Tag Archives: Spain

Departure

It’s a ferry which feels like a cruise ship. A DJ plays loud Latino music; a troupe of dancers twirl, swirl and wave at passengers from their stage, a swimming pool barely bigger than the average bath tub. People stock up on plastic cups of amber lager. Beyond the stern, Tenerife’s hooded Auditorium recedes into the distance under typically blue skies.

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Departure.

It feels surreal. The party atmosphere makes it feel like a celebration of our time, more than a decade, on the island.

The cabin we’ve booked for the next 36 hours is cosy enough, the sea is calm and the sunset spectacular. All feels good with the world. Tomorrow a new and exciting day dawns.

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Dinner on the Naviera Armas ferry pops the party balloon. The buffet meal is cheap and the selection is… is what exactly? Not depressing at best. But it’s not even lukewarm. It’s cold.

Tellingly there is a microwave in the dining room. It’s a classy ship where you have to heat up your own food. A rough looking extended Spanish family are wise to the ferry’s culinary flaws, they’ve brought their own food stash and hog the microwave. We muscle our way in and one of them, illustrating how we shouldn’t make judgements based on appearances, helpfully shows us how to use it (we’re microwave virgins). It makes the food edible… just.

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Overnight we sail into rough seas and it sounds as though Poseidon himself is tearing at the hull with a can opener. The metal screams in pain. It’s unnerving. Our cabin is near the prow, right at the highest point of the arc where the ship pauses briefly after rising into the air before crashing back into the sea.

It’s not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever enjoyed.

The stormy weather doesn’t let up the next day. Getting from our cabin to the less violent rear of the ship involves a bruise-inducing journey of silly walks.

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There are far fewer voyagers in the lounge than the previous day. Many passengers are ill and stay in their cabins. Maybe many passengers are ill because they stay in their cabins.

It’s a long day. Only the ever-enthusiastic entertainment team provide relief from the irritated sea and limited selection of mediocre food. Still we will be on terra firma later, with food in proper restaurants to fuel deflated spirits.

However, an hour from docking and there’s no land at all in sight. There have been no announcements about any delays, but something clearly isn’t right. We should be halfway along an estuary by my reckoning.

I stagger to the information desk.

“Rough weather has delayed us four hours,” I’m told when I ask why there’s no dry land outside the portholes.

I’m not sure when they planned on sharing this quite important piece of information.

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I’m gutted. The sea has calmed but the delay means instead of dining in a restaurant in Huelva we have another meal on board to not look forward to.

We agree the food was so poor we can’t go through another dinner. Instead, I head outside to the the pool bar, the domain of serious drinkers and heavy smokers, to check what snacks they might have.

They have more than snacks, they have burgers and pizza. They have food which looks far, far, far more appetising than the tired offerings in the main dining room. The person in front of me is served with a generous sized, good looking beefy burger. If only I’d ventured outside before we may have ate if not like kings at least not like paupers. I order two burgers and try to avoid drooling.

“Sorry, that was the last one,” the barman informs me.

My misery is complete.

The Waitress Danced

The signs are there; the momentum is building. Maybe people who don’t know the place can feel it, maybe they can’t. But the signs are all around.

One of them is the waitress doing an impromptu salsa.

There are more obvious signs. Neon-sized ones like the slightly dodgy fashion shop no longer has slightly dodgy fashion. It has togas, a nun’s habit with a plunging neckline and belly dancers’ veils. Okay, the clothes are still dodgy, but with good reason.

Food stalls are springing up. One is festooned with garlands of savoury chorizos, sweaty hams and open topped sandwiches so chunky they could hold a metal door open.

One of the waiters is Walter White. So that’s what happened to him.

Carnival stall

Another stall has a pig’s head and bottles of wine on its trestle table counter.

All portents of the maelstrom to come.

People are chattering that bit more animatedly, laughter comes easier.

There’s excitement in the air and the waitress dances.

Carnival is nearly upon us

Sunrise on the Volcano

Sunrise on the volcano, Mount Teide, Tenerife

It’s freezing. The sun is slowly clearing the crater wall, turning the volcano an intense deep orange. The slopes look like they’re on fire, which they once were… a long time ago. This intensity won’t last long, but the volcano won’t lose it’s power to impress. In a short time the sun will fill the crater with warmth, even though the air temperature will only be around 2C. Less than forty kilometres away it will be 20C.

Such an incredible place.

The Girls who Walk and Talk

Roque del Conde, Adeje, Arona, TenerifeIn three kilometres they haven’t paused to catch breath.  Words gush out, creating sentences that never, ever end.

I should be writing things like ‘tranquil terraces’ ‘silent apart from the kestrel’s shriek’ etc. etc. etc.

The truth is there is no silence. There would be if the girls weren’t sharing the same path. But they are and so is their incessant chatter.

We started the route at the same time and our paths have criss-crossed a few times. They’re much younger and faster. But every time they get to the point where the loud chatter becomes almost a whisper, they stop. Hair is put back in place, something is applied to the face, a bra strap is adjusted.

They stop. I catch up and pass them… and the whole circle begins again and I mutter under my breath about the fact they won’t shut up and let me enjoy the peace of the countryside.

I descend to the floor of a narrow ravine as they begin the climb out the other side. Sound is amplified. The cling-clang from the bells around the necks of a handful of goats pulling at wild herbs take on the intensity of the pealing inside a church tower.

The girls are louder.

The echoing canyon prompts them to make howling noises. Nature winces. Even the goats pause their feeding to glare at these noisy creatures with no respect for tranquillity.

I pass them again and start a climb that is taxing enough to bring the sweat sprinting down my face. After a couple of hundred metres I stop to rest on a rock. The girls catch up.

“Un poquito descanso,” I say as they skip past.

One pulls her tee shirt away from her body and gasps. “Si, hace mucho calor.”

The have open, friendly faces with eyes as big as their smiles.

I reach the summit, a wide plateau with views across an arid land pockmarked by volcanic cones.

The girls disappear into the shade of a rare tree, still talking.

I sit on a flat rock nearby. Their chatter no longer annoys. In a way it has become a comforting drone. Part of the scene.

After thirty minutes the girls emerge. They’re no longer talking. Now they’re singing… and dancing. They sing jauntily as they pass. I laugh. So do they, without missing a beat.

The sun is engulfed by a bruised, heavy cloud. Rain is coming. Time to leave.

The girls are a few yards ahead on the path. They’ve returned to talking in paragraph-less sentences.

They’re enjoying themselves. They’re enjoying the land in their own way. It shows in their smiling faces and the musical tone of their voices.

The scenery is stunning with or without a soundtrack and the girls’ happiness is infectious.

I’m pleased I’m sharing the path with them.

Second Gear City

The car in front of me is crawling along at a snail’s pace; a particularly slow snail.

The driver is an elderly man wearing glasses who is more interested in what is happening out of the side windows of his car than what’s happening in front. Lots of cars here have small dents. It doesn’t take a genius to see why.
Concentration is not a strong point. I carried out a small experiment once, working out that it took, on average, five seconds before there was any movement when traffic lights changed from red to green.

They don’t do things quickly.

In this town it is difficult to get out of second gear.

That’s not because of traffic congestion or anything. The road in front of the car in front can be empty and the snail’s pace stays the same. These old guys are just not in a hurry to get anywhere.

You especially know you’re not going anywhere quickly when the car in front of you is an old Merc or a Berlingo. The drivers of these are the slowest of the slow. If they’ve got a chunky cigar clamped between their teeth then even second gear seems a speedy fantasy.

It drives me crazy when I need to be somewhere fast. But in truth it’s quite endearing; I’d rather live in a place where people drive too slow than too fast.

That won’t stop me shouting ‘why don’t you stick to riding a donkey’ next time I’m behind a tootling cigar chomper in a Merc though.

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.

My Dawn Interrogation

She flicks through my documents, eyes narrowing.

Once, twice, three times.

A paper clip is placed over the thin wad of papers.

The burly, surly policemen behind the frosted glass laugh amongst themselves; their voices turning steely and abrupt when a reedy voice interrupts.

My breathing is shallow, my palms sweaty. I try to look interested in photos of sunny scenes behind her head, hoping it makes me look nonchalant and unworried.

I remember the scene with Gordon Jackson and Richard Attenborough in the Great Escape where all their good work was undone by a sneaky ‘good luck’.

If my interrogator says ‘good luck’ I´ll raise my eyebrows and reply “¿QUE?”

It was the last stage and I wasn’t going to blow it, but there’s always, always an unknown factor.

Two hours earlier we’d turned up at the police station. The world was still in darkness but we’d been told to arrive before 7am and they held all the cards we needed if we ever wanted to escape.

We were directed to a tree 25 metres away where a nervous man stood smoking a cigarette.

“Primera,” A tree trunk of a policeman pointed at the man.

We stood in the darkness, watching early neurotic blackbirds get the worms, unsure of what would happen next.

After twenty minutes another policeman came and led us back to the station and into a tiny, unfriendly room with one poster on the wall – a picture of a finger pressed against a pair of lips.

By this time there were about seven of us; nobody spoke.

One of the policemen called out ‘Hernandez’ and Mr Primera shuffled outside. Moments later he returned. We were next. It was only to write our names against numbers 2 and 3 on a white piece of paper.  The policeman’s finger pointing at the paper looked muscular and threatening.

After that nothing, just a weighty silence. Nobody but nobody was comfortable. The oppressive setting made us all appear shifty and suspicious, yet I’m pretty sure everyone around me was as innocent of any crime as we were.

After another fifteen minutes a door opened and a severe looking women did the rounds asking for passports and adding our names to a numbered sheet. It was a different sheet from the one that the policeman had made us sign. Nobody seemed to know what was going on, yet asking a question was, well, out of the question. One young girl tried and was brusquely waved back to her seat. I wondered if there would be problems found regarding the validity of her documents.

Another wait before the woman appeared again, this time with a mountain of papers in her arms which were handed out to everyone, ourselves included, accompanied by a rapid fire series of instructions in Spanish.

The slightest indication that we didn’t understand and the game was over.

She asked us for a photocopy of our passports. I’d pre-empted this and already had two to hand. She looked briefly at them and came back with.

“First page as well.”

They always, always catch you out. But she wasn’t the dragon we expected. Not one single person had all the correct documents, so our little convoy made its way to a photocopying shop thirty five metres away. There are always photocopying shops thirty five metres away from places like that. Then it was on to the bank where we coughed up €21 for the stamped and numbered documents that might give us our freedom.

They just had to meet with the female funcionario’s approval first.

She scanned the papers a final time and extracted two green pieces of paper from a box. My heart beat faster at the giddy thought we might actually have done it. She slipped them into the photocopier, pressed the print button and handed us our ‘release’ papers.

It was over. We’d passed through the system again. We had brand new residencias. They were our jade discounted passports to other worlds.

“Is that it?” I asked in Spanish, trying to keep the relief out of my voice. “Do we need to come back in five years?”

“No, that’s it,” she replied. There was a hint of a smile. “It”s permanent.”

The smile widened… “unless the law changes of course.”

Of course – the law always changes.