When we first moved to Tenerife the accounts of fiestas in the local English language press left a bit to be desired. At best some were rehashes of brief descriptions taken straight from official websites; at worst some completely overlooked a few of the most interesting fiestas. Spanish language publicity wasn’t much better as there was, and still is to a certain extent, a tendency to assume that everyone knew what was going on.
As a result we usually found ourselves turning up at fiestas without much of a clue to what was going to happen and when. Initially, we made a lot of mistakes… but we had a lot of fun in the process. But over the years we’ve also learned what it really means to be in the middle of Tenerife’s busiest fiestas. It isn’t always an experience that will suit everyone’s tastes.
Midsummer’s Eve, or the Noche de San Juan, on Tenerife on 23 June is a prime example.
To celebrate the Noche de San Juan there are beach parties and events organised in lots of towns and villages on Tenerife. We’ve had conch shells blown in our ears in places like San Juan de las Ramblas; sparks from fireworks rain down on us in Garachico and been charmed by an intimate and romantic display of beach bonfires in La Caleta del Interian. But the celebrations in Puerto de la Cruz are invariably the most overwhelming.
The normal description you read usually goes ‘beach party blah, blah…live bands blah, blah… fireworks blah, blah… midnight swim blah, blah.’
That’s all true. But it only paints a fraction of the picture. From early evening (between 5 and 6pm) the beach begins to fill… and fill… and fill. Playa Jardín is a decent sized beach but by the end of the evening you will be hard pushed to find a grain of sand that isn’t covered.
We always pick our spot early to get relatively close to the stage, the sea and the bonfire. It’s a prime position and as the evening progresses we become engulfed in a sea of people. Imagine being on the London tube during rush hour when everyone is sitting down and are wearing swim instead of business suits. Despite the thronging crowd, it is an incredibly good natured scene and there’s a buzzing, infectious atmosphere.
But if you don’t like crowds and having your personal space invaded now and again, Noche de San Juan in Puerto de la Cruz will not be for you.
Then there’s the practicalities. Like the Canarios, we arrive loaded with supplies; beer, wine, food to see us through around 8 hours of festivities, plastic plates, glasses and candles. The candles serve two purposes. The add a little light to your life when it gets dark and they also decorate the obligatory hole in the sand that everyone in the know makes in the centre of their little, or big, circle. The hole is for good luck, love and all that jazz and should be decorated with the prettiest of flowers. Although we bring a hearty picnic, we don’t go as far as the Portuenses who arrive with giant pots of stews and all sorts.
Once you’re settled, it’s a case of chilling out, enjoying the sunset and the music… and timing toilet visits wisely. Leave it too late and not only will there be a queue, you’ll have to nimbly negotiate thousands of other revellers and no-one takes kindly to a foot coming down on their chorizos… although the Canarios are more relaxed about this than most. If that wasn’t all, there’s the task of finding your way back. It isn’t easy after dark when the beach is a sea of candlelit groups of people that all look the same. There are always, always lost souls wandering around for hours at the Noche de San Juan.
Come midnight and after the fireworks, it’s de rigueur to strip off and head to the sea in order to benefit from the magical Midsummer waters. It’s not as easy as it sounds as everyone else has the same plan. Plus there’s the complicated matter of actually getting to the sea through the crowds.
Once bathed and having successfully found your way back to your hole you can relax. By this point, the bands stop playing and are replaced by the sounds from an army of bongo drums – every group of friends seems to have someone with bongos. A lot of people wander off, leaving you room to stretch out as much as you want, pour some more wine and wait for the mythical island of San Borondón to appear on the horizon… or pass out.
This is the Noche de San Juan. It’s busy and slightly manic but it’s got a wonderful air of a community partying together.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+