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Mark Fisher and Jane Ellis see Tenerife at carnival time and discover rural charm on the island of LaGomera.
A mellow spring evening in La Gomera and in the next room a musician warms up his clarinet. His notes echo round the the hotel and out to the volcanic hills, while in the town square the locals gather to welcome his 18-piece band from Caracas. Technically the Canary Islands are Spanish. but spiritually, at festival time they‘re South American and a whole town — from toddler to pensioner— comes to life at the first pulse of the salsa beat. Once that rhythm swings into motion, it‘ll be heading for dawn before it stops.
Arriving on the larger island of
. Tenerife a few days earlier, we had
caught wind of a carnival taking place at Santa Cruz on the north east coast. Delaying our plan to sail to La Gomera. we took the bus from the tourist resort of Los Cristianos (where the Brits nonchalantly soak up genuine Canarian folk music in the anachronistic comfort of the llispania Burger Bar) and headed round the barren coast to the island‘s capital. Despite their claim to a climate ofeternal spring, one noticeable thing about these islands is the variation in weather over very small distances. On Tenerife, one side gets the spring sun and the other gets the spring showers. Maybe that's why Santa Cruz has its fortnight-long carnival in "winter‘. You can‘t beat a bit ofsinging and dancing in the rain. and when everyone — punter and performer
alike - is dressed in the most meticulously ludicrous costumes. it’d take a lot more than the odd passing shower to spoil the fun.
The theme of this year's carnival was Ancient Egypt. That didn‘t stop people coming as a glitzy team of Sherlock Holmes or a pack of Pink Panthers, but it did mean that the main stage was bedecked with giant sphinxes and a set of Cleopatra's Needles. This was Gaud of the Pharaohs and if you imagine a happy cross between Blackpool. Mardi Gras and a semi-tropical Buchanan Street, you’ll be some of the way there. Dance in the street to the loud, busy big band salsa rhyhms or prowl the stalls for tortilla, deep fried squid or a doughy batter dipped in hot chocolate. But beware! If you‘re the kind of person to be disturbed by the sight of a band of padded pink mice playing Roll Out The Barrel on kazoos. you’ll be best staying offthe locally-produced brandy till later on: no thimblc-sized measures here, just sloosh it out and guzzle it back.
Two nights of this and we were ready for the more subtle charms of La Gomera. An hour and a half‘s boat-journey from Los Cristianos. it is a small, mountainous island. very green and often very misty. Its narrow, winding, precipitous roads cling to the hillsides. overlooking massive valleys or huddling beneath outcrops ofsheer volcanic rock. As yet unspoilt by tourism — even the
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86 The List 21 April — 4 May 1989