Back in ´99 I came back to England after a few years of absence and at once got itchy feet. I headed down to the travel agency to check out the ticket prices to Asia in the window supply and the owner stuck his head out of the door and asked me:
“Hey, mate! Do you want to go to Ibiza tomorrow? I can give you a return flight for $100!”
So 36 hours later I stepped out of Ibiza airport with a guitar and a sleeping bag on my back and not much else. I knew that some friends of mine lived in the woods somewhere on the island but I only had a vague idea where. I looked up at the hills rising into the interior and tried to imagine what kind of spot they would have chosen.
I decided to aim for an attractive cluster of hills to the north. I walked down to the road and stuck out my thumb. The locals seemed pretty receptive to hitchhiking and two hours later I found myself in the town of San Miguel whose post office, I remembered sometimes held mail for my friends.
Everywhere I went I asked in my pidgin Spanish:
“Do you know where Jerry and Laura live? They´ve been coming here for many years!”
But small as Ibiza is, there´s still a good 100,000 people living here at any one time. My tactics seemed a little optimistic.
I was beginning to lose hope when I heard someone calling me from their car. I walked over and found two merry Dutchmen who asked me:
“Excuse me, we saw your guitar and want to know if you are a hippy?”
I agreed that I probably fitted the description and told them about my quest. They drove me to San Juan and dropped me off at a shop that sold various merchandise from India and Thailand. It seemed like a good place to make enquiries. With better luck than I could have imagined, the owner at once knew of whom I was looking for and grabbed the shoulder of a friend of hers who was on the point of leaving.
“Barney, take this boy up to Jerry and Laura´s place, will you? And make sure he doesn´t get lost on the way!”
I got in the back of Barney´s 4 wheel drive jeep and he took me up a dirt road into the forest. We parked by two other cars and followed a trail that was thick with the scent of pine. Before long we approached the sound of a radio playing flamenco. And there, on a sofa in the shade of some trees was Jerry sat with a newspaper in his hands, looking for all the world like he´d been expecting me.
“Ah, so you got here okay, then? Could you make sense of the map we sent you alright?”
“Uh, what map?”
“The one that we posted to your mother´s house in England in case you might pass this way!”
Mishaps in the postal service aside, I was welcome and stayed with them for a week in their home without walls. They had curtains hanging up around their bed and netting around the place to give shade and keep off the morning dew. The kitchen was comprised of a gas bottle and some tables and every day when we cooked lunch the lizards crept around to pounce on any crumbs that fell from our plates.
They had an electric cable to keep the refrigerator going and the beers cool, it also powered an overhead light or two so that we didn´t destroy everything stumbling around in the dark. Once a week they dragged over a hose from a nearby house and filled up all the buckets and water containers. The shower was comprised of a place near two trees where one could pour water over oneself.
Jerry and Laura had been coming to Ibiza since thirty years and they still retained much of the simplicity of lifestyle as back then. They had been among the first people to bring back materials from India including lunghis, the sheets that Indians often wear around the waist.
“No, madam, it is not a tablecloth!” Jerry remembered explaining.
Having been here for so long they naturally had pitches in the most popular markets which give out only a couple of new places each year. (A younger friend of mine camped out for two days outside the office to be first in line for to get a new spot.)
Jerry took me around each day in his old borrowed Mercedes to show me the other side of Ibiza. The north side of the island has been declared a an area for natural conservation and so mercifully it has been saved from the threat of construction.
Due to some unusual late rains there were still bright red poppies from the spring and these clashed beautifully with the green fields. Much of the soil was of a clay red that with another month of sun would soon crack open like the fissures of an earthquake. There were olive trees 700 years old and nearby were clusters of goats, tended by shepherds eager for the chance to talk to someone. And around everything on each side of the road were dry stone walls like heavy jigsaw puzzles, ancient as anything else on the island.
The late afternoons seemed to go on forever and the sun was so gentle and generous that even someone like me could feel good-looking. Jerry told me that many artists had traditionally come to Ibiza solely to make the most of the light.
And in every part we drove through we kept passing old towers made of stone some 30 meters high. At first I thought they were something to do with water storage but then Jerry told me:
“In the old days Ibiza was a favorite target for pirates. With so many accessible bays they could come on shore at any point around the island. They sneaked up on isolated homes and dragged people away to sell in the slave markets of Africa. Whenever the alarm was sounded people would run to these towers as sanctuary.”
Much as I was charmed by Ibiza there were two distinct drawbacks. Accommodation and transport. Almost all the available rooms and apartments tended to be expensive and more towards the touristy areas. And with no public transport after dark or on weekends, it was super necessary to be able to drive. I´ve never found the time to take the test.
Some people rent scooters instead but that´s really taking your life in your hands. The roads are narrow and not all in great condition. People drive fast and sometimes when they´re drunk. Hitchhiking was much easier than in most of Europe but without a luminescent thumb I was again pretty stuck after dark.
“In the 60´s,” Jerry told me as we drove down to the beach, “There were hardly any cars on the island. If we wanted to go somewhere we´d often take a day or two to walk our way there.”
Still, plenty of people more resourceful than me do manage to get by. They share accommodation and cars, and make ends meet by working in bars or selling odds and ends on the flea markets.
Jerry drove me down to the bay of Beneras, a name that translates from dialect as ´son of the rock´. The meaning is quite apparent upon arrival. In the middle of the cove there´s a large stone formation rising out of the sea, keeping watch over the bay.
The sun was going down and a drum circle was in full swing. Around two hundred people, young and old, were bashing away on their bongos and dancing by the waves. In every direction my eyes filled up with dreadlocks, piercings and tattoos.
I couldn´t decide which was the more beautiful: the sun melting over the turquoise waters or the people watching it, completely spell-bound.