Question: What do Scotland and Tenerife have in common?
Answer: a) They have the same flag and b) They both celebrate San Andrés.
He may be better known to the Scots as St Andrew but it’s the same Apostle whose feast day, November 30th, is traditionally celebrated in communities in the north of Tenerife every bit as enthusiastically as it is in Scotland. And the reason for that is the happy circumstance of San Andrés falling at the same time as the new year’s wine harvest is ready for drinking.
This year, having already enjoyed our roast chestnuts and new wines at the harbour in Puerto de la Cruz on Saturday night, we opted to head to the local town of Icod de los Vinos to witness the Jackass shenanigans of their ‘tablas’ riders.
Said to emulate the sound of the wine barrels being driven down the streets in days of yore, the youth (and as the evening wears on, the inebriated) hurtle down streets so steep they ought to issue crampons to visitors, on wooden boards known as ‘tablas‘. The tablas are small boards or trays which are greased and which the youths ride like toboggans. Lacking any kind of discernible braking system other than gloved palms, the tablas crash stop into a mountain of old tyres placed at the bottom of the street. Riders then lift up their steeds and hoof it back to the top of the hill to begin again.
The custom of riding the boards commemorates practices from the late 17th and early 18th century when wine was transported down from the bodegas (vineyards) in the upper valley on sledges pulled by bullocks. The barrels rested on wooden planks and a helmsman would stand on the boards behind the barrels, steering the sledge with the use of a wooden oar. As the sledge arrived at the steep, cobbled streets of the town, the skills required to avoid potholes, steer around corners and stop before oxen, wine, helmsman and all ended up in the Atlantic, became paramount.
Today’s riders have it easy by comparison. Groups of six to eight compadres set off in quick succession and hurtle down amidst wandering onlookers, a whistle their only means of clearing the immediate path through their nonplussed spectators. Sometimes two or three people ride a single board which slows the speed of descent but makes stopping before vaulting the tyres like dice thrown down a craps table, an altogether more difficult prospect.
In previous years this Icod, Mad Men event has been all but rained off but Wednesday was a fine evening bringing the riders out in their droves. After filming and snapping for an hour or so, we wandered off to participate in the far less extreme sport of the season and enjoyed a glass or three of the new wine, just to honour San Andrés you understand 🙂
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+