Torrevieja Truman Show

by Nathan James Thomas

A traveler and his wife attempt to break up the monotony of eerily similar days in Spain.

The Costa Blanca curves around the town, and on the small beach sheltered by a jutting wall of rock, a couple hit a ball back and forth with small, plastic bats. He is shirtless, fair-skinned and wearing blue board shorts. She is dark and full-figured and wearing a colorful bikini. They hit the ball back and forth. 

They were there yesterday, and they’ll be there tomorrow, too.

I stare out past the beach and fantasize that the haze on the edge of the horizon is Algeria. It’s there, in the distance, but can my eyes really see it from this far away, or am I imagining it? It has been so long since I’ve seen a country outside of Europe, and who knows when or if such travel may again be possible. The fantasy is all I have.

The many restaurants along the esplanade are closed, and some of them still have their chairs out front. Migrants from Africa sit on them, sipping beers in the sun, wearing sunglasses that would not have been out of place in Elton John’s collection. Some hold baskets of trinkets and knock-off goods, but there are no tourists to sell them to. 

I look down at the beach a few meters below the concrete walkway and see a middle-aged man, unshaven, cigarette hanging from his lips, working with a craftsman’s concentration on an enormous sandcastle. It’s the size of a car. He has laid out his hat on the sand next to it to collect donations and is now about to place a candle within each of the many turrets. He doesn’t seem to have made much progress since yesterday. Maybe the bulk of the day’s work is taken up repairing the damage caused by the winds and disturbances of the night before.

He was there yesterday, and he will be there tomorrow, too.

The lack of variety made us snowblind to time. Each daily walk lasted a year. We came to know every driveway, every parked car, and relished even the smallest change in the landscape.

“Oh, the van that was here has finally moved. I wonder if it was towed.” “They’ve finally taken in their laundry from the apartment at the corner.” “The beggar outside the supermarket was unusually drunk today; perhaps someone gave generously in the morning.”

Desperate for new horizons, I scroll wistfully through the “experiences” section on AirBNB. I communicate with taxi companies. And, prepared to spend a small fortune, I hatch a plan.

Leaving or entering our province is next to impossible. No public transport is operating. We have no car. But the taxi companies return my emails. And I find a place, just within the province boundaries, willing to accommodate some much needed tourist traffic for the day.

It is a small house off a big highway near a patch of short, cultivated palm trees. It is run by a Norwegian woman and her Romanian former helper and now live-in boyfriend. And they are in the business of rescuing stray dogs.

They rely on tourist visits for an income, and recently they’d had few, and so their pack of dogs has shrunk from a height of over 20 down to a mere 8 or 9. But this is enough for Joanna, my partner. 

Desperate for canine company, she makes the acquaintance of each of them, feeding them with sausages our hosts have provided. There are small brown ones and a short, stocky gray one that I nickname the cannonball as he charges at my legs in what could be interpreted as a hostile act, but the intent feels somehow playful and friendly. There is also a pig, but we are informed she is on an enforced diet and is, therefore, in a foul temper and in no mood for meeting new people.

After frolicing with the animals and taking them for a short walk through the palm trees, we sit in the small white living room of the small white house, and our Norwegian hostess takes us through the book.

The book is a white photo album of the kind that may be used to hold treasured wedding photos or a collection of holiday snaps. Here, it holds pictures of dogs. But these are no calendar photos. These are the dogs in the state they were found in before they were rescued (sometimes chained and abandoned on street corners, sometimes whimpering in garbage bins, sometimes locked in the boots of derelict cars) by our hosts. We hear stories of dogs deposited on their doorstep by unwilling owners or salvaged from a nearby institute our hosts refer to simply as “the killing place.”

While perhaps intended to be a redemptive portfolio of healing, the catalog of horrors is overwhelming, and Joanna and I are shaken as the taxi returns for our 50-euro trip back to Torrevieja. Still, we wanted something new, and we’d found it.

In some months time, the roads will remain closed, but the bars and restaurants will creak open, at certain hours and with certain restrictions. We spend our nights at a small rock & roll bar, where a gang of misfits and madmen from Germany and Scandinavia gather to drink jagerbombs and buy drugs off the Africans who slip in when the door guard isn’t looking. 

By night they play pool like global security depends on the outcome of each game; by day they work in a variety of customer service and translation jobs to make drinking money, or stretch out by the beach puffing on joints when the coffers are full. They also keep getting into various romantic entanglements with each other. One of the Finnish girls develops an infatuation with the bartender, a polite and surprisingly warm and clean man given the raggedness of the clientele, who always remembers exactly what you had ordered no matter how long the night. 

That girl disappears one day, called back to Finland by the tragic death of a family member. There are other intrigues and tragedies and dramas, and the nightly parties proceed with a joyless intensity. Joanna and I soon withdraw, and keep to our books and writing and long walks as the city slowly starts to let in new faces. 

We leave after a few months. But I know they’re still there, playing pool and drinking Jaeger at the rock bar just two blocks from the sea. I’m sure they were there yesterday, and they will be there tomorrow, too.

Cover photo credit

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