I spot the octopus first; his tentacles moving with the grace of an eight legged ballet dancer, then I see the puffer fish, ballooned up like a spiky ball; a sleek stingray glides past followed by a school of ‘Finding Nemo’ look-alikes and then a menacing looking jet black shark. A motley crew indeed, and possibly common in a sub tropical location near Africa, except these guys weren’t in the sea, they were in the sky. I was beginning to understand why Tenerife had been officially declared a surreal island.
Of course that title came in 1935 after Tenerife hosted the Universal Surrealism Exhibition; however, it seems appropriate to apply it to the Internacional Festival de Cometas (Kite Festival) in Granadilla.
The Kite Festival is one of Tenerife’s more contemporary fiestas, but no less enjoyable for its youthful status. Now in its sixteenth year, the festival is held on the 8th and 9th of September; dates which coincide with celebrations held by the Chinese, who are credited with inventing the kite nearly 3000 years ago.
The colourful event takes place on the long, wide sandy beach of Playa de La Tejita located between El Médano and Los Abrigos. One part of the beach is a favourite sunbathing spot for naturists, who must find it a bit of a shock during that weekend to find themselves being ogled by a giant octopus.
Kites were first introduced to Europe by Marco Polo where they were treated as toys for nearly six hundred years, until the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Graham Bell discovered they had more practical uses and used them to advance our understanding of the weather. Marco must have forgotten to pass on that the Chinese had been using them in wars, for fishing and even to construct rope bridges across ravines for millenniums.
In Granadilla, the objective of these kite fliers is quite simply to have fun. An international brigade of More than 100 participants from Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany and South America congregate on Playa de La Tejita with mysterious bundles of rainbow coloured fabrics, which are unravelled to reveal elaborate creations that are part art, part toy.
A relatively low key to promoting the festival means that, as yet, there are no great crowds. There are usually about 1000 spectators, which means there’s no jostling for the best views and everyone can get close to the exhibits; although not so close that you risk the danger of being accidentally garrotted by a trailing wire.
From early morning, simple box kites weave and dart in the blue sky joined, as morning gives way to afternoon, by progressively bigger and more bizarre creations, such as last year’s favourite by the Leon brothers from Madrid. An unlikely combination of art and sport in the shape of a mosaic Gaudí lizard looming over two pairs of footballers’ legs.
One of the nice things about this fiesta is that you don’t need to turn up with the ultimate in kite creations to feel as though you’re part of the fun. Alongside the sharks and the puffer fish are small, traditional diamond shaped kites darting in and out of the tentacles of a giant red octopus, like bi-planes attacking King Kong. Children who want to join in, but haven’t brought their own are given Blue Peter type instructions at a stall on the edge of the beach, emerging beaming with basic, but perfectly good kites ready for their inaugural flight. That’s one of the real charms of the Festival de Cometas; there are no prima donnas here, only enthusiasts and amateurs enjoying the simple pleasures of flying their kites.
By mid afternoon the sky is a myriad of colours and shapes swirling and swooping. With the September sun warming my face, I wander over to a makeshift beach bar and buy a cold bottle of beer, find a strategic spot on the sand, and lie back whilst a kaleidoscope of vividly coloured creatures re-enact a surreal, but graceful ballet in the cyan sky above me. Now this is what I call a laid back fiesta.
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