I like holidays. That sounds trite - who doesn't? But I really like them and will sacrifice whatever is required during the course of the year to ensure that I get two weeks in the sun as my reward. We've tried various formats but recently we have had a few encounters with that strange beast, the all inclusive hotel. It's not really a format that appeals to me as an adult. I would rather have the flexibility to go where I choose but when holidaying with children it has been a revelation, particularly in countries not yet set up for European style tourism.
There are lots of reasons why it works for us. It's all paid for for a start so we don't have to check the budget every time we stop for a drink. Buying d rinks for six is a pricey business, especially when all we really wanted was a couple of cups of coffee. Many I time I have gone round the table finishing all the children's tipples because I can't bear to leave them paid for and undrunk!
Next, there's no waiting around. You walk in, find a table and you're off. No need to desperately order the food with the drinks or entertain hungry and almost mutinying children whilst their food is being prepared. They can be sitting down and eating within seconds of entering the restaurants and this my children like. A lot.
And it makes them more adventurous in the culinary stakes too. It's a gamble choosing something new if it's the only meal you'll get until breakfast but if you can take a little bit and leave it if you don't like it then what's to lose? Who knows? You may even like it! For example, they all ate curried goat in Jamaica. Can you imagine if I'd served that up for tea at home?
However, it's not quite as simple as all that. There are various aspects about the all inclusive hotel that make me increasingly uncomfortable. These concerns were writ large on our recent trip to Cape Verde, a small and undeveloped bunch of islands just off the African mainland. Until now there has been no industry on the island that we visited. It has sun and spectacular beaches but is too barren to grow crops. Tourism is their great hope.
I know very little about the lives of the people who were waiting on us. They wear a uniform so there is no way of judging their means from just looking. I saw some incredibly basic housing, far more rudimentary than anything I've seen in the Caribbean and I saw poverty there that would take your breath away. I can't say how the staff lived and I am worried that I may sound patronising but I think it would be fair to say that the standards of living are not high.
Enter the Europeans on their holiday. Two weeks to relax and indulge. And how? I think we forget how fat we've become because it is all around us. We are ever quick to judge the Americans without looking closer to home. It's clear that the poverty in our world is on a very different scale to that in Cape Verde. I try to ignore it. Other people's weight issues are no concern of mine after all. But it leaves a sour taste.
But I couldn't ignore the greed. Plates piled high again and again with enough food to feed several people. And then left abandoned to go and try something else. All that food wasted. It must horrify the locals to know what they throw away on an hourly basis. I was ashamed. Could people not see how inappropriate their behaviour was? Not only was the food wasted but what about the water and power that was used to cook it? There is no drinking water. It has to be imported and other water comes from the desalination plant which takes power to run. It's not just as simple as leaving your food.
I argued with myself every mealtime. These people are on holiday taking hard earned breaks from the reality of life. Who am I to criticise? Without this tourism the islands would go back to having almost nothing. It is providing work and an infrastructure that was missing before. But do we have to be so blatant with our wealth?
I don't know what the answer is. Time will tell whether tourism will be the panacea for Cape Verde that they hope and maybe they are not as offended by we Europeans as I am ashamed of us. But would it hurt to show some respect for the environment in which you choose to holiday and make allowances where necessary? I'm not suggesting that we should starve - but no one needs three plates full for breakfast.