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When the music stops: David Whitley

There are times when you don’t need music to soundtrack your travels — especially when it’s the same CD on repeat again and again and again…

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The hateful sound emerged from the speakers again: “Pa-rapa-papa-papa pa-pa-pa.” Eyes rolled, and the fury mounted. After nearly a week of this, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was at the point where I’d happily march in, throw the stereo in the pool and scrub the CD with my keys.

The resort we had chosen was, in many ways, utterly delightful. It had a clifftop position with excellent ocean views, the rooms were hugely spacious, the balconies were perfect sun traps and there was a decent-sized pool.

But there has to be a trade-off for a remarkably cheap rate, and it turns out that in this instance, it was inexplicable weirdness. Toiletries in the bathroom were replaced seemingly at random at least two days after they’d run empty. The poor entertainments woman spent her waking hours trying to chivvy people, who simply didn’t want organised fun. And every day, two women stood with a clothes rail by the side of the pool, before doing a ‘fashion show’ by parading up and down wearing said clothes, despite no one showing the faintest interest in buying them.

Such oddities were easily written off as management quirks or, somewhat unreasonably, ‘just what they do in Spain’. But after a week of being ground down into quivering nervous tics, it was clear that one thing could no longer be tolerated. The solitary CD that they played on repeat all day, every day, had to go — especially the most annoying song in history, which for some reason was on the CD twice.

Music’s role in travel is an odd one. There’s often one song that inadvertently becomes the soundtrack to a trip, but you rarely have a role in selecting what that song is. If you’re lucky, that song will be one that you really like — that’s how the first dance at my wedding was to a song that no one else present had heard before. Burn Your Name by Australian band Powderfinger was the only realistic choice that didn’t have lyrics about murder, sexual impropriety or disconsolate misery. More to the point, it was a song that belonged to both of us after it kept reappearing during a three-week drive through the Australian Outback.

Other songs are less poignant, but are inextricably linked to the place where you heard them. Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers may as well be the Balinese national anthem, so often was I subjected to bad pidgin English versions of it by iffy pub singers.

On other occasions, it can turn into a detective mission, trying to work out what that song you keep hearing is and who it’s by. My personal best was an earworm I thought might be called ‘Safe To Shore’. It turned out to be called Little Talks by an Icelandic band called Of Monsters and Men, something I learned a full two years after being bombarded with it in the US.

Most of the time, however, the song that forms the soundtrack to your trip is notable for its infuriating, harrowing awfulness — like the Macarenas and Mambo Number Fives, Whigfields or Crazy Frogs of this world.

And so, thanks to the perplexing hotel policy of only buying one CD, Tenerife will forever belong to Rap das Armas by Cidinho and Doca. If you’ve never heard it, do everything in your power to ensure this remains the case.

The irritation was clearly building around the pool. As Rap das Armas returned every 20 minutes, the groans grew louder and the swearing became increasingly audible.

“Just wait until you’ve had a week of it,” became the oft-parroted catchphrase.

So it was time to be the hero. I stomped over to the bar, prepared to bark commands but descending into begging.

“Please, please put on another CD.”

“But there is no other CD.”

“Then don’t put a CD on at all. No one wants to hear that song again.”

“But then there would be no music?”

“YES. That’s perfect!”

It appears my voice carried. A ripple of applause started, and the triumphant stroll back to the sunbed was punctuated with offers to buy me a beer. I was the poolside Che Guevara.

Sometimes, travel really is better without the soundtrack.


Published in the March 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)