The real Ibiza

Well, it’s been another rough week in paradise. I’ve suffered through four nights of five star treatment (in three different hotels). Sadly, tomorrow I am downgraded to a four star business hotel in Barcelona’s decidedly uncool and un-centrally located financial district. Woe is me.

As I write this, I am in a white cotton robe, the salts from my hydro-massage bath still tingling my pores, laid out on an adventurously orange couch in a junior suite in the only five star hotel in Palma de Mallorca’s city center. I’m greedily consuming the entirety of the complimentary bottle of champagne that was chilling when I arrived. Though the ice was melted and the champagne warm after I returned from four hours of frantic, last second errands, including a ludicrous one hour search for a kebab shop within a 12 block radius of my hotel (in this neighborhood, you eat five euro tapas on a trendy bar terrace or you don’t eat, apparently). But I digress… I want to dish on Ibiza.

I should confess that I only spent two nights on Ibiza and never really left Ibiza Town, apart from a covert getaway to a beach 20 minutes outside of the city, an operation conceived of and executed in under five minutes of planning by my hotel’s staff after they got a load of the nasty Travel Writer’s Tan I had going on. And it was an unqualified success, by the way. You could almost hear the Moby re-mix of the Mission Impossible theme song playing as I was whisked to Ibiza’s most popular beach in a black, tinted window hotel van, dropped off under the cover of high bushes at the far end of the beach, handed a pair of Dirty Old Man brand, hands-free, ogling binoculars and left alone for two hours. I scorched myself just the right amount so that I no longer look like I’m wearing a sickly pale shirt when I’m not actually wearing a shirt. Oops, that last digression didn’t quite take, did it?

So! Ibiza! Firstly, it ain’t the raging 24 hour, non-stop debauched, drug-fueled party most journalists will have you believe. Certainly there are pockets where Ecstasy, weed and salamander nostril licking (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) are profuse, but these areas are neatly compartmentalized. Furthermore, there’s the San Antonio area, which combines the least desirable parts of Las Vegas and Cancun into one appallingly despicable locale, where budget vacationing Brits are flown in for all-inclusive weekend trips including airfare, lodging, food and cheap booze, all for something like 100 quid (US$200). Reportedly, they spend every waking moment either drunk, puking, humping or brawling – sort of like Tortuga in Pirates of the Caribbean, except with less class – and then shipped home in body bags or simply given complimentary ziplock bags and carryon coolers in the event that only a few digits or appendages are detached rather than a full disembowelment.

Apart from that unpleasantness, Ibiza isn’t all that different from most island getaways. Families and old folks mix with partiers and hippies as they shop, eat and take in the modest attractions. Dalt Vila, a medieval, fortified quarter high above the city, is much like any historic city center, with steep twisty streets and stone structures, all lorded over by a massive cathedral.

The lower town is mostly dominated by the usual half-decent terrace cafes and trite tourist shops, selling clothing, jewelry, beach accessories, candles and moody lamp shades, manned by an all-star team of aging hippies and tattooed, dreadlocked scenesters.

The cityscape views aren’t bad either. Apart from an unsightly factory dead in then center of Ibiza Town belching yellow/brown smoke right into the residential area where they make all the foreigners live, it’s quite a pleasant thing to behold with low buildings, the harbor, boats, cruise ships and shit. Enough so to make homeless travel writers seriously consider it for next winter’s retreat.

Then there’s the fine beaches which, if your hotel doesn’t hatch a four-man human smuggling operation, are accessible by hourly public buses from the city, usually filled to double capacity with mostly naked people of all ages and various ass-poking water toys and planks of wood meant to catch the moderate waves.

It isn’t until you drag your sorry ass to the other side of the harbor (or several kilometers out of town) that you encounter Ibiza’s serious party atmosphere. Clubs like Amnesia, Privilege and the perennial nightlife nexus Pacha routinely host theme parties, sometimes opening at noon and maintaining sustained bedlam until 8am the next day. For something a tad less full-on, I was also impressed with a restaurant/club called Divino, which has a very classy terrace with exceptional views of Ibiza Town and Dalt Vila and an unexpectedly strong menu. The restaurant opens at 8pm and it switches into club mode around 11pm.

Ultimately, I failed to gain access to one or more of Ibiza’s hedonistic rave centers. The night I flexed my credentials and had my hotel’s staff calling around to get me on guest lists happened to be the night that both Pacha and Divino were staging theme parties with coveted tickets that even the mayor couldn’t get. I was welcome by both to visit the following night, but I was scheduled to be back on Mallorca. Note to travel writers covering the Balearic islands: two, even four, nights on each island is not nearly enough to get research done AND party until 5am at least once. Roughly, your time management should breakdown like this:

• Three days research
• One day beaches
• One day to make connections then allow those connections to hook you up on a guest list or two
• Twenty-two consecutive hours of partying
• Eighteen hours in hospital for recovery
• Two hours to remember where you hotel is
• Twelve minutes to pack and race to your ferry

So let’s call it an even eight days per island.

In the end, I had little motivation to leave my hotel anyway. I was enjoying the environs of a brand new five star hotel, near the top of the Dalt Vila quarter. I knew that they had recently opened their doors, but I didn’t realize how recently. “You’re our first guest!” I was enthusiastically informed after the complimentary van delivered me from the ferry. The hotel had opened a day early just for me and I was in residence for both of their grand opening parties, where delicious and artistically inspired hors d’oeuvres, champagne and wine were being forced on anyone with a free hand. Later, the hotel’s food director, who happens to be a cocktail wizard practicing the art since he “was a child”, mixed one colorful, tasty drink after another. After the fourth cocktail I barely had the wherewithal to go to the bathroom, much less cross the city to investigate a nightclub with a 56 euro entry fee. After all, there’s always next winter. Maybe.

Well, a four poster, canopied bed with high thread count sheets and a possibly too-firm springless mattress awaits my assessment. Next week, why uncovering growth industries and grilling people about local politics in one of Europe’s best party towns (Barcelona) sucks Spanish ass.