take food prepared at home. Along with other rules and recommendations in a list, revellers there have been told to be off the beaches by 5:30 a.m. so the cleaners can come in. And they'll be accompanied by police who will wake up the stragglers.

’San Juan’ se transforma en la fiesta de las tradiciones y la sostenibilidad
Recomendaciones para esta noche

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tenerife: Midsummer weekend starts here

You may well be looking for something to do (if you're about to arrive on holiday, don't read the rest of this paragraph), since the first day of summer brought us - here in this valley of the "cold north" - very high winds, depressing drizzle and electrical power dropping like a proverbial "whore's drawers." Anybody would think this was the British summer! :)

This weekend being Summer Solstice or Midsummer, means there's plenty going on once again though and, this is just a tiny sampling of the things that English speakers could appreciate here in Tenerife, apart from all the usual tourist offerings.

For starters, the disputed and contentious, but nevertheless terribly fascinating Pyramids of Güímar, were found to be astronomically orientated with the sunset of the summer solstice. On the day of the summer solstice, one can see a double sunset from the platform of the largest pyramid and, folk have been known to gather there to do exactly that.

Fiestas de San Juan or Midsummer Madness

Whilst Solstice revelers in the UK are, of course, heading for Stonehenge, here in Tenerife, they'll mostly be heading to the Playa Jardín in Puerto de la Cruz for the Noche de San Juan - the annual Saint John the Baptist Bonfire Night Extravaganza - which has to be one of Tenerife's most curious fiestas (well, apart from all the other curious ones, that is) and sounds more like a night out for a hippie convention, rather than something for whole families - of "ordinary folk" - from kids to grannies.

The revelries actually start quite gently on June 22nd with the Tradicional enrame de chorros públicos: decorating the public drinking water fountains with flowers and fruit - see images of those and other San Juan festivities here.

The Official Website of Tenerife Tourism Corporation tells us that,

"A great many towns and villages in Tenerife celebrate the arrival of the summer solstice on the night of San Juan (Saint John) with traditional bonfires."

They briefly explain the various traditions in San Juan de la Rambla, Garachico, Icod de los Vinos and Puerto de la Cruz. The latter also includes flowers, candles, massed beach barbies, music, fireworks, midnight dipping and, of course, great quantities of free-flowing wine.

Gaggle of GoatsBy far the best account of the festivities of June 23rd and 24th, in English too, is Jack Montgomery's article, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, from which unwitting travellers might awake wondering what they'd been on the night before to see, "In the harbours’ calm waters, amongst the resident fleet of quaint, gently bobbing fishing boats are scores of, not so gently bobbing, goats."

This is known as El baño de las cabras (goat dipping) and, I bet it does help to get rid of the parasites. Officially, this begins at the Muelle pesquero (Old fishing port) in Puerto de la Cruz from 8 a.m. and carries on until around midday when, "The whole fascinating spectacle is rounded off with the romantic imagery of caballeros riding their proud steeds into the sea in a display of equine formation bathing."

See video clips from Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

Once the farm animals vacate the sea and the proper summer weather does arrive, don't forget that you need to protect yourself from the sun. This further report advises that the incidence of melanomas (skin cancer) has doubled in the Canary Islands in recent years.

Summer Musical Diversions

The III Festival Santa Blues de Tenerife began on June 8th with Buddy Guy and runs through to the 29th. North American guitarist, Albert Cummings, who will play a free concert in Santa Cruz' Calle La Noria tonight, played the Auditorio de Tenerife, last night. Blog Blues Comentado has reports on Santa Blues de Tenerife 2007 (in Spanish). There's a list of dates, artists and venues here and you can see video clips from Santa Blues de Tenerife 2007 here.

This week, on Saturday, June 23rd, Puerto Rican rapper and Latin superstar, Tego Calderón, plays the Pabellón Municipal de Los Majuelos in La Laguna. CanaryReggaeton.com say that Calderón's first live concert on the island is the most awaited by the Canarian public in the last five years.

For those with a more classical taste, the Second Edition of the "Musical Caprices of Isla Baja" a total of twenty-one concerts of vocal and instrumental music, which will be held every weekend between the months of March and July in a variety of locations of singular beauty,- mainly old monasteries and convents-, and in the main squares of the boroughs of Los Silos, Garachico, Buenavista del Norte and El Tanque (download the program here) is still in progress. Attendance at all the concerts is FREE OF CHARGE.

Sunday Afternoon at the Movies

If cinema is more your style, pop along to El Museo de la Ciencia y el Cosmos (the Museum of Science and the Cosmos) in La Laguna, where they're showing Sci-Fi films and having chats afterwards about them.

Last week they showed the 2000 film, Frequency, starring Jim Caviezel and Dennis Quaid, which, if the list of goofs is anything to go by, would have given them much to discuss - despite which it is a ripping yarn. (And, don't worry if you missed it, because you can all come round to my house to watch it, because I've got it on VHS, in English, with English subtitles, but I digress ...)

The "news" about this round of films, Ciclo Alucine, as explained in the piece about it at Yahoo, is that "all the projections are in large screen and in the original version (meaning, mostly English) with subtitles in Spanish."

On June 24th, the museum are showing the Mel Gibson directed film, Apocalypto. Showtime, 4 p.m.

Make your own entertainment

If none of that appeals, you can always shuffle (if you'll forgive another pun) along to the Wankers Bar. Honestly, I kid you not. OK, so the name - El Pajero - is in Spanish and, maybe they thought this would be a bit of a joke on all the foreigners who wouldn't understand what it meant.

In some parts of the world, you might be one of these if you are a Mitsubishi Pajero owner. The vehicle (known in the UK as the Mitsubishi Shogun), is called the Mitsubishi Montero here, because the word Pajero is slang for "one who masturbates" in Spanish.

Tenerife Scuba surfaced with this little gem (even if they didn't have the cojones to post the translation), which is probably somewhere in Los Cristianos. Yeah, I can imagine all the Pajeritos flocking to it too! :)

We're not really sure that self-gratification and alcohol mixes that well (it certainly doesn't seem to with recreational drugs), but you can always volunteer to masturbate in the interests of science for a national study, currently under way across Spain.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Canaries: Invaded Isles of Wonder

"Twenty million years ago, mild and misty laurisilva forest cloaked many parts of the world. But this "laurel jungle," as the name means in Portuguese, withered over the millennia thanks to climate change, leaving few living reminders. Last March, I stood within one of the largest remaining patches of laurisilva in the world, on the largest of the Canary Islands, Tenerife. Beneath a moss-bearded canopy of Canary Island laurel (Laurus azorica), holly (Ilex canariensis), and tree heath (Erica arborea), I watched a large, long-necked dove - an endemic Bolle's pigeon (Columba bollii) - clap off into the fog. At that moment, so far from the highways and hotels, I could easily imagine what this island was like before Spanish possession." writes Howard Youth.

That misty laurasilva forest Youth was exploring in Tenerife's northwest corner, was of course, here in the Teno area, where there are portions of this ancient forest in the area of Monte del Agua and on the slopes of the Pico de Baracán. His fascinating article is one of the most detailed I've seen in English, which explains the origins of the islands' various invaders, both wildlife and human and, which concludes hopefully that, "The Canary Island ark is shaky at best, but it has fared better than those of many other biologically diverse island groups."

The Canaries: Invaded Isles of Wonder

Friday, June 08, 2007

A sampling of Canary Islands heritage

The Alamo, Click to enlarge
Alamo. Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org
MySanAntonio say, "being able to trace ancestry back to settlers from the Canary Islands is a huge deal in San Antonio."

Those settlers, a group of 15 families who travelled from the Canary Islands at the invitation of King Philip V of Spain, founded the small town of "La Villa de San Fernando" - as San Antonio, Texas was then called - on March 9, 1731.

Probably the most famous contribution the Canary Islanders made was building the San Antonio de Valero Mission, later known as the Alamo.

This weekend, members of two folkloric groups - Princesa Dácil and Cabuqueros - are visiting San Antonio, from Canary Islands to perform a series of demonstrations of traditional music and dance. Then, on Tuesday, they join Domingo Rodríguez Oramas, also known as "El Colorao," one of the Canary Islands' best known timple - the traditional five stringed Canarian instrument - players, for a concert.

El folklore canario se escuchará en el Folk Live Festival de San Antonio de Texas
Los grupos Princesa Dácil y Los Cabuqueros participan en el Folk Live Festival
A sampling of Canary Islands heritage

Darwin's frustrated visit to Tenerife

Water-colour portrait of Charles Darwin (aged 33) painted by George Richmond
Iberianature weblog tells us that "This month's Quercus [magazine] has an interesting article on Charles Darwin's abortive visit Tenerife."

Darwin, apparently, had been inspired to visit Teide after reading Alexander von Humboldt's account of his ascent of El Teide. Naturalist and explorer, Humboldt, had stopped six days at Tenerife for the ascent of the Peak in June 1799.

However, when the second survey expedition of HMS Beagle, under captain Robert FitzRoy, which the student clergyman Charles Darwin had joined as the captain's gentleman companion, arrived at the port of Santa Cruz at Tenerife in early January 1832, they were prevented from going ashore due to a cholera outbreak in England that would have required them to be quarantined for 12 days.

HMS Beagle at Tierra del Fuego (painted by Conrad Martens)
"Eager that no time would be lost on their primary mission, the captain gave orders for the ship to proceed to the Cape Verde Islands. Darwin was devastated at missing the chance to see the island of his dreams, and watched Tenerife fade off into the horizon."

"This was a great disappointment to Mr. Darwin, who had cherished a hope of visiting the Peak. To see it -- to anchor and be on the point of landing, yet be obliged to turn away without the slightest prospect of beholding Teneriffe again -- was indeed to him a real calamity." - Capt. Robert FitzRoy

One can understand why the Tenerife authorities were being cautionary, although cholera did eventually hit the islands.

A footnote in Richard F. Burton's "To the Gold Coast for Gold" reports, "The list of epidemics at Santa Cruz is rather formidable, e.g. 1621 and 1628, peste (plague); 1810 and 1862, yellow Jack; 1814, whooping cough, scarlatina, and measles; 1816-16, small-pox (2,000 victims); 1826, cough and scarlet ferer; 1847, fatal dysentery; and 1861-62, cholera (7,000 to 12,000 deaths)."

We also read that, "In 1851, a cholera epidemic broke out in Gran Canaria which would bring about six thousand deaths" and "The Medal of Charity, was awarded to Santa Cruz de Tenerife by Queen Regent María Cristina in 1893 during the cholera epidemic, in which the citizens behaved bravely."

This explains why Charles Darwin and the Beagle turned away from the eco-diversity of Tenerife, but Darwin had questions, "Why are there fewer endemic species on islands than on the mainland? Where did these species come from? Why are they so similar to mainland species if their natural surroundings are so different?", that undoubtedly he would have pondered here.

Whilst I'm sure we're all aware of the huge legacy of Darwin's work and that, "By any measure, Darwin's labors were hugely successful. He brought back specimens of more than 1,500 different species, hundreds of which had never before been seen in Europe"

Though many think of the Canary Islands as little more than holiday resorts which boast year-round sun, they are home to highly unusual and scientifically important habitats. The tropical forest environment of the Cruz del Carmen on Tenerife fascinated Charles Darwin in the 19th Century.

The flora of the islands consists of about two thousand species, five hundred and twenty of which are to be considered endemic. In the Canary Islands as a whole, a grand total of 13,328 endemic species have been listed, with new species being found approximately every six days.

Teide itself is already noted for a large number of endemic plants, Tenerife has the greatest number of endemic species per square kilometer in Europe, so one cannot help but wonder how much more he would have been able to discover, if Darwin had been able to spend time in Tenerife.

Darwin's frustrated visit to Tenerife

PS: Visitors to Tenerife, who for obvious reasons, seem to be really interested in what the weather is like in Tenerife, may also like to know that the Beagle's Captain, Robert FitzRoy was "a pioneering meteorologist who made accurate weather forecasting a reality." He also pioneered the printing of a daily weather forecast in newspapers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What holidays are celebrated in the Canary Islands?

To respond to another reader's question, "What holidays are celebrated in the Canary Islands?", the answer is that these are primarily based upon the Public holidays celebrated in Spain, which includes a mix of religious (Roman Catholic), national and regional observances.

National Holidays
 DateEnglish nameLocal name
January 1New Year's DayAño Nuevo
moveableGood Friday Viernes Santo
May 1Labour DayDía del Trabajador
August 15AssumptionAsunción
October 12 Columbus Day Día de la Hispanidad
November 1 All Saints Todos los Santos
December 6 Constitution Day Día de la Constitución
December 8 Immaculate Conception Inmaculada Concepción
December 25 Christmas Day Navidad del Señor

In addition to those, Canaries Day - Día de Canarias is celebrated here on May 30th and Epiphany - Día de Reyes is a public holiday on January 6th. Although the latter is listed as optional, it is the big day of the Christmas period, so I think there would be civil unrest if it wasn't observed!

Wikipedia additionally says that Holy Thursday - Jueves Santo (the day before Good Friday), is not observed as a holiday in the Canary Islands. However, every year except 2007 (when it was swapped out for something else and many complained) it has been observed here, to my knowledge.

You also have to add local holidays, usually for the patron / fiesta of individual towns. Shops might close in one area, but are open just a few miles away. In Santa Cruz, Shrove Tuesday is always a holiday for Carnaval.

But visitors need not worry about finding things to do and getting fed. With the economy relying on tourism, somewhere will be open 365 days a year, particularly in the resorts. And, even in other areas, if the day off is for a fiesta, then there will be processions to watch and plenty of hot dog stalls open!

If you live here, of course, you won't get any important business done on those days and, if you work here in anything to do with the tourist sector, the chances are that you will never have a day off on anyone's public holiday!

Related information: What's On When in Tenerife?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Can we still fly to Tenerife North?

New International Terminal at Los Rodeos Airport
Richard Green, writing in the Times Online, in response to a reader's question about flights to Tenerife North from the UK, says that, "Tenerife North comes with more baggage than most airports."

Green writes, "Formerly known as Los Rodeos, it was from here that General Franco flew to the mainland in 1936 to ignite the Spanish Civil War." (Tenerife North Airport still is at Los Rodeos).

Whilst Franco did have to start his journey from Tenerife in 1936, simply because this was where he happened to be stationed at the time, however, he did not fly from Los Rodeos. On July 17th, 1936, Franco "embarca en el correo Viera y Clavijo" (embarked upon the mail [steamship], Viera y Clavijo), to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

The famous Dragon Rapide flight that took Franco to Africa, never came to Tenerife and met him in Gran Canaria. The flight didn't go to the mainland either, actually.

There was a bit of an airfield at Los Rodeos from 1929, but it did not become an airport until later. Los Rodeos was undergoing improvement works, ordered by the Tenerife Island Corporation, in 1936. It remained closed during the Civil War and was reopened in January 1941. It didn't get a runway until 1945.

The actual Dragon Rapide aircraft used for Franco's flight, with registration number G-ACYR, now at the military aviation museum at Cuatros Vientos airfield in Madrid.
The English version, at Wikipedia, just says, "One famous incident involving the use of a DH.89 was in 1936 when Francisco Franco escaped in one from Canarias to the Spanish Morocco, at the start of the Spanish Civil War."

The translation of the Spanish version, however, gives us the full story, which is rather more spine chilling:

To put Franco at the head of the insurrection in Morocco, without awakening the suspicions of the Spanish Government, Luis Bolín (a correspondent of the ABC in London), with the help of intermediaries, [Marques] Luca de Tena [owner of the monarchist ABC newspaper] and Spanish inventor, Juan de la Cierva, contracted, on July 11th, 1936, a twin-engined De Havilland DH 89 Dragon Rapide with pilot, Captain Begg, a plane which had belonged to the Duque de Gales (Duke of Wales) [1], at Croydon aerodrome; the only plane that could be found in condition to travel immediately. So as to not raise suspicions over the journey, it carried, as passengers an English Major in the Reserve, his daughter and her friend [2], who had been offered free passages to Tenerife as tourists. They got lost over the peaks of Europe [Pyrenees] and had to return to Biarritz to refuel, continuing to fly to Lisbon and then on to the Canary Island airport of Gando in Gran Canaria, after a stop-off in Casablanca. The tourists then continued to Tenerife [3], where they had to give the strange message "Galicia saluda a Francia" (Galicia sends it's regards to France), to a doctor. Franco, meanwhile, waited for the arrival of the Dragon Rapide, in the Hotel Madrid in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, where he had gone with his family, to the funeral of soldier (Balmes), having sought permission so as not to raise suspicions. When Franco boarded the Dragon Rapide, he was in civilian clothes, he had shaved off his moustache and torn up his military ID documentation, passing himself off as an English tourist [4].

Franco flew to Agadir, then on to Casablanca and Tetuán in Morocco. He re-entered Spain, via Ceuta, by car.

[1] Do they mean Prince of Wales, or Duke of Elsewhere?

[2] The "fake" tourists were a retired major, Hugh Pollard, his daughter Diana and Dorothy Watson. The two girls, blondes (with the habit of keeping their cigarettes and lighters in their knicker elastic, apparently), were there to divert the authorities' attention. Pollard was presented as just a rick bloke interested in fishing, but declassified M16 documents indicate that Pollard was an agent of said service. The full name of the ABC correspondent, who travelled as the forth "tourist", was Luís Bolín Bidwell, who was half English.

Editor of the English Review, Douglas Jerrold, who was of extreme right persuasion and a sympathizer of Adolf Hitler, and Juan March, Spanish financier and British agent on the side of Francisco Franco's forces and founder of the Fundación Juan March, were also implicated in the arrangements. More (in Spanish) at El vuelo del Dragon Rapide.

Charlie Pottins in British Friends of Franco, reiterates much of the above and more, and also including a translation of further details that appear in the Spanish account above, namely, "Franco's flight had been planned over lunch at Simpsons in the Strand where Douglas Jerrold, editor of the right-wing Catholic English Review met Bolín, London correspondent of the ABC newspaper and later Franco's propaganda and censorship chief. They decided to charter a De Havilland Dragon Rapide aircraft and a pilot, Captain Cecil Bebb, from Olley Air Services at Croydon."

[3] After landing in Gran Canaria, the tourists continued to Tenerife by boat.

[4] Which certainly wouldn't have worked if anyone had spoken to him!

The story of this significant flight is told - I understand with historical accuracy - in the 1986 film, Dragon Rapide.

The actual Dragon Rapide aircraft used for Franco's flight, with registration number G-ACYR, was incorporated into service with the Royal Air Force during WW2.

After the war, it was bought and sold a couple of times, before being retired from service after having its airworthiness certificate revoked in 1953.

It was then acquired by a Mr. Griffith, who gave it to General Franco as a gift. Franco, in turn donated it to the as yet then nonexistent Museo del Aire military aviation museum at Cuatros Vientos airfield in Madrid. That's where it still is, having been restored to the livery it carried in 1936.

If anyone should be hanging their heads in shame over this incident, which sparked both a bloody civil war and almost 40 years of dictatorship, it should be us, the British, not Los Rodeos. The plane didn't even go there!

Similarly, while the Tenerife Disaster of March 27, 1977, did indeed take place at Los Rodeos, the airport was in no way implicated in the blame for that accident, which killed 583. Los Rodeos airport has been modernized a lot in 30 years, so that mentioning that disaster in the same breath as tourist flights today, is really a bit unkind and unnecessary, in my opinion.

It's true, however, that most flights to and from Tenerife North airport these days are inter-island flights and flights to the mainland. However, it also handles traffic to parts of Europe, other than the UK and also to South America.

In answer to the question, can we still fly to Tenerife North (from the UK), according to Spanish Airport Guide's information on Tenerife North Airport, in addition to the very sound the alternatives that Richard Green suggests, the charter airline Thomsonfly operates flights from Gatwick to Tenerife North Airport, every Friday, during their high season, which runs from October until the end of April.

Related links and sources:
Tenerife (North) low-cost airline and flight news
Los Rodeos Airport
History of Tenerife Norte (in Spanish from Airports' Authority, AENA)
Corresponsales en la Guerra de España (Paul Preston)
Nuevos aspectos del vuelo del G-ACYR
Captain Bebb's Dragon Rapide
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