Sunday, 30 January 2011

A Canarian holiday - the hard way

(Sorry - this really is a long one...)

Five days off, money in my pocket, what's a guy to do? Why? Book a last minute holiday to Fuerteventura and tell my mate Steve he's going as well, of course...

...And so it was booked. A four-day, four star all-inclusive mini break to the hotel Arena on the outskirts of Corralejo on the very Northern tip of this desert island off the North West Coast of Africa, sociable flying times, good weather forecast and a decent historical novel about Roman conquest under the arm. What larks!

Well, not exactly.

The flight was at 7.40am from Luton so the obvious thing to do was to go over to Steve's pub the night before and play through with his dutiful other half and her incomprehensible daughter involving a few games of "Spoof", several pints of Pure Ubu, several shots and a decent amount of red wine to go with one of the most awful films I have ever seen in my life "Last Of The Airbenders". Once I'd stopped chuckling at the fact they kept saying to each other lines such as as "I knew you were a bender!" I settled down in awe of its awfulness and apparently, it's only part one! Good grief. It was a bad omen. The Romans would have sacrificed something to make up for it. My only sacrifice was to not have my usual Hawaiian-style travelling shirt with me for the first time in probably ten years. It would come back to haunt me.

We had followed the Ryanair directive to the letter, checking in online (to save money) and only taking hand luggage (to save money). We got a cab around 5am (to be in plenty of time) and lined up in the queue for check-in, with our online boarding passes in our hands. It was not a long line and (being still drunk) we entertained a couple of the people around us with our randomness, not least of which when we reached the front of the line to be told (of course) that we had already checked in and had no need to be there. The bad film, the wrong shirt, now an unnecessary queue - the omens were foreboding, Gods below! Obviously to get back on track we were going to have to resume the more normal practice of getting held up going through customs and then sinking Bloody Marys.

Fortunately that happened. I was told I wasn't allowed to take my shaving gel through OR my miniature aerosol "Lynx" deodorant (For the ladies). Then I took them through anyway when the customs officer in question forgot to remove them. NOW - SURELY! I HAD THE RAW MATERIALS TO BUILD A BOMB! We settled down to a couple of tomato & vodka nightmares, the first of which was the hottest one I have ever had, got onto a relatively empty plane, were snoring before take off and enjoyed interrupted and increasingly dehydrated sleep over the four hours we were in the air. The descent wreaked havoc with my ears. I don't know whether it was a fraction quicker than usual or whether my own partial (self-induced) ill health  contributed to it but for several minutes I felt like I was bleeding long streams of blood out of them and the pain was excruciating. I'm normally fine on flights but this was a bugger. Allfather! This did not bode well for the coming battle...

We got through the airport without incident and after minor consternation tracking down our transfer coach were dropped off at the four star hotel Arena where we were told that we had been moved to another hotel, bustled into a cab and sent on our way before we had the time to ask why. It really was devastatingly efficient. We checked in to the (Three star) Hotel Brisamar a little after 2pm and found ourselves in a ridiculously huge apartment and sporting our all-inclusive wrist bands with pride. Everything looked tickety boo, we had a simple lunch accompanied by a small sangria and headed off into town.

For the next three nights we drank so much and stayed out so late that I don't really have anything to say about the days, except to report that the weather was exceptionally windy*, hot in small bursts but ultimately disappointing and I only sat in it for a couple of hours as I continued reading my historical novel about Roman wars against The Persians. I received a text from my mother late in the afternoon of the Tuesday gloating that there had been a mudslide in Corralejo because she had seen it on the local news on her more clement neighbouring island of Gran Canaria, where she was bizarrely spending a week with my father as I sunned myself not fifty miles away. This mudslide had followed a deluge the night before we arrived which it turned out accounted for our our change of hotel - the four star Arena had flooded! Not wearing my traditional Hawaiian travelling shirt was clearly having a portentous affect. Normally when I go away I remark at some point "Nobody tells me anything on this island". This time - they had - I was fully informed.

I'm going to have to do the nights in order:

Monday: We walked a long way into Corralejo looking for a good place to drink and it all just seemed so tourist-centric with Sports bars, "British" pubs and "Full English Breakfasts" that we were on the verge of turning round and going back to the hotel when we espied, in a back street, a bar called "Weirdos". We approached. It had a sign on the door "Poker tonight - 9pm". Well that was us sorted out. We hot footed it back to the Brisamar, enjoyed a passable three course meal with Sangria and headed back down to potentially our late-night haunt for the week. It was very quiet. There was a barmaid, a man on a computer and a guy in the corner. As we ordered our first drinks, the guy in the corner departed. We got chatting to the barmaid - she wasn't - she was the co-owner, Caz. The guy on the computer joined in. He was the other co-owner, Lawrence. We played a little two euro buy-in friendly poker tournament. I decided on a strategy of telling people, Caz in particular, what I had got each time. They hardly ever believed me and I won a number of hands, eventually coming second to Steve who got lucky, of course, as I am a far better poker player than him. Caz said I was the most surreal poker player she had ever played. I had won with hands I wouldn't normally stay in with, Ace/9 (Unsuited) 7/9 diamonds that landed a flush on the flop. Steve bought shots. The next thing I knew it was 5am, Steve had Lawrence standing on his head and drinking half a lager and Caz was telling me her (not uninteresting) life story. We staggered home. By Zeus! What a night!

With Caz and Lawrence,  by the toilets, in Weirdos. Unspecified hour...
Tuesday: The meal of the week in the hotel (featuring stuffed peppers, terrific lentil soup, chicken kebabs, sangria and a ridiculously sweet dessert) was followed by a trip in to town to find a sports bar showing the football. Steve (Arsenal fan) was upset that his favoured team had hammered Ipswich and made it to a cup final with the first chance of silver wear in five years for the simple reason that his hated Man Utd had come back from a two goal deficit to beat plucky Blackpool. There is no pleasing some people. The bar was thoroughly unpleasant. The people in it were professional ex-pats - loud, brash, ignorant. We left as soon as the final whistles went and stopped off in a rock bar called San Miguel that was overpriced in the extreme. There was a decent enough band on in there. The weather wasn't great, we hung about until half ten, then ventured back to the hotel only to find the bar shut at eleven and was rubbish and sparsely populated anyway. We banged back on to the strip looking for another good bar, thought we'd found one, ordered a drink, they closed up around us and said the only one worth going back to was San Miguel. Now we're not ones to tar a place with a brush after one visit, particularly when it's now the only place open, so we returned. We ordered more drinks, the barmaids took some of their clothes off, climbed on the bar and began gyrating to "YMCA". This was followed by "In The Navy" and finally "I will survive". Steve asked me if they were playing these for our benefit. I spoke to a very effeminate Spanish hip hop enthusiast. It definitely wasn't us they were playing the tunes for. A young Danish drunkard called Brian approached. He was a stockbroker on holiday with his folks. They had given him a pass for the night. He had grasped that nettle with gusto. Things got blurry. We left, I think, by 4am.

Wednesday: Hotel compadres Andy and Tracy (A very nice couple from Leeds) had agreed to go All exclusive** with us this evening and come to a steak house recommended to us by the Weirdos but we nevertheless nipped in to the hotel restaurant first for a couple of free drinks (Well we wanted our money's worth, after all). A leisurely stroll and some excellent map reading from Steve later and I was sat scoffing a fabulous (peppered) sirloin steak and quaffing Rose wine with Tracy as Steve and Andy got stuck into a very large amount of char-grilled goat that looked delicious. The service was fantastic, we lost track of time and didn't make it down to Weirdos until gone eleven. As we approached, Caz and Lawrence were outside talking to a Northern Irish guy. She asked him how his bar was doing. He said that it wasn't a bar any more, it was a restaurant. I said "Why - have you started doing crisps?" he smiled and said "Aye - and nuts". They had already played poker. There were a few more people in there and others continued to turn up, almost as if on shift. The table was set up for another little tournament. There were more players this time - The Northern Irish guy, Theo the Swedish grebo, Lawrence, Caz, Steve and myself. With a massive twelve euros on the table, I was determined not to come second again to Steve. My strategy tonight was to lie about what cards I had.and only play traditional hands - high pairs, suited aces, suited connectors. I knew that Caz would have told the others how I played and it would be a position of strength for me. On the second hand I landed the worst cards in no-limit hold'em, namely an unsuited 2/7. I announced to everyone I had a pair of Kings and made a big raise. Everyone folded except Caz. The flop was unhelpful to any possible hand that would have followed a big raise. Repeating that I had Kings, I went all in. She followed. To say I had made an early mistake would be the understatement of the night. We turned our cards over and my hopeless 2/7 looked on forlornly as her pair of kings knocked me out. I retreated to the bar to laughs of derision. Andy and Tracy consoled me through floods of guffaws.

Steve, myself, Tracy, Andy (To our eternal shame we lost them on the last night so I have no way of contacting them to show them this rather happy photograph)
Theo joined me soon after. A brief conversation followed

Me: You look like you are in a band, Theo
Theo: Yes I am in a rock band called "Assbastard"
Me: Do you have anything recorded?
Theo: Actually we were in the recording studio last week finishing off our first album, 'Death Party'
Me: Fantastic! ...And what brings you to Fuerteventura?
Theo: I am on holiday with my mother.

Buoyed by her early success against me, Caz went on to win the poker, the Irish guy went back to his "restaurant", Theo departed, we outdrank everyone who came near us. Andy & Tracy left and we began playing various drinking games with our new favourite bar owners until 6am, when we retired, broken.

On Thursday Steve brought me in a cup of coffee. I looked out of the window. The wind had finally dropped but it was overcast. "Nevermind" I thought to myself - "That might clear up later". I asked Steve what time it was. He laughed and said "Gone four". We did little, I finished my interesting book on heroic Roman failure at the hands of the marauding and duplicitous Sassanids, we ate a quiet meal, I had a single rum and diet coke and retreated back to our splendid apartment for an early night as we had an 8.10am transfer back to the airport.

8.10am. We had been told in no uncertain terms that we must be standing outside the hotel at 8.10am. The breakfast room didn't open until 8am. I hadn't seen breakfast so far and was determined to get some, even if I only had eight minutes (allowing two minutes walking time). We were greeted with some amusement by the staff who I think assumed we had come straight from a night out. We wolfed down bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages and beans and drank coffee. The cold meat / cheese/ fruit counter looked delicious. We could have stayed there for ages. Instead, we stayed outside the front of the hotel for ages. From precisely 8.10am until 8.45am when the bloody transfer coach finally showed up. The rest of the trip home was a breeze and being sat on the back two chairs on the plane, we were delighted to find out we would be alighting from the rear and for the first time ever, I was THE FIRST PERSON off the aircraft. Lucky travelling Hawaiian shirt? Pah!

* Thanks to those of you who have pointed out that the translation of "Fuerteventura" is "Strong wind". This was an exceptional weather system that blew in off the Atlantic. There was also a deluge and mudslide in Corralejo but it is not called Diluviodelaluddelodo. 

** All Exclusive - A phrase I have coined to relate to Steve and I's ability to go to a hotel where all food and drink is gratis and spend most of our time going out and buying things.

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