A lot more to Ibiza than foam discos and cocktails

IT’S A beautiful day and we look out on a bay full of ferries coming and going and honking and hooting and waking us up earlier than we usually wake: they are going to Barcelona, to Valencia, to the next door small island of Formentera and to Talamanca, a beach across Ibiza Bay, writes Damien Enright.

A lot more to Ibiza than foam discos and cocktails

IT’S A beautiful day and we look out on a bay full of ferries coming and going and honking and hooting and waking us up earlier than we usually wake: they are going to Barcelona, to Valencia, to the next door small island of Formentera and to Talamanca, a beach across Ibiza Bay, writes Damien Enright.

We assess what the temperature must be like out of doors: People walking in the sun are, some of them, wearing T-shirts but, often, lightweight jackets. It is near the end of October, after all. Soon, the weather, like everything else on this island, will be closing down. A peace will descend almost, but not quite, like the peace that prevailed here when I arrived as a kid in 1961 and found an island frozen in time for, subsequent to its Catalan population backing the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and Generalissimo Franco winning that war with the troops he brought with him from Morocco where he was military governor of Spanish Sahara.

Franco declared it a terra abandonado, or cerrado, (abandoned or closed), with all its main economy of boatbuilding forbidden and its thriving trade as a Mediterranean “crossroads” prohibited. So, it is used to being closed down. Now, Ibiza is said to be the most expensive place in all Spain. And I am not surprised. The style in the streets in Ibiza town is what one would expect to see at Cannes Film festival. I am talking about Ibiza town itself which, from a dusty little port in the Franco days, has grown into a bustling upmarket city.

San Antonio, the other large town, is the preserve of the disco kids and has an entirely different aura. It is also a beach town. Ibiza, the city, is more for café society and fashionistas who enjoy fine shopping and fine eating. I doubt if many of the holidaymakers here spend much time on the beach.

Between 2001 and now, the population of the island grew from 88,000 to 143,000. Ibiza (in ibicenco Evissa) the municipality has 50,000; Santa Eulalia del Rio (Santa Eularia des Riu), 26,00; San Antonio Abad (Sant Antoni de Portmany) 18,000. They are very different, Ibiza high-end, Santa Eulalia, quiet, classy, more conservative, San Antonio, totally holidaymaker-orientated, the place to go if you fancy wild nights in pubs with mad music and pub games, and discotheques that go all night long and sometimes only open at midnight.

It used to be the foam-disco capital of the world (foam bubbles blasted out of giant funnels all over hundreds of sweat-drenched teenagers and 20-something crowds gyrating, dusk to dawn, to the music blasting out of speakers as big as buses) but I think that fashion is past although the music goes on, the internationally famous DJs in charge of the mood changes, frenetic or dreamy, amnesic or stoned.

However, this is changing: San Antonio has a beautiful bay and good beaches and the Turismo Ibiza, the local tourist board, sees a new incarnation, as an all-family venue, with children that dig sandcastles rather than waccybaccy-‘n’-pills cocktails which are, in any case, going out of fashion among the hipper kids (who call themselves ‘hipsters ‘and wear beards and tight, tailored outfits, quite different to those of the original hipsters who were black musicians in berets and “shades” á la Miles Davis or Cannonball Adderley, and to whom Kerouac and latecomers like myself, 1960 vintage, strove to belong).

So, this piece is, in short, a pulse-taking of the beat here in Ibiza today. It is changed, changed utterly, to use that best-of-all adverbs invented by WB Yeats.

I look across the bay this morning and see that the other side is one line of apartment blocks and space-age looking buildings, and that the green hills of umbrella pines behind them are half whited-out by stand-alone villas.

This was the road that in the early 60s was made of dust, and via which I would take my twin sons to the, then, empty beach at Talamanca on an old motorbike I’d borrow from a friend at the Domino Bar, the ex-pat hangout in a cellar across the street from where a few Valenciano fishing boats would sometimes moor and where, in the no-street-light darkness, the fishermen would cook their dinner on charcoal fires on deck.

As I drove my sons to Talamanca, lizards would skitter across the track, and the kids, hanging sideways off the pillion behind me, would scream in delight. We would pull in to the only building on the road, a dusty shop that sold, yes!, ice lollies, along with dried fish, cans of sardines and candles festooned in bunches from the rafters. Ah, nostalgia! It’s hard to let it go!

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