An alarming Sunday Puerto de la Cruz would rather forget!
Sunday 23rd February will be a day I remember for a while. We were in the middle of the worst calima I have experienced. We should have been enjoying a day of Carnaval, but all festivities had been cancelled on the advice of the Canarian government due to the weather conditions. Not just in Puerto de la Cruz, but in all the surrounding towns, although strangely events in Santa Cruz were to go ahead as planned. Carnaval is big business in the capital.
Then news of the fires, in Santa Ursula, La Quinta, La Orotava, Los Realejos , San Juan de la Ramba , and much closer to home. I am sure this list is not exhaustive. Local bomberos were soon overstretched. It was almost a ‘Nero played while Rome burned’ moment, only in this case it was Santa Cruz preparing to party and North Tenerife going up in flames, while the capital’s emergency services held in reserve as part of their contingency plans.
There was a fire in Puerto de la Cruz; it started in carretera General Las Arenas, much too close to home, just 100 metres up the road. The fire spread so quickly, the first we know of it was when the local police closed the street. The strong winds carried burning embers, so before long there were more fires, a disused finca bordering calle Nueva, an area to the rear of Hotel International in San Antonio and the original fire was creeping down the street ever closer, spreading from palm tree to palm tree with ease as having had no rain for so long everything is tinder dry. The bomberos took a while to arrive and then kept coming and going as one area was extinguished, they were needed elsewhere, only for the fire they had just put out reigniting as the wind fanned the embers.
By this time the fire had leapfrogged back and forth across the road and palms were burning on both sides and spreading into gardens. Local residents took to the streets with garden hoses and buckets, anything that would hold water and tackled the flames it was admirable to witness the community spirit. Two water tankers from the Ayuntamiento turned up to and more power to the hoses. A fire was spotted in two palms in the old banana plantation to the rear of where I live, a team of resident rushed to contain it. If the flames had reached the ground and spread the whole hillside would have gone up in a few minutes.
The fire continued down the road, it was hard to fight when the flames are spreading through the palm tops some 30 metres up. It was inevitable that the fire would reach our building complex. A row of palms line the street to the front and the fire spread from one to the next, but, at least ,now the fire hoses from our building could be brought into play, with two national policemen manning one of them doing a sterling job. The extra pressure from the bigger hoses was working as they worked their way down the line and then back again as flames kept reappearing. Two fire engines returned and stationed themselves at the bottom of the line of palms and the fire was contained and then beaten.
Eventually, it seems, Santa Cruz had given in to pressure and cancelled their festivities, releasing the city’s emergency services to go to help the neighbours. That much was evident as just as everyone in our street was beginning to relax a bright shiny fire engine turned up, and while the bomberos in nice clean uniforms started rolling out their hoses their superiors were walking about accessing the situation. However, the fires were out, all that was left for them to do was the damping down. Don’t think for one minute that I am doing them a disservice, I am merely making a point, I am sure when news of the first fires was spreading they were itching to get involved.
How close did the fire get to my apartment, about 20 metres, one of the palms within the complex gardens just burst into flames mid way up its trunk, but that was quickly extinguished? However, it does just show how vulnerable we all are in these tinder box conditions. Puerto fared a lot better than other regions, the scorched areas will soon recover, plants are very resilient , but I have to say without the residents, the local police, the national police, and the agents of the ayuntamiento all coming together to help the bomberos it would no doubt have been a lot worse.
Wow, how shall I follow that, anything else I have to say must surely be an anticlimax, but perhaps not necessarily so.
Work has begun on restoring the Hotel Taoro building and I for one am encouraged to see it, it had sat empty, unloved for far too long. The project has an ambitious build time with the hotel aiming to be open for business by Christmas 2021. Of course this schedule has been pooh-poohed; come on, after all this is Puerto de la Cruz we are talking about, a town where nothing gets done with any sense of urgency, I would normally agree, but in this instance I am not so sure. There is a lot of activity on the site, and it is not as if they are starting from scratch. The building must be structurally sound, it was built during a time of craftsmen, with no expense spared, it wasn’t just thrown up on the cheap. So, it is just a case of re-gigging the inside, knocking down the odd wall, building some new ones, plumbing and electricity, and then kitting it out. It shouldn’t take that long at all, and I look forward to seeing it back in use.
Still, the Taoro is not the only hotel under construction there are a few more in the town, though perhaps of a more modest nature. The Nopal in calle San Juan, the Dania Park, the Xibana, all currently closed but undergoing renovation. Add to that news that the Hotel San Telmo is to be modernised and a rumour that the small Hotel Los Principies has been sold. Who knows with all this activity in the town maybe the new owners of the Hotel Chiripa may be encourage into continuing with their somewhat stalled reconstruction with a little more urgency.
So it is all looking good for Puerto de la Cruz with all these new rooms coming on line, it really paints a picture of prosperity, but still I can’t help wondering where all the new visitors are coming from. Visitor numbers to the town have flatlined the last three years, give or take the odd few thousand either way, and occupancy for 2019 was around 75%, if my memory serves me. Add into the equation that Thomas Cook collapsed during the third quarter of last year, Tunisia is becoming a popular destination again, and Tui has just resumed flights into Sharm El Sheikh, with other airlines to follow. Plus just to hear the groans, ‘oh no, don’t mention it again please’, I can’t believe that Brexit isn’t going to have some form of adverse effect on European travel for the Brits. Add just to add another spanner in the works, the cost of flights to the island are becoming more expensive.
However, I am sure that within corridors of power at the town hall there is a master plan to increase numbers and get heads on these new pillows, only I can’t seem to remember anything profound coming from the trade shows in either London or Madrid. Apart from, perhaps, that Puerto has a lot of culture and is renowned for a few music/performance/arts events during the year. So there are interesting times ahead I think.
By the time you read this Carnaval in Puerto de la Cruz will be over, some will be mourning its passing, while others might be thankful for a chance to catch up on their sleep. But hang on a second, Puerto is never known to miss out on a party so to compensate for the nights missed due to the calima, Carnaval will reopen its doors on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th March. Even to the extent that the ‘missed’ opening parade will now take place on 7th March, one week after the closing parade. Does that make sense? It does to me, I think!!