Something to Declare
THE DIRT TRACK THAT LED FROM our villa to the village tapas bar was dark and spooky. In 1992, streetlights hadn’t yet reached this quiet corner of Andalucia. Suddenly, an old man with a lantern appeared before us. He was small, hunched and wrinkled. There was a kindness in his eyes and his whole face seemed to exude wisdom. The sort of wisdom that only elderly fishermen who have led simple lives in beautiful lands such as these can acquire. He was a bit like Yoda out of Star Wars, only in a daft fishing hat.
He led us away from the beaten track towards some glowing lights in the distance. “That will be his humble stone cottage,” I thought to myself. “His wife is probably waiting there to serve us some authentic and delicious peasant food for which they will charge us next to nothing. Then, over a glass of their homemade sangria, this wise old sage will furnish me with awe-inspiring tales of his life at sea. My stupid teenage mind will be opened to a new perspective on the world. The secrets of the human condition will be unlocked. The whispered truths of the universe revealed. This is what travelling is all about.”
I readied myself for a life-changing evening. But all I got was a tatty old pizzeria with faux Italian furnishings and a resident gang of diseased cats. “Whaddaya wanna go there for?” he shouted at us while jabbing an angry finger in the direction of our usual taverna. “Is expensive.I make you real Italian pizza right here! Is cheap! Sit!” It seemed he wasn’t an old sage of the sea at all – he was an unscrupulous restaurateur who had duped us into his underperforming eatery. There was nothing inspirational or life changing about the whole experience. In fact, it was a bit scary so we ran away with the words “Come back Engleesh!” ringing in our ears.
In retrospect, I think I did learn an important life lesson that night. I learnt that when it comes to travel you should probably keep your expectations low. Expect little more than a bit of sunbathing and the chance to get drunk on the odd school night, and you won’t be disappointed. But if it’s mind-broadening exposure to different cultures you’re after, it’s probably cheaper just to go down your local Starbucks.