The Face of Thailand

I find people in certain countries have particularly beautiful or interesting faces. Not Europeans, we are all very similar, but the people in India and China captivated me and not surprisingly, Thailand had that same effect. So below are just some of the people from the ‘Land of Smiles’ a phrase that is a promotional slogan that is pleasingly truthful and defines the Thai people and the welcoming nature of their land.

The Children

The Grown-ups

 

 

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British Consulate hold open session in Los Cristianos

Yesterday in the Auditorio Infanta Leonor in Los Cristianos, there was an open session with the British Vice Consul, Helen Diaz de Arcaya Keating MBE.

The Consular Regional Director – South of Europe, Gerard McGurk, responsible for all the consulates from Portugal to Turkey, and Charmaine Arbouin, Consul for the Canaries and Andalucía also attended. The purpose of the meeting was to explain what the consulate do and how over the years they have evolved.

In the Canary Islands, the Consular staff are just 8 people whose work is regularly monitored and evaluated. Hard going when you think of the millions of visitors we have, even before you include the ex-pats living here. It is therefore imperative that individuals are responsible for their own actions, such as purchasing the correct travel insurance for their needs, making sure their passports are valid and applying for an EHIC card.

When we hear the words British Consulate, most of us think ‘tourists, lost passport, needs repatriation’. Naturally, this is a large portion of the work; however, they also work closely with and for UK residents overseas.

They offer individual support with bereavement, rape, illness and the like, ensuring the British resident has access to the right people for their specific circumstances. What we generally don´t hear about is the amount of  ‘preventative’ work they carry out, not always under their own name but through partners. How closely they work with town halls to ensure the authority is aware of the Brits in their area, how they can help those residents to better integrate into the local community and that the ex-pat is receiving what they are entitled to in the way of social services etc.

Naturally, the main topic for ‘Brits Abroad’ now is the ‘B word’ and how the outcome will affect us. It was clear that a large number of those attending were the grey brigade who took the opportunity to discuss their concerns often about pensions and healthcare. The Consular Regional Director put into context what is happening, as far as they know. Despite that earlier in the day Theresa May set out her 12-point negotiating strategy, this is only a plan and everyone has yet to agree. However, on the point of ex-pats here, the CRD believes that Spain would not make it overly difficult for those people already here but he promised that all concerns would be fed back to Dept. for Exiting Europe. He also hopes that a representative from that department will visit the island before Brexit is finalised.

We can of course help ourselves; we should all register on our local Padron, it is surely better to be inside our country of choice before the door closes than after the event. Yet when Article 50 is triggered, it will undoubtedly be a long time before we notice any changes. There are so many complicated rulings to be considered that nothing will happen the following day, week, or possibly year.

Ex-pats should also keep informed through reliable sources, rather than the press which can be biased. The Consul is a great believer and user of social media and regularly update their Facebook pages Brits in Spain and British Embassy Madrid. You can also get information, news and activities from the FCO and British Embassy in Madrid and British consulates around Spain (in Spanish and in English) by following the twitter account @Ukinspain and of course the Government website https://www.gov.uk/

 

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Festival of San Sebastián – La Caleta, Costa Adeje

Every January 20th Adeje hosts a festival in honour of San Sebastián.  Whilst tinerfeños will party at the drop of a hat, for this particular fiesta it is the farmers of Adeje who hold San Sebastián in particularly high esteem.

I understand that the saint is patron of soldiers, plagues, arrows, athletes and also, unofficially of homosexuals, but it seems that on the island San Sebastian is the patron of our animals so naturally there is a day dedicated to the saint.  It is one of the oldest fiestas in Tenerife and has been celebrated since the 18th century, it certainly one of the most original.

Each year it seems that more and more people, both locals and tourists, come to watch as numerous country people bring their animals, donkeys, cows, goats and pets down to Enramada beach at La Caleta to bath in the sea then be blessed by the parish priest as they return to the church square.

It is strange to see dotted amongst the posh five star hotels local groups singing Canarian songs and playing traditional instruments. To add to the party atmosphere there are the usual selection of stalls groaning under the weight of traditional foods and drink as well as BBQs selling sizzling meats and jacket potatoes, just the thought of what to expect makes me hungry. This is, without doubt, one of the most enjoyed fiestas in the South and should be experienced by anyone wanting to know what the real Tenerife is really like.

Images Courtesy  Oficial de Turismo de Costa Adeje, Tenerife Sur.
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Chiang Mai – ‘Rose of the North’

This is my final blog on our travels in Thailand apart from some photos which I have scheduled for the end January. I cannot say I won’t be returning, it has been an incredible journey of learning and adventure and perhaps one day we will go back.

The last few days of our Thai experience were spend at Chiang Mai synonymous with Lanna culture, elephants and of course temples. Nestled amongst foothills of the north are elephant camps, in bygone days many buildings in Chiang Mai were made of teak, hauled by elephant from the surrounding forest. Today some camps are called ‘sanctuaries’ other are used to train elephants for tourists’ entertainment and for that reason we didn´t go. This meant that we also missed one of Thailand’s most sacred temples, reached by a strenuous 306-step staircase flanked by serpents. Nevertheless, we spent our morning around the centre of Chiang Mai.

The weather in the north was cooler, making it ideal to visit a tea plantation. I will never be a tea person, but the tour was a good. It took us through the process of harvesting, where only the youngest shoots are picked. The picking by hand is arduous, wages low and there are no machines on the steep hillside, however, the scenery and cool mist of morning made the views spectacular.

Just outside Chiang Mai is Baan Tong Luang an eco-agricultural village. It was created as a cultural project and tourist attraction to generate income for the hill tribes, many of whom are refugees from Myanmar, Tibet, and China. The villagers keep traditions alive and share them with the world.

I remember as a child reading about the long neck tribes in remote jungles. Looking at pictures of women with giraffe-like necks, they were so far removed from my life I never thought that one day I’d meet them.

The Karen girls start wearing the rings at about 4 or 5 years old, beginning with just a few. Another tribe are the Kayaw who also encircle their legs with brass and others who insert big metal earrings into their earlobes.

There are lots of crafts to buy but they don’t do high pressure selling or charge for photos and Jim really enjoyed trying out the handmade crossbow with an elder of the tribe.

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This village isn’t just a day job catering to tourists, the people live here. Rice paddies line the walkways, and water buffalo graze, there is a small school and a church but I noticed the men were missing, perhaps they earned an income elsewhere.

Finally, our last evening and we enjoyed a police escorted Tuk-Tuk ride. The officer obviously felt very important, flashing his lights, waving his arms and tooting his horn as he led us around town where people gawped as our convoy sailed past.

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We eventually ended up at another temple. Temples are the Starbucks of Thailand there is literally one on every corner. This one was the elephant temple, Wat Chedi Luang, the most impressive in Chiang Mai. Despite money from UNESCO, the construction of the Chedi was largely destroyed several hundred years ago. Unfortunately, no one knows what the original chedi looked like, so that was left untouched. It is difficult to imagine there was another 30m that should be atop what remains. Nonetheless, it is impressive, particularly at night when we visited.

As the sun set the street vendors turned up. Chiang Mai has some of the most fascinating markets. We explored markets and bazaars specialising in organic food, fruits, vegetables, even insects, and the wonderful Kham Tiang Flower Market. The picturesque market has a huge diversity of tropical flowers from orchids to chrysanthemums. Most of which will be offerings to Buddha in a temple somewhere, but we were all given a floral necklace.

Our night ended in the famous Night Bazaar. Even if you don’t want to buy, but you probably will, is an amazing experience. The place is bustling with buyers and sellers, alive with music, the sounds of bargaining for goods and aromatic smells as you pass food stalls.

So our time in Thailand was over, early the following morning we headed to the airport for our flight to Bangkok and onwards to Heathrow. Once again, we were delayed; however, I am impressed with BA, as we have already received a substantial sum into our bank account, so now we are set for our 2017 trip that will once again take us back to India.

 

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Arona – Feast of San Antonio Abad

There is an assumption that to see the ‘real’ Tenerife visitors have to go north, but not so. January kicks off with several Romerias the first of which is the Feast of San Antonio Abad and anyone staying in Los Cristianos or Playa de las Americas is less than twenty minutes from the happenings, which take place in the narrow streets of Arona.

Tradition is strong in Arona so celebrating is a serious business.  The first celebration of the year, the Feast of San Antonio Abad is a rather grand affair. This year it runs from Thursday January 12th to Tuesday, January 17th   with a week of events.

There is transport that will take you to the pilgrimage which is on Sunday 15th and that leaves from the Infanta Leonor Auditorium in Los Cristianos and from in front of the Hotel Central Zenter at 10:00, 11:00, 12:00.  It returns 16:00, 17:00 and 18:00. If you can it is probably best to use this as parking is almost impossible. At any of these events, as soon as you see others park, grab your space then follow the trail of animal droppings.  That’s what I said animal droppings because San Antonio Abad is patron saint of animals and you will find more goats, horses, pigs, ferrets and family pets than you can shake a stick at.

Many of the animals are dressed for the occasion with ribbons and hats.  Their owners have brought them to receive the saints blessing but in all honesty, the animals look suitable unimpressed.

Residents wearing traditional dress and riding in beautifully decorated wooden carts pulled by oxen accompany the patron saint in a procession through the streets of the town and end up in the plaza also suitably bedecked in bunting.

Food plays an important role in these celebrations, which the local people are proud to share with visitors by tossing Canarian potatoes and eggs from the wagons into the thronging crowd.  There is lots of singing and dancing to popular Canarian songs played by local folk groups, accompanied by a good supply of beer and wine.

Most towns and villages on the island hold a “Romería”, it sometimes feels these are on a weekly basis.  Before the end of the month, San Sebastian, the patron saint of Adeje, will be the excuse for throwing another party.  If you are in Tenerife, I recommend popping along to an event, ANY event will be great fun.   Simply, they are an opportunity to experience Tenerife at its best.

 

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