Santa Cruz de Tenerife: The fiesta that makes St. Patrick's Day look like a funeral
Eurovision thong contest
Published 20/02/2016 | 02:30
The carnival costumes were exceedingly fancy and eye-poppingly flimsy when Tom Sweeney joined hit the streets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
The pope was getting the pints in while half-a-dozen Snow Whites with hairy chests began dancing to Oh, Macarena! in the sizzling February sunshine.
Countless zombies, Zorros, Peter Pans, Elvis Presleys and bearded 'señoritas' in flouncy flamenco frocks joined in as the party got under way.
It was midday last Sunday week, and Santa Cruz was going carnival-crazy, with 180,000 people on the streets. Most of them seemed to be queuing for drinks in Plaza San Francisco, which is probably why His Holiness was taking so long coming back with the beers.
Overlooking the festivities with a frown was the bronze bust of journalist and publisher Patricio Estevanez y Murphy (1850-1926), Tenerife-born but with a mammy of Irish descent.
You could almost hear the life-long teetotaller tut-tutting as revellers set down their cervezas on his stone plinth to take photos or top-up their inflatable boobs with big blasts of boozy breath.
Shedding inhibitions - and clothes
Many people hire costumes from pop-up fancy dress shops. Disney characters and superheroes were among the most popular this year, as always, but many more carnival-goers - they come from all over the world - had put great thought, time and effort into creating their own eye-catching ensembles.
One guy wandering around in a pink bathrobe was rigged up as a mobile power-shower. Above him, attached to a pole, was a hula-hoop rail to which he'd fixed a shower head. Hanging from the hoop was a see-through plastic curtain that encircled him. Every now and then, he'd squeeze a rubber ball with a tube attached to it and water would squirt on to his head. I'd say he was a plumber.
Proving very popular with photographers and TV crews were Mama and Papa Patata and their four children, all of them clad in hessian spud sacks and wearing potato crowns. Nearby, a woman in a silver leotard and leggings and with a lampshade on her head was dancing to La Cucaracha with a caveman who kept walloping her across the backside with his club.
Next to them, Wonder Woman (a man) was eating the face off Spongebob Squarepants (a woman). It was surreal, and an absolute hoot.
With the weather being so warm (22C to 24C for five days in a row, which isn't unusual for February), more than a few people had chosen to dress down rather than up, shedding their inhibitions along with their clothes.
There was no shortage of party animals wearing G-strings and little else - and that was only the fellas - which made Plaza San Francisco look like the venue for this year's Eurovision Thong Contest.
The blow-out they tried to ban
Those who take part in the spectacular day and night-time parades along the waterfront (6,000 people on the opening evening) spend 12 months preparing for the highlight of their year.
Community groups and social clubs provide most of the flamboyant floats (which can cost up to €20,000 to decorate), marching bands and dancers who take nearly three hours to cover the 2km course as they sashay, sway and samba their way past cheering crowds.
The carnival, which dates from the early 1600s, is outrageous and ostentatious, and of course the Catholic Church never missed a chance to denounce it. Old fusspot Franco briefly succeeded in driving it underground, but it re-emerged bigger and brasher than ever.
Today, it's second only in size and reputation to the daddy of them all in Rio de Janeiro, with which Santa Cruz is twinned.
Only Fools and Holidaymakers
While all of this was going on in the north of the island, holidaymakers in Puerto Colon in the southwest were busying themselves watching re-runs of Only Fools And Horses on pub terraces.
If they'd only bothered to jump on the bus for the 40-minute journey to Santa Cruz, they'd have discovered there's a lot more to a winter sun holiday than watching Del Boy Trotter toppling sideways through a hole in a bartop that wasn't there a second ago - a helluva lot more.
Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) fly to Tenerife year-round from Dublin. The five-star Grand Hotel Mencey in Santa Cruz (grandhotelmencey.com) is a 10-minute stroll from the carnival action and has a spa and one of the best-equipped hotel gyms in Europe. See also spain.info.