In the week or so since I visited Santiago del Teide I’ve been itching to get back there because I could see that the almond blossom was going to be early this year, and the weather is almost too good to be true since Christmas. Last year I went the chilly weekend before the official Ruta de las Almendros, and thanked my lucky stars because in the ensuing week the heavens opened, and wind and rain put an end to the blossoms and celebrating them.
Now, I should explain that my friend, Maria, and I have decided that we should make a point of regularly going out to look for photo ops, instead of just pointing the camera when one comes up. Faced with a stunning vista or a cute baby goat, it’s too late to practise the art, and we both need to practise, so I was really up for making our first sortie to Santiago del Teide!
Maria drinking in the scenery. In the background the Chinyero Volcano.
We set off early on a morning so crisp and clear you could feel it on your skin, and had the winding roads almost to ourselves. We followed the autopista until it ran out, and then meandered the hillsides to the north-west of the island. The ocean lay vast and blue off to our left , kestrels hovered above, and we began to glimpse the odd almond tree in all its glory as we neared the village. I stupidly missed the turning which takes you a little higher up the mountain, so that you see Santiago del Teide cradled in the valley as you approach, but we did see lots of blossom by the roadsides, so we were, as my sons would say, stoked by the time we arrived.
We hung out on the outskirts of the village, snapping happily away in the stunning, still early-morning light, stopping for a while to chat to a lovely man who was strolling down from Valle de Arriba, a tiny hamlet close to the village, who spoke with pride of the numbers of people who now come to see the spectacular blossoms. He reckoned that this year they are a month ahead of where they normally are, so good thing, going on Sunday.
I just lost track of time, playing with exposures and the changing light and such, but the time came when we were over-ready for coffee. You know how it is when you make the perfect coffee? Well I’d done that in the early morning, remarkable, considering the hour, poured it into my thermal mug and then totally forgot about it as we chatted our way en route, so there might have been a kind of withdrawal symptom thing going on, since I like my coffee scalding hot. We headed for Señorio del Valle, a complex which includes rural hotel, museum, small art gallery and gift shop, in a setting so bucolic you might be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in the middle of a film set.
There, we drank milky coffees and nibbled tortilla española in the courtyard until the violent clanging of the bells from the adjacent church of San Fernando Rey disturbed our relaxation, and we remembered that the charming man we’d spoken to earlier had reminded us it was the feast of St Anthony Abbott, so we coppered up and strolled around to see what was going on.
It was one of those delightful, unexpected moments that you sometimes stumble across when travelling (ok I know we’d only travelled about an hour from home – but the journey, not the destination, remember!). We’d gone to record the blossoms, totally forgetting the feast day. The sight which greeted us was a troupe of local dancers, dressed in white, trimmed with red, and hats adorned with flowers or feathers and other ornaments, not unlike English Morris Dancers.
Those costumes were immaculate, snowy white and beautifully trimmed in embroideries anglaise, and they danced with a great sense of fun and enthusiasm. Maria and I sneaked about, snapping happily away, just a bit high on the color and the ambience. When they stopped, Maria chatted to one of the guys, who told us that those amazing hats are decorated with medallions and charms which are personal to each person, medallions which have been blessed, or charms picked up on travels, and that the origin of the costume lies in the neighboring island of El Hierro.
With mass being relayed to the people who couldn’t squeeze into the tiny church, we wandered off down the road I’d followed with my dad a few days back, and further on, noting paths for future walks and admiring more almond blossom until we reached the picturesque village cemetary. Something I’d wanted to do for a few years was to take my camera to a local cemetary after All Souls’ Day on November 1st. Whilst it isn’t celebrated in quite the manner it is in Mexico, where families picnic by the graves of their loved and departed, and sugar candy in the shape of skulls is devoured, it is a day when many families still make a point of visiting and decorating family graves, and I’d imagined that there must be some excellent photo ops. Maybe it was because Christmas wasn’t so far back, but I was moved and happy to see flowers on so many of the graves, just as I imagined it would be after All Souls. This cemetary was not the dark and forboding place that so many I’ve visited have been, but a riot of color, given that those flowers were symbols of love, it was an emotional sight, and we spoke in whispers as we wandered the tranquil paths and took it all in.
In the distance we heard the church bells tolling again, signalling the end of the mass, and we headed back to the square, to see the procession emerging from the church, preceded by the dancers and drummers, and heading off up a narrow street to bless the community’s animals.
I was a bit confused for a while, when I realized that St Anthony is the patron saint of animals. I’d always thought it was St Francis of Assisi, but now I get it. St Anthony Abbott is the patron saint of domestic animals, pets and farm animals, in other words. Reading up on him, other than that he was tempted by the devil who took the form of wild animals, I can’t quite figure why this is, but it makes for some colorful festivals in Spain at least. For complicated reasons I hadn’t gone to the Romeria de Arona this year, which is a much grander affair than this one in Santiago del Teide, but which, basically is a blessing of the local animals, there is also a rather scary festival in the mainland village of San Bartolome de los Pinares, but this happy and gentle festival had a lovely, joyful karma.
We followed the procession until it came to the very place where we’d had our morning coffee. The complex offers horse riding and pony and cart rides, has a resident parrot and no doubt other animal associations, and having once been the manor house of the district was possibly always the procession’s first stop.
We took the chance to duck into its little museum, which is beautifully appointed, with lots of well-presented information about the Chinyero Volcano, which was the last place in the island to erupt in 1909, the small art gallery and the gift shop, which, actually, was selling local crafts, wines, honey etc and almost nothing “made in China”.
It was my fault we had to leave at that point. I had commitments for the late afternoon, and I’d come expecting only the almond blossom, which only goes to show that on a small island, where you have spent 20-odd years of your life, you can still find pleasant surprises. I felt guilty about having to go, but my reasons were not light. We could have received a blessing from the local priest, who was occupied in blessing the community’s pets as we drove past (we’d seen numerous dogs, a horse, a pony and a tank of turtles as we followed the procession), and I would have been totally over-the-moon with the magnificent blossoms alone. Sometimes life has bonuses.