(The Fiesta of San Andrés in Tenerife)
The 30th November is a day worthy of celebration in Tenerife; firstly, it’s the Fiesta of San Andrés or Saint Andrew as he’s better known to Scots. Secondly, it’s the day the wine cellars throw open their doors for the tasting of the new wines. Although on the face of it these two happy events appear to having nothing more in common than their place on the calendar, popular tales speak of a much stronger link.
29th November, the Eve of the Fiesta of San Andrés, sees Puerto de la Cruz staging the ‘Arrastre los Cacharros’ or ‘run with pots and pans’. As the afternoon turns to evening, children drag pots, pans, tins and assorted metal containers through the streets on lengths of string, with the intention of making as much noise as possible. The range of metal ware on show is impressive; in the early hours of the proceedings, toddlers run, pulling half a dozen empty cola cans on a piece of string much to the delighted cameras of mums and dads. As the evening progresses, so the age of the participants and the weight of the metal increases as groups of teenage boys appear, dragging vast chariots of empty oil drums, old washing machine drums, exhaust pipes and even old microwave ovens on great lengths of rope. The assembled junk is so long, heavy and wide that it necessitates the use of a yoke at the front, in which four or five boys strain to run as fast as they can, their path cleared by a runner; who directs the team’s movement in order to hit all the potholes and kerbs for maximum ear-irritation purposes.
To the untrained eye, Arrastre los Cacharros looks like an attempt to engage the young in environmental sustainability through the re-cycling of tins, but in fact its origins are rooted in tradition, some practical, others more fanciful. One of the nicest tales is that when San Andrés arrived on Tenerife he was already late (the rest of the Saints having arrived on 1st November – All Saints’ Day) and, to add insult to injury, he discovered the new wine, partook liberally of its medicinal properties and fell asleep in the street. Whereupon, local children tied pots and pans to his clothes so that every time he tried to turn over he’d wake up.
Whatever the legends about the origins of the Fiesta of San Andrés, his feast day falls fortuitously in line with the year’s wine harvest and the more practical explanation for the tradition of Arrastre los Cacharros is the practice of rolling barrels down to the sea to wash them. Once the ‘must’, or fermented grape juice, had rested in the barrels for ten days, the wine was transferred to clean barrels and the dirty ones were rolled down to the harbour to be washed; the sea water being the best way to remove the acids that had formed and were engrained in the wood. The sound of the metal rims of the barrels against the cobbles was a clear audible signal that the new wines were ready and the feasting could begin; an event worthy of being commemorated in anyone’s book.
While in Puerto de la Cruz it’s the children who play, in Icod de los Vinos and La Guancha the fun is notched up to Jackass level. Wooden sledges are constructed from heartwood and waxed with resin before being ridden down the near vertical streets at breakneck speed. Avoiding the feet of onlookers and any obstacles that could, and do, unseat the sledge, it continues to gather speed until it hurtles into a mountain of old tyres at the bottom of the street and sends its rider flying headlong through the air and into the tyres to the whoops and applause of the crowd. The faster the sledge, the greater the impact and the louder the applause; needless to say, the Red Cross are on hand in case anyone’s judgment goes seriously awry.
The practice of riding the boards (Arrastre de las Tablas) in Icod and La Guancha originates from the seventeenth century, when the wine was transported down to the coast for export on sledges drawn by bullocks. The barrels rested on wooden planks and a helmsman would stand on the boards at the back, steering the sledge with the use of a wooden oar. The oar would be used to avoid potholes, to navigate corners and to regulate speed as the sledges gathered momentum on the journey from the heights of El Amparo, down to the sea. Once at the coast, the barrels would be taken to what was then Puerto de la Orotava, now Puerto de la Cruz, or to Garachico for onward export to Europe and the Americas. The sound of the barrels riding the cobbled streets meant that the cellars were open for tasting.
Whatever the origins, one thing is clear; the Fiesta of San Andrés is cause for celebration and it would be nothing less than impolite not to drink a toast to the man himself with the new vino del país; fruity, light and lethal if drunk in large quantities but perfect accompanied by a bag of hot roasted castañas (chestnuts), a pincho (small skewer of marinated pork) and a piece of anis bread while sitting on the harbour trying to ignore all that noise.
La Guancha and Icod de los Vinos feature in Real Tenerife Island Drives - 'Here Be Dragos' route and there are independent restaurant recommendations from across the island featuring traditional food and wine.
If when your holiday's over, you want to go home with more than just a tan, then let 'Island Drives' show you the real Tenerife and you'll also take back the sounds, sights, tastes and memories of a truly fascinating island.
In recent years the chestnut and wine stalls have been erected at the harbour from the middle of November and there has been a wine fair during the fiesta.
29/11 From 18.00, the ’cacharrera’ takes place around Plaza del Charco with workshops. Traditional bands will perform at midday and from 7pm. At 9pm the traditional cabbage stew is dished up.
All activities will take place at the harbour