Tuesday 6 January 2009

Hotel life: $1 to swim in Togolese waters

Easy regimen

You may wonder if there is something called hotel life – a life almost regimented but leisurely, where people are paid to be obsequious and even though it could be a luxury you hardly think of it until you return home.

The regimen as far as my hotel is concerned centres around meal times, with breakfast being a free seating arrangement that last until 10:30AM and dinner being two fixed seatings at 06:00PM and 08:00PM in the winter time and thirty minutes later for the summer months with variations for special days.

Hotel life revolves around the comforts and ease of life, the new people you meet, the conversations and stories that ensue depending on where you are staying and long for, the staff that give you recognition and time to even make your stay more pleasurable ensuring that you return again.

Unstable tables

I am now on my third table after first sitting alone in crowded area but without the ability to communicate with neighbouring tables – just because I am alone does not mean I also want to be lonely in a crowd.

So, I let the maître d’hôtel know that I would prefer to seat where I could interact with other guests over dinner and he went one better that I am now sat with couples that speak English.

Almost 7 days through my holiday they needed to join up tables for a group of 7 and had successfully kicked me off to a lone table unbeknownst that it was the New Years Eve gala, by then the first couple had left and they seized the opportunity to make me an unwilling participant in a their musical chairs charade – once I cottoned on what they were up to, I remonstrated; kept my table and still ended up isolated – the guests on other adjoining tables had left too.

After that day, I was assigned another table that would be mine for the rest of my holiday, 2 tables in the open with a couple occupying the adjoining table for that duration of time.

Hampshire recordings

The first couple; say Paul and Penny were from Hampshire and ran a scientific video management company; it was their first time at the Riu Palace Maspalomas and they were on holiday for a week.

We were talking about embryology, in-vitro fertilisation and animal testing for a while as they also produce educational video for medical purposes. They seemed to be quite well travelled very knowledgeable and regaled me with their adventures of sailing in storms, mountain climbing and other hair-raising stuff.

They probably were in their late fifties had been married 30 years and they would have enriched the lives and experiences of anyone who encountered them – it was a pleasure to have them for company.

unClassy looks in Nottinghamshire

At my next table and next couple, it was their second time at the hotel and they had been around for over a week on a 2-week holiday and I was to spend 5 nights with them. Robin and Rachel ran two companies, one to do with light haulage and the other to do with “classy” furnishings in Nottinghamshire.

They were going to celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary and though they were an interesting couple it was obvious that they had worked hard to arrive where they were, probably quite hard-nosed and ruthless too.

Robin had piercings and tattoos whilst Rachel would clothes that were quite expressive bordering on the indecent – our conversation never got elevated beyond people, events and ideas were difficult going.

Robin also had the most unadventurous diet, they could not enjoy the New Years Eve gala because it was not roast beef and they returned from the fusion kitchen because he could not stomach what was on offer.

I was tempted and voiced the idea of taking Rachel to an exclusive Spanish restaurant whilst sending Robin off to ten-pin bowling – nice people in general though they had so much to complain about the hotel I thought I was staying in another one.

Retired but not tired

Now, I am with William and Ingrid, they must be in their mid to late seventies and they are here for 2 months. Ingrid has limited mobility but she is able to get around.

As I initiated conversation, I learnt they were from Kent, in fact, William had been retired for 23 years having retired at 53 – now there aren’t many who can confidently retire at that age today.

William used to work in the City running training programmes for accountancy firms and within the accountancy professional body, this made the conversation quite engaging because my father is an accountant, a fellow of the professional body and had won the Foulks-Lynch prize in 1969.

That impressed William no end as he said my father would have been a very smart and intelligent man considering that was one of the most competitive at that time.

We talked about how the accountancy profession had changed and the names then had merged or disappeared – Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, Coopers & Lybrand, Arthur Andersen were examples.

The private seas of Togo

One story that was as astonishing as it was laughable was one where they joined a working freighter travelling the world and docked at the main port in Togo. Whilst they were still out at sea, they were asked if they wanted to take a dip in the sea to which Ingrid happily assented.

In the evening at dinner, a representative of the Togolese tourism board arrived in the company of the captain and asked everyone who had swum in their sea meaning Togolese waters to raise their hands.

For all hands raised, he demanded a dollar each, William had no change and offered a $10 bill which the representative tried to pocket without offering change – William refused to give up the $10 bill and successfully persuaded everyone else not to pay the greedy opportunist official.

But then most tourism organisations in Africa are there to discourage, dissuade and frustrate prospective tourists and like they learnt from some remote Brazilian port – no tourists, no banditos.

I think we are going to have some really interesting conversations at dinner, I have 5 more nights of that.

The three kings are in Spain

Today is the Epiphany (Pertaining to the visit of the magi with gifts to baby Jesus) holiday in Spain and going to the reception yesterday I ask for the opening hours of El Corte Inglês the huge shopping concern in Las Palmas and they were going to be open ntil midnight.

Epiphany in Spain is very much like the English Boxing Day when we are supposed to open our presents but most people do that on Christmas Day now due to a lack of knowledge of traditions and purposes of those days.

On receptionist gave me that information and this is where Javier the Duty Manager is a class act, he said it was better for me to visit Las Palmas on Thursday. Epiphany Eve is usually full of shoppers that roads have to be closed off; the shops would be heaving and it would probably be a harrowing experience.

I took his advice and well, I am off to Tenerife on Wednesday.

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