The wonderful traditions of Tenerife, even sleighs without the snow!
Suddenly out of the velvet early evening gloom the air is pushing towards me.
Then you see them: a shadowy cavalcade of hunched locals, scything down the steep uneven high street on a variety of wooden sleighs.
Adding to the electric, almost eiree atmosphere and edgy sense of anticipation, the sleighs travel so quickly you don’t hear them until they are almost on top of you.
Then it’s whoaah … the madcap riders hurtle past on their perilous downward flight at speeds it seems equivalent of an F1 fighter.
For most of the year Icod del Vinos retains a comfort-able, almost stately air, famed for its distinctive wines and unobtrusive, but satisfying, hospitality.
But once a year, the community lets rip with the revival of an enthralling ancient ritual with a rekindling return to childhood when the sleights skitter and weave through the normally quiet thoroughfares.
It’s a kind of LeMan style endurance test … with cars replaced by handmade sleighs here, you understand.
Because every November 29th (remember the date, dear reader) on the eve of Saint Andrews day the town holds the festival of San Andres celebrating the new harvest, when the bodegas (wine cellars) open their doors for wine tasting of the year’s new vintage and braziers lit for roasting plump and tasty chestnuts.
At the end of the festival the townsfolk, young and old, skitter down the steep slopes of the town on these sledges at breakneck speed, and crash into piles of tyres at the foot of the hill.
And these are not just odd pieces of timber, many are specially hand build, painted glorious colours to enhance the exhilarating experience, and you can pay more than €30 for the privilege of owning one.
Young riders earn their spurs during daylight by tackling sloping side street with a necklace of used tyres to cushion the collision. They are urged on by enthusiastic supporters who give rousing applause to fete their safe, if sometimes untidy arrival, with a tangle of arms and legs.
However, the older riders perilous descent takes place in the evening along a main artery with the man-driven man-made sleighs jumping high over the bumps on the way down, before crashing the makeshift tyre barriers.
Health and safety, hmm… excuse me.
The sledges are waxed to reduce friction which means they travel even faster. Riders I saw had no head protection at all, though the Red Cross are on hand to tend to the injuries.
The story so I’m told, is a tradition known as the ‘bajada de las tablas’, and dates back to the days when logs were rolled down the hill above the town for making wine barrels and ship building.
The logs were transported on large boards and steered using oars to avoid obstacles, barrels of wine were also transported by the same method to ships for export to Europe and the Americas.
But it’s is a day of celebration : firstly, it’s the Fiesta of San Andrés or Saint Andrew as he’s better known to Scots. Secondly, it’s the day wine cellars throw open their doors for tasting new wines but whatever the legends the origins of the Fiesta of San Andrés, is in line with the year’s harvest.
And watching or taking part in the magnetic toboggan run is an ideal opportunity for visitors to steady the nerves with a glass or two of fine wine.
And, of course, a bag of hot, freshly roasted castañas (chestnuts), a skewer of marinated pork and a tasty bread.
Go. … it would be rude not too.