Ignoring several china shops the oxen rampaged through Arona town, well maybe rampaged is putting it strongly, they looked pretty docile despite being tethered in pairs and led up the street pulling carts behind them. They didn’t seem that excited to be stars on the fiesta of San Antonio de Abad in Arona town but the large crowd thronging the streets had enthusiasm by the shovel load as well as traditional Canarian costumes and musical instruments.

All over Tenerife similar scenes were being played out with horses, goats, pigs and even ferrets taking centre stage to celebrate the Egyptian born saint known as the protector of animals. Rose growers twitched with anticipation at the thought of all that free manure and dancing shoes were well and truly polished. I was pleasantly surprised and quite proud to see such a scrum of Brits waiting at the Los Cristianos bus stop, keen to taste some Canarian flavours. It momentarily turned to panic as the crowd swelled to bus bursting size but the Titsa bus company came to the rescue when an additional bus joined the groaning scheduled one.
Arriving in Arona we funnelled up the tight streets to the plaza under the bunting and decorated balconies. A few enterprising locals had stalls set up selling souvenirs and even hats to help us blend in. Carts and their hairy drivers were getting last minute grooming and stocking up, I nipped in a bar as a young Canarian dashed out with a guitar under one arm and a bag full of beer bottles under the other. The weather was clear, sunny and perfect and the walking trails above Arona were picked out between the cacti and grasses.

The church was overflowing as the service of homage wound up, dust danced in shafts of sunlight that burst in through the high ceiling windows. I bagged a spot on the edge of the plaza just in time to hear the necklace of bells on the oxen signal their approach. The priest led the procession blessing all in his path and locals walked alongside with young goats and even a pig or two on leads, some even caressed ferrets, used for hunting rabbits. As carts passed, the occupants handed out canarian potatoes, eggs and of course beer and wine, I felt it would be rude to refuse.
Behind the carts San Antonio was carried shoulder high on a shrine and guitars and timple were strummed as dancing broke out.

Of course tradition is strong here but the modern world can’t be kept completely at bay, designer sunglasses and mobile phones were evident in side street gatherings and an impeccably dressed local girl was glued to her games consul. As the procession broke up and fanned out into the plaza the music became louder and the urge to dance was surrendered to while others sipped cold beers and ate burgers, good job the oxen were out of sight. The carts were parked up in the side streets and forward planning soon told as they turned into impromptu BBQ’s, bars and stages for song and dance.

The action moves to the coast on Thursday 20 January as the San Antonio celebrations merge with the fiesta of San Sebastian in La Caleta. The patron saint of Adeje will be throwing an equally colourful party in the church plaza from noon followed by a procession of horses and goats down to Playa de La Enramada beach for a dip in the sea.

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