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The Good Barmaid

She was as slim as a rake, probably due to being a force of energy that couldn’t stand still for even the blink of an eye.

One second she was pouring a glass of wine for a hooded young man you’d probably be nervous about meeting in a gloomy underpass, the next she was whizzing into the back room to make things sizzle – our spiced pork – before emerging, all smiles, to tease a clearly besotted middle aged man in a theatrical bow tie.

The waitress was a one woman band; tending bar, cooking tapas and snatching moments to share a few words with each of her eclectic band of patrons.

When we asked for wine she left us two traditional tumblers and a bottle of dusky red. So we drank the lot as we worked our way through the garlic mayonnaise, spiced pork, garlic mushrooms and savoury goat’s cheese the good barmaid had rustled up.

It was a basic, but not unattractive, local bar and all the more comfortably cosy for it. These people are strange though. They live in a climate that is warm during the day all year, yet at night their bars are open to the elements. You’d think they’d be the ones to feel the nip in the night air, yet it was us two Northern Europeans who zipped up our jackets as we perched on odd wooden chairs that looked as though they belonged in a house inhabited by three bears.

When it was time to leave we asked for the bill, a ridiculously cheap €15. The barmaid asked where we were staying. When we told her it was the Era she smiled:

“Ah, I know Andrés very well,” she looked beyond us and out of the door where heavy raindrops splatted against what had been a dry and dusty road. “It’s raining, I will drive you back.”

The Era was only a kilometre away, we were wearing waterproof jackets, the bar was full of thirsty people and she was on her own, juggling everyone’s requests.

We insisted there was no need, she had a bar to look after and we didn’t mind a little rain.

She insisted more assertively that it wasn’t a problem and she wasn’t taking no for an answer.

There was no point arguing.

The barmaid left her customers to look after themselves and shepherded us back through deepening puddles to our temporary home where the sudden heavy rainfall had shorted the electrics. But that’s another candlelit tale. This one was about the good barmaid.

Except she wasn’t a good barmaid, she was a wonderful barmaid.

Rejecting the Fishers of Men

I think I might have moaned.

I’m engulfed in an invisible pleasure cloud.

The whole town smells of freshly fried fish; every last, narrow alley.

I’m in the hunger lanes and desperate to sink my teeth into a chunk of crispy cherne.

There’s a slight problem. More accurately, there are two problems.

One of my dining amigos won’t eat fish or seafood and this is a fishing village. A fishing village where the inhabitants like fish, fish or fish.

There are plenty of restaurants and we scan menu after menu. Not one of them contains even one meat dish. The restaurants are busy and I look on enviously like a starving pauper as diners enthusiastically try to reduce the world’s marine population.

Two women emerge from one that is clearly very popular.

“Es muy bueno,” one says.

“Y barato,” the other adds, laughing.

Cheap and good the restaurant might be but we won’t be eating there unless they ‘do’ meat. A waiter at the entrance looks at us expectantly. There are no meat dishes on the menu but you never know.

“Do you have any meat dishes?” We ask. Two of us – the eaters of fish and seafood – shuffle our feet and look at the ground, too embarrassed to meet the waiter’s wide-eyed expression.

“This is a fish restaurant…” he states the obvious. “… in a fishing village.”

We’ve been blighted by our friend’s fussiness. Tainted by his restrictions. The waiter will no doubt tell his compadres later of the four foreigners seeking steak in a village that specialises in fish.

The next place has one meat dish; chicken. It makes it a possibility.

We pass lively restaurant after lively restaurant where there is hardly a table to be had amidst the hanging nets, driftwood and boats.

Finally, up a quiet side street we strike beefy gold. A restaurant with a steak menu. In this one place the fish selection is limited.

We enter; it’s empty.

My friend orders steak. He’s happy.

We order a fish and seafood mixed grill.

My friend’s steak is good, our seafood is only okay.

This village has a reputation for great seafood restaurants. We’re not in one of them.

I hate eating out with fussy eaters.

I think I might have moaned.

Bad Start on the Orange Island

I’m fuming. Maybe it’s appropriate that there’s steam coming out of my ears as we’re on a volcanic island, but it’s a bad, bad start.

Apart from not being at the airport to meet us on arrival, the car hire firm has played a ‘read the small print’ card to extract an extra €120 over and above what we’ve already paid… because we don’t use a credit card. The word ‘ladrones’ is bandied about.

Plus the clouds are thick and pressing on our heads, it’s cold and we’ve been up since 4.30am.

The situation deteriorates.

I’m greeted at our rural hotel in the hills by three hounds on trampolines who seem to be competing against each other for the pleasure of eating my right hand as I try to unlock the gate to see if there are any human inhabitants about.

An elderly man appears. He knows nothing about a reservation. My mood darkens.

His wife appears on the roof terrace, fixing flags to a balustrade.

“The tall Englishman who was here a last month made the reservations,” I shout to her.

A light flickers in her eyes and then she joins the hounds in attacking me.

“He was Scottish, there’s a difference you know,” she lectures me. “Just like we are not Spanish, we are Canarios.”

It’s an ironic lecture that only serves to wind me up even more as I’m the Scottish one. I really don’t need to be told that there’s a difference between being English and Scottish.

This island will need to do a lot to charm me now.

But at least she remembers the reservation.

We’re allowed in, the dogs immediately turning gooey and friendly – anything for a pat on the head.

Our room is rustic with a four poster bed. I thaw.

But we have work to do. We change and head immediately onto the trail. Being outside helps with the thaw and the clouds inside my head dissipate almost as quickly as the ones in the sky.

Before long we’ve passed a sail-less windmill and are ascending into hills the colour of a Seville orange contrasting against an intense blue sky, a photoshopped sky. Shy spring flowers barely raise their heads from the low ground, sheltering from a wind that rarely leaves them alone.

The landscape unravels below us, hills rolling like soft waves to the far horizon; a glorious amber sea.

It is beautiful.

All is forgiven.

Above Antigua, Fuerteventura