Inside, Antonio noticed that he was sweating and covered by a brown dust from the road. It had not been wise to keep the taxi window open in order to look at the street shops. His mouth felt as if he had swallowed a spoonful of uncooked oatmeal. Looking around, he understood why people in the hotel carried bottles of water in their hands. Plastic bottles had reached this corner of the world too, but here it was to wash away the dust and help breathing.
A few visitors seated in oversized sofas tried catching the breeze from huge overhead fans. After all, it was the middle of summer. A soft rhythmic background of flute music added a distinct character to the environment of palm trees, red flowers and monumental stone carvings. It was another dimension. He could see the street through the glass doors, where the door attendant in his shiny uniform kept children and vendors at bay.
The way to the rooms was at the other side of a large hall. Guided by a young boy carrying his bags, Antonio got into the elevator and then entered a labyrinth of corridors decorated by plants with leaves the size of small umbrellas.
The room had a large window from floor to ceiling. A small bed was the centrepiece, with carvings hanging from the walls in strategic places. Only the icy air conditioning provided some relief. He inspected the room, the bathroom and the closet. A woven cover added a touch of bright colours to the bed. A telephone, a desk lamp, a can of mosquito repellent and a few ashtrays completed the decor.
The afternoon was young and Antonio decided to explore the compound and appreciate the beauty of the place. Walking around, he realized that everything was designed for the tourists. Pink flowering bushes covered the undulating walls, while dwarf palm trees adorned the gardens. Disturbed by his presence, small green lizards crawled in all directions over the white stucco walls, running away from an interrupted sunbathing time. A wet earth smell in the air made Antonio felt as if he was in a sauna.
Soon he reached an area where small tables, scattered around the pool, were full of noisy foreigners, who had come back from exploring the city, from their business meetings or were simply trying to escape the heat. In fact, there was little else to do but to sit, drink beer, and smoke local cigars. Therefore, he did.
After a couple of hours, he decided to go back to his room and lie down on the bed. It has been a long trip and a sudden change from the middle of winter to a scorching heat, something that he was no longer accustomed to.
So far, he felt completely alien. Although back in what was supposed to be familiar territory, a growing feeling of uneasiness had begun percolating deep in his soul since the time he arrived in the now modern airport. Nothing was as he remembered it or as he had yearned over years of exile.