Palm trees and cockroaches

It was our first holiday together. We had been going out for just six months and really wanted to spend a few days by ourselves away from everything and everyone. I can’t remember why, but we decided to go to Marbella, in the South of Spain, for a week.

On a sunny September day Miguel (then my future husband) and I set out in my Toyota starlet ( my graduation gift from Dad) towards the Algarve and spent a night there at my friend Concha’s. The following morning we left for the South of Spain. I remember it was very hot near Seville, and of course most cars didn’t have air conditioner then. In addition, I had been told that Seville was a very dangerous city, that bikers would pass the cars and steal any objects in sight, so I decided that we’d drive through the city with the doors locked and shut windows – and even when we came to the conclusion that we were going around in circles I didn’t compromise, so I can say we spent quite a lot of time “cooking” inside the car while Miguel tried to find a way out of the labyrinth!

After some 600 Kms we finally arrived at Marbella, then the most fashionable place in Southern Spain – all the famous spent their holidays there. It was sort of mythical…we had chosen a hotel with apartments called ” Las Dos Palmeras”, in fact the cheapest of all we had seen, because we really didn’t have much money and, after all, all we wanted was to be together!

It didn’t look bad and we were shown our apartment: it consisted of only one room, with a couch (that could be turned into a bed), a table and chairs. It was on the ground floor and with a door that opened to the gardens, that, true to the establishment’s name, were full of palm trees and quite nice.

As we were going out to dinner in the first evening we met two Portuguese couples that had also just arrived. One of the men was a well known businessman who owned one of the best know bars in Lisbon together with a famous singer. He was staying there with his girlfriend – a glamourous blonde who was a hairdresser – and another couple of friends. As Portuguese usually do when we are away from our country we took to going out together and as they had access to the best disco in town – Olivia Valere – they took us along with them.

What we could not possibly afford was to have dinner out as they did, so we dined in – most of the times the menu consisting of tuna rice, cooked by Miguel. It was cheap and tasty. Whenever I think of tuna rice those holidays immediately come to my mind!

Then we’d meet them at the disco’ s door and go in with them. We were naturally fascinated by the disco, as you could see many famous faces there and it was very exciting. Moreover I, who had been faithfully reading Hola magazine for a few years now, recognized all Spanish celebrities and I imagined the stories I would have to tell my friends back in Lisbon.

We went to bed very late every night, so inevitably we slept until late and would only go to the beach – not that Marbella has any beaches worth the name – around three or four in the afternoon, so we did’t really get much of a tan there. Fortunately I already had one, having recently arrived from my family holiday in Madeira.

However, we also wanted to see some places and most of all I wanted to visit the Alhambra palace, in Granada, as I had read much about it as a young girl. The book “Tales of the Alhambra” by Washington Irving  had contributed to many happy reading hours about Christian knights and Moorish princesses who lived heartrending forbidden love stories, very appealing to my ever romantic soul! So one evening we stayed home and went to bed early. In the following morning we felt refreshed and full of energy. As we were having breakfast in our room Miguel noticed some flies flying over the table and he was annoyed. He told me : “While you get things ready I’ll go to the shop and buy some insecticide, and we’ll spray the room before we leave. When we get back there will be neither flies nor smell…”.

Upon his return he abundantly sprayed the room with the insecticide (for flying insects, the label said), and we left.

It was a beautiful summer day and warm, but fortunately not too hot. First we went to Malaga, where we did some shopping at El Corte Inglés, that by then did not exist in Portugal. In those days it was very exciting to go shopping abroad as we could find many things not available in Portugal, unlike today. We bought a few things – always careful not to spend too much money, of course – and we went on to Granada. Granada is a beautiful city but we really didn’t see much of it as we spent the whole day at the Alhambra. It is a huge palace on the top of a hill and with commanding views. To walk there and see all the places I had read about  – such a as the lions’ courtyard and the ” Torres Bermejas ” (the red towers), was an incredible feeling. I loved the experience and we walked and walked, while I was telling Miguel all the stories that I could remember. Always the storyteller…

It was a long day and we arrived at the hotel at about ten in the evening. We had eaten a sandwich on the way and we just wanted to have a shower and throw ourselves onto bed and sleep. But, as Miguel opened the door and put on the light, we could not believe our eyes: the floor of the apartment was covered – I stress: completely covered – by what seemed to be a carpet of cockroaches! Big, fat cockroaches, with their legs up and apparently dead. It was like a scene of one of those ” animal horror movies”. I didn’t  really know what to do but Miguel, always the practical one, decided to pick up a broom and sweep them away. Suddenly they were coming back to life and going up his legs. He was jumping around as if he were dancing and at a certain point I could not help but laugh – it was a tragicomic situation! Finally he understood it was to no avail and we hurriedly left the room. We went to reception and asked the receptionist to come with us, because we wanted to show him something. As we opened the door and he looked inside he was horrified, and all he could he could say was  “I will change you into another room immediately”. And he did. We hurriedly packed our things – shaking off the cockroaches that were attached to our bags ( Uuurrrgh!) and went upstairs to a much nicer apartment with one room and one living room – and, most of all, without any cockroaches in sight.

Afterwards as we were laughing at our misadventure  – and congratulating ourselves at having been upgraded – we concluded that all those cockroaches must have come from the sewer pipes. On the first days we had noticed some small specimens in the bathtub but we had simply put on the water and they had been flushed down. And they were very small, not the “monsters ” that had come out on that day, certainly because of the huge amount of insecticide spray Miguel had used before we left. They must have been attracted by the smell  and come out,  ant then they must have been dizzy with the effects of the spray. And they woke up as Miguel began sweeping them…

We have told this story many times and invariably the persons we tell it to are horrified at the scenery. I’m not exaggerating one bit, as it was really disgusting – even for me, born and bred in Africa and naturally used to all sorts of insects and animals. But not even back in Mozambique had I seen so many at one time! On the last days of our stay – having resumed our outings to the disco and our tuna rice menu, we saw some ants in a corner of our balcony, and I immediately said to Miguel: “You are absolutely forbidden to spray them, or we may risk an invasion of ants and I’ve had enough of insects for one holiday. Let’s just leave them and pretend they don’t exist!”. And for once Miguel agreed!

That’s how we came to make this most strange connection – of palm trees and cockroaches. Who’d imagine they would get together in the most fashionable city of Marbella, in our very first – and certainly unforgettable – holiday together.




A different Christmas