The forecast for Sunday was possibility of rain – which usually means for the north of the island – and that was exactly where we were headed. There was no way it would be really cold, but I pushed my “winter” (beret – fairly showerproof) hat and my “summer” (straw) hat into my daypack to be on the safe side, and one of those things you don’t know whether to call a scarf or a shawl or a pashmina – just in case, but not neglecting to smear some Factor 15 on my nose either. What I forgot to do was take or take with me the anti-inflamatory medication for this annoying neck problem…….and that was a huge mistake. I’ve procrastinated about writing because I know that the neck pain, which intensified to ‘orrible levels during the day, meant that I missed so much. For one thing, I couldn’t turn my head left nor right to look all around me as I would have liked to, and I didn’t even get out my camera until lunch time, and that only because we had the cutest one-year-old in the world with us! But it was a day worth recording – as best I can!
The day began well, with a clarity and freshness, which we hadn’t seen in the south for a while. It seems as if we’ve had this summer clagg around forever. We were five, plus the baby, so we took two cars. One took the high road (over the mountains) and one took the low road (the autopista, which snakes along the coast until it climbs as you make a sharpish left turn to head north). We’d debated which way was quickest, and they turned out to be exactly equal – but the mountain route is by far prettier and more interesting!
It was quieter too. We barely passed another car until we were dropping down the northern slopes towards the Orotava valley, even in the Parque Naciónal, there was a distinct lack of tourists about, maybe it was the weekend before the mass return to school or maybe it was a bit early in the day at 9.30ish. Whatever, it was very pleasant to have the roads to ourselves.
Well – the roads, yes, the landscape no. The Park was swarming with hunters. I’ve never seen so many vehicles parked up. The transport of choice for hunters here is a Toyota pickup, almost always with a small cage in back where they carry four or five dogs, and there were plenty of those, plus suvs and vans and other practical vehicles. I’m not your average anti-hunting type person. So long as food is being hunted (mostly rabbits here) and it is consumed and not tortured (e.g. fox hunting in UK) I don’t object. What I loathe, however, is the way they treat their dogs. I know they have this in common with hunters in both France (Peter Mayle mentions this in “A Year in Provence”), and the UK – I’ve heard plenty of tales about dogs being shot or abandoned. Any of the dog rescue centers here will tell you tales about the number of abandoned dogs which are found every year during the season (August to December, Sundays and Thursdays), and it disgusts me. The other thing I found perturbing was that there should be such an abundance of guns around in the National Park, which is not only a national treasure, but a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from any damage they might do to the landscape, what happens if an innocent hiker gets in their way?
We hadn’t planned to make a stop, but that would have detered me anyway! So we cruised across the caldera and exchanged the rugged panorama for the gentler vistas of field and forest on the lusher northern face of the island.
We were headed for a small village named Pinolere, whose name is, these days, synonymous with the annual craft fair which it hosts. This was more like the traditional village I had expected Tejina to be the previous week, clinging to the hillside, winding streets not really fit for modern transportation and a population of only around 700. We were arriving only about a half hour after the fair opened for the day, but already there was a parking problem and a queue for entry. Now, the parking problem is, simply, inevitable. The place wasn’t made for modern traffic of any description, let alone the hundreds and hundreds of extra cars which the festival brings……that’s something they may need to address in the future. The queuing was efficient and good natured – the only sour note? An enterprising young lady was handing out flyers for a local business, and people, instead of pocketing them or waiting until they found a trash can, were sticking them into the dry stone wall of the exhibition site……. what an insult to a beautiful village, which is trying to highlight the good and the traditional things about the community!
OK – that’s my gripes for the day done with, the litterbugs and the hunters, from here on I have only praise :=)
I wanted to get the real sense of how this tiny shrine was squeezed into the space it occupies between buildings, but there were too many ugly cables in the way. *Sigh* – I know they are a necessary part of modern life, but such a shame!
Once inside I was amazed by the size of the fair, even from the photographs of previous years I’d seen I hadn’t imagined anything so big, and here’s where I let the neck pain get the better of me. I didn’t even attempt to estimate how many exhibitors there were, but the range of goods on display was enormous, from wicker baskets to bread, from beautifully crafted knives to wine, and from carved furniture to jewellery, it was amazing and now I heartily kick myself for not taking any real photos.
Exquisite, traditional wicker items on the stall above (IKEA eat your heart out!)……….if I was nesting instead of shedding I could have spent a small fortune here. This fair began back in 1985 as a way of maintaining and showcasing crafts local to the village itself. As their super website points out, back in time the community, at around 800 meters above sea level, was quite isolated, and they relied on each other and shared tasks in order to survive. Remember, living in an agricultural community wasn’t only about planting and tending crops or feeding and raising animals, there was much work to be done first in order for those tasks to be done. There was wood to be collected for firewood, charcoal to be prepared for cooking, and carving and weaving skills were needed to make furniture, tools and containers, just to name a few. The site is a permanent ethnographical museum, so I am a bit hazy on what is there permanently and what was just for the day. There were photographic exhibits showing past life and demonstations of wood carving and other skills, including thatching, which I’m hoping to go back and linger over before too long.
Since those early days in 1985 the fair has grown and grown. First it transformed from being just a celebration of the village’s crafts to displaying crafts from all over the island. Next, it became a showcase for the region, that is the Canary Islands – one of my favorite stalls showed knives which are made exclusively in Gran Canaria, whose handles are stunningly layered with different colored metals. Favorite because those items really are unique to Gran Canaria, they have never been copied for mass tourism, so far as I know, and because craft fairs like this one will keep the tradition alive.
By 1995 the organizers had realized that the event had transcended being a simple village fair and that the size and scope of future events was going to require very precise and efficient organization, and the Cultural Association of El Día de las Tradiciones Canarias was formed. It’s their webpage I mentioned above, and to demonstrate their efficiency, today they were on tv, not only to review this weekend’s event, but to promote next year’s. The theme is decided and the poster designed already. This I mention because it’s not exactly normal in the Canary Islands to be so forward-looking. Indeed for those of you who read Spanish, you will see that they state on the site that they are not adverse to promoting newer things, new ways of looking at things, so long as they conform to the ethos of the word “craft.” Very impressive attitude from some dudes from a little village in the hills.
Because the village is so high up, apparently, they aren’t always blessed with such warm weather for this three-day event, and indeed around mid-afternoon mists began to cap the surroundings hills, but never wandered as far down as Pinolere. It’s the first weekend in September for anyone who is thinking of coming to the island next year and wants to come look. There were very few foreign tourists there, although clearly people come from all over Tenerife.
I leave the best to the last ;=)………well, I leave one of my favorite topics to last, anyway, and that’s food. The stalls showcasing local cheeses, honey, jam, sauces, breads, cakes and wine were almost too much to bear! We are, in the south, so focused on tourism that we often forget about the riches the islands offer in other ways. Canarian cheeses win international awards, and in the 2008 World Cheese Awards won no less than five gold medals, amongst a total of fifteen awards, the most prestigious of which was the “Best World Cheese”. The only problem for this cheese-lover (happily my cholesterol test was two days previously!) was choosing. The island cheeses come usually in small rounds, and I was worried about their shelf-life, but in the end I couldn’t resist the three for the price of two offer! Two of them pictured below – one covered with black pepper and the other with a picante or spicy flavoring something like paprika……eer, the third one is gone already! It was a new one for me with a taste and texture something like a mature, white cheddar.
You can also see from the photo that I also tracked down another bottle of Tajinaste, much to my delight!!! Although, I received a message from Colleen today to say that they now have it in a Canarian supermarket chain, together with Lomo and Testamento. Yay! I really deplore this, particular chain for lots of reasons, but happy to see that local wineries are, at last, being supported!
I should, at this point, confess that my haul would have been larger, had I not been to a food and wine promotion (yes, again!) in the town square in El Médano the previous evening. I absolutely forgive you if you now despair of me, and label me a glutton! From that I came away with fig jam and local honey (and the directions to the finca where it is produced!) plus a flyer from a new, local restaurant. As usual, the square was heaving with the rich variety of souls who make up this interesting little town. In addition to the produce stalls, restaurants and bodegas displaying there was local music to aid the digestion :=)
But, back to Sunday, and another foodie note, and one to make you jealous – at lunchtime, because of the baby, we opted not to eat at the huge stall/bar on site, but we got a pass out and went to a local bar where we feasted (to bursting in my case!) on chickpea stew, meat, salad and tripe (yes, tripe, but in a rich, wonderful sauce!), accompanied by fresh bread (all the better to sop up that wonderful sauce) and washed down with red wine and water………..and……..wait for it………all for the vast price of…………€5 a head!
Yeah I think you could call it a gastronomically satisfying weekend, not of the sophisticated variety, but of the fresh, wholesome food variety. Despite my neck screaming at every bump and turn of the road home (and there are plenty of both!) I think it was well worth it!