I had no idea what the man had said to me. I raised a quizzical eyebrow a la Roger Moore and he repeated what may have been one, two or three words. They all ran into each other, the letters tripping over one other into a mangled bundle that, even after nine years, my ears couldn’t untangle.
“¿Bajaega?” He repeated and I raised the eyebrow further. By this time it must have been higher than my hairline.
My mind raced, trying to decipher the word or words. Va a llegar or va a llevar was the closest I could manage but that didn’t really make any sense in the context of me standing on a street on San Juan de la Rambla; a quiet Tenerife town that, although has its charms, stays off the Tenerife tourist trail.
The man shook his head and toddled off.
Sometimes the babelfish just doesn’t work; sometimes I just can’t make out the words no matter how much I furrow my brow and mentally try to mould them into something recognisable.
We’d just come from Buenavista del Norte where we’d had a different interaction. Buenavista is another north western Tenerife town that stays off the tourist radar despite having some charming parts and a pretty town centre. In all the times we’ve visited Buenavista del Norte, apart from during fiestas, it’s been like Silent Hill with sunshine.
Signs on most of the few restaurants in the town advised that they only opened on Thursday to Sundays and from 7pm only. There’s a chicken and egg thing going on with some of the towns in Isla Baja, the area that includes Buenavista. Do they only have limited hours because of a lack of visitors or is there a lack of visitors because restaurants only have opening hours?
As it was after 2pm and we’d had an early breakfast we decided that we were going to eat in Buenavista no matter what. Because our first choice venue was shut, our only option was the picturesque plaza. The choice was between Bar Pilon and Bar Central; both are quite attractive places but with limited menus.
They’re authentic and typical of quiet local bars – which can sometimes mean the selection of tapas on the bar doesn’t look very appetising. We opted for Bar Central on the basis that it had tables and chairs outside. Pavement society only came to parts of Isla Baja after the smoking ban forced patrons into the streets.
We ventured inside and asked for a menu.
“No hay,” came the reply from the rather surly barwoman. She pointed to the dried up tapas (at this point, in best movie fashion, I’ll switch to the English translation). “There’s only this.”
As there had been a blackboard advertising bocadillos (filled baguettes) outside, I asked if she had bocadillos.
“Oh yes, we have bocadillos,” she confirmed.
Underneath the blackboard I’d spotted a faded photo of a rather chunky looking burger.
“What about hamburgers?” I asked.
“Yes, we also have hamburgers.”
“Home made ones?”
The reason I mention this conversation is that it can be a typical interaction in out of the way places. Recently in a restaurant in Santiago del Teide, I had to tease out of the owner that she actually served arepas… and they turned out to be the best I’ve eaten on Tenerife.
Sometimes in these sort of places there’s an economy of language; people don’t offer more information than a direct answer to whatever is asked. If I ask if there’s a menu, the response can often be a ‘no’ and nothing else. In places where people realise that the question actually means I want to eat something, a blackboard or whatever is on the counter might be pointed out. That doesn’t always mean what’s on it is all the restaurant serves.
It makes me think of the movie Memento where Guy Pearce’s character suffered from serious short term memory loss and couldn’t remember things that had just been said; every sentence can seem like you’re starting a conversation afresh and what’s gone before is just a series of unconnected statements.
The best example was in Teno Alto when I ran through a menu with a waitress to check what dishes didn’t have meat. When she’d identified what was meat free and I ordered it for a vegetarian friend, she informed us that they didn’t have any. It was like the two things weren’t connected.
I’m not complaining about these quirks; quite the opposite, I love them. They highlight the little differences that comes with living on an island that has its own personality. Now I accept that when I get a ‘no’, I have to just keep asking questions until I get a ‘yes’. It keeps things interesting.