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Friday, November 09, 2007

New Wines and Old Traditions

On November 29th, the eve of St. Andrew's Day, the Fiestas of San Andres are celebrated in Icod de los Vinos, with an event unique to the Canary Islands, called the Tablas de San Andrés - kinda kamikaze sledding down near vertical streets on boards. While in Puerto de la Cruz, it's popularly known as the Fiesta of Pots or Chestnuts ...

We've parked the car on some ridiculously steep street in the upper reaches of Icod de los Vinos. It's the Eve of San Andrés and we've heard that around here they have an unusual way of celebrating the fiesta.

As we turn the corner to descend to the main street we can see groups of people, stalls, Red Cross ambulances and the road cordoned off; we know we must be close. Further along, we can see a huge pile of tyres strewn across the main street where it meets with Calle del Plano. Suddenly there's a cheer followed by applause and we arrive at the tyres just in time to see the body of a twenty-something lad flying through the air and landing with a dull thud in the midst of the tyres which then close in on top of him.

Scrambling out, the lad fumbles around in the tyres until he pulls out his blue bobble hat which he returns to his head and, retrieving the discarded sledge, he tucks it under his arm and begins the long trudge back up the hill. En route, he avoids the sledges that are already careering back down at breakneck speed towards the tyres, a mixture of fear and exhilaration on the faces of the riders, sparks flying from the base of the sledge.

The practice of riding the boards in Icod and La Guancha originates from the seventeenth century when the year's wine harvest was transported down from the upper reaches of the town to the coast on sledges pulled by oxen. The sound of the barrels riding the cobbled streets was a clear signal that the new wine was ready for tasting.

Everything but the kitchen sink

In Puerto de la Cruz the fiesta of San Andrés also remembers the bygone sound of barrels; once the ‘must’, or fermented grape juice, had rested in the barrels for ten days, the wine was transferred to clean barrels and the dirty ones were rolled down to the harbour to be washed.

Nowadays, as the Eve of San Andrés begins, Plaza del Charco is filled with the clatter of metal on stone as children and teenagers drag metal objects of every size from discarded cola cans to old washing machine drums along the streets. Known as Arrastre los Cacharros (run with pots and pans) the object of the exercise is to make as much noise as possible.

But it isn't just the tradition of the wine harvest that’s at the root of the noisy fiesta. Old superstitions talk of the noise being created in order to ward off evil spirits and to keep swarms of locusts at bay. But by far the nicest story is the one that tells of San Andrés who, arriving on Tenerife at the same time as the harvest, liberally partook of the new wine and then fell asleep, whereupon local children tied pots and pans to his clothes so that when he turned over, the noise would wake him up.

Whatever the stories, the Patron Saint of Scotland's Feast Day is a day to celebrate and it would be nothing less than impolite not to drink a toast to the man himself with the new vino del país; fruity, light and lethal if drunk in large quantities but perfect accompanied by a bag of hot roasted castañas (chestnuts), a pincho (small skewer of marinated pork) and a piece of anis bread while sitting on the harbour trying to ignore all that noise.

¡Feliz Fiesta San Andrés!

Read more Fiesta of San Andrés in Puerto de la Cruz & Icod de los Vinos

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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