Footsteps in the Sand, Corpus Christi in La Orotava

I think of chopsticks, of how difficult it can be to pick up a piece of food with a pair of small sticks and transfer it from the plate to my mouth. If I lose concentration the worst thing that can happen is the food will fall on the floor.

Chopsticks, Alfombristas at work, Corpus Christi, La Orotava, Tenerife

I think of this as I watch an alfombrista (carpetmaker) use a pair of giant chopsticks to transfer a bowl of coloured sand over the elaborate image that has already been created. If he drops the bowl it could destroy weeks of work. I hold my breath until the bowl completes its journey to safe ground.

The day of the Corpus Christi flower carpets in La Orotava is one of our favourite days of the year on Tenerife. As well as being a visual assault, there’s a fiesta atmosphere throughout the town. It’s unusual, it’s beautiful, it’s fun.

Alfombristas at work, Corpus Christi, La Orotava, Tenerife

But whilst I look forward to seeing the smaller flower carpets which line the streets take shape as the day progresses, by the actual date of Corpus Christi, the huge sand tapestry which covers the plaza outside of the town hall holds less of an interest.

That’s not because it fails to impress. The work involved, the detail in each tapestry, the shades created from sand alone and the incredible life within the tapestry as well as the sheer scale of the carpet leave me in awe every year.

One of my faves, Alfombristas at work, Corpus Christi, La Orotava, Tenerife

However, by the day of Corpus Christi I’ve already seen the tapestry near completion. Watching the alfombristas at work in the days beforehand holds me in captivated silence more than seeing the completed work of art. For art it is, these unusual carpetmakers are artists, possibly even alchemists.

Backbreaking work, Alfombristas at work, Corpus Christi, La Orotava, Tenerife

When you look at the range of colours that make up a record-breaking sand tapestry covering between 912 and 950 square metres, it seems impossible they all come from Teide National Park. At least it does until you return to the park and stand somewhere like Montaña Guajara to look over the huge crater and register just how many different colours a volcanic landscape can throw up.

Not all men, Alfombristas at work, Corpus Christi, La Orotava, Tenerife

Around 2.500 kilos of the stuff are used to create the tapestry, with an army of alfombristas working for up to nine hours a day for around fifty days to have the masterpiece ready for Corpus Christi.

The work takes place under a canopy which covers the whole plaza. It’s not to keep it secret, the design is known for months. The canopy is there to protect the tapestry from nature. At this time of year there can be showers. But one alfombrista told me it’s not the rain which worries them the most, it’s the wind. Thankfully this side of the island isn’t breezy so it hasn’t proved a problem in the time I’ve been on Tenerife. But there are blips. A few years ago Corpus Christi was a washout, the first time it had rained on the day for over sixty years.

Multifunctioning, Alfombristas at work, Corpus Christi, La Orotava, Tenerife

As I write, the tapestry is slowly coming together. I’ll wait another couple of weeks before making my annual journey to watch the talented alfombristas painstakingly and miraculously direct grains of sand until those individual grains morph magically into something of incredible beauty.

Delicate work, Alfombristas at work, Corpus Christi, La Orotava, Tenerife

Some people are shocked that at the end of Corpus Christi, the carpets are trodden on and destroyed during a procession from La Orotava’s Town Hall to the Iglesia de la Concepción. For years I felt it seemed almost like a work of vandalism to destroy an object of beauty that had existed for only one day.

The end is in sight, Alfombristas at work, Corpus Christi, La Orotava, Tenerife

But of course, the sand tapestry doesn’t only exist for a day. It’s alive for weeks, growing and evolving day by day. It seems to me that much of the joy and satisfaction must be found in that journey to reach the final destination.

Corpus Christi in La Orotava takes place on 11 June 2015.

 

Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+

7 Comments

  1. I’ve read somewhere that the display will be till 14.06. Is it true? Will it be for the whole day of 14.06? We are coming to Tenerife at night 11/12.06 and probably we will be able to get to La Orotava 13 or 14.06.

    • Sadly the carpets will be gone by the 14.06. The day of the carpets (Dia de las Alfombras) is on Thursday (11.06) and the carpets are destroyed on the night of the same day. There is a big harvest festival (procession of carts and musicians with everyone in traditional costume) in La Orotava on Sunday 14.06 which is a lot of fun, but no flower carpets.

        • The sand tapestry is part of the Corpus Christi Dia de Alfombras which takes place on 11 June Karolina, it’s the centrepiece of the day. A religious procession destroys it at the end of the day. Sorry.

          • Sorry I never replied to your question about the start time, but I’ve been walking in Austria and Germany so missed the whole shebang this year. For future reference it starts from around 1pm (in theory), but takes a while to get going.

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