Saturday, 4 October 2008

Sweet Gene Bin-Cent - he’s the Mallorcan King of the Road!

Weary and bleary-eyed, I’m having my breakfast at the Hotel Mar-i-Vent, in the Mallorcan village of Banyalbufar.
Outside the window the landscape tumbles down steep terraces, past a few small ochre stone houses to the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea.
The German man at the table behind me is talking to the gentle patient waiter in English.
“Zis noise last night? All night the music! So loud all the night long!“
“Yes, and tonight and tomorrow, much big more bang! Much more noise! It is our festival.”
The night before, as the Snapper and I had wandered the length of this charming spotless and welcoming village, we passed lengthy trestle tables adorned with linen cloths, endless bottles, glasses, and locals sat carousing.
Blissful in our ignorance we mentioned how great it was to see locals out, doing their own thing. Unbeknownst to us, they were just getting in the mood to party.
At midnight, the music started, shaking every ancient brick that latched the village to the cliff side. For 5 hours I lay awake listening to a bad covers band playing hits from the 80’s, but I didn’t care, because I was on holiday.
Now that I know the party is going on for the next two nights, I breathe a sigh of relief that today we head east, to take charge of a rented house, wherein we will indulge in some serious chilling.
Much to the Snapper’s bemusement, when on holiday I suddenly become all gregarious and chatty, talking to strangers and sometimes even forging that most heinous of beasts, the holiday friendship. With just such a rush of bonhomie, I turn to console my fellow tourist, but -oops- the geezer behind me is not a geezer at all, but a tall and thin woman, whose heavily made up grease-painted face looks like it has stepped out of a 1930’s Berlin cabaret.
Somewhat shocked, my words stumble as they fall out of my mouth.
“Oh, sorry, I er, he said that the noise will be another two nights, hmm? We are going today. Are you going to stay or coming to go?”
She looks at me with utter contempt, and then, with a really deep bloke’s voice, says
“Going? You are lucky.”
Smiling, I turn back to my lovely view, feeling doubly fortunate. Not only are we leaving today, having thoroughly enjoyed our stay, but also my voice sounds like it has a willy attached somewhere below, and the Snapper’s doesn’t. Hoorah!
Our honeymoon has started really well, after the initial shock of being caught up in the Great Escapes collapse. Lucky again, I suppose, in a weird way, because they cancelled our holiday in Crete and refunded us mere days before going completely bust.
Reminds me of a conversation I heard many years ago in a Connemara pub, involving three auld boy farmers who were debating whether Packie had been lucky.
“Sure and washn’t he lucky to have his heart attack right there, in da hoshpital?“
“And aren’t ye talkin’ bollocks ye gobshite. How can it be lucky to have a heart attack?”
“Sure and aren’t you talkin’ bollocks, because you know very well what I’m saying. I’m saying that he was lucky to have da heart attack while he was visiting da hoshpital, while he was in da place, d’ya’know?”
But I digress.
So far we have been on familiar ground, flying and renting a car, and pootling off to find family-run 3-star hotels away from the resorts. In Portugal and on the Costa Brava we succeeded in finding what we have in the Mar-I-Vent. An old hotel run to modern standards by a family who have worked it for generations and therefore really give a damn. For the price of an Irish B&B, we have the pool, the view, a suite of rooms with balcony, and sheltered betwixt the mountains and the sea, Banyalbufar itself, charming and (before midnight!) quiet as a whisper.
Somewhat trepidatious, we head across the island and settle into our holiday home, which is perfect. Calm descends. I go two whole weeks without checking email and 12 unbelievable days without a newspaper.
At night we drive off to Santanyi, a lovely Mallorcan town with some tourists, rather than a tourist town, which reminds us of Galway, with its medieval streets. Sitting in the plaça, sipping a beer, I finally hit bliss.
Just down the road from our wee house is an excellent cafe-bar, where we eat on the nights when I have partaken of alcohol during the day. Here we find the apocryphal prices of yesteryear, enjoying a pint of beer, two glasses of wine, an escalope of veal with salad and potatoes, herbed chicken breast with salad and chips, almond cake, chocolate cake and two liqueurs, for the staggering total of €26.00.
But not even this fine feast marks the high point of our trip. That award goes to the local bin men, whose whacking great garbage truck zooms past the bar each night, flying around the silent residential streets at ridiculous speeds, with the two lads hanging off the back with their rolled-up fags, looking cool and handsome, like latterday pirates upon the high seas.
Indeed, as the truck reverses at mad velocity down the hill beside the cafe, one of these lads finds the time to wink and smile salaciously at the Snapper, in a way that makes us both roar with laughter.
As a fan of the BBC’s excellent ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ series, I christen the truck driver ‘Sweet Gene Bin-cent’, in honour of anti-hero Gene Hunt.
Nobody else seems to give a damn, but each night we want to stand and cheer with raised arms and loud voices as they roar around the corner and try to beat their own best times.
The only downer on the whole trip came in the shape of Sol Mar car rental, who prey on exhausted and hurried tourists, using extremely high pressure sales tactics to flog hundreds of euros’ extra insurance, and then rip off every customer by insisting that you bring the car back empty (impossible!?), having charged you their price for a non-refundable full fuel tank. As I understand it, the EU is investigating this scam, but take a tip, please, and avoid Sol Mar like the plague.
But don’t avoid Mallorca: just stay away from the resorts, explore and find hidden pirate treasures!

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