Dancing The Night Away – Fiesta San Juan

Since coming to live here on Lanzarote in 2015 we have many times celebrated The Eve of San Juan at  a magical night on the Reducto beach at Arrecife. This is a traditional festival in Lanzarote, and an opportunity is taken by many to write out their wish list, ( in New Year Resolution style). Others build huge bonfires and others even jump into the waves on the shore-line.

The night of San Juan is actually such an important celebration for the island, that until a few years ago, there was no work on that day. In fact, in the sixties, the people of Lanzarote tried to finish their work in the fields to be able to enjoy the night with their family and friends. That has changed slightly as the island has since become far more tourist-led over the last five or six decades and tourists and visitors are welcomed to the festival events and restaurant owners, and service staff all work to ensure our visitors enjoy as good a time as the indigent celebrators.

There are several traditional activities associated with the Festival of San Juan that are celebrated every year in the municipalities of the island. There is, for instance, the ritualistic burning of a doll called Facundo , which has been carried out by a resident of Punta Mujeres since 1964.

In addition, several young people from Haría dress up as “Devils”, a tradition that has been going on for 20 years and in which, in its early years, they mysteriously appeared one night to surprise the public at the moment the bonfires were lit. With self-designed and self-made clothing together they wear masks that have the peculiarity of being able to break the mould after its completion.

Another of the customs that takes place during San Juan is the roast of pineapples   directly in the heat and flame of the bonfires.

For the early hours of Friday 23rd June, the eve of the day of San Juan, several municipalities on the island carried out activities to host the festivity. In the case of Haría, a rural town where the festival is vibrantly celebrated, at 9:00 p.m. there was a concert in its square, in which the group La Raíz a la Tierra  performed . They apparently finished before the crack of dawn with the burning of fire by Facundo, Fire Dance and fireworks in the solar next to the square, which culminated with the festival of Los Conejeros and Banda Nueva.

In Playa Honda the festivity was to have enjoy diverse activities, with several musical events taking place including, at 8:00 p.m.  a workshop on Latin rhythms.

Other concerts were be delivered by acts including the group  Treintaytantos at 9:00 p.m. , There was also to have been a tribute to Manny Manuel and even Dj Ángel Pérez, at 10:30 p.m.

Puerto del Carmen and Arrecife also had massively successful events.  In Puerto del Carmen, crowds enjoyed a barbecue and dances were held with the Sondemar Group and Parranda Pal’ Porrón in Bajamar street at 8:30 p.m.

In Arrecife, activities, started at 6:00 p.m. in the Parque Islas Canarias, various groups such as Los 600, Che Sudaka and Grupo Bomba  performed until the arrival of the burning of bonfires and fireworks at 9:00 p.m.

Down in the South of Lanzarote, Playa Blanca, (part of the Yaiza municipality), the groups Inerxia and Sin Cobertura took to the outdoor stage Plaza del Carmen at 7:30 p.m.

However, events planned in Playa Honda for the night of San Juan, were ´suspended. ´ The City Council of San Bartolomé, announced that technical reports issued by the agencies including The Ministry of Ecological Transition, Fight Against Climate Change and Territorial Planning Of The Government Of The Canary Islands, Nature Protection Service (Seprona) and Cabildo de Lanzarote “force the cancellation of the acts” due to the possible affections that the proposed bonfires might cause a colony of birds and its reproduction process.

The Kentish Plover is an endangered species of bird classified as vulnerable with a breeding area on the coast of Playa Honda, so the aforementioned documents, the environmental authorities persuaded the City Council to delimit or limit the access of people to that place.

The City Council of San Bartolomé stated their regret at the cancellation of festive events on such an important date and the inconvenience it may cause to the residents of the municipality. However, it respected the conclusions of the experts in the field of biodiversity and remain on the side of the defense of the environment, sustainability and a rich biodiversity that make Lanzarote a world reference in nature protection

The planned events, including the bonfire or the concert, with the consequent massive presence of people, could “endanger”, according to reports, the habitat of this threatened species, which is cited as “vulnerable” in the Canarian Catalogue of Protected Species and in the Spanish Catalogue of Threatened Species
The Kentish Plover is a small shorebird weighing around 40 g as an adult. Both male and female birds have black bills and dark legs, however adults have dimorphic plumage. During the breeding season, males have a black horizontal head bar, two incomplete dark breast-bands on each side of their breast, black ear coverts and a rufous nape and crown (although there is some variation between breeding populations), whereas the females are paler in these areas, without the dark markings In the early breeding season, it is easy to distinguish between males and females since the ornaments are very pronounced, but as the breeding season progresses, the differences between the two sexes decrease. Moreover, males have longer tarsi and longer flank feathers than females. Longer flank feathers are thought to be an advantage for incubation and brood care, as the quality of feathers is associated with heat insulation. There are multiple significant predictors of plumage ornamentation in Kentish plovers. Firstly, the interaction between the advancement of the breeding season and rainfall seem to affect ornamentation. Male ornaments become more elaborated over the course of a breeding season in regions with high rainfall, whereas in regions with low rainfall, male ornaments become lighter. Secondly, the interaction between the breeding system and the sex can predict the degree of plumage ornamentation. In polygamous populations, the sexual ornaments are more pronounced, generating a stronger sexual dimorphism than in monogamous populations. The difference is especially witnessed in males, whereby the ornaments are darker and smaller in polygamous populations compared to monogamous populations, where males have lighter and larger ornaments.

Although we had not intended to visit the Playa Honda event, the cancellation actually affected our plans to attend The Arrecife event as usual. We´re suckers for bonfires and fireworks and beach parties, but the Arrecife San Juan celebrations are always very busy, with enforced road closures and thousands of people on the Reducto. We felt an overspill from Playa Honda might add a massive extra time to our journeys and therefore decided instead to enjoy the free concerts being staged in our home town of Playa Blanca only a mile away from our house.

We drove down and parked up quite early, and decided to eat at Playa Blanca´s La Rustica, only twenty yards across the road from where the concert was to be held, In fact, from our table, we were able to watch (and hear) the bands going through their sound checks. La Rustica is an easy going family restaurant with a varied snack and tapas style menu.

However, I have found on a few occasions in my eight years on Lanzarote that there can be many slips between menu and lips. Tonight I ordered, in English, two tapas items of fried cheese and jam, and spicy potatoes and I did notice the waiter offer me a puzzled look. A couple of minutes later he returned to check that I wanted chips and ham with my spicy potatoes. It sounded like he had said fried cheeses and jam so I nodded and smiled broadly at a waiter who had just confirmed my order.

The plate of ham and chips was enormous, and the dish of spicy potatoes was piled even higher. I realised I had been complicit in this mis-serve and so said nothing and tucked in but had to concede and eventually leave, for perhaps the first time in my seventy odd years, potato dishes uneaten ! Good job I did, though, or I wouldn´t have been able to face the delicious meringue for dessert ! Dee had some sort of Veggie Pasta and a couple of glasses of wine and I had two beers. We were well fed and well served and the damage was only 30 euros.

As we paid the bill we could see the crowds building up across the road in the square, and we walked over to find a place to sit on the low wall that surrounds this beautiful square in front of the delightful little church, Nuestra Del Carmen that is such a focal point when seen from the town centre.

Within a couple of opening numbers, the first band, Inerxia, had drawn scores of ´loyal friends and front row dancers to the foot of the stage. We didn´t know much (anything at all really) about this band but their charisma saw them reaching out to the audience as they sang what were obviously radio-friendly songs. There was occasionally some blazing guitar work that complemented rather than interfered with the music and great bass and percussion work, too. They even finished their act with a couple of bluesy rockers including an impassioned Gloria, and Bon Jovi´s Living On A Prayer. They even previewed this finish with a segment from The Final Countdown, by Europe. So, although they delivered excellently on the pop music front the band have told us they are always inventing new ideas and are looking to implement more rock music into their act on the right occasions.

They seemed to us like a young band with a bright future and the following act was equally impressive. Sin Cobertura, with a powerful female lead vocalist immediately put me in mind of the T¨Pau of the China In Your Hand era. There was a drama and an element of performance art about their act that enhanced their whole delivery. Although some of the songs seemed slightly fragmented or episodic the hundreds of dancers in the square kept on dancing.

Let´s talk about those dancers, then. From grandparent to young married couples, flirting teenagers and tiny disco-tots, they were all there ! Young mums were swaying to the music with babes in arms, whilst toddlers were leading dads and mums in a merry dance around the throngs of thirty- somethings and the best dancer on the concrete floor was a lady of grandmother-age who was throwing some serious shapes. There were resident families and tourist couples (and maybe even some Kentish Plovers had flown down here too). There was no need for stewarding or policing, and whatever security there was, remained undercover. Apart from us, every generation we could see appeared to know the words to every song and lip-synced them as they danced. There were only smiles exchanged between us all, and the only way we could tell this wasn´t Glastonbury was because there were no mud-baths.

Was it fun? It was great fun !
Did it rock? It rocked and then some! 
Should you have been here? If you could, you should have !