Tenerife Tales
An Ex Pat´s Life On A Rock In The Atlantic by Sue Havenhand


We managed to catch “must see movie” Avatar (truly excellent by the way) at the cinema this week, and, since it was shown in English, this got me thinking about just how far Tenerife has come in catering for us Brit Ex-Pats.
If you so desire, you can now educate your children in an English school, look after your health with a British doctor, your teeth with a British dentist, visit a British hairdresser, then call in at Iceland on the way home, whilst listening to a British radio station. In the evening, watch all your favourite British TV programmes whilst tucking into a typically English supper of pork pie and cheddar, and check what´s on next in one of the several English language newspapers that circulate around the south of the island. Get the picture?? Yes, whatever you want here, you can find a Brit to supply it. Of course, this is merely feeding a demand for “someone who speaks my language” , but why do the Brits insist on dealing with……….the Brits?

I am guilty of it myself in some respects, despite speaking Spanish at a reasonably good level, I do find something more than a little comforting in dealing with British people. Maybe on some level we do flock to our own kind? Language is certainly an issue for many though, as so few Brits make the effort to learn Spanish. Can´t, won´t or a mixture of the two. These ex-pats certainly make the most of the British services on offer here, and will pay translators in situations where there is actually a need to speak and understand Spanish; in the tax offices, or at the social security doctors for example.

With regard to learning the lingo though, I have to say it is not easy, and the amount of effort needed to get to even a reasonable level is vast. I myself have even enrolled on a course in a Government run language  school, as I have been stuck at the same level for years and need to improve. It is easy of course to read a phrase book and be able to order a beer, or ask where the nearest shops are, but total fluency takes years and is a constant learning curve. Way too big a commitment for most.

Many ex-pats find themselves living in British enclaves and forming British communities. Whilst this is all well and good in some respects, I think a lot of people here have lost sight of the fact that Tenerife is a Spanish Island, and that´s a shame, as it has much to offer culturally.  The British are the first to complain about Asians not integrating into British society, but yet as Brits abroad  it´s OK to do the very same thing?   By all means, buy your Warburtons bread in Iceland, but drive away from the tourist areas from time to time and eat some tapas with a glass of local wine in a typical Canarian Tasca. Sadly, many don´t, but for them, Little Britain thrives in Tenerife, and always will.


Whilst the UK has shivered under a thick blanket of snow this week, we here in Tenerife have enjoyed temperatures in the low 20´s. Am I gloating? Not really. We have been watching Sky News with more than a little jealousy as sledges took to the hills all over England. What is it about snow that turns grown adults back into 10 year olds. As with many things however, there has been a price to pay, and travelling, closed airports and general day-to-day tasks have been a nightmare for many.
Oddly, we have had no snow yet in Tenerife this winter. Mount Teide usually has it´s winter hat on by Christmas, but not this year, despite a very rainy week in December which would normally fall as crisp fresh snow on Spain´s highest peak.

There is time yet though. When it does arrive, people will flock in their droves up the mountain for some fun in the snow. One “game” is to build a small snowman on the car bonnet, then see how far down the mountain you can get before Frosty slides to his demise by the roadside.
Another favourite is to fill an icebox full of snow, then drive down to the beach and have a snowball fight. What a crazy place we live in, where you can sledge in sub-zero temperatures, then drive for an hour and be on the beach sunbathing and swimming. Tenerife is indeed diverse.

For visitors arriving from the UK this week though, even if Mount Teide did have some snow, I doubt anyone would be so eager to visit it, given the amount that has fallen in England. Maybe the beach would be the best bet. For me, I will just have to wait for some Teide snow for this years sledging fun.


I think most people will be asking themselves this question as we embark on not only a new year, but a new decade, irrespective of country of residence.

The global economic crisis has not passed Tenerife by, indeed the Canaries are experiencing a huge level of unemployment at this moment in time, and as yet tourist numbers have not increased significantly, so tourist sector employment remains  firmly in the doldrums for now.

I came to live in Tenerife in 1997, catching the last few years of the glory days, when you could choose how much work you wanted and bars were full, day in day out. It is a very different story now, yet I believe the problem started way before the recession of the late noughties. If I could put  a finger on when things started to slide, I would say it was round about the turn of the century.

Millenium Eve must have been the most hyped up night out in history. Where were you going to be?? Everybody wanted to see 2000 in somewhere, the biggest party ever. Flights to holiday destinations were sought after, and their prices rose accordingly. We braced ourselves for unprecedented numbers, and the big night itself came and went. In reality, it was no different to any other New Year´s Eve in Tenerife, a damn good night but nothing more than that. What did happen was that whereas in previous years, January was always a  busy month, it went pretty flat here after Millenium Eve. Had everyone spent up on celebrating, leaving no money for a post-Christmas holiday perhaps? Who can say.

Another nail in the coffin was the jump from peseta to euro. Many businesses saw this as an excuse to put up prices – and put them up they did. A small but significant example were the children´s slot rides that you find in the streets. Before the switch they took a 100 peseta coin (around 40p), yet afterwards, you would need a €1 coin (around 70p at that time).  Tourists began to make noises about Tenerife being expensive. Expensive?? Werent we all about being a cheap holiday destination? Would the island need to re-invent itself as a high-end destination?

Tenerife´s woes could not be blamed entirely on the euro however, it had had a terrible year in the media. Remember Tenerife Uncovered on Sky 1? You would have thought it had been commissioned by a rival destination. Tenerife was shown to be full of drunk 18 – 30´s, their half-naked antics in and around the clubs of  Veronicas, Playa de las Americas on UK TV for all to see. No mention of what else the Island has to offer, just a foam party lager fest followed by bacon, eggs and karaoke.

Playa de Las Americas by night

The powers that be here have striven to change this image of Tenerife over the past decade, and to be fair they have succeeded in many respects. High end golf courses and hotels are now dotted along the south coast, renamed and repackaged as Costa Adeje. The Abama Golf Course further up the coast towards Los Gigantes boasts Bill Clinton as a past client, and only the most elite can afford to stay and play there.  Siam Park is one of the best water parks in the world – fact.  But what about the Tenerife that was?

Well, in their determination to attract a better class of clientelle, tourism bosses seem hell-bent on putting off the original Tenerife die hards. Bars, especially those catering to the British, have had untold regulations forced upon them, soundproofing, kitchen upgrades, extraction systems; all expensive and running into tens of thousands, and when most buildings are leased, not  owned, the people running the bars cannot in many cases even recoup these huge expenses. Tough times indeed. Add a worldwide recession to this general slide we have encountered over the past 10 years, and thats where we are today.

The resorts of Los Cristianos and Las Americas have merged into one huge chunk of coast and to be honest there are way too many bars and restaurants for the amount of tourist now coming to Tenerife. Everyone now has a smaller piece of the pie, and the days of constantly full and busy bars may never return. The best we can hope for in my opinion is for an end to the recession, a return to a decent pound to euro exchange rate, and the return of the Tenerife tourist of old – the tourist who stayed in self catering rather than all inclusive, and would party the night away rather than getting an early night because they are up for a round of golf in the morning.

Tenerife CAN be all things to all people, and to actively encourage one group of visitors over another is a grave mistake in my book.

There will be many fingers crossed this year in Tenerife, if the worst of the recession is over, then we can only wait until the effects reach us here in the South of Europe. Maybe it will separate the wheat from the chaff and we will come back stronger and better as a destination. We live in hope.


Originally from Pontefract, West Yorkshire, I made the move to Tenerife in September 1997, and found plenty of work singing in the many bars and restaurants in the south of the island.

Thirteen years later, Tenerife is a different place in many ways, some good, some not so, and indeed, I myself have a completely different life now to the one I had back then.

I write a column in an English language newspaper here, and am trying to develop a career in writing – after all, I can´t sing forever. So this is just the start for me. I will be bringing you tales, trials and tribulations of life on a holiday island, and hope that you will find them informative, entertaining, and even useful……..

In the meantime I wish each and every one of you a succesful, prosperous, healthy and happy 2010.