Emerging from the long, winding tunnel with its big round windows that flash past the ocean as you drive through, I could see cars parked in the ditch down one side of the road and on the pavement on the other, with not enough space to park a credit card between their bumpers.
The ‘cars-parked-in-ridiculous-places’ fiesta continued all the way to Garachico, through the town and out the other side, crawling its way up the hill until I was nearly in Los Silos before I could finally pull onto the kerb to join them, and begin the long trek back to Garachico and the San Roque Romería.
Garachico, on Tenerife’s northern coast, has been paying homage to San Roque since 1606 when 5 years of bubonic plague, brought to the wealthy port from the mainland, decimated the population. For the people of Garachico, it was prayers to San Roque that finally brought the pestilence to an end and the diminutive saint has held a special place in their hearts ever since. The romería to honour their Patron Saint falls on the 16th August each year and, never having been to a romería, I decided to start with one of the oldest and most important on Tenerife.
Arriving in the town, the atmosphere was buzzing. A good percentage of the thousands of people gathered there were wearing traditional Canarian costumes. The predominant colour filling the streets and plaza was scarlet; the men’s sashes, the girls’ waistcoats, the lines of flags and the poles topped with reams of ribbons. Ornate decorations of woven baskets filled with fruit and flowers adorned the doorways of houses that lined the narrow cobbled streets where sawdust had been strewn in anticipation of the day’s refuge.
Outside the Sioux Bar a herd of goats shuffled quietly against one wall, the ones on the outside trying to squeeze a little tighter into the group. Just beyond them, two Shetland ponies with their manes and tails festooned with ribbons snatched at clumps of dry grass in between the cobbles while small children, encouraged by their mothers, nervously patted their flanks.
Amongst the many claims to fame of this fascinating little town is the incident known as ‘the Wine Rebellion’ when, in 1666, tired of the stranglehold the English had on the price of their precious Malvasia wine, local winegrowers broke into warehouses on Garachico’s harbour and smashed every barrel, flooding the streets with wine. As I was to discover, the liberal pouring of wine was something that came easily to the citizens of this idyllic place.
On Estaban de Ponte I found a nice little spot on the pavement beside the open shutters of a window behind which two elderly Canarian ladies were sitting, and waited for proceedings to begin. The first to turn the corner into the narrow street was the herd of goats, led by a goatherd with his Alsatian dog and followed by the two Shetland ponies. Then the first cart came into view, pulled by a laughing group of men and women, all clad in traditional costume. In the cart, three children were sitting at the front and behind them, baskets of fruit and sacks filled with boiled potatoes rocked from side to side with the motion of the cart wheels over the cobbles. On the rear of the cart a large barbecue was burning over an old oil barrel and on its grill, pork chops, steaks and spare ribs sizzled. Beside the barbecue, a plastic tube leading from a large barrel was dispensing vino del pais into plastic beakers and before I could say “strong bodied country wine”, a chunk of bread with a piece of pork atop and a beaker of wine were thrust into my hand by one of the cart-pullers.
With a surprised “Gracias” I looked around to see if anyone else had been picked out to receive a gift and sure enough, pieces of meat, pork kebabs, bread and fruit were being passed liberally from the cart to everyone it passed. People were walking up to the cart and holding out plastic beakers and little metal cups hung around their necks on string into which wine was being unceremoniously sloshed.
Cart after cart appeared, each with its own barbecue and each dispensing various cuts of meat, small cakes made from gofio (milled cornflour), chunks of bread spread with sausage paste and all manner of fruit.
In between the carts, groups of musicians played guitars and timpales while, among them, groups of young men and women, all in traditional costume, drank, danced and sang their way along the route, helping to distribute the food and wine and laughing and joking with each other and with everyone they passed.
After the carts came the floats, each pulled by a team of two oxen and each crowded with people in traditional costume singing, playing guitars and dispensing food and wine to the crowds. Floats were bouncing from side to side, wine sloshing from barrels as the occupants of the cart jumped up and down, bellowing the verses to a medley of both traditional and pop songs.
For over two hours I watched, photographed, ate, drank and laughed as the good people of Garachico shared their food, wine, traditions and love of life with me.
By the time I started the trek back to the car, the street cleaners had already begun the job of clearing up the goat droppings, ox pats, discarded eaten ribs and fallen fruit from the streets that were once again running with wine.
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