“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller.
Some of my favorite words about travel, that apply most aptly to a recent vacation where I joined a group of friends and spent a week in a parallel universe. More commonly known as the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza.
But first, some brief background.
Ibiza is a tiny island in the Mediterranean, about fifty kilometers top to bottom. It is generally dusty and generally dry, with arid soil and a rocky shoreline. It is in fact only the third largest of the Balearic Islands, which themselves are a relatively small chain of islands about 150 kilometers off the east coast of Spain.
The Phoenicians settled Ibiza around 600 BC. Later the Greeks came, then variously the Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Moors, Crusaders, and finally the Aragonese Christians.
Initially the island was a moderately important trading post, frequently caught in the crosshairs of assorted wars of conquest. But over time the island slipped into its more permanent role, as being a boring and sleepy outpost of whatever empire happened to be ruling the roost.
Indeed, for almost a thousand years Ibiza remained largely irrelevant, to everyone. The local population specialized in producing salt, fish sauce, and pretty much that was it.
So why then, if you roll the clock forward to today, does almost everyone under the age of fifty know of the place? So much so that for many folks this irrelevant dot on the map has become an essential stop on their global bucket-list of “places I must go someday”.
How is it that despite not having all that much going for it, Ibiza has become a world-renowned destination, and a world-wide brand?
Well, it’s simple really. This tiny island, more than almost anywhere else on the planet, has become synonymous with good times, and fun.
Because Ibiza, you see, is the home and spiritual heartland of electronic club music, such that on any given night through the summer tourist season there will be parties raging all over the island. And not just any old parties, but huge, loud, extravagant, thumping parties, at mega-clubs with world-renowned DJs, and where thousands of revelers – young and old – will go absolutely bonkers until the wee hours. All in a decidedly otherworldly, parallel universe kind of way.
Although I guess the best way to explain this properly is to simply step you through an average Ibiza day. If you’ve never been, it may enlighten you. And if you have, enjoy the memories…..
Yes, you read that right. When on holiday in Ibiza, the norm is to first open your eyes in the mid-afternoon, after the sun is well up and the day is already more than half way done.
2.01pm: Go back to sleep.
Grab a few more minutes of sleep, and then begrudgingly force yourself to get out of bed sometime in the next twenty minutes, or so.
You will quickly learn that the concept of time in Ibiza is a fungible, malleable, entirely discretionary thing. This means that nothing needs to happen by any appointed hour, all schedules are approximate at best, and everything you understand about the clock can be turned upside down. For the sake of your mental health don’t fight it – just go with the flow. If you feel like sleeping an extra few minutes, or even an extra three hours so that you only surface after 5pm, you can – who am I to stop you?
2.30pm-ish and onwards: Stumble down to “Breakfast”.
Chances are that in Ibiza you will be staying in either a hotel or at one of the many private rental villas that blanket the island. Whichever the case, the good folk of Ibiza are well used to the bizarrely late rising habits of tourists. So “breakfast” will be waiting for you whenever you finally decide to emerge from your slumbers (assuming you can call a meal eaten in the mid-afternoon “breakfast”).
Expect a classic and extremely satisfying rustic Spanish spread to start your day: crusty bread, fresh vegetables, yoghurts, cheeses, cold cuts, and eggs. All drenched in generous quantities of olive oil.
3.30pm-ish and onwards: Arrive at a Beach Club.
Ibiza is a summer holiday locale, and thus the thing to do, in the few hours of sunshine left to you after waking, is to head to the beach. Although the beach in Ibiza is slightly different to the beach anywhere else in the world, as it’s not about sand and sea. Rather, it is all about the scene, and where the day’s party will first get going.
Pick any one of the many beach clubs that line Ibiza’s shores. For a piffling sum (like 100 euros or so) you will be able to rent an over-sized day-bed. Provided, of course, that you have remembered to phone ahead and make a reservation. Beach club day-beds in Ibiza are similar to tables at super-hot restaurants elsewhere: booked out days, if not weeks in advance.
Once secured, sprawl out on your day-bed, wedged comfortably between the infinity pool and the rocky, pebbly, generally unappealing seashore. But no matter: the water will be warm and clear, the sun will be hot, and seriously cool lounge music will be playing in the background.
Presently an attractive young member of the ever-present staff brigade (it may well seem that there are more helpers than guests) will be along to take your order. It is time for the first of the day’s cocktails, and perhaps some food. Once your order is in, lie prone on the day-bed, silently worshiping the sun, for about three or four hours. Take breaks only to (i) dip in the ocean or pool, (ii) order and drink more cocktails, and (iii) order ridiculous quantities of tapas, and nibble.
So far, so good: you are doing well.
7.30pm-ish and onwards: Rev it Up a Notch
As the sun starts to set, the laid-back lounge music will give way to tunes spun by a live DJ (Ibiza’s beach clubs are where the up and coming DJs of this world cut their teeth). The volume will be turned up a notch (ie: to somewhere just short of jet-plane deafening), signaling that now is the time to get off your butt, pretty much for the first time since you woke up earlier that afternoon.
Before you know it, everyone at the beach will be dancing (yourself included, even if dancing isn’t normally your thing). There will be people dancing everywhere – on the rocky beach, on the pool deck, on the day-beds, and even in the pool. But no matter where it is happening, no-one will bother to get dressed. So you will wind up bumping about with half-naked folks still in their bikinis and swimming shorts, everyone having a rollicking good time.
Take special note of the bevy of attractive Russian gals, in their sparkly gold minikinis, who will somehow manage to stay upright despite chain-drinking margaritas while dancing in high heels on the pebbles. Trust me: it is an extraordinary sight to behold.
Continue this way until about 10.30pm-ish or so.
Alternative Option for Advanced Ibiza Visitors: Note: a perfectly acceptable alternative to the aforementioned beach club is to rent a boat for a day. This will mean you can do the exact same thing – lying prone, eating, drinking and dancing until after sunset – only now it will be on the front deck of a boat while bobbing about in the water. The main differences being only that (i) on the boat you will just be with your friends (and the people on the neighboring boats); (ii) the periodic dips will be straight off the side of the boat, so you don’t have to bother with rocky beaches; (iii) the food will be paella, sourced from extremely pricey beachside shacks on otherwise deserted islands; and (iv) cocktails will be delivered via jet ski, by an enterprising Spanish fellow in a wetsuit, the words “Mojito Man” printed on the back. He will proceed to mix up an expert mojito and serve it to you literally as you float in a crystal clear blue sea….
11pm-ish and onwards: Eat Dinner.
Done with the beach-club and/or boat for the day and/or night (this inverted time thing really can get pretty confusing, but hang in there), it is now time to head out into the nearest town, for dinner.
Streets will be packed and every restaurant will be open, never mind the late hour. Arriving as early as 11pm will in fact be considered a bit gauche and touristy, but still, you might well be hungry by now. (Although seriously, even if you wind up leaving a restaurant at 1am after finishing a midnight dinner, you will see other people just arriving to start theirs).
In any case, no matter what time you choose to eat, the food will knock your socks off: cooling gazpacho soup at the start, endless tapas, giant tentacles of grilled octopus and other assorted seafood delights, bread with garlic and tomato, paella done a dozen different ways, and artery-blocking desserts at the end.
Special Note for Advanced Ibiza Visitors: At the right restaurants, if you pay close attention, you will be able to learn all about something known as the Ibiza “wanker tax” – a consumption premium paid by those with more money than brains. Take, for example, a 3 liter bottle of Krug champagne, on offer at one fine restaurant for the paltry sum of 4,900 euros. And immediately beneath it, on the very same wine-list, a 6 liter bottle of the very same Krug champagne, for the even paltrier sum of 19,000 euros. Which, if you do the math, means an 11,000 euro premium just to get a bigger bottle. Hence, the “wanker tax”.
And just when you start thinking to yourself “which moron would possibly ever order that?” the answer will present itself at the next table. There a rather fat and hairy Russian man in an open neck silk shirt, surrounded by a bevy of stunning six-foot blondes (the minikini gals from earlier in the day, only now dripping in Chanel and diamonds), will call for a bottle. It will be delivered to his table held aloft by a conga-line of waitresses, waving sparklers in the air and singing loudly. (Meanwhile, in the background the restaurant proprietor will be on the phone to his realtor placing a down payment on a new house).
Plus the ultimate indignity: once the bottle is actually opened, the only people who will drink from it will be the ladies. Because the Russian bloke, who dropped almost 20 grand for this over-sized flagon of bubbly, will say something like: “Champagne is for pussies. I drink vodka”.
2.30am-ish and onwards: Find a Club
Now, finally, after all that hard preparatory work – laying in the sun, stuffing your face with delectable food, gawking at oligarchical displays of conspicuous consumption – you will at last come to Ibiza’s main event: the club.
True, 2.30am may be the middle of the night anywhere else on earth, and a time when by rights you should be fast asleep. But in the alternative reality of Ibiza, this is it: prime time. This is when you head out to find your club of choice for the night, shell out another stiff entrance fee, and finally let yourself go, to plunge headfirst down the rabbit hole.
That is, of course, assuming you can get in. You see, at these late hours the traffic jams will be at their worst, and the lines for entry to the clubs will be at their longest. And when I say “longest”, I do not mean a velvet rope with a few over-eager teens milling about outside. No, I mean a long, snaking, heaving crush of a 1,000 people (or more), all desperate to gain access, entry fee be damned. Because some of the clubs in Ibiza are mind-boggling enormous, with a capacity of up to 10,000 people (or more) and packed to that capacity (or more), night after night, each and every night, all summer long.
Special Tip for Advanced Ibiza Visitors: Whatever you do, don’t embarrass yourself by thinking you can somehow jump the queue if you “slip the doorman a fifty”. Remember the Russian guy and the champagne in the restaurant? Well, there are plenty of guys just like him here too – Russians, Arabs, European aristocrats, global playboys and trust-fund babies. The doorman will pocket your note, look you up and down like you are not much more than a slick of pond scum, and tell you that sure you can cut the line, by taking a private table. Which will set you back a relatively trivial sum of 10,000 euro or so, but hey – it will at least include two free bottles of premium grade vodka. Now there’s a bargain.
Who Knows the Time Anymore-ish: Dance like you have never danced before.
Although once inside the club, it will all be worthwhile. The place will be full, the music will be so loud and deep it gets into your bones, and the laser lights will be strobing all around you. Depending on the night, you will have some the world’s greatest DJs performing live, right in front of you. And depending on the night, the club’s party will likely be themed. So you might find yourself in the midst of a thousand swirling hippies in flower crowns and tie-dyed robes. Or there might be foam falling from the ceiling like rain. Or there might be multi-colored balloons and beach balls flying through the air.
But whoever is playing, whatever is going on, and whichever club you find yourself in, everyone around you will be really, really happy. Big beaming smiles will be the only thing that you see, and you will dance effortlessly, in a euphoric trance, until well after the sun comes up.
7am-ish onwards: Stumble home, and fall asleep.
2pm-ish onwards: Start again.
Days 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7: Repeat.
That’s the real secret to Ibiza – to just suspend belief, and keep on going, day after day, night after night, until you lose all sense of time and place.
Soon, you will begin to think that this madness is a completely normal way to live your life. After a while you will become fully immersed in the present moment. It will start to feel like everything outside of Ibiza has ceased to exist. And then, before you know it, all your worries and concerns – the trials and tribulations of your faraway everyday life – will simply up and disappear.
Which, dear reader – all jokes aside – is a pretty neat trick to pull off, and an amazing, near magical state-of-mind to get into. Even if it does only last for a few short days.
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
Mary Anne Radmacher