I open the window and a salty breeze caresses my face. I leave the house, accompanied by the rustling sound of the sand under my feet and the swaying leaves of the palm tree.
‘Good morning, how did you sleep?’
Her name is Elke and although she’s been living on the island for some time, she still has a German accent.
‘Very well, thanks, I love the silence and the breeze, which is very different to the one in Madrid.’
‘Yes, it’s usually windy in this part of Lanzarote, which is better for the heat. What are your plans for today?’
‘I don’t know, we’ll go to the beach for a while and then we’ll take a trip round the island.’
‘Here, I’ve found these sand toys, they’re for Mateo.’
I pick up the bag that Elke is handing me with a smile. Her fair hair is set against her suntanned skin, especially around her blue eyes. She’s wearing a shoulder-strapped top and denim shorts. It’s now fifteen years since she stopped wearing high heels and started wearing cholas [flip-flops], fifteen years since left her job at an advertising agency in Frankfurt and moved to a small country house in Caleta de Famara.
‘Life there is grey, too organised, and time passes too quickly. I came here on holiday and fell in love with this island. I came back and convinced Annette to leave it all behind and start afresh. Here we’re freer, and we meet new people every day. I really enjoy looking after our guests; I like to think they’ll return to their hometowns with the same feeling I had when I returned to Germany after my first visit to Lanzarote.’Elke and Annette are not the only ones—Iñaki too gave up his career as a computer technician after losing his job at a consultancy in Bilbao to follow his dream of wearing swimming trunks all year round. He started off as a waiter at a restaurant in Arrecife until he earnt enough money to open his own canteen.
‘We’re not doing badly, but over the last few years we’ve noticed the effects of the economic crisis on tourism. People used to buy our local wines and cheeses, but now most of them order pizzas and hamburgers … The low-cost effect has made us shorten our menu, although we’re still committed to quality and to local raw produce. Have you tried the vegetables from Tinajo? I recommend the tomatoes with local Lanzarote fromage frais.’
Yes, they certainly taste different to those we buy in supermarkets in inland Spain, just as the smile and the gaze of Iñaki, like those of Elke and Annette, are different to those of the waiters and hotel staff in Madrid. Perhaps it’s the soft salty breeze that makes them blink and smile more, or perhaps time does indeed pass more slowly here than it does in the capital, enabling them to stop and chat.
I’m not sure whether it’s the island or Elke, who has accomplished her objective, but the truth is that something is cooking here because even I, who love high heels, am tempted to go barefoot and feel the sand under my feet.