Dinner with Guillermo

I’ve written before about travel karma. [1] You know, that sense of crushing inevitability when the tour bus arrives late because of the traffic, and it’s crowded, and the guy in the seat behind you won’t stop whining, and you’re about to turn around and open your mouth and give him something to really complain about. Travel karma is a bitch.

It can also be awesome. Uwe and I spent a too-short week on Gran Canaria, and we ate twice with Guillermo Ramirez. But let me back up.

Eating is a major aspect of traveling with my spousal unit. If you see us poring over the guide books, we’re probably checking out the historic, cultural, and Nature highlights of wherever we are.

Okay, kitsch sneaks into the mix sometimes too

I can guarantee you we’ve already scoped out all the good places to eat! Gran Canaria was no exception, and Uwe found a highly praised locale kitty-corner to our hotel. Hungry, on Thursday we headed over to Restaurante de Cuchara and entered a small family restaurant, probably 12 tables max. The owners greeted guests like old friends (most of them were) and only the owners’ handsome son Guillermo spoke English. He took it upon himself to serve us each course – which he was also cooking – and explained each dish with pride. The meal was great. I’ve retained a little of my high school and college Spanish (moving to Germany and having to learn Deutsch highjacked most of the foreign language area of my brain). But I could read the flier on our table that said Restaurante de Cuchara was serving a special six-course menu on Saturday.

Even before we finished dinner, we’d made a reservation for the coming Saturday. We got the last free table.

On Saturday night Guillermo again brought each course to our table and told us how he’d prepared them. Our meals cost a grand 30€ apiece.

Here are some of the dishes we ate those nights: A fermented, champagne-style gazpacho. Rabbit in a roll that you ate with your hands. Melt-in-your-mouth croquettes of suckling lamb. Grilled Canarian cheese with tomato jam. Quail stew with chickpeas. Cod fish Bras style. Canarian pork cheeks stew. Duck breasts. Pickled cucumber on edamame purée.

I was dying to ask him a question. When he came with our desserts I said, “We’ve been wondering if we might ask you, where did you train as a chef?” He smiled. “NOMA, in Copenhagen. I worked for a while in Bangkok, too.” NOMA! We knew NOMA has been repeatedly rated the best restaurant in the world. [2]

Guillermo was back on Gran Canaria for a few months, helping out in his parents’ restaurant. This particular dining experience was a way to show off what he could do with local ingredients and creativity. I told him that I blog and would be writing about him. I added, with absolute certainty, that I think he’ll be famous someday. His cooking is that good.

No, I didn’t receive a discount for saying I’d write a rave review. And yeah, travel karma. Sometimes you hit it just right.

NOTES: [1] I wrote about travel karma in a post I unimaginatively titled Travel Karma [2] NOMA was rated the Best Restaurant in the World in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

I have no idea if Señor Guillermo Ramirez is still in the kitchen, but here’s the contact info for this tasty restaurant. Restaurante de Cuchara, C/. Alfredo L.  Jones, 37; Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Tel: 928 26 55 09. Their website: Restaurante de Cuchara

6 October 2018 update… Note to anyone lucky enough to be heading to Gran Canaria: Guillermo informed me that he’s opened a new restaurant named Picaro. Here is the link: Restaurante Picaro If you are in Las Palmas, go!

Text © Jadi Campbell 2018. Photos © Uwe Hartmann 2018. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Massage in Indonesia: Lombok

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Lombok basketry

On the island of Lombok we’re literally at the end of the road. We look at a map and decide that where the one road going inland up in the mountains stops, we’ll stop too. We end up in a small village called Tetebatu.

We walk through Tetebatu along the one street and everywhere people stand or crouch. They sit in the open thatched huts built on stilts to keep people off the ground when it rains. It rains every afternoon, non-stop torrents for 3 hours, and the shelters are full then.

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Clean water for homes is provided by fountains and wells. The locals wash themselves, their clothes, and their animals in them. But I see an ancient looking woman in a sarong carrying a flat woven basket full of rice. She kneels in front of her house and washes the kernels in the open stream that runs in a gully down the side of the street. Tropical medicine experts estimate that 80% of the Indonesian population have guts full of parasites, and it is evident to me why this should be so.

She looks up and gives me a smile so open, so beautiful, that I am temporarily blinded.

That afternoon a Danish couple accompanied by an Indonesian man and boy check in. The couple take the room next to us, while the Indonesians stay in the next bungalow. We exchange smiles and hellos, but nothing more. We’re at the end of the road on the other side of the world, and I savor the sense of isolation from the familiar and known.

The air is significantly cooler up here in the mountains. For the first time in our trip to Indonesia we both wear jeans. Uwe puts on a jacket and I pull out a sweater. That night the Indonesian in the next bungalow comes out on his porch. He has wrapped himself in the blanket from his bed against the chilly air.

“Good evening!” he says, and comes and stands by the little low gate that leads up to our bungalow.

Uwe and I sit under the porch lights reading and chewing on bags of nuts we’d bought at the coastal market a few days earlier. We pull up another chair and ask him to join us. His name is Udin. He lives on Gili Meno, a little island northwest of Lombok. He’s in Tetebatu as guide and translator for the Danish couple we’d exchanged nods with earlier.

The Danes are medical researchers investigating the local plant life. They are asking the native Sasaks which plants they use for healing and in what capacity. That afternoon we’d seen the three of them, Udin’s son trailing a few feet behind, walk around the grounds and stand by various shrubs and trees and bushes on the property. Since everything is unbelievably lush, and either flowering or bearing fruit, I had not thought twice about their activity. The fecundity of the landscape is a wonder. I keep stopping too, to crow over some gaudy flower or vivid tree.

“From here we will go to visit my mother,” Udin says. She lives in a village further south on Lombok. Although on a map the two locations are within spitting distance of one another, it’s too expensive for him to make the trip more often. He hasn’t seen her in over a year.

This is the first time in his life that he’s been in a hotel room. Udin feels very fortunate to have hooked up with the Danish couple. He switches from talk about himself and asks us about ourselves with the innate charm and politeness of the Indonesians. What are we doing here? Where are we from?

Udin looks alert when I say I’m a massage therapist.

“I have great pain here and here,” he says, and points to his calves and the small of his back. “I worked since I was 8 years old carrying sacks of rice weighing 60 kilos from the rice fields. Then I worked on a fishing boat. I was wet and cold all the time. Now that I am older I ache always in these places.”

He tells us about the hard life on Lombok. “Bali is rich. Here, you might earn 2,500 rupiahs for a day’s labor. But then the economy collapsed. A kilo of rice has gone up in price in the last 2 years from 500 rupiahs to 3,000.” He mentions again that his body aches from the hard labor he’s done all his life.

“Would you allow me to give you a massage?” I feel sure that this is what he wants to request, without being so forward as to actually ask.

Udin promptly says yes and moves over to stand in front of me. I am a little concerned. It is now night and I am about to do massage on someone standing on a porch in the middle of nowhere. Also, if Udin is from Lombok he must be Muslim. I recall the occasional male patients I can’t treat in the medical clinic back in Stuttgart.

“Is it permissible for me as a woman to touch you?” I ask.

“Of course, it is no problem,” he answers.

Compressions and cross fiber friction, I finally decide. I start to work. Udin’s muscles are ropy. He has no extraneous fatty tissue anywhere after a lifetime of hard work and rice. Udin grimaces once or twice, but remains standing. I work on him for perhaps 20 minutes and stop. We talk a while longer. Then Udin excuses himself and heads to bed.

The next morning Uwe and I have coffee on the outdoor patio of the hotel. The Danish couple and Udin come up for breakfast before leaving. To my surprise the Danish couple head straight over to our table and shake our hands.

“I hear you’re medical researchers,” I say, intensely curious about them.

“Yes, and we hear that Udin got a massage last night. He’s always working,” they answer, and begin to ask us questions. The acknowledgement from them is rewarding and sweet.

Udin sits with us for a few minutes. “How are you feeling?” I ask.

“I feel well. I am well for the first time in many years. I am without pain!”

I’m inexplicably moved, and glad I took the time the night before to help this man.  Maybe, I think, maybe I earned us some good travel karma.

***

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Udin on Lombok, 1999

NOTES: For more on Indonesia go to my posts Baum, Bats, and Monkeys and Massage in Indonesia: Java. A common topic thread is Travel Karma.

Photo Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell or Uwe Hartmann. (All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.) More photos of our trip to Indonesia and Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Travel Karma

Travel karma is the bad luck, bad weather, bad room, bad case of Montezuna’s revenge… all the moments that you hope you’ll look back on and laugh about someday. That Jamaica honeymoon your brother booked, and the hotel had a fire? Blame it on travel karma. Our week on Malta in the autumn month that the travel agent swore got only 2-3 days of rain, and we were there for all 5 of them? Oh, yeah. It was travel karma.

There’s nothing you can do except shrug your shoulders, find a comfy café to hang out, and pull out the book you brought along.

Travel karma is other moments, too. It’s serendipity, the magic of being in the right place at the exactly right time. It’s the town festival you stumble into while out exploring. Travel karma is the restaurant with the fixed price menu that turns out to include champagne throughout the meal. It’s when you jump on a train 10 seconds before the doors close to leave.

Every so often travel karma gives you a heady dose of both moments…

We booked a charter flight to India.

Where we were headed
Where we were headed

I don’t always sleep well on the eve of a trip, and slept especially poorly this night. The next morning we were on a very early ICE train to Frankfurt to get our flight to India. The ICE is a sleek, fast train that makes few stops and great time.

I hauled my train pass out of my travel purse out of my day back for the train attendant to check. Tired, I reminded myself that I would need to put the pass back in the purse and the purse back in the day pack.

I didn’t.

We got off the train and headed up into the airport. A few horrified minutes later I realized my purse was right where I’d left it, on the seat of a train now heading to Amsterdam… containing my passport. And my credit cards. And my train pass. And $$s. And €€s, all the ready money I was carrying as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to find cash machines.

We could get more cash in the airport and use Uwe’s credit cards, but I wasn’t going anyplace unless I got my passport back. The helpful folks at DB (Deutsches Bahn) contacted the train and they checked: my purse still lay on the seat where I’d left it! The problem was that the next scheduled stop for the ICE wouldn’t be until Köln, several hours up the tracks. DB would hold my purse for me there. There was no way I’d have my passport back in time for us to make our plane.

It was too late to do anything but rebook the flight to India. If I said “Uwe, I’m soooo sorry!” once, I said it 100 times. Man, did I feel awful. But – it was travel karma.

Uwe climbed on the next train heading back to Stuttgart (looking a whole lot less happy than he had early that morning) and I caught a train to Köln. The DB personnel hadn’t been able to report if my purse still contained my valuables. My passport was stamped with the resident alien visa that allowed me to remain in Germany. And without my passport I couldn’t head back to America to see my country, or my family, or go anywhere, for that matter. I felt oddly vulnerable. This situation was bad, and the more I worried about it, the worse it became.

As I sat on the train I bargained with the travel gods: “Just leave me the passport.”

When we reached Köln I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since supper the night before. I wasn’t ready yet for good/bad news about my purse. I bought myself a sandwich and a coffee and stalled for five minutes. Then it was time… I headed to Lost & Found and told someone my story. Of course, I no longer had any ID to prove who I was. He asked me to describe the purse and what was in it.  I flinched inside as I told him.

The nice man vanished into the back and returned with my purse. “Go ahead and check that everything’s there,” he suggested. I know my hands shook as I unzipped it and looked.

Not a pfennig had gone missing. I shrieked Ya-hoo! and he laughed. Then I said thank you and left the little office.

I went directly to the flower vendor kitty-corner to Lost & Found and bought the largest bouquet of white blooms they offered. I marched with the bouquet back into the Lost & Found office. The employees all looked up astonished when they saw me again.

My voice quavered. “These are for all of you. It’s not enough just to say, ‘Thank you for doing your jobs’. It’s so great to know that there are still honest, helpful people in the world!” Nonplussed, they accepted the flowers, but everyone was smiling.

The train trip back to Stuttgart from Köln took 3 hours. The next charter flight to India left 3 days later. When we got finally got there I had one of the most amazing trips of my life. I probably used up a lot of good travel karma on that day I had to journey to Köln, but I hope I’ve added to my karma account since then. And I will never, ever forget my belongings on a train going anywhere. That’s one lesson I’ve learned!

© Jadi Campbell 2013. Photos © Uwe Hartmann. More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

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En route
Hubli
6-8th century Jain, Hindu, and Buddhist cave temples, Badami.
Nandi Purmina festival Hampi, India
Nandi Purmina festival
Hampi
Goa
Goa