You don’t have to be an expat to experience other cultures: you get a quick snapshot when you’re on holiday, although hotels etc. only give you the side of the local cuisine etc. they think you will like.
The scene on this occasion is Margarita.
For breakfast, the help-yourself selection includes unnamed fruit juices identified eventually as watermelon and a curiously tasteless blend of melon and guava. There is the German stuff such as slices of processed cheese and ham, plus mass-catering-style scrambled egg, the leftovers from which are probably put into tubs labelled Polycell and sold on.
And then there is the mysterious dish that is either long-ago roasted chicken or fish. Either way, it tastes like a home-made, rather watery curry with the sauce rinsed out. Nothing that an ethnic name couldn’t disguise, but you wouldn’t serve it at a greasy spoon in Rochdale and expect to escape without derision and a stain on your culinary reputation.
Then it’s into town, to buy a lead for a laptop, your efforts resulting only in being shunted from shop to shop with the same monosyllabic denial in each. It’s difficult to tell if they would like to help you but are prevented by the language problem or if they are, as they appear, telling you not to come round here with your fancy equipment and expect them to do something about it.
Onto the beach and an immediate plunge into the warm sea, which, on this occasion, could do with being turned down a few degrees so that you at least feel like you’ve had a refreshing swim. An ungrateful thought, perhaps.
The choice for lunch is a string of open air places overlooking the beach. The owner of the first loses himself a sale by the simple and, no doubt, automatic act of trying to talk you into it. I’ll make up my own mind thank you, Jose. You choose one two doors down from his, and plough through grilled seafood and a salad that includes pickled beetroot. Pleasant enough without being the least bit exciting or exotic, and you leave half of it.
The following day you choose a different place nearby and enjoy a seafood salad as God intended it to be: loaded with squid, octopus and prawns and with a light, piquant dressing. The main courses are also seafood-based and similarly splendid. As you sit back to relax, three young boys appear at the next table and stare as you have never been stared at before. Eventually they come over and ask if they can have the leftovers, to which you readily agree despite the lack of a ‘please’ or, when the deal is done, a ‘thank you’.
Then it’s back to the electrical lead search – fruitless again – and the beach. Two middle-class, middle-aged local(ish) couples are enjoying what they will probably describe later as a swim, but they look out of place in the water and should, we decide, stick to stitching people up in their city offices. And anyway, they’re not swimming; they are standing up to their chest in the sea, holding sort of Thermos flasks up above the waterline, sipping occasionally and probably relieving themselves with a sly flicker of embarrassed defiance.
The men have the moustache-adorned, bull-faced look of self-made businessmen, while the women have had bad plastic surgery on the cheap in Panama and have no doubt neatly folded their sensible, ‘classy’ blouses and white, buttock-hugging trousers on the loungers beneath the parasols at the top of the beach. To their credit – or perhaps that of their surgeon – they are not overweight, unlike everyone else on the beach. Perhaps this is seen by the President as a triumphant symbol of the working of his magic. ‘There are no emaciated people here anymore. We are a fat nation, and that must be good – comparisons with the obesity of the USA notwithstanding. We don’t need lessons in slobbery from Texan police chiefs; we can do it ourselves.’ Or perhaps he blames the Americans for the state of his nation’s bellies, bottoms and thighs.