LANZAROTE, 2010.

It has begun.  It’s the beginning of two weeks in the sun that I will have to endure to ensure that my psoriasis disappears for another eighteen months.  This is package holiday land that is refreshingly low on price and correspondingly low on quality.  I expect to meet many people who I will have nothing in common with and who will irritate me and amuse me.  I know what to expect – I’ve done too many of these little jaunts to embark on this little adventure with any optimism and enthusiasm.  I have a simple plan.  I will, on every available opportunity observe the behaviour and antics of my fellow holidaymakers from the shadows.  I will lurk, skulk and hide from the rest of humanity and carry out my surveillance covertly while I play the part of a loner: a sad loner: a sad lonely overweight middle-aged man who keeps himself to himself, reads far too much, and displays mildly eccentric behaviour.

This is going to be hell but I shall persevere with my self-inflicted cure for my mild skin condition and relax at the same time.  I have given up hope of my wife being able to find a cheap flight that flies out of and into the Cardiff and so will have fourteen days of solitude.  I will write a little every day about the various activities at the hotel, the inevitable characters and anything else that might possibly be of interest to anyone else.  Should I be able to find a wireless network that doesn’t cost as much as the flight out there I will be posting this on my blog where, hopefully, others might take a passing interest in my tale and while away an hour or two reading my adventures when they should be doing something far more constructive.

The holiday hell has already begun.  It meant a four o’clock alarm call and a forty-five minute drive in the dark to the airport.  The drop-off went without incident with Cheryl promising she will look for a cheap flight and will not hesitate to book the flight providing it is in and out of the same airport (preferably Cardiff or Bristol) and it departs and arrives during daylight hours.  She won’t find one, but she will continue to look.  But she won’t find one.

And so – to check in. Having picked up my ticket from the Tommy Cooky desk I identify the two long queues for the Arrecife check-in desks.  But wait!  What’s this?  A third check-in desk has nobody in front of it.  It’s the Tommy Cooky Priority Desk.  With a sign stating that, if you purchase extra legroom seats you can use that check-in desk.  To the desk where I was issued with a sort of chitty that I had to take to the Tommy Cooky Desk (not the Tommy Cooky check-in Desk but the desk from where I had picked up my ticket).  I paid her £30 and she gave me another chitty that I then took to the Tommy Cooky check-in desk and handed over said chitty to the lady behind the desk with a flourish that only Tommy Cooky Priority Passengers can execute.  The stares of the other queuing passengers made the back of my neck burn.

I walked up the stairs and straight through security almost forgetting to take my laptop out of my rucksack.  I have a great rucksack that I have had for around fifteen years.  I bought it when Timberland opened a surplus shop in the designer outlet near where I live.  It is made of really thick, but light, waterproof cotton with a leather bottom with some more leather on the strong, adjustable straps.  It has two really useful pockets on the outside one above the other with a little net pocket on the door of the bottom pocket.  The top pocket is perfect for holding my wallet and passport.  The bottom one holds my phone, charger and usually my little survival kit that I take when I’m out walking – but that has been ditched because of the knives and other sharp items.  The bag is big enough to take a 15” Laptop, can effortlessly carry four litres of duty-free spirits and has been used to carry things that somehow wouldn’t fit into a bag that looks twice as big.  It is a tardis of a bag and it has never let me down or failed to surprise me.  Wherever I have been in the past fifteen years it has gone with me.

I passed through security quickly and made my way to the airside lounge.  Since my last visit (about a month ago) no improvements have been made and so there was still just two places where I could sit that were near an electrical socket that I would need to charge my laptop.  I chose the chair in the coffee bar where I ordered a cup of tea that appeared quickly – well, a mug of hot water with an economy tea bag in it.  I squeezed as much flavour from the tiny little bag as I could and then stirred in one sachet of sugar and stirred it with an anorexic lollipop stick.  The tea tasted of wood.  It cost £1.80.

As my laptop charged I played three games of Solitaire and lost all three.  Well not lost, didn’t complete.  Then I started the people-watch game.  Whoa!  I was in real new trainer land here.  I have never fully understood why, when people go on holiday, they are overcome by some base need to buy a new pair of trainers.  But wait – there is a new take on this phenomenon.  The trainers have been replaced by what can only be described as plimsoles; just like the ones you had in junior school.  There were white, shining white, gleaming white plimsoles.  This is obviously a fashion trend to match other summer fashion trends such as three quarter trousers worn by middle-aged men a couple of summers ago.  I let that fashion faux pas pass me by and the plimsoles fad will suffer from the same standpoint. 

Tommy Cooky’s guests include the usual cross section of life.  The family with two children who you know the names of within seconds of meeting them; “Jack you little shit, come ‘ere”: “Brandy stop annoying that man” (usually said with an approving smile).  There’s the gaggle of young ladies with pink cowboy hats and t-shirts that announce they are part of a hen-weekend party, or, more probably as it’s a Sunday, a hen-week party.  The t-shirts also boldly state where the bride to be and her entourage will be celebrating the last days of her being single.  I never understand why they do this.  There’s a group of middle-aged men sporting golfing clothes who were drinking pints of beer and talking loudly (this is at five-thirty in the morning.  There are the infirm passengers in wheelchairs, the family with two teenagers who should obviously be in school but whose parents have taken advantage of off-peak holiday prices to take the family away for a holiday in the sun.  Education comes second to drop and flop to these people and their prioritising is probably correct.  The rest of the passengers are either late middle-aged or elderly.  I am not the youngest by far, but I am the only solo traveller.  

The flight is eventually called and as I make my way to gate four I note the aircraft is an Airbus 320 – the smallest in Mr Cook’s fleet.  I will be glad of the extra legroom I booked.  Then we go through the ignominy of the ‘boarding by seat numbers’ that allow the people supervising the loading to hurl orders to those waiting to board using their best Nuremburg Rally voices.  The also order the passengers to place their boarding cards in their passport on the page containing your photograph.  These orders are delivered with a tenor that threatens all manner of retribution if the order is not complied with.  One elderly couple approached the three despatchers only to be turned back because their seat numbers were not in the group of seats currently being loaded.  This sent one of the despatchers reaching for the PA microphone and, in a loud, annoyed and disbelieving voice once again heralded what row number were currently being loaded.  I choose my word carefully – loaded and not board or embark.  These one hundred and seventy people were being ordered around and generally deemed to be no higher than pieces of freight.  They may wear blazing white daps but they are probably hard working or have spent most of their lives working hard.  It fills me with despair how people are treated by most package holiday companies.  I once was ordered to get in line when returning to the U.K. by a young woman in a silly hat and a high vis jacket.  These two items of clothing alone can turn a polite customer focussed agent into a commandant with little or no patience and no regard for the dignity of others.  But it is the two-way radio that transforms the commandant into a true tyrant of the young, the old and those who think that such behaviour is part of the holiday experience.  When I was shouted at I quietly approached her and said in a calm but firm voice “Please do not shout at me as if I am a farm animal”.  She was genuinely shocked and almost dropped her radio.  Three people behind me exclaimed “good for you” loud enough for her to hear.  I never saw that same dictator again but perhaps she will be waiting to greet me when I return in two weeks’ time.

SUNDAY

I was not on the ‘Transfer List’ at the airport which meant I would have to find my own way to the hotel.  I found the taxi rank and the ten minute ride cost €10.  The hotel is a complex or aparthotel which is promising as these do not usually live up to clients’ expectations.  I was told that the room wouldn’t be ready for another two hours.  I had experienced this before.  They try to allocate last minute bookers like myself to the rooms that need renovating thus keeping their best rooms for their repeat guests and those who paid full price by booking well in advance.  I waited ten minutes and, when she was occupied with another guest approached her colleague and told him I wanted to check in.  He immediately gave me a room which is large, contains a fridge and cooker, a three-seat settee, two highly uncomfortable high back chairs, a table, a coffee table, a one seat lounge chair (the ones that have a cushion that slides beneath you when you sit on it at any angle other than ninety degrees), a sideboard and two single beds (with about eight inches separating them.  The room is quiet and spotlessly clean.  There is a small bathroom attached with a half decent shower.  All bodes well. 

The afternoon was taken up with buying, in order of priority, Cockroach Spray, Mosquito Spray, Water and ice cubes.  All sourced at the on-site shop.  I wandered down the hill and found a couple of bars all of which were broadcasting football matches to enthusiastic gangs of customers.  I went back to the hotel (we’ll call it a hotel even if it is an aparthotel) and went to the shop.  A sign in the window informed me that it closed at 2 pm on Saturdays and Sundays – the two days when most guests arrive.

I ate dinner in the restaurant and, although the quality was not brilliant, there was plenty of choice and I ate well.  I retired, watched two episodes of Fawlty Towers and started watching The Piano before the need for sleep took over.  I slept for twelve hours.

MONDAY

I awoke to find clear blue skies and the temperature was already well into the seventies.  I ‘phoned the office but there was nobody there.  I used Skype as there is wireless internet access available for just one euro for fifteen minutes.  I asked at reception what the hourly rate was.  He looked at me in a confused manner and told me four euros.  Then to breakfast – where things started to go wrong; badly wrong.  I have never been to a restaurant where I have had to find somewhere quiet to sit in order to regain my senses.  The majority of guests here are Spanish.  I don’t know what part of Spain they are from but they are all elderly – well, late sixties.  They move around in groups of between ten and twenty and they talk.  Boy do they talk.  I watched one group on Sunday night.  There were twelve of them and at one point seven of them were speaking at the same time.

I went to breakfast.  Now the restaurant, Restaurante Latino, is more a cafeteria.  It is a very large room with no carpet.  It has no curtains and the walls are bare.  This means that the noise made by somebody dropping a fork gets bounced off the walls and is amplified.  Now fill the room with a hundred chattering Spaniards and you can only guess at the amount of noise that is created.  And this is what happened at Breakfast.  The noise of the constant chattering, laughter, clanking of plates and the jangle of cutlery all combined to make the most awful cacophony that led to me rushing my breakfast and finding solace in a corner of the hotel where it was relatively quiet.  I had never had such a noisy eating experience.  The noise around the coffee machines was worst.  You see, there may have been two hundred people in the cafeteria; but it housed just two coffee machines.  The queue stretched back to twenty people, most of whom held two coffee cups because they didn’t want to queue for a second cup.  The result was a line of twenty people moaning and desperately watching the person at the head of the queue filling his or her cup.  It must have taken twenty minutes from joining the queue to getting a cup of insipid coffee.  I didn’t bother and contented myself with the weak orange juice.

I hired a car with the intention of going to a beach further west on the island.  I had been to the beach before and it was one of a series of beaches in the area called Papagayo.  Papagayo forms part of an area of environmental protection and is stunningly undeveloped.  The beach I was heading for was Puerto Muellas – port of the molars – as in teeth.  I had approached the car hire lady who was to be found in reception but she told me she had no cars and so I walked one hundred yards to a car hire place I had passed the previous day.  I hired the cheapest car and, after some difficulty, managed to get my legs into it.  Then I headed off East first of all to visit the Lanzarote Airport Museum.  I have this theory that, if someone has gone to the trouble of creating a museum, we have the duty to visit it – no matter how small.  The museum was actually housed in the old airport building that had been deserted when the new airport terminal was built twenty years ago.  Entrance was free and I don’t think they had many visitors.  When I entered a small dapper German asked for my name so that he could enter it into the visitors’ book.  I couldn’t help noticing that the last visitor had been on Wednesday – today was Monday.   I spent half an hour wandering around the static displays and reading the photographs of the first aircraft to visit the island, the first mail plane and the first passenger flights.  All interesting – but only to an air enthusiast.  Then it was off to the beach on the Lanzarote equivalent of a motorway – the Lz2 which is a perfectly well maintained, efficient if uneventful road.  I found the road to Papagayo which is nothing more than a dirt track.  It ruins normal car suspension systems and you have to pay €3 for the privilege.  The car park to the beach I was visiting was outside an area that was intended to be a touring caravan park.  The entire infrastructure is there on a four acre site.  Every pitch had water and electricity hook-ups, and every space is clearly marked.  There is a large shower and toilet block and tarmac roads.  Why it was never used I don’t know – probably because the government had slapped an environmental protection order on it.

I spent four hours at the beach burning and then went straight back to the hotel.  I had to travel through Peurto Del Carmen and realised that I had been there before.  I found the hotel and returned the car.  Then it was time to shower and change before going for dinner.

Dinner starts at 6:30.  By 6:25 a small gathering had appeared around the entrance to the restaurant.  People of all nationalities stood, looking slightly embarrassed, staring at the entrance door.  6:30 came and people, including myself, started looking at their watches.  Some of the present started to tut-tut.  When the time reached 6:34 it proved too much for two German ladies who were at the front of the group and had started the movement toward the doors.  One of them pulled at the door and wrenched it open.  A waiter who stood the other side of the door pulled the door back.  The German lady then pulled it open again, and the waiter, said something loudly in Spanish and reclaimed control of the door.  The two of them, the German lady and the waiter, stared at each other through the glass of the door.  It was a classic stand-off situation.  The crowd fell silent.  After twenty seconds the Waiter opened the door and ushered everyone in.  The German ladies glared at him as they went past.  The waiter held his head high and stared into space.

TUESDAY.

I spent the day wandering around the town.  It took me two hours to walk from one end of the resort to the other.  There must be a thousand little shops selling the usual tourist souvenirs – some are of good quality most are the usual tack that is found in highly developed resorts.  Some of the merchandise is downright vulgar – especially the messages on some of the t-shirts on sale.  I returned to the hotel via a couple of bars and entered the reception only to find around a hundred elderly Spanish couples queuing to check in to the hotel.  The all seemed to have some similarities.  The ladies all had perfectly coiffured hair and were all of or around the same height.  The men wore grey trousers and perfectly tailored shirts – although the shirts were of different colours.  The noise was deafening as they all seemed to be talking excitedly at the same time.  They laughed and chattered away while patiently waiting their turn to check in.  I couldn’t help wondering what was going on.  They were obviously a party, a very large party, and they were all of the same age group as the people who must have obviously left earlier in the day.  At dinner the noise was unbearable, but I seemed to be the only person who noticed.  Everyone else in the refectory was having a swell time, laughing and chattering noisily.  One couple were so happy that they were dancing arm in arm. 

I ate even quicker than usual and returned to my room to read.

It was around nine o’clock that I heard music.  Not the usual rock or disco music but proper music, played in strict time by, what sounded like, a real band.  I had to investigate.  The music floated on the still night air and shrouded the hotel in a cloak of harmonies and strict tempo.  I female voice slid through the cloak and peppered the air with refrains that haunt me still.  I followed the sounds until I came across a large building covered in beautiful blazing red climbing flowers.  The bouquet of the flowers mixed with the music and they complemented each other perfectly.  I peeked inside and saw one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.  The large ballroom was brilliantly lit with a magnificent glitter ball that shone tiny rays of light around the brilliantly white walls.  A small stage housed a ten piece band together with a female vocalist.  A conductor waved his arms enthusiastically whilst keeping one eye on the attendees.  On the dance floor a hundred elderly couples danced cheek to cheek rotating around the room with amazing precision.  The men wore their open necked shirts whilst the ladies, all with still perfectly coiffured hair, moved elegantly around the floor in the arms of their partners.  Whilst this spectacular was beautiful in itself, the most beautiful aspect had nothing to do with the music, the dancing or the lights.  The most beautiful part was that everyone there on the dance floor was wearing the most beautiful, serene smile.  Nobody spoke.

WEDNESDAY

An uneventful day.  Everybody seems to be settling in to a routine.  I decided to go to Arrecife for the day using the excellent public transport system.  I queued for around five minutes with twenty other people and hopped on the bus paying just one euro twenty cents.  Ten minutes later I got off the bus with everyone else – I was at the other end of the resort, same place as I had been yesterday.  I had caught the wrong bus. 

I decided to walk back to the hotel.  It was a misty day and so I didn’t wear a hat.  I stopped off at a cafe for an hour and talked to a couple from North Wales.  He assured me that there would be the first ever St. Patrick’s Day parade ever held on the island at just after 12.  At one o’clock I left them and half way back I discovered that there would indeed be a parade – but at 4.  It took just over one and a half hours to get back to the hotel and when I arrived I realised that I had burned myself badly.  My right leg, nose and forehead were bleeding.  I hadn’t worn a hat because it was so misty – but I burned all the same.  I have nearly finished my first book – the second collected series of Somerset Maugham’s short stories.  I intend to finish it tomorrow.

THURSDAY

This was the most boring day yet.  I am hobbling around, in quite considerable pain. Because of the blisters on my feet caused by the new walking sandals that I brought with me that I hadn’t ‘broken in’.  There is nowhere in this hotel that is quiet.  Everywhere you go there are groups of people all chattering away – very loudly.  If I walk into the resort there is continual boom-boom music; and Heart FM – the heart of London – seems to be the preferred radio station to be foisted on customers of almost every bar. 

Thankfully there is one place where I can peruse the Telegraph and attempt the crossword without having my audio senses battered by some disco-jockey wishing for better things.  It’s a tiny little restaurant/café run by an elderly Spanish man who is probably as bemused as me why potential patrons pass his little sanctuary on their way to ‘Jugs’ bar or ‘The Swingers’ or ‘Topless’.  Anyway, I shall be retiring there again.

Yesterday (Thursday) as I am unable to sunbathe (my right leg is just a mass of puss covered sores caused by sunburn, my nose is like a pineapple that has been torched and my forehead is a mass of scabs and bright red dried blood) and I am unable to walk far, I caught the bus into Arrecife.  Once there I hobbled around in considerable pain before calling it a day and heading back here.  So I found a bar where at least they played music I had heard of and finished off my book.  Of all Somerset Maugham’s short stories, The Verger is my favourite.  I kept it until last.  Now it is Pillars of the Earth which, I am told, is an excellent read.

Today I shall do nothing but write and read.  Ho Hum.  Halcyon days.

Friday – nothing happened

Saturday – nothing hapened

Sunday – even quieter than Saturday

Monday – it rained for all of ten minutes.  Then, nothing happened

Tuesday – back to nothing happening

I give up

I want to go home