Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hawaii of Spain

I can't believe a month has gone by since my last blog. So many things have happened in this month... mainly the fact that I went to the Canary Islands to experience the second biggest Carnaval in the world!! (The Carnaval celebration in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is second to Rio in Brazil.) 

Two wees ago, I went with 9 other English teachers from different regions in Spain: Maegan, Lyndsy, Melissa, Kate, Lauren (Melissa's friend) and four other assistants teaching in Galacia with Lauren, to experience my first ever Spanish Carnaval!  To save money, we shared a 4 person apartment just a few minutes from "the party".  While we had to wait for hot water in between showers, sleep on couch cushions, and worry about someone eating your food, it all worked out in the end: we were only locked out of the apartment (and Kate locked in - thank you Spanish doors) once! ;)
Carly, Gwen, Dan, Maegan
Kate, Lauren, Melissa, Lyndsy, Me
The Tenerife Gang.
Day 1: Bienvenidos a Tenerife!  

Thursday, March 3, I took the train to Madrid to meet up with Maegan.  We crashed with some of her friends in Madrid on Thursday night to avoid the extra cost of a hostel. We had a good 3 hour flight to Tenerife where we met up with Melissa, Lyndsy, and Kate. We crammed our luggage into the public bus and headed for Santa Cruz. After trying to trick the landlord into thinking we only had 4 people in our group, we ran into him and the cleaning maid trying to get in. Well, we just acted like we were confused, didn't speak Spanish...etc. So, as you could imagine, the first day of being in the apartment was very stressful and we were constantly watching our backs. A late night ring at the doorbell from drunk neighbors upstairs really threw us off!

We went out to see the city and were informed the big "Desfile de Bienvenido" would be that night. So, at 19:00, we all headed out to the streets of Santa Cruz to see what the famous parades were all about. Having been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 2000, I had high expectations of this Carnavales parade.  At first, it was really horrible - worse than the Christmas Day parade in Jefferson City, MO! There were lots of police cars, firetrucks, etc. All I wanted to see was las reinas (queens); so, I was rather dissapointed and wondered why I haden't just stayed in Navalmoral since they have a fantastic Carnavales celebration. HOWEVER, those were my first thoughts --- then came the queens!!!! 

WOW! WOW! WOW! I couldn't imagine how big these queen costumes were! My pictures don't do justice to the size and detail of their dresses. I can't imagine making one of these things... 
Just what I was waiting for: REINAS!!!
Que guapa!!!!
So fantastic! You could see her coming for blocks!
We went home to change and get ready for the night... from our apartment, we could see another parade happening in the street, so we headed back there! NIGHT CARNAVAL PARADE! Hola, fiesta! People everywhere.... everyone in costume.... drinks in both hands (and occasionally in shopping carts, bags...) bailandoooo everywhere... party in the street.... party in the bars.... IT. WAS. INCREDIBLE.
Toreros and Hula Girls! "Hawaiana"
These "women" were so fun!
A typical float from the night parades.
We managed to get ON a float... a Roman themed float. We rode around, dancing and waving to people for about half an hour. Seeing the party from high above really put a fun spin on things.  At the end of the parade, all of the floats (which are basically just decorated contraptions for people to dance on) end in a plaza/street zone.  They all pulled up together and had a huge party in the street. The music was so loud and FANTASTIC; you couldn't help but dance!
View of the parade FROM high above a float!!
Riding ON the float meant being next to the trees.... AH!
FIESTA en la Calle! :)
Day 2: La Laguna

We headed for a small pueblo, La Laguna, just a 20 minute bus ride away from Santa Cruz. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  We enjoyed walking in its colorful streets, running in and out of shops to avoid the rain. (It's not suppose to rain in the Canary Islands!!!!!! ugh!) 
San Cristóbal, the tower at the end, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In a Carnaval mood.
We returned to Santa Cruz to do some shopping, relax, and prepare for the second night out! I went as an Indian, others threw on bright colored tutus.  We were headed for dancing at Plaza de Europa - where they had guest DJs nightly. On the way, we found all of the floats, from the night before, parked on the main streets in a type of block party! It was so cool to go from one "disco" to the next, with the speakers blaring out the music from the float just a few feet away. 
My Indian Costume!
Crowds of people enjoying the night!
Block Party with floats and music!
Ministry of Sound - Plaza de Europa
Day 3: El Teide 

So, the Canary Islands are of volcanic origin (learned this while tutoring one of my families!) and Tenerife Island has a volcano named "El Teide". We had to "madrugar" (wake up early in the morning) to get a bus to go visit it.  You'd never imagine the number of people still out from the night before!!!!! The bus station was PACKED with people trying to get back home. Everyone smelled.  Thank goodness only a few people got on our bus, or else it would have been a veryyyyy long ride! 
8 am the next morning, the streets of Santa Cruz!
Waiting for a ride home...
Since there was no direct bus from Santa Cruz to El Teide, and only one bus returning to Puerto Cruz (where we had to change to the connection bus) we knew it was going to be a long day.    Well, once we finally arrived at the base of El Teide, only Melissa and I decided to go on the Teleferico (the tram that took you to the top of the volcano).  When we bought our tickets, there was a sign in the window saying it was -6* C (21.2* F) degrees at the top. Well, -6* feels reallllly cold when you haven't come prepared for cold weather to a tropical island. So, we took a few pictures and made our way back down after just 10 short minutes above. The views were so pretty though, as we were high above the clouds, on the tallest mountain in all of Spain!! On a clear day, they say you can see a few of the other islands... I bet that would have been so pretty! Next time! 
El Teleferico, high above the clouds.
Melissa and I with the top of El Teide just behind us.
(With a special permit, you can hike to the top!)
We had to wait until 16:00 for our bus to arrive, so Melissa and I had lunch.  We walked around the gift shop....2 or 3 times...and it was still just 13:00.  While we weren't particularly interested in the gift shop's products, it did have a radiator hidden in the back so we frequented the back left corner to "look at the canary sauces!" We finally bought a bottle of wine and sat and people watched. It was quite entertaining as we saw a flight between two older women, one from Spain and the other from Canada.  It went something like this:

A Spanish woman sat down at an open table. A Canadian man came up and what appeared to be him asking nicely if he could have a chair, turned into the Spanish woman standing up and pushing the Canadian man's table far away from her table. The Canadian man sat down at the table with his wife. The Canadian man sat directly behind the Spanish woman, which was apparently too close to her for her liking. She immediately turned around and punched him!!! A waitress came by to tell the Canadian couple they could move into the other room. She was trying to solve the problem without causing more trouble. Then, as they agreed to move, the Canadian women hit the Spanish woman on her shoulder as she walked by. The Spanish woman stood up and shoved the Canadian woman toward the bar. The Canadian man got between them to stop the fight as the bar man yelled "senoras! senoras!" from behind the bar. 

We couldn't believe what we were watching! The family of the Spanish woman came over and we overheard who we think was her son say "Mama, this is the second person you've hit today!!!" So, I guess she was just having a bad day.  It's safe to say the table next to the Spanish family remained available for quite some time as everyone in the restaurant was scared to go near.
The Spanish woman is in the red!!! Mean lady!
After sitting in the same sitio for about three hours with our bottle of wine (something we were told had never really happened) we had become friends with the barmen. We got free shots and a sad attempt at a carnaval costume.  The guy made me a "costume" from a trashbag. Bueno, the thought was nice. Finally, our bus came and I've never been so happy to leave the mountains! Thanks to the wine, the return trip went pretty quickly!
Our source of heat.
Another night out was awaiting us on our return to Santa Cruz. However, we didn't get the memo that Sunday is also a day of rest for party in Carnaval.  We wore some crazy sparkly dresses and went back to Plaza de Europa for dancing and DJs! 
All sparkles this night, taking pictures before going out!
Day 4: Vamos a la Playa!  

We went to the Playa de la Teresitas Monday, just a short 20 minute bus ride from the center of Santa Cruz. It's sand has been brought in from the Sahara - and it's beautiful.  I imagined it as a hidden beach, stuck in between two cliffs/mountains. There were houses built up on one side of the mountain and huge cliffs on the other. Lots of colorful boats were strung across the left side of the beach, making for lots of wonderful pictures! While the water was cold, and it was a bit too windy for my liking, the sun came and went and we had a fantastic day at the beach! 
Welcome to Paradise! It just looks so warm and inviting!
Colorful boats and houses in the mountain!
Playa de las Teresitas
Beer in my hand. Feet in the sand.
Kate, Maegan, Melissa, Lyndsy and I enjoying the playa!
Yet another night was in store, as it was our last night in Tenerife. I finally talked Melissa and Lyndsy into going to the feria with me so we could ride the bull ride!!! The video is priceless and it is by far the best carnival ride I've ever ridden in my life! Did I mention I rode it wearing pink glasses and a bright green boa? You can't miss me! It was much harder than the group before us made it seem... I blame my constant falling off on my tights. (And I'm sticking to that!)
Lyndsy and I with some SWAT team members. Real or Costume?
Anyone with a semi-real looking gun really threw me for a loop..police officers especially!
Ticket in hand to ride the best feria ride EVER! :)
Having the time of our lives on the Spanish "USA Rodeo" Ride.
The night was long... and got even longer when we were locked out of the apartment...and Kate was locked IN the apartment. When you lock a Spanish door from the outside, you cannot open it from the inside unless you have a key. Well, with 10 people sharing the apartment and just 2 keys, I'm so glad this only happened once!  No one has confessed to locking Kate in the apartment still, but clearly, it happened; when you come home at 2am (knowing you need to leave the apt at 4 to catch your flight the next am) waiting outside your door is the last thing you want to do!!!! 

Day 5: Goodbye Tenerife! Hello Navalmoral!!

So, days 4 and 5 were all the same day - having not slept - they became one reallly long day.  After sitting outside the airport an hour waiting for it to open, we boarded our 3 hour flight back home to Madrid. In the boarding line, I saw 4 "toreros" - four chicos who had just came in from the party, still in their bull fighter costumes.  The best part was that I took a picture of them the night before walking on the street because I thought it was so cool watching them all walk down the street together! Well, this was the worst thing I could have said to them as they tormented Maegan and I the whole flight home. Simple English phrases: "Can I go to the toilet, please?" "Can you lend me a pen?" was all we heard from the row directly behind us. Random hats were thrown our direction and funny conversations too. It was a rather eventful ride home to say the least.
4 blurry toreros!
Same boys, just hours later in the airport!!! (with 2 tired girls!)
(sadly my phone fell into a glass of water on Saturday, so I have no way of getting in touch with them on Tuenti since their names were saved to my phone! oh well, I'm not TOO upset!)
Disfrutando los Carnavales en Navalmoral! :)

I arrived just in time to see the second main parade in Navalmoral on Tuesday afternoon. Mamen, Maria, Josemi, and Oscar all watched the parade together.  All of the costumes were hand made and amazing! I had tried asking about some of my students' costumes during lessons the week before and always got this answer "It's a surprise! We can't tell you the color, the style, the theme..." So it was very cool to see them all dressed up and dancing in the parade; this was the personal touch that was missing from Tenerife!  
There were over 25 snow globes from different countries!
Jaime and Angela, one of my private lesson families, were Flintstones!
Andres' sister's group. They were awesome! It was a "time warp" and they would switch
in and out of these costumes to the black and white ones below.
Time warp!
A perfect blend of Spanish "culture" - bull fighting and flamenco!
Marta, the queen of Carnavales in Navalmoral! :) Guapa!
That evening, we went out in Navalmoral.  We went out for Chinese food, dressed in our doll costumes! This was a once in a lifetime event...going out to eat dressed as a doll with a lacy hat and freckles drawn on my face!  Later, we went for drinks at a bar "El Benito" then we went to the casetas (the popular bars in Navalmoral all opened a "caseta" (tent disco) just outside the multiusos building; they are side by side and the people go from one "bar" to the next, dancing and partying the night away!) And we did, dance the night away until 5:30 or so in the morning!  After not sleeping the night before, I was so tired and called it an early night, much earlier before my friends! I went for churros and ColaCao on the way home with Andres, and I finally got into bed around 7:30am.
Two dolls and two vikings sharing a wonderful "Spanish" Chinese dinner.
Mamen, Maria, Yo, Josemi, Oscar - beautiful dolls!
A fun light show inside the Boulevard caseta!
A look at the caseta from the outside.
It was still early here; after awhile, the gravel area outside was packed!!
Wednesday I slept.... until 7pm. I cancelled my private lessons due to "No he dormido en 2 dias. No puedo tener clase hoy. Nos vemos la semana proxima!" And that was that.

As Maria, my wonderful Scottish roommate says, "I am so glad Carnaval is only once a year!" I have to agree with her.  I don't know how we would survive if this drinking, partying, dressing up festival happened more than once in the same year.  However, I had such a blast, I would happily celebrate it once a month - especially if the extra days off came with it! ;)

What's Next?
This week Friday, I head to Bulgaria with my elementary school (Divina and Toni) for a COMENIUS meeting. We will be there for 9 days, working very hard. ;)  I am very excited for this experience as it means: exploring Bulgaria - a Communist country until 1990 and networking with familiar COMENIUS faces whom I met in Jarandilla de la Vera, in November 2010.  Who goes to Bulgaria for a week? ME! 

Then, it's back to Navalmoral/Jarandilla for a week, just a short week, as I will go to Greece on April 4, for another COMENIUS meeting with the elementary school. When I return on the 11th, my mom will be waiting to greet me in the Madrid airport and we will return to Navalmoral JUNTAS! We will then be traveling for 2 weeks for Easter!

These next few weeks (month!) will be a whirlwind of an adventure to say the least. I am excited for seeing new sites, facing language barriers, and getting new stamps on my Passport!!!!! 

As they say in Bulgaria: Доскоро (doskóro).