Maybe it was just the effect of leaving a long week of work behind me, but as soon as the island came into sight I felt an unexpected spark of happiness. It was small and alone, in a placid sea that stretched to the horizon: Just a mound of hills, hazy with sun. Was this really the infamous Ibiza?
Everything I’d ever heard about Ibiza made me not want to go there. I imagined hoards of drunk people throwing up on each other’s feet, tinny dance music, sickly cocktails and neon kebab shops. Basically, flying somewhere to experience what happens on my local high street every weekend just seemed pointless. But I had been invited to go for a friend’s birthday, accepted, and delayed doing anything about it ever since. I watched flight prices go up and up, yet still avoided buying my ticket.
I bemoaned my fate to anyone who would humour me until one night, I found myself chatting to a friend-of-a-friend at a party who had actually been to the white isle. In fact, she had gone there for a week-long holiday almost every summer for the past decade. I barely had a chance to mention that I was dreading my first visit before she placed a reassuring hand on my arm. “It’s nothing like you imagine,” she said. “The food’s incredible, the beaches are amazing, the atmosphere…” she trailed off, nostalgically. “I think you’ll love it.”
As the plane bumped to the ground everyone around me cheered and started rummaging in their hand luggage for sunglasses. We stepped onto the tarmac at Evissa Airport on the southern tip of the island, into a wave of holiday heat. I had been told that, despite all of the major clubs being located nearby, this was the ‘quiet side’ of the island. Even so, as my bus pulled into Ibiza town in the late afternoon, I was prepared for a barrage of hen-dos, British pubs and lads-on-tour.
In spite of myself, I was curious to get a glimpse of the hedonism that Ibiza is so famous for. But the main road was practically empty. A few tourists were slowly migrating from the beach back to their hotels, sleepy from a day spent baking in the sun. Locals were taking a break from the heat in cool, dark cafés. I spent twenty minutes searching through shaded backstreets for my next bus stop barely crossing paths with anyone. The last thing I had expected was an island in the lull of a siesta.
The Last Village
Three days later I was in the back of a car winding through the countryside with the windows down and the sun streaming in. Aside from sunbathing lizards darting underneath rocks and the occasional lethargic spurt of bird song, we hadn’t encountered another living being for most of the journey. The sky looked vast above us, and all we could see to either side were hills rolling into the distance. On the map, it looked like we were travelling down one of Ibiza’s major arteries, but the roads got smaller and emptier the further we went.
We were travelling north, towards the ‘last village’ in Ibiza. Promising nothing apart from a market and proximity to a few of the island’s most stunning beaches, it was supposedly a haven of authentic island life, away from the hordes.
A car drove past us in the opposite direction. On the either side of the road, the tarmac gave way to sun-scorched grass, dotted with trees until the foot of the hills. Every so often, we started to pass lone, family-sized houses that looked like they were waiting for suburbs to grow around them. Then we came to a freshly-plastered block of apartments with three, identical square balconies, all with the shutters resolutely drawn. This marked the beginning of a pristine, white pavement lined with black lampposts that led into the village.
Mercadillo de San Juan
“Home-made honey! You want to try some?” The honey seller had the kind of tanned, thick skin that you get from years spent in the sun, and grey hair pulled back into a ponytail. His hands moved swiftly between different pots of honey, tidying away, wiping a spoon on his apron, pulling out a new sample. We were surrounded by a far larger number of market stalls and shoppers than seemed likely. But your average fruit and veg market this was not; stall owners from all over the island watched over tables stacked with the home-crafted, hand-made and natural. Home-brewed beer was piled next to hand-made wooden furniture, next to artisanal silver jewellery. When we declined, the honey seller nodded benevolently and smiled, eyes crinkling into deep wrinkles at each corner. “No problem.”
We stopped at one of the cafes that lined the edge of the market and sat down in a shaded corner of their kitchen garden. Our table had been prepared with a small vase of flowers, a menu and a flyer advertising nearby yoga retreats. Lines of allotment borders filled with plump fruits, vegetables and herbs ran parallel to the tables and out towards a view, again, of the hills. The other customers around us sunned their faces serenely as they picked at salads and sipped fresh juices. Aside from what could only have been an Ibiza chill-out playlist on low in the background, the only sound was of chickens clucking placidly, chatter in low voices and glasses chinking.
“You can hitchhike”, our waiter said. Like most of the other staff, he looked like he was working a summer in between terms at university. He was eager in the way of someone new to the job and had a haircut and necklace combination that he would probably regret in a few years. We had asked him the best way to get to the beach for the afternoon.
“We couldn’t walk there? Or catch a bus?”
“No,” he laughed at the idea. “But it’s very relaxed here” he added, “very safe. Just hitchhike.”
We edged past rails of brightly coloured clothes and a table of bonsai trees to reach the far end of the market. Here, the road started to lead uphill into a group of tidy, terraced white houses. Except for little pot plants lined up outside each house, the street was deserted again. The door of one house was covered in vines heavy with bunches of ripe, pale-green grapes. Pink flowers reached as far as they could up the side of another house, until their weight got the better of them and they arched backwards, hanging over the street. A glimpse through a crack in the curtains revealed cool, tile floors, old, dark wooden furniture, a pile of worn tea towels stacked on a table. Silence fell as we walked upwards. A couple of empty chairs had been left on the pavement next to an open door, waiting for someone to claim them when the temperature fell.
At that exact moment elsewhere on the white isle, no doubt stag do’s were stagging, kebab shops were kebabbing, and some poor cleaner was mopping up the excess of the night before. A few miles away, we came to end of the street, the final house. The village ended as suddenly as it had begun. We were looked out into the hills, at the promise of empty forests and secret beaches beyond.