Saturday, 15 September 2012

Formentainted

We're on the ferry, heading back to Ibiza from the neighbouring smaller island of Formentera. Truth be told, I've been a little bit over-cooked by the sun, so it's quite a relief to be in the shade. The ferry is bouncing on the water rather disconcertingly. It's like being on a Stannah chair lift.

Formentera is stunningly beautiful in a sort of vision-of-paradise kind of a way. The beaches are as white as snow and the sea surrounding the island is every shade of blue. Towards the horizon, the water is a dark shade of indigo, darker than any sea I've seen, but as it gets closer to the shoreline it gets lighter and lighter, azure and then the palest shade of turquoise. It's like looking at a Dulex colour chart. I've seldom been to a place more beautiful. 

We sat on a beach, on a spit of land so thin that we could see the sea in every direction. The water was so clear that, when I opened my eyes whilst swimming under water, I could see, in minute detail, the tiny fish who were swimming next to me. We opted for the beach where the freaky jelly fish weren't. You could see them, slightly pink in colour, bouncing around in every wave. And hundreds of the critters were being washed up on the shoreline. It was like a scene from The Day of the Triffids. 

We walked from the town's port for a couple of miles along marshy fields which were being used to harvest sea salt, which glinted in the sunshine. The path was long and straight and covered in fine sand, which billowed up in clouds of dusty smoke every time a bus or car passed by. 

The sand  dunes were filled with enormous spiders in giant webs. 

The place, however, has left us with a very bad taste in our mouths. Literally. 

After sitting on the beach for a while, we took ourselves off to the Restaurante El Ministre; an inviting-looking spot at the end of a wooden walkway over the dunes. We walked in and the first thing I noticed was someone tucking in to a rather nice looking portion of chips with their pound of flesh. 

We sat down and ordered drinks whilst surveying the menu. What became instantly clear was that vegetarians were not catered for. Still, a salad with a bowl of chips can be just what the doctor ordered when you're starving hungry, and I couldn't wait to tuck in. "A Caprese salad", I said "and some of your delicious-looking chips..." there was a pause... "patatas fritas..." I said. The waiter shook his head. "You can only have chips as part of a meal with something else." "Yes," I said, "I'm having them with a salad. You don't have a vegetarian option for me to have it with..." 

There was a great deal of shrugging. Our friend Alex waded in and spike in perfect Spanish. Nothing. The waiter point blank refused to allow me to have a plate of chips. "In all my 5 years waiting here", he said,"I've never been asked for such a strange request..." 

There followed a rather horrible scene, where we asked if he could talk to the chef. I should point out that it was one of the most expensive restaurants I've been in. My Caprese salad, which was a starter portion, was going to cost me the best part of twenty pounds, and when you're paying through the nose, and there's nothing you can eat on the menu, you expect to at least be able to be able to cobble together something nice from what they DO serve.

The chef refused to help, so the manager, Juan, was called, who was amongst the rudest men I've ever met. He said that they couldn't give me a plate of chips because they didn't have the right sized plate. He said if I was vegetarian I could make do with a plate of vegetables or a salad, before walking away shaking his head whilst we were still talking to him. Nathan ran after him and told him how rude he was, but it was no use. 

We had one option, to vote with our feet, so we left Alex and Wiesek in the restaurant and promptly left the island. I'm still shaking from the experience; not just because I hate to be made to feel like a leper for being vegetarian, but because I'm in a place where there's nothing I can do to complain about the bad service we received. People will carry on going to El Ministre, vegetarians will continue to be treated badly, and Alex and Wiesek probably had their food spat in. Our little altercation will have taught nobody anything, just as my regular arguments with foreign call centres achieve nothing. If a society doesn't value the importance of good customer service, there's no point in trying to inflict your standards on it. 

So Formentera is sadly Formentainted. Much as it's a proper heaven on earth, I can guarantee I'll never go back. 

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