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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fishermen's Friends: Fiestas del Gran Poder y La Virgen del Carmen in Puerto de la Cruz

On, or around the 16th July, fishermen all over Tenerife hold emotional processions in honour of their patron saint, La Virgen del Carmen. In Puerto de la Cruz these celebrations go overboard, almost literally, when the town honours not only La Virgen, but El Gran Poder de Dios as well. Oh, and San Telmo, the patron saint of Spanish and Portuguese fishermen, is thrown in (metaphorically speaking) for good measure. It's all part of the town's month long festivities, known simply as the July Fiestas.

Merrymaking includes the obligatory crowning of the fiesta queen, traditional Canarian dances, jazz and rock concerts, antique car rallies, sporting events, air displays, the procession of the Gran Poder and the popular 'Sardinada', where the air around the ermita de San Telmo is filled with the aroma of grilled fish and a couple of euros will get you a plate of sardines and a beaker of robust country wine.

The highlight of the fiestas is the 'embarcación de la Virgen del Carmen' on the 17th of July. If you're a newcomer to Spanish fiestas, don't expect a quiet, reserved affair. This is big, boisterous, wet, noisy and chaotic as well as being good natured, great fun, an unforgettable experience and a spectacle for the senses.

The best way to get into the fiesta swing is to buy a couple of beers and a plate of pinchos (lip-licking seasoned pork kebabs) from a harbour-side stall, chill out and enjoy the fun.

For anyone under twenty, the idea is to get as wet as possible and stay that way all day. This involves holding running water pistol battles, which amuse the older townspeople until a stray squirt hits them in the eye resulting in much use of the word "coño"; jumping, or being thrown into the harbour; and being drenched by basins of water cascading from balconies around the harbour. You don't have to be Einstein to deduce that shorts and t-shirts, preferably over swimming togs is sensible dress for the day. To really fit in, buy a Virgen del Carmen t-shirt from one of the stalls around Plaza del Charco.

By late afternoon finding a space by the harbour is nigh on impossible. If you're not of basketball player proportions, try standing behind a group of Canarian women. As they're normally five foot nothing, or less, it affords a good view.

At around 6.30, La Virgen and St Telmo or, as one Canarian woman mischievously described him to me, 'La Virgen's boyfriend', appear swaying on the shoulders of local fishermen with a motion which represents the rhythm of being on the ocean. The couple pause en route to the harbour for a heartfelt rendition of 'Ave Marie' (tissues definitely required), before being carried through the crowd to the water's edge.

After 'a few squeaky bum moments' as Sir Alex Ferguson might put it, San Telmo and then La Virgen are transferred aboard their brightly decorated boats amidst a frenzy of splashing and chanting of "no pasa nada, la Virgen está embarcada" (which pretty much means, "all's well with the world, the Virgin's safely on board") and taken on their annual sea trip around the bay, ensuring that a good fish supply is guaranteed for another year.

This excerpt was written by Jack Montgomery, freelance writer, photographer and editor of Real Tenerife Island Drives.

Copyright © 2007 Real Tenerife Island Drives. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without the written permission of Real Tenerife Island Drives.

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