Carrying the Can for San Andrés (The Fiesta of San Andrés in Tenerife)
The 30th November is a day worthy of celebration in Tenerife; firstly, it’s the Fiesta of San Andrés or Saint Andrew as he’s better known to Scots. Secondly, it’s the day the wine cellars throw open their doors for the tasting of the new wines. Although on the face of it these two happy events appear to having nothing more in common than their place on the calendar, popular tales speak of a much stronger link.
29th November, the Eve of the Fiesta of San Andrés, sees Puerto de la Cruz staging the ‘Arrastre los Cacharros’ or ‘run with pots and pans’. As the afternoon turns to evening, children drag pots, pans, tins and assorted metal containers through the streets on lengths of string, with the intention of making as much noise as possible. As the evening progresses, so the age of the participants and the weight of the metal increases as groups of teenage boys appear, dragging vast chariots of empty oil drums, old washing machine drums, exhaust pipes and even old microwave ovens on great lengths of rope.
To the untrained eye, Arrastre los Cacharros looks like an attempt to engage the young in environmental sustainability through the re-cycling of tins, but in fact its origins are rooted in tradition, some practical, others more fanciful. One of the nicest tales is that when San Andrés arrived on Tenerife he was already late (the rest of the Saints having arrived on 1st November – All Saints’ Day) and, to add insult to injury, he discovered the new wine, partook liberally of its medicinal properties and fell asleep in the street. Whereupon, local children tied pots and pans to his clothes so that every time he tried to turn over he’d wake up.
Whatever the legends about the origins of the Fiesta of San Andrés, his feast day falls fortuitously in line with the year’s wine harvest and the more practical explanation for the tradition of Arrastre los Cacharros is the practice of rolling barrels down to the sea to wash them.
While in Puerto de la Cruz it’s the children who play, in Icod de los Vinos and La Guancha wooden sledges are constructed from heartwood and waxed with resin before being ridden down the near vertical streets at breakneck speed. The faster the sledge, the greater the impact and the louder the applause; needless to say, the Red Cross are on hand in case anyone’s judgment goes seriously awry.
The practice of riding the boards (Arrastre de las Tablas) in Icod and La Guancha originates from the seventeenth century, when the wine was transported down to the coast for export on sledges drawn by bullocks. The barrels rested on wooden planks and a helmsman would stand on the boards at the back, steering the sledge with the use of a wooden oar. The sound of the barrels riding the cobbled streets meant that the cellars were open for tasting.
Whatever the origins, one thing is clear; the Fiesta of San Andrés is cause for celebration and it would be nothing less than impolite not to drink a toast to the man himself with the new vino del país; fruity, light and lethal if drunk in large quantities but perfect accompanied by a bag of hot roasted castañas (chestnuts), a pincho (small skewer of marinated pork) and a piece of anis bread while sitting on the harbour trying to ignore all that noise.