Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

In February, when the ground is cold and daylight is short, a person needs an infusion of energy, and the inhabitants of the island have a powerful source of it

The editor of “Around the World” plunged headlong into this boiling cauldron of colors—and changed beyond recognition.

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

Enrique is standing with a long fishing line on the Serrador bridge over the dry ravine of the Barranco de Santos, in which even on a rainy day there is no water, and even more so fish. But Enrique has been at his “workplace” since noon – in a yellow raincoat, rubber boots, with a smoking pipe in his teeth (empty, like Barranco de Santos).

“Olivia, ola!” he greets a woman downstairs walking a huge white wig and a dachshund dressed in a banana. “Ola, Enrique!” Olivia waves to the fisherman. “What did you catch today?” Enrique proudly puts his hand forward, demonstrating to everyone walking on the bridge and under it a large plush fish in red and blue stripes and with a large human, uh … genital organ.

– What is the name of the fish? – I ask , looking at Enrique with the only pink lens of glasses found on a park bench in the morning.

— I don't know! She doesn't have a name. It's a macho fish.

—But such a respectable fish must have a name. How about Jose?

— Great. Now it's Jose the macho.

Jose macho for three years now. It was so many years ago that Enrique first stood with a fishing rod on the bridge of General Serrador. Before that, he had never fished and from childhood he could not stand the carnival. Why? Yes, a lot of people, crush. And then suddenly I realized that I had been wrong all my life.

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

“Adios, Enrique! Adios, Jose!” I wave to the fisherman and his fish, dissolving into the colorful and loud crowd of supermen and zombies, good and evil clowns, witches and pirates, queens and flamenco dancers with hairy legs, tigers and hares, flower babies and butterfly dogs…

Most of them are chicharreros (“scads”), as the inhabitants of Santa Cruz de Tenerife were contemptuously nicknamed by the inhabitants of La Laguna, the former capital of the island, because they once ate cheap horse mackerel. Now the horse mackerel – Chicharro – has a monument in the city center on the square of the same name, and the chicharreros are proud of their nickname.

… It was the third day of the carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the most colorful and fun that moment of the city of the world.

The heralding cavalcade. Friday

«19:30 Meeting in the hotel lobby in carnival costumes. Guide Anchor Robine. I remember how this line in the program frightened me back in Moscow. Not Anchor, of course, but costumes. For what? “To completely dissolve in the atmosphere of the carnival.” Having dumped all my current and not very wardrobe out of the closets, I femininely reasoned that half of it was only good for the carnival. And my colleagues from the editorial office supplied me with masks.

On the one hand, going to Tenerife with a suitcase of masquerade junk is like going to Tula with your own samovar. On the other hand, it’s better to be fully armed: we, they say, also know how to drink tea. Today I will be a pirate, tomorrow a white ghost, the day after tomorrow the Queen of the Night and so on …

Sing, dance, love: how Tenerife's annual carnival goes

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

Sing, dance, love: how Tenerife's annual carnival goes

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

Sing, dance, love: how Tenerife's annual carnival goes

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

In the lobby of the hotel, where I descended like a pirate disguised as the Cirque du Soleil, an international group of journalists (obviously in no hurry to dissolve in anything) was met by a handsome man in a white sailor's uniform and cap with an anchor. This was Anchor, our anchor of salvation in the endless ocean of carnival.

Eight pm. All curbs of sidewalks along the way of our travel are lined with folding chairs. The chairs are occupied by spectators, simple and not so much. Here is the pope in red (he crosses me), here is an old woman in a baby costume with a pacifier in her mouth, King Arthur, a couple of rotten Beetlejuices. But three musketeers jump out from around the corner. A lot of clowns. And a lot of police. It is not clear whether these are real law enforcement officers or mummers.

We climb almost to the end of Ramonai Cajal, “anchoring” near the confluence with the Rambla de Santa Cruz, where the cavalcade starts. Here, waiting for the start of the procession, people are already sitting and standing in three rows, hanging from the windows and balconies of residential and office buildings. And then, from somewhere on the side of the Rambla, the sound of drums is finally heard, approaching along with the first compar of the Roman legionnaires. And next on the platform floats the chosen queen of the carnival Carmen Laura Lurido Perez in white plumage and with a red peacock tail. Behind her is another compar…

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

Komparsa – carnival “gang”, consisting of three groups: dancing, singing and playing drums. Each compara has its own style, corresponding to the theme of the carnival. In 2018 -“Fantasy” (in 2023 -“New York”. – Note

Here are burning firefighters, here are people-trees with hollow trunks on their heads, here are wolves with pigtails pretending to be Little Red Riding Hoods. One by one, groups parade down the street, showering the audience with smiles, and in between compars chosen ladies-in-waiting and other failed queens, whose floats are accompanied by men in black.

Each “queen” is wearing a minimum of clothing, but a headdress one and a half to two meters high and a giant tail-stern with a diameter of four meters. You might think that this huge structure is the magnificent decoration of the platform. But everything is not so simple. Here I see one of the contenders – Veronica Delgado de la Rosa. She walks with her own feet in sparkling high-heeled boots on the asphalt and drags her huge tail.

The queen's costume – with this very tail – weighs about 200 kilograms (sometimes 300, like the chosen one of 2017). Metal, plastic, rhinestones and lots and lots of feathers. Under each such design, wheels are hidden. That is, a candidate for queen, like a horse in a cart, is harnessed to her suit. I look at Veronica, who has to wind a couple of kilometers through the streets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, pulling a cart, dancing in high heels and not losing her smiling face, and I think: maybe they chose the wrong queen?

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Kings and cabbages. Saturday

“Ankor, suppose I dream of becoming a carnival queen. How to enter the contest?

– To do this, you need to be a lady in good shape and have a sponsor in the form of a large company. The competition of candidates has long become a competition between sponsors and designers. The first choose a girl who will represent their corporation, the second create a suit for her, it can cost 20,000 or 30,000 euros. The Queen's Election Gala is traditionally held on Wednesday, two days before the opening of the carnival. The show is broadcast on several national TV channels. The jury includes the most respected people of the island: members of the government, artists, architects, artists. Ordinary people also vote via SMS.

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

We are watching the Saturday contest-parade compar “Rhythm and Harmony”. Again, the beauties on the platforms float by, but the heroes of tonight are compars. Their participants are laid out as best they can. Everyone can do it differently: the first in the column are two or three exemplary dancers, and then a group of people whose movements and appearance are far from ideal. But this is more admirable than puzzling: dressed in feathers, rhinestones and rich makeup, even older women, not embarrassed by their shapes and age, carry themselves as the embodiment of joy and optimism. When you see bright outlandish birds, do you think about their age? At the carnival, everyone becomes beautiful and free. I share my thoughts with Ankor and ask:

– How do ordinary people join the compar? Many of them are so-so dancers…

Comparsa is not a professional association. To join it, one must pass the selection, but it is not so difficult if the group is not complete. The girl comes, exclaims: “Oh, your compara – the dream of my life!” – pays and joins the group.

Membership fees are used to rent the premises, for costumes. In part, compars, like murgs (groups of street musicians performing satirical verses on the topic of the day), are subsidized by the administration of Tenerife. And after the carnival, these groups can perform for tourists at various holidays. This is how they earn money for the next carnival.

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

Costumes for performances require a large investment, this money is clearly visible when you watch the procession, sitting on one of stands installed along the embankment – avenida de Anaga. The stands were filled to capacity with spectators wearing identical red pirate hats with the sponsor's logo. And all these spectators, of course, are tourists. Because the locals have nothing to do in the stands.

Each chicharrero has his own carnival wardrobe, which is waiting for its finest hour from February to February. Or updated every year. A normal fancy dress (made in China, of course) can be bought in the store for 20 euros. And the street stalls sell masks and wigs for four euros. Everything so that anyone can “dissolve into the carnival”.

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This and that. Sunday

— Anchor, do you remember your very first carnival?

– Certainly! I was five or six years old, and my younger brother was still quite a baby. Mom dressed him up as a chicken. I dreamed about the image of Superman. In those days, costumes were not as cheap as they are today, so my mother made everything herself. Her version of superman wasn't the best in the world, but I had red boots and a cape. What more could you want? I felt like a real superhero, the protector of my ward little chicken! And everything that happened around seemed magical. As if I got inside a cartoon with ferocious pirates, immense mustachioed dancers, shaggy clowns. I was a little worried about the noise and loud music, but everyone around was happy and friendly. Carnival is a bit like us, chicharrero: bright, dynamic, friendly, full of light and rhythm.

— After all, first of all, this is a holiday of ordinary people!

– Exactly. And I always had the feeling that the carnival is not just a party – it is a symbol of liberation from various shackles and conventions. The carnival in its main part has remained the same as it was 300-400 years ago. It has survived both religious prohibitions and Franco's dictatorship, and hopefully will survive commercialization. People go out into the street, paint the cold season with colors and laughter. You can walk alone at night without fear, communicate with people, remain unrecognized and not recognize your neighbor. Tenerife is a safe place, you just need to surrender to the flow! An event that can unite more than two hundred thousand people in a dance is cool.

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

In 1987, the carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife got into the Guinness Book of Records for this: about 250 thousand dancing people gathered in one open-air square during a concert by Latin American singer Celia Cruz.

< p>On Sunday afternoon, the central streets of the city are not overcrowded. In the carnival dancing crowd, people in “civilian” clothes only occasionally flash by. They look strange, not to say indecent. Yes, they themselves are embarrassed for themselves.

Moving from stage to stage with murgas, rondalls and other musical groups performing on them, constantly hanging in someone's crazy company, we slowly but surely follow Anchor to Antonio Dominguez Alfonso Street, to the holy of holies of the carnival, the headquarters of the oldest in Santa Cruz de Tenerife murgi called “Afilarmonica NiFu-NiFa”.

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

Back in 1951, the first murga in the Canaries was organized with his friends by Enrique Gonzalez Betancourt, a legendary man and jack of all trades, revered today as “the beloved son of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.” Then the band was called Los Bigotudos (“Moustache”), and in 1961 took the current name Afilarmónica NiFú-NiFá. The popular Spanish expression nifú-nifá has the same meaning as our “neither this nor that”, “neither fish nor fowl”.

Musicians entertained the audience with satirical verses during the carnival hiding from the Francoist regime under the name “Winter Holidays”. From 1961 to 1965 NiFú-NiFáfive times in a row she won murg competitions, and then she refused the competition and since then has constantly taken part in the carnival out of competition. Murgs change, come and go, but “Fufa”, as it is called in a friendly way, remains the same. Accompanied by wind instruments made of reed and cardboard, its participants year after year sing the same satirical song Cubanito, changing only individual verses to suit the topic of the day.

The Afilharmonica is as noisy as it is outside. The walls are hung with old posters and cardboard tubes. Members of “Fufa” walk around in red uniforms, with clown makeup on their faces. Firefighters again?

No, we are forest rangers. Rather, the rangers of the carnival, the keepers of tradition,” explains Cristobal Reyes, one of the oldest murgeros, a representative of the second generation. His father was among the founders of “NiFu-NiF” along with Enrique Gonzalez Betancourt. – I joined the murga in the 1970s when I was five years old. Then he moved to the adult squad. Children's murgas also appeared thanks to Enrique, in 1972 he initiated the first competition between them. Children of murg members are potential murgueros. The tradition is passed down from generation to generation.

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Children of the carnival. Monday

Schools in Tenerife do not have holidays during the carnival. Children are simply allowed to come to class in fancy dress. Quite the kids participate in the street carnival with their parents. Carriages turn into chariots and pumpkins, newborns into kings and supermen. Adults – in newborns, with nipples and rattles.

The holiday on the street continues until late at night. I walk around like a white ghost, trying to remind everyone of the futility of life and causing diametrically opposite reactions: from indignation (“Oh, why are you like that?”) To delight (“Let's take a picture!”)

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

At night, people literally dance back to back in Candelaria Square. They are all over 30. And there is no upper limit. Here is an old man in a terry bathrobe and slippers – this is his suit, and it's cool. 20 year olds from all over the island hang out in the Plaza de España in front of a huge stage where local stars perform.

Plaza de España is mystical in itself. When I was in Tenerife a couple of years ago, in the center of the square there was a huge reservoir with a geyser fountain. Now it's just a promenade, and the fountain, filled by the ocean tide, was lowered and plugged. So as not to interfere with walking.

Stunned by the music, I go to my hotel on the Rambla. Two o'clock at night. A guy in a pink wig, pointe shoes and a tutu is trying to check into a hotel. Persuades the duty officer at the reception. He is from La Laguna, he lost his friends somewhere in the Plaza de España… Chicharrero smiles knowingly.

The noise doesn't stop. In 2006, a “group of comrades” living in the center of the capital decided to protest about this noise. They filed a claim for damages with the administrative court. In response, several carnival groups volunteered to make amends. And the city council allocated 180 million euros for its part. After much debate, in February 2007 the Parliament of the Canary Islands approved a law abolishing noise regulations on certain days at the discretion of the municipalities. The carnival survived.

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Fat Tuesday

In a black dress and blue robes of the Queen of the Night, I say goodbye to the carnival. The main parade of Tuesday is born at the beginning of avenida de Anaga. Outlandish birds hastily pull on their pantaloons right on the roadway. Children's murgs and compars are already built in rows, the queen and her ladies-in-waiting are harnessed.

Sing, dance, love: how is the annual carnival in Tenerife

There comes a moment when all who want to show themselves are equal. Here the queen swims, and here comes the grandfather with a candle – in pajamas and a nightcap, with whom I hugged on Alfonso Street. Here is Michael Jackson with an escort of bodyguards, here is Fidel Castro with a cigar, and here is Jack Sparrow – grimacing like a real one. The bride and groom in one bottle, Charlie Chaplin and his wife, pharaohs and knights in armor.

And here is a whole procession of Franciscans. And among them – well, just William of Baskerville in person, incredibly similar to Enrique from the Serrador Bridge !!! He raises his hand in my direction in a blessing gesture, and I want to shout: “Enrique, where is your macho fish?”

The carnival will be buried tomorrow when a huge cardboard sardine, created by the inmates of the local prison, is burned. I will no longer see the traditional funeral procession. Perhaps it's for the best. And Tenerife will remain for me an island of incessant dance.

The baton of the carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife will be picked up by Candelaria, playing with colorful flags over the square in front of the Basilica of the Virgin Mary, Los Gigantes and Los Cristianos … And chicharrero, charged with the joy of life, they will put their costumes in chests and, smiling, stretch out the year until the next carnival. There is enough energy in their solar panels.

Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Sing, dance, love: how Tenerife's annual carnival goes

Area of ​​Tenerife 2034.38 km²
Population ~ 966,000 people
Population density 445 people/km²
Area of ​​the Canary Islands 7447 km²
Population ~ 2,173,000 people
Population density 290 people/km²
Area of ​​Spain 505,992 km² (51st in the world)
Population 47,325,000 (31st place)
Population density 94 inhabitants/km²

SIGHTSTeide volcano (3718 m), Auditoriode theater Tenerife, city San Cristobal de la Laguna, Basilica of Our Lady of Candelaria.
TRADITIONAL DISHESpapas arrugadas (jacket-boiled potatoes in a salted crust), mojo rojo (red) and mojo verde (green) sauces.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS wines made from local grape varieties listan negro and listan blanco.
SOUVENIRS aloe vera creams, honey, volcanic stone jewelry.

DISTANCEfrom Moscow to Santa Cruz de Tenerife ~ 5195 km (from 7 hours 40 minutes in flight excluding transfers)
TIME behind Moscow by 2 hours in summer, by 3 hours in winter
VISA “Schengen”


Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 2, February 2019, partially updated in February 2023

Stella Morotskaya

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