Spain: Tenerife’s Wild Carnival

Carnival Tenerife
Carnival Tenerife. Photos by Paul Shoul

Shooting volcanos and the world’s best party in the Canary Islands

By Paul Shoul

It is Monday, midnight,  Feb 27th, 2017  in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the Spanish Canary Islands off the Northwest coast of Africa.

The world’s 2nd largest carnival celebration has been throbbing along for two days but tomorrow is a holiday off from work for the locals and  I can feel the party building in the air. Over 200,000 people will cram into the city center of Santa Cruz de Tenerife tonight to continue a tradition that has survived dictators and the church, enduring since the 1600’s.

Historically, Carnival is the last chance to party for Catholics before 40 days of Lent, a time of penance, sacrifice, and reflection. There will be no abstinence tonight and much to atone for……

Carnival Vixens i
Carnival Vixens

Photograph the Night

At 1:00 am I gear up to photograph the night, securing cords to my flash and external battery, and constructing a makeshift rain cover from a plastic bag and duct tape for my camera. The night before while photographing and dancing, a mojito was accidentally dumped on my lens and it has been “sticky” ever since.

 I join the river of people heading downtown. I have no idea where we are going but am confident I will know it when we get there. The music grows louder. An ocean of people pack the town square and we are absorbed into the best party I have ever witnessed.

There are no gates, no entrance fee except a costume and a desire to party, mingle dance and drink. Small stands are selling tapas, rum and Coke and mojitos for 2- 4 euros. Many people bring their own.  A stranger offers me a shot of rum as I squeeze forward, looking for a higher vantage point.

Carnival go go dancers.
Carnival go go dancers.

The crowd has adopted me as their official photographer and I am lifted on to the top of a small platform alongside two women dressed as 1960’s hippie go-go dancers.

Masked Faces

A  sea of  masked faces stretches as far as I can see.

Costumes have always been part of Carnival and transform over time to reflect the moral and political questions of the day. Many families, friends, workplaces and civic associations dress together around a common theme.

One group of  20 people are dressed as Donald Trump and Mexicans who are building a cardboard wall shaped as bricks. There are pirates, vixen hotties in fishnets.

A large hairy man in a dress on another platform is whipping the crowd. Native Americans , clowns, cheerleaders, disapproving grandmothers lifting their dresses and transvestite bull fighters. You get the idea.

This party will go on until the next morning. I make it until 3:00 am before I retire to get ready for the next day’s festivities.

Carnival in Tenerife is held every February during the week before Lent. During the day are the family events and spectacular parades and processions, but the real party is at night on the streets and the final night on Ash Wednesday was truly mind blowing.

Carnival
Carnival Grand Finale

The Burial of the Sardine

The burial of the sardine (El Entierro de la Sardina) is the last ceremony of Carnival and celebration of the first day of Lent by symbolically burying the excesses of the past.

It has changed over time. Let me describe the undertones of the night this way:

“Father, I don’t care if you forgive me for I have sinned…..a lot.  And as long as it feels good to me and whomever else I am doing it with, I will keep on sinning until all the sins are done”.

Burial of the sardine.
Entierro-de-la-Sardina

Imagine a huge paper mache cross-dressed sardine with engorged red lips on a mobile platform surrounded by thousands of people followed by a crowd of transvestite mourning nuns

I come across a mobile confessions booth, complete with a “glory hole”. Women in black wave large dildos at me.

The dead arise from coffins. Oh, there is the pope giving communion to a gigantic transvestite while squeezing the ass of a nun.

It’s a cathartic, flamboyant cross-dressing extravaganza. At the end of the procession the sardine will be burned and a new year to sin will begin. The world needs Carnival. You need it too.

Entierro-de-la-Sardina
Entierro-de-la-Sardina

Stay eat and play

Teide National Park.

Twelve million years ago, volcanoes erupted giving birth to the Canary Islands. They are still active but quiet.  The last recorded eruption of Mt Teide happened a mere 100 years ago.

As Tenerife arises over 12,000ft. above sea level, different micro climates have been established, influenced by moisture in the trade winds.

As you ascend the island the landscape changes drastically from rocky beach, through thick pine forests and eventually rising above the clouds into the lunar landscape surrounding the sometimes snow-covered Teide volcano.

Mount Teide
Mount Teide

Teide National park is a registered the World Heritage UNESCO sight. There is a unique feeling of otherworldliness as you walk through the jagged rocky desert crater amongst ancient lava flows and towering rock cones.

The mars rover practiced here. Clash of the Titans and a host of other Hollywood films have used Tenerife as a setting. Even Dr. Who and the Tardis landed on this alien landscape.

There are many hiking trails and even a cable car that goes up to  the volcano. This is a special place, leave the whole day to explore it.

The Finca Altos de Trevejos .

Close to Teide National park in Vilaflor, the highest municipality in Spain is this lovely vineyard and restaurant. The wines were fantastic. we had lunch in the main room of the 1800s stone farm house overlooking the valley.I tried both the Listan white and the red. Perfect companions to a hearty lunch of chickpea and pork stew, cheeses, sausages and barbecued chicken and pork.

Finca Altos de Trevejos
Finca Altos de Trevejos

Puerto Colon Whale Watching.

Roulette Charters.

Pier nº 5 Puerto Colón Harbour – Costa Adeje – Tenerife

The South coast of Tenerife around Puerto Colon and the Playa de Las Americas is the main tourist area of the island.

A resort area built in 1960’s it receives the lion’s share of the millions of Russian, British, Spanish and German tourists who are increasingly flocking to the Canaries every year for its perpetual spring climate, affordable prices and safety

I took a whale watch with Roulette Charters. The waters off the Island are home to a diverse marine environment. We sailed along pods of dolphins and even spied a huge Fin whale rising from the depths. All while enjoying snacks and a glass of wine. 3 hour excursions are approx 50 euros per adult. Super cool and fun.

Roulette Charters.
Dolphins, Roulette Charters.

Masia del Mar, La Caleta de Adeje

Calle El Muelle, 3, 38670 Adeje, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

Masia del Mar
Masia del Mar

After the boat ride we dined at Masia del Mar. Right on the ocean, you would imagine that the seafood would be great and it was.

Perfectly fried sardines, sauteed squid and a huge grilled fish for the table. Really delicious.

Parque Rural de Anaga.

Starkly different than the craggy landscape around Mt. Tiede, Anaga Country Park on the northwest of the island is a lush protected biosphere reserve.

A trekker’s heaven, walking and running paths weave through thick laurel forests covering the mountains and valleys. Bring good shoes and a jacket.

Restaurante Cruz del Carmen

Parque Natural de Anaga, TF-12, 205, 38294 San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

Right by the main entrance museum and visitor’s center for the park this is a great place to try typical local fare. Stewed rabbit, baked pork loin with honey, local cheeses, salt boiled potatoes and a local must try once specialty called “Gofio”  (a thick lump of toasted cereal grains).  

Parque Natural de Anag
Parque Natural de Anaga

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

The former capital of Tenerife, the historic city center is a Unesco World Heritage site. It is a lively college town full of cafes, founded in 1496. Any visit to Tenerife must include a walk through these historic streets.

San Cristóbal de La Laguna
San Cristóbal de La Laguna

Where to stay.

Hotel Silken Atlántida Santa Cruz.

a Áurea Díaz Flores)
38005 Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Tel.: 0034 922 29 45 00

A comfortable hotel centrally located in Santa Cruz, and just a short walk away from all the Carnival celebrations.

The restaurant is very good and the breakfast buffet will fuel you up for the celebrations to come.

How to get there.
Iberia Airlines.

I have always loved flying Iberia. Good food, good people and on time.

Mount Teide volcano, Tenerife
Mount Teide volcano, Tenerife

This trip was made with assistance from Spain.info

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Paul Shoul
Paul Shoul is a Northampton, MA-based photographer who doubles as a staff writer for GoNOMAD. For thirty years he's lived in the Pioneer Valley and chronicled life there though his work in the Valley Advocate and Preview magazines. He's also been seen in the Boston Globe, New York Times, BBC, the Chronicle of Higher Education and many other publications. Today as well as shooting around the world for GoNOMAD he works for local nonprofits, banks and advertising agencies.