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More Ketchup than Salsa

Published on 8th December 2020

Living in Tenerife has its obvious advantages but one of the things I love about Tenerife is the fact that you get to meet some amazing people from all walks of life. There are a lot of characters and there is certainly never a dull moment I can promise you.

I have had the great privilege to have met, and am good friends with, the author of several really good books based on his life in Tenerife. Joe Cawley, aka “The Ketchup Man” has lived here for many years and has written some amazingly funny books that I can recommend for you to read. I am sure that you will love his work.

Here is a bit of information about Joe:

Those who live here in know that there are always three main questions asked over and over again by those visiting Tenerife:

  • How long have you lived here?
  • Why did you come over?
  • Would you ever go back?

People are curious about people, about their stories, especially when it’s about something that they too might have been thinking about – moving overseas. So, in the interests of satisfying that curiosity, we’ve decided to share some stories from interesting Tenerife residents, starting with author and travel writer, Joe Cawley.


Joe originally came to the island in 1991 to open a bar. Since then, he’s become an international travel writer published in The Telegraph, Sunday Times, Conde Nast Traveller and the New York Post amongst others. He currently writes Tenerife hotel reviews for The Telegraph.

Joe is also an award-winning author of More Ketchup than Salsa, the first of three memoirs about living in Tenerife, and the owner/editor of the number one Tenerife travel guide for holidaymakers and residents.

Here’s Joe’s story…

Once or twice in life, you might be presented with an opportunity that can shape the rest their years. Mine came after another dreary day standing knee-deep in fish giblets on Bolton fish market. My partner, Joy, and I had been employed to knock out trays of dubious quality fish at three for a fiver. It was not what you would call ‘glamorous work’.

Fuelled by a night of alcohol, my partner Joy and I had been extolling the virtues of life abroad. Our summer holiday was but a distant memory, but although our tans had faded, one element still lingered.

Like many, we’d toyed with the idea of making our stay a more permanent one. There were several obstacles in the way of us doing a ‘Shirley Valentine’ however. Not least was a bank balance teetering precariously on the edge of red rendering early retirement a non-starter. So, what would we do? Our combined talent pool was awash with fish filleting, rabbit skinning and two years of performing arts college for Joy, but little else. Bar a macabre song-and-dance routine our talents weren’t going to get us far in a holiday resort.

As fate would have it, a solution miraculously surfaced several months after our return home. We received a phone call from my stepfather, an overseas property developer who, despairing of our career inertia, had spotted the potential of a British bar/restaurant on a residential complex. “Would my brother and I be interested in buying it?” he asked.

A complete lack of catering experience, zero business acumen and the sum of our vastly wealth barely reaching waist level of a ceramic pig did little to deter our enthusiasm. However, his offer to help us get a loan and a mortgage tipped the scales. “Where do we sign?” we replied.

Three months later Joy, my brother, his wife and I touched down at Reina Sofia airport, waved our passports at the disinterested customs officials and awaited the arrival of four mismatched suitcases, three borrowed holdalls and plastic Asda bag. We were now the proud owners of The Smugglers Tavern and all its contents. I’d never owned a urinal before.

After dumping our belongings in a rented apartment, the four of us went to meet the previous owner. In a kitchen never designed for such large gatherings we were taught the basics of how to cook for 140 people at once.

A lack of catering experience was only one on a long list of the obstacles we knew we would have to vault in order to pay back our massive bank loan and mortgage. Exploding gas bottles, local gangsters, cockroach invasions, demented hippies and a psychotic cat called Buster added a few unexpected challenges.

Unsurprisingly, learning at least a smattering of Spanish proved to be rather important. This was highlighted when we repeatedly ordered 50 barrels of beer instead of 15 and discovered that just getting one letter wrong can mean the difference between ordering a plate of chicken or a plate of male genitalia.

For the first few weeks we floundered spectacularly. Our visions of ‘a life in the sun’ turned out to be a tad optimistic as very little time was spent under the big yellow. “How come you’re so white if you live here all year?” became a constant enquiry.

However, as the months passed, we grew accustomed to our new roles and began to appreciate this new life. Only having to throw on shorts and a tee-shirt every day made a pleasant change to the multiple layers necessary to sustain a heartbeat back on the market. Also, the constant holiday atmosphere came as a welcome contrast to the sullen spirits darkening the cobbled market aisles of Lancashire.

We gradually got the hang of mass catering, dealing with the unruly, and persuading bored, local bar flys not to tinker with things best left untinkered such as the gas supply, the fuse box and our car’s brakes. The money was rolling in, our bank manager was beaming, and my stepfather was quietly impressed.

Life was good, a heady mixture of wry banter and an ever-ringing till. But we knew it must come to an end. Work is work wherever you are in the world and eventually certain factors take their toll. Even though we were a predominantly British bar, a rising number of other nationalities began to frequent The Smugglers, until it reached the point where we were like a watering hole for the United Nations. Menus had to be translated into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian and Hungarian and Bingo nights became a long and drawn-out, multilingual ordeal.

Eventually the effort of smiling in seven languages from breakfast until 2 in the morning took its toll. We decided to sell the bar to move on to more relaxing occupations. My brother and his wife headed back to Blighty. Joy and I stayed in Tenerife, where I now work from our home in the hills as an author, travel writer, ghostwriter, and part-time chauffeur for our two teens, Molly Blue and Sam. I also run myguidetenerife.com.

The climate keeps us here, as does the relaxed and healthy way of living. The pace is unhurried and Tenerife village life still harbours a community spirit all but lost in the UK. We may move on to pastures new in due course, but one thing is for sure, our time behind bars is well and truly behind us.

More Ketchup than Salsa, by Joe Cawley, is the first in a trilogy of memoirs, a humorous account of swapping a career in fish entrails for a life as a British bar owner abroad. Voted ‘Best Travel Narrative’ by the British Guild of Travel Writers, the book is available on Amazon for Kindle, paperback or audiobook. Signed copies (Christmas presents?) can be ordered directly from Joe via the contact button on his website, joecawley.co.uk.




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