Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Day of Traditions in El Palmar

Building of the Carbonera

Sunday's Day of Traditions or Día de la Trilla, was the last of 10 days of fiestas in the village of El Palmar. Building of the Carbonera - that smoking heap of charcoal producing earth and foliage - was business as usual and, I can't help laughing that - typically for the Canaries - it took, by my count, 10 blokes to do so, six of whom were merely "observers". The bit you don't see in the photo was that it also required an entire bottle of wine shared between the workers, local, obviously, poured from a recycled whiskey bottle!

Then there was the threshing, the free food and the rest of the afternoon people spent dancing in the open air next to the market building. Even in the early evening, I could still hear the band playing. Personally, after trying to cover even just the major events from the 10 days that the fiestas lasted, I had loads of fun, but I'm also knackered! The local people were brilliant, answering all my "stupid" questions over why various things are done.

You may not come to El Palmar's fiestas, however, all towns and villages on these islands have their own version of fiestas like this - with a similar lineup of events - so that, if you do come across a fiesta in progress, or make a trip to see one, I hope this series will give you some better insight into what's going on to be able to enjoy it and participate.

Old farming implements on a pivi


Ox drivers start young

There is such thing as a free lunch

Afternoon knees up

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fiestas of El Palmar Old Folks Festival

Trestle tables are set out in rows in El Palmar's square for the old folks' afternoon tea.

After a mass for the emigrants - they mean, of course, the locals who emigrated, mostly to Venezuela - almost everyone in the valley has family there, or has spent some time there themselves - this afternoon was dedicated to the Old Folks Festival, with participation from several folk groups and with a free afternoon tea laid on for all the OAPs who attended.

The mass for the emigrants was highly appropriate and, from a cultural standpoint, the events were some of the more fascinating on the fiesta's agenda. Being one of the least developed areas of Tenerife is synonymous with being one of the poorest financially, thus, the percentage of people who have, both in history and living memory, emigrated, mostly to Venezuela, from these valleys is particularly high. There are strong links between Tenerife and Venezuela, through emigration and numerous returnees who brought back customs, a taste for arepascachapas and hallacas and, even Venezuelan born kids, but we tend to think of the more recent waves of emigration to escape poverty and repression in the 20th Century and, their return since democracy was restored.

Members of the folk groups, in traditional costume, tuck into the sandwiches, rosquetes and wine.

When we think of musical styles that the Canary Islands share in common with Latin America, the ones that come to mind most readily are SalsaMerengue and, more recently Reggaeton, all of which have made their way east across the Atlantic ocean, but that are all now homegrown too, but the cultural and musical links go back much farther.

In 1536, Pedro Fernández de Lugo, son of Tenerife's conqueror and first Adelantado (Governor), embarked on his expedition to Santa Marta in Colombia with 1,500 soldiers, half of whom were Canarians. Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Florida, Luisiana, San Antonio (Texas) and, above all Venezuela (where Canarians, at times, made up 52% of the white immigrants into the country), were all also either founded or colonized by Canarians. Either voluntarily or by force, it's calculated that 10,000 Canary Island residents emigrated to the Americas in the first century after the conquest alone. In later centuries, these numbers were considerably greater still.

Dancers from Teno Alto perform a ribbon dance.

Meanwhile, the fiestas and traditional dances in El Palmar and Teno Alto, we are told, have been passed down through the generations. This group, which is from Teno Alto, danced the danza de las cintas (ribbon dance) that is reminiscent of Maypole dances and treated us to performances of various others of the most noted local folk dances; Tajaraste de Teno, Polka de Teno and Joropo de Teno.

Joropo is a word that I'm familiar with, because one of the regular dance troupes at Tenerife's main Carnaval in Santa Cruz every year is called the Joroperos. Male dancers of the Joropo wear what is called liquiliqui: an outfit, traditional to the plains of Columbia and Venezuela and, again, one of the groups to perform regularly in Santa Cruz' Carnaval, Los Liqui-Liquis, takes this word as their name. They actually come from Venezuela, but in representation of the Hogar Canario (kinda Canarians abroad club) there. The Joropo - a musical style resembling the waltz, and an accompanying dance, having African and European influences - is considered an unofficial national anthem in Venezuela and is said to have originated in the middle 1600s, in Columbia and Venezuela, but the roots of joropo include music from sailors and troubadours who came in galleons from Spain.

Dancers in typical Tenerife costume.

One must remember that back in the days of galleons, a stop in the Canary Islands for provisions, often also taking on additional passengers and crew, was mandatory, even if the ships did not originally depart from the archipelago. Some styles of folk music here contain elements of aboriginal customs, onto which Spanish ones have been tacked. This is certainly true of the tajaraste. When you consider that around 150 years had passed between the conquest of these islands and the appearance of the joropo in Latin America, it becomes less clear if this went straight from Spain to Venezuela, or whether it picked up elements from the islands first.

In the years between 1900 and 1910 alone, although 53,920 emigrants left the Canary Islands, some 61,931 actually returned here from the Americas, it starts to be unclear even in which direction this crossed the Atlantic. but either way, at some point in history, a dance with the name of joropo reached the plains of Teno Alto; one of Tenerife's smallest and most inaccessible hamlets, where it is still danced.

La emigración canaria a Venezuela

Dancers from Teno Alto

Canarian folk music is a bit of an acquired taste for anyone not born among it, but for anyone with even a passing interest in the history of the islands - and their influence on the development of the New World - observing these traditions raises some interesting questions. Canarian folklore is a product of the temperament and psychology of the Canarian people, their aboriginal ancestry and rites, as well as marks left by the various different cultures that have invaded the islands. This has produced a style with a personality that is very particular to the islands. It's interesting to note that there are "purists" who would have everything done just so in relation to Canarian folklore, both the music and the dress. In fact, this view can be seen as entirely contrary to the nature of the beast, which has been in constant evolution for more than five centuries.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fiestas of El Palmar Native Sports Day

Lucha Canaria (Canarian Wrestling)

Canarian wrestling is the most popular of the indigenous sports. Requiring both strength and skill, the winner is the wrestler who makes their opponent touch the floor first with any part of their body aside from the feet. It has more in common with a Japanese martial art than wrestling as we know it in the UK or the US. Lucha is "gentlemanly", in that opponents don't seek to hurt one another and they shake hands before each bout. They also help each other up afterwards too: good manners that the guy in charge was constantly instilling into the kids present and, running the ring in a similar way as I have seen martial arts masters run a dojo. Junior wrestlers from Buenavista, Icod de los Vinos and San Juan de la Rambla provided the demonstration: six lads and one girl, who was certainly no easy opponent for the boys she wrestled. All made much more fun for the crowd when they got volunteer kids from the village to have a go at wrestling too.

Juego de Palo (Stick fighting)

Before the wrestling, there was a demonstration of Juego de Palo (Stick fighting), which originates from techniques of defence and attack used by the Guanches, ancient inhabitants of Tenerife. Now a sport where no is harm inflicted, it has become a type of fencing match between two combatants armed with wooden sticks. 

We've all seen Robin Hood and Little John doing something similar. 

Bola Canaria (Canarian boules)

Meanwhile, the older boys played Bola Canaria (Canarian boules), which is very similar to the French sport of petanque. In both games the idea is to get closest to the jack but in the Canarian game the boules are heavier and the playing area larger.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fiestas of El Palmar Kid's Day

Bouncy castle

No fiesta is complete without activities for younger children, including bouncy castles.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fiestas of El Palmar Baile de las Libreas

Dusty Bin's Canarian Cousin

When someone talks of one of the oldest folk dances on the island of Tenerife, unique to the village of El Palmar, possibly originating in the 17th Century, then explains at length how important it is and how it needs to be preserved, what I really expected was something solemn demanding of serious respect. However, the Baile de las Libreas (Livery Dance) turns out to be a satirical piece turned entertainment for kids of all ages.

It consists of three pairs of dancers, all male, three of whom are dressed as women, plus figures representing male and female devils. The whole symbolizes the struggle between good and evil and the dancers dance, jumping and gyrating with exaggerated movements, to the sound of the "tajaraste" (pipes and drums) around the streets of the village, eventually setting fire to the devil figures in order to purify and drive away evil.

Men dress for the male and (unconvincing) female parts, in granny's recycled chintz curtains.

Many different theories exist over exactly when, how and why this dance originated, but it seems that a combination of elements fused at some unknown point in history. The "tajaraste", most likely originates with the pre-conquest aboriginal inhabitants of the islands and was combined with Christian events as a means to attract more people.

The dancers who dress as women have powdered faces and wear veils, from which may come the custom of masks at carnival and, the presence of devils in religious processions seems to have been an island obsession, as is written in the records of the tribunals of the Inquisition. One can understand having the male dancers dress up as women, as this was the accepted custom of the era. Cross-dressing has a long history in theatre, for instance, even in the English Renaissance, because it just wasn't done for women to perform.

However, these costumes - that look like they've been made out of chintz curtains - are more Pantomime Dame and nobody is fooled: this is comedy and these are men in skirts.

The dance itself, though reasonably strange, with its sarcastically exaggerated steps, is hardly the high spot of the entertainment. We are told that they set light to the devil figures as a purification and to drive away evil - though we must say that "going to hell" does not seem half as daunting if the devil looks like Dusty Bin's Canarian cousin.

The devil set on fire. About a meter from the audience.

What this meant, in reality, was that they lit a column of fireworks that are attached to the back of the figures. They then run round the plaza, which fills with smoke, pointing their backs to the audience - the more so just as the fireworks are about to go bang - at a distance that would have fire safety officers giving birth to whole litters of kittens.

The night-time procession of the Icon of the Virgin de la Consolación

It's all seriously weird. The more so as this "pantomime" takes place immediately before a solemn mass and a procession of the Virgin de la Consolación through the village, accompanied by the village band and yet more fireworks.

Mobile fireworks follow the procession.

There are constant bangs and, the already slow procession is constantly held up as Catherine wheels are set on tripods in the middle of the street - while spectators look on mere feet away - or when fireworks rain down from flat roofs and balconies.

The Grand Finale was a huge fireworks display when the procession reaches the main road that is closed for the duration. Once the Icon was safely back inside the church (after a little intervention with a broom to extract the streamers decorating the plaza that got caught up in her canopy), on came the band for the Monumental Verbena (Open air dance) with the Orchestra de Arturo Castillo (or Arthur Castle's Orchestra, if you really must anglicize it) from Garachico. The many kids, who had come for the fireworks and who ran around the plaza throughout the open-air mass, were still doing so at 2 am.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fiestas of El Palmar Opening Night

Comparsa Las Chicharacas

The carnival-style opening of the Fiestas in El Palmar was a hoot, though, it's hard to understand why they put times on the program because they bear absolutely no relation to reality. It's worth bearing in mind that Canarian time does generally work like this. Not that it matters, except that the longer one spends waiting, the more acutely one becomes aware of the complete lack of public toilets! Events were slated to begin at 7.30 pm, but actually did some time well after 9 pm. Although the official opening speeches then were mercifully short, it still must have been getting on for 10, when the carnival opening procession even started off on it's rounds of the village streets. It was a little after midnight when it and the entourage of revelers - the Comparsa, the band and numerous carnivaleros: mostly men dressed up as women and one, inexplicably (although the lack of bathroom facilities might have been a clue), dressed in an adult diaper - finally returned.

Fanfarria del Puerto de la Cruz

Then the party started. Well, no the party had been going on in the streets of El Palmar (both of them) for all that time, but this was when I discovered what is really meant by "enjoying the good meat, wine and music." The meat - a whole open-backed truck load and probably several animals worth of it - and the wine was free. As much as you like: all you had to do was to raise your hand among the hundreds of others similarly begging.

The fiesta food truck

Chaotic? Just a tad, but I only saw one argument break out. On the back of this ancient camion (lorry), which apparently, was still being fixed at 6 pm, was an industrial-sized grill from which half a dozen people from the fiesta organising committee were handing out family-sized portions of barbecued meat, wrapped in half loaves and sloshing out the "good wine" into plastic cups, at speed of service that McDonalds can only dream about.

By the time everyone did get back to the plaza and the dance band got going, the wheels were certainly well oiled, so to speak. And, if the free food and wine wasn't enough for anyone, there was a stall in the square selling toys, snacks and sweets, plus two bars, one of which is also selling perros calientes (hot dogs) and papas locas (chips n sauce).

The essential fiesta sweets and tat stall.

Still no toilet though.

Friday, September 14, 2007

How to enjoy a Tenerife Village Fiesta

Putting out the flags and banners like every job in the Canaries takes 6 people. One to do, 5 to watch.

In towns and villages throughout Tenerife and the Canary Islands, the annual fiestas are a very important event in the social calendar. In olden times, they were probably the best - and often only - opportunity young people got to find a mate and these fiestas are still very much a thanksgiving for the harvest. Part carnival, part village fete, part harvest festival and part country show, the amount of organization that goes into these events - every village has its own association or committee of fiesta organizers - often seems quite disproportionate to the size of the population it aims to entertain.

In the case of the Grandes Fiestas in honor of Nuestra Señora de la Consolación 2007 in El Palmar, that's only about 600 of us, but especially in rural areas such as this, where until very recently, most people relied entirely on backbreaking subsistence farming, this once-yearly chance to really enjoy themselves was, and still is, fully appreciated.

The island people also want to share these celebrations with others and to do themselves proud, so it's a matter of good hospitality to offer guests far more than they could possibly want. After months of planning, visible preparations began a week before with putting out the flags and, local authorities too make a point of saying that these old customs need to be preserved and act as tourist attractions.

All you need to do is come along, watch or participate and enjoy.

(These fiestas are all free to attend, financed partly by town halls and partly by voluntary contributions. So, if you do attend, if you can afford it, please consider finding someone in a tshirt that says "Commission de fiestas" and offering a contribution.)

The stage is set for the nightly entertainments

The temporary bar is installed

The square is bedecked with ribbons

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Have you won big on a Spanish lottery?

A Load Of Lottery Balls

Had an email from someone today asking for the winning lottery numbers from specific date and, whilst I'm pleased to oblige, if there's one thing there's more of than fiestas in Spain, it's lotteries! So, the purpose of this post is to give you some brief details about the most common lotteries in Spain and, to show you how and where you can find Spanish lottery results online. Now, I don't wish to encourage anyone into betting and gambling - remember; you can lose money, it can be addictive and that's very, very bad for you.

On the other hand, here's a chance for a little bit of holiday fun and, even if you don't win you can probably donate your money to a good cause in the process ...

ONCE Charity Lottery for the Blind

The lottery you will see most frequently in Spain, because it's sold in the streets, is the ONCE. The letters stand for Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (Spanish National Organization for the Blind). So, even if your luck is out, you know that what you spent on the ticket will help someone blind or partially-sighted.

Their regular lottery is run Monday to Friday and on Sundays. Monday to Thursday, currently, there's a top prize of 35,000 euros (about £23,000), if you have the whole five figure number and, smaller prizes for getting the last 4, 3, 2 or 1 figures. You get your stake back if you have the last figure, but most people simply exchange this for another ticket for the next lottery. On Fridays ONCE have a special big draw. The prize, currently, is 6 million euros (about £4 million), if you have both the five figure number and the three figure SERIE. On Sundays, that same number / serie combination attracts a prize of 6,000 euros (around £4,000), per month, for 25 years.

You can buy ONCE tickets from authorized cupón sellers in the street, as well as in ONCE kiosks, which are clearly identified by the word "ONCE", in busy areas and shopping centers and, often shops and bars will have tickets on sale too.

Bearing in mind that many ticket sellers are blind or partially-sighted themselves, so pointing to the ticket you want probably won't work, it would be helpful to familiarize yourself with numbers in Spanish from 0 to 9. Then you can ask for your "lucky number"; i.e. a ticket terminating with that figure. For instance, if you want a ticket that ends in 7, say "Dame un siete" (Give me a seven) or just "Un siete" (A seven) will get the message across, because this is a common way for locals to choose their tickets.

Don't know how to pronounce numbers in Spanish, watch this:

Video: Numbers and Counting in Spanish

You can be more fussy and exact over your choice, of course, but I'm just trying to make this simple and fun for the non-Spanish speaker.

Where to check your winnings: at the ONCE website.

Results are only displayed in Spanish, but since lottery numbers and dates are all in Arabic numerals coupled with the information you'll have on the ticket itself, you should have no problem finding your way around.

Video: Days of the Week and Dates in Spanish

More about ONCE and the Cupón Diario (Daily cupón) at Wikipedia

Loteria Nacional (National Lottery)

The next most commonly seen lottery is the state Loteria Nacional (National Lottery), which was created as a way to increase the State Treasury without bankrupting contributors. So, if you've ever heard the phrase, "Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at maths", know that this jest is not at all far from the truth! With that in mind, you can, nevertheless, easily buy tickets in the special lottery administrations L.A.E.- Loterías y Apuestas del Estado (State Lotteries and Betting) - lottery ticket / betting shops, found in most towns.

Where to check your numbers online:

At, you can check results for the Loteria Nacional (National Lottery), Loteria Nacional Jueves (Thursday National Lottery) and many other Spanish lotteries, plus EuroMillions ... In English. provide results, in Spanish, of a huge selection of lotteries; Sorteo de NAVIDAD (Navidad = Christmas; this is the same as El Gordo), Sorteo del Niño, Loteria Primitiva, Bonoloto, Lotería Nacional, Lotería Nacional Jueves, 1X2 La Quiniela, El Gordo de la Primitiva, Cupon de la O.N.C.E, Euromillones, Oro de la Cruz Roja, Loto Catalunya, Quinigol, Lototurf and Quíntuple Plus. I hadn't heard of half of those, much less know how they work, so I'm guessing you won't need to know either.

Christmas Lottery (Sorteo de Navidad)

You can't mention lotteries in Spain without mentioning the Spanish Christmas Lottery (Sorteo de Navidad), affectionately known as El Gordo (The Fat One) that takes place every year on December 22nd and, which has been "Repartiendo ilusiones desde 1812" (Distributing hope since 1812). The price of a ticket in that first Gordo of December 18th, 1812, was 40 reales (10 pesetas / 6 cents / 4 pence) and the top prize was equivalent to 240 euros (£160). It went to ticket number 03604.

Last year it went to number 20297 and the prize was 300,000 euros (about £200,000) for a decimo (one ticket) with the correct number and serie. You need the whole strip of 10 tickets to get millions, but this draw is famous for distributing lots of decent prizes, rather than one huge one.

What if I've Won?

IdealSpain say, "According to the Spanish State Lottery, non-Spaniards can participate in the lottery and claim prizes just the same as Spanish citizens. The only restriction is that any prize winnings must stay within Spain or you face paying taxes on the amount won upon entering another country." Generally, you have 30 days to claim your winnings, so don't hang about. If it's one of the state lotteries, go to any of the lottery administrations L.A.E.- Loterías y Apuestas del Estado. If it is ONCE, find a kiosk. If you've you won a big prize, you'll be able to pay someone to translate.

Other Advice and Warnings

Various email scams appear in the name of the Spanish lottery claiming that you've won. have a page about these scams here. There is only one rule to follow here, "To win a prize of the Spanish lottery is essential to have purchased previously lottery or bets ..." In other words, if you didn't buy a ticket you CAN'T have won. Period.