It’s been a long time coming, but we booked and prepared for our first holiday abroad with the Small One and left in early October. The idea was to base the holiday around the needs of the Small One, with the option to do other things if she was up to it. Neither of us had experienced the delights of a resort holiday, so we decided, after much research, that Lara Beach in Antalya was the place of choice: the promise of sandy beaches, cooling pools, a spa for me, and all-inclusive food and drinks lured us in, and after much review-perusing, we booked it, packed up, flew off.
Even the packing was based around the needs of the small person: I prioritised extra clothing for her, numerous reusable swimming nappies and costumes, extra pairs of shorts and t-shirts and an abundance of disposable nappies, regular and swimming. A beach bag was packed as was a day bag. I gave no second thought to Indiana Jones, my regular holiday bag. A small multi-pocketed, khaki green affair, I always took him on the rare occasions I went abroad. He was small but I could get everything I needed in there and, much like his namesake, I took him on every excursion: from the airport, to the steamy hammams of Marrakech, to the mysterious sand dunes of Petra; the illegal Israeli checkpoints in Palestine; Indy was a well-travelled and much-used, essential companion. He was fortune and glory, fortune and glory. This time, however,he was dismissed as too small for the journey; I couldn’t fit a nappy inside, let alone wipes, toys and books for the Small One. So I didn’t even look for him. I didn’t give him a chance. Perhaps I should have.
After a deceptively easy plane journey, we arrived in Antalya and the glories of the resort we had booked. With three or four outdoor pools, a beach, an indoor pool and spa, and all you could eat all the time, it seemed quite palatial and regal. After lunch we took to the room and I allowed the two Hobbits of the ‘shire to nap. So far so good. Lunch and dinner were huge buffets, as was breakfast and there was the option to book into themed restaurants for dinner, should we wish. Pools, indoor and outdoor, the promise of a sandy beach to play on and as much food as we could stomach, day and night, meant that, in theory, we would always have plenty to keep us occupied.
Here’s one thing I didn’t count on: resort holidays are designed to confine you to the grounds of the resort. There is no leaving without great difficulty. Firstly, the resort was remote, located on a strip of beach far from shops and local amenities; in fact, we were surrounded on all side by endless rows of other resorts, piled on top of each other, new ones, half-built ones, old ones; it was a regular Las Vegas of resorts, all breathing collectively, heaving with masses of flesh and food.
Secondly, the design of the resort helps to create confinment: if you step inside the palatial surroundings, it’s very difficult to leave as the exit is so far away from your room, the amenities and the food hall. Just walking to the exit means passing so much other stuff that you have to take a break in the lobby just to regroup, recoup your strength and then soldier on. While you’re there, you might as well have a complimentary beverage and a biscuit, you’ll need it since the exit is a further five miles across the lobby.
Finally, the confinement is complete with the lure of food: if we feed you every hour, on the hour, there is no need or will to leave. Why walk to dining room? When it’s dinner time when we can wheel food around to you on carts: chips, gravy, doughnuts, cakes, pastries, ice-cream, sandwiches, all brought to you, wherevery you are; unless you are in your room, but even then, feel free to call and get a free club sandwich. The aim of the game is to saturate you with food, until even the beads of sweat on your body ooze food. Wy would you leave because we love you so much? We show you how much we love you by bringing you food at every given opportunity. Missed breakfast? No matter, there’s always late breakfast. Missed that? No worries, have a sandwich. Don’t like sandwiches? Head towards the beach and have some grilled chicken. Resort confinement complete. We love you, remember that.
Obviously, this applies to all-inclusive packages at resorts, and on this occasion we had no other option. Initially it felt great: food whenever we wanted, lavish surroundings, no need to leave. But it got claustrophobic very quickly. After a day, the food, lavish and rich, stuck in my throat, cloying with the taste of stale cigarette smoke and layers of visceral fat that hung in the air, making it warm and chewable. I looked around me on the second day and noticed something disturbing: everyone around us was overweight. Even the thin people were paradoxically overweight somehow, as if food clung to them invisibly, enveloping them in fat. As I sat on a sun lounger by the pool, stared at by other holiday makers, gluttony stared back at me, a mirror to my own excessive consumption. I couldn’t eat anymore.
What made everything worse was that I had picked a resort that was somehow absent of Muslim faces. This shouldn’t matter, after all, given what the Bearded Hobbit looks like, we are generally always the minority. But it did matter. It mattered to the other guests who obviously hadn’t seen women in headscarves out in the open; stopping in walkways and pointing at us was one of the more polite gestures; I had a woman come up to my face and point at me and shout “purdah” along with other things in German that I didn’t understand. I can only imagine she was saying, “Look, a beautiful woman in a headscarf!” The general rudeness extended to the use of lifts where people barged in before we’d had a chance to leave the lift ourselves; the vast majority of guests at this resort were German, or from Continental Europe, perhaps this is how lifts operate on the continent? Maybe it wasn’t an Islamophobic thing, maybe it was a cultural thing. We found ourselves being disgustingly English and apologising every time someone barged into the lift and blocked our exit: “I’m sorry, but could we possibly just…”
Things might have picked up, but they didn’t. The Small Hobbit got ill and we we were treated to a stay in a private Turkish hospital – an experience I will have to recount, but it’s just too long and traumatic to do so now. This sealed the deal: we were going home early, holiday abandoned. Especially since the night we got back from the hospital we were also treated to a disco that went on until midnight, right below our bedroom window. It was a kick in the teeth that the reception staff didn’t really remember that our baby got taken to hospital and when I went down to complain: the staff at the desk had to be told who we were and what had happened. If the hospital visit and the noise were not enough, this certainly was for me: it reeked of ‘we have no idea who you are, but we’ll look you up as soon as we deal with our more important guests.’ And there it was: during my short conversation with the reception staff, three other guests interrupted our conversation, were dealt with in fluent German, while I was sidelined as the bumbling English guest in a headscarf.
We did everything we could to get out of there early, I saw nothing at all of Turkey, apart from a hospital, an ambulance, and a resort filled with flesh and food. When we got back to the ‘shire, I thought about Indy, my trusty adventure bag, tucked up in a box somewhere, under my bed, waiting. I bet he was thinking, take me along next time, I’ll help. Okidokie Dr. Jones. I smiled at my own silliness, thinking an inanimate object could have saved our holiday; I thought about everything that had happened in the few days we were away, I thought about what I could have done differently, what I should do next time. I stopped. I mentally slapped myself; what was I thinking? Why would I put myself and the Hobbits through that all over again? Sorry Indiana Jones, there won’t be a next time, this was definitely the first and last resort.