How The Hell Do You Explain This Island

Last Saturday, I was in the car with my friend Erin around 5pm in the afternoon. We had just come from San Jose, where we had stopped at a few beaches, one of them being Es Torrent. Practicing our photography skills, we took pictures of the calming beach in between two cliffs, abandoned except for one lonely surfer, trying to catch any wave he could.

Playa d'en Bossa
This is what Ibiza means to me

We were on the highway that goes from the airport to the San Antonio highway round-a-bout. Just having come from complete tranquility and natural beauty, we were again confronted with reality. The highway is lined with massive billboards advertising Ibiza’s most famous clubs.

It’s like the signs are hitting you in the face one after another.

There are so many.

Drugs…sex… naked girls… famous DJs… nightlife… stupid phrases in English translated wrong.

It doesn’t end.

The juxtaposition between the vast emptiness we just came from and the reminder of what Ibiza is known for is unsettling.

One sign for Pacha said, “Come see the real Ibiza.”

That one really made me huff. The real Ibiza?! How do they know what the real Ibiza is? It pains me deeply that there are people who come here in the summer to only go to clubs, and never see how truly amazing the island is. Living at night is not living. I thought, I am living here in winter, I really know what the real Ibiza is. I can explain Ibiza to people better than these people.

But really, can I? How ignorant of me to think that.

Just because perhaps the Ibiza that the tourists in the summer or the rich expats who come here to live year-round are living isn’t the same life that I am living, doesn’t make mine more or less valid than theirs. Each of our experiences are reality, because what we are living is real. I can’t negate someone’s positive experience in Ibiza by claiming that it’s not “real.” There are multiple realities and multiple ways of life- and they don’t have to mutually exclusive.

This feeling of frustration hit me when I first arrived here. The frustration of trying to constantly categorize groups of people, places, and things into separate boxes. Trying to understand Ibiza and explain it to people became so difficult.

Ibiza is a place where diverse groups (different races, social classes, and nationalities) of people mix, live and work side-by-side, and spend their free time together. It’s a place where babies where Pacha onesies and dads drop their kids off at handball while blasting David Guetta from their car speakers. It’s a place where people who describe themselves as hippies live in million dollar villas, drive range rovers, and pay thousands of dollars to dress like they are homeless. It’s a place where deeply “spiritual” people will try to manipulate and cheat you into things. It’s a place where people fighting for a more equal society treat their domestic help like less than human.

IMG_3373
People have a deep connection to this island.

Ibiza is also a place of creativity, discovery, and innovation, in the many senses of the word. For example, in the fascinating documentary Hippies Forever directed by Carlos Moro and Luis Alaejos, the filmmakers collect stories from people still living on the island who came with the first waves of hippies in the 1960s-70s. First invaded by rich kids from the United States avoiding the Vietnam draft and searching for a place they could live their alternative lifestyles, it became a haven for all people seeking to be close to nature, self-expressed and free from societal norms

The new hippies from all over the world lived in harmony with the native payeses and prompted an exchange of knowledge and lifestyles. The new hippies learned farming methods from the natives, kept their areas clean and preserved the natural environment. There was no sense of insecurity or fear of theft or mistreatment.

One of the men interviewed in the documentary commented on how he is astounded at what Ibiza has become. So different from what it used to be, it pains him to see young people spending 100 euros in a night to go to club. He mentions that he and his peers came to Ibiza to escape the city life and the constraints of society.

Now, Ibiza has turned into a microcosm of all of the vices of the world they wished to remove themselves from: materialistic, superficial, and dishonest. Yet, the hippies, either just recently arrived in Ibiza or having been here since the 60s, live juxtaposed to the “modern world” the island has become.

In short, it’s a place of many contradictions.

While discussing my angst with my dear friend Kimberly, she reminded me that we constantly try to force things to make sense. In this way, we find ways to continually compartmentalize concepts to make our brains process them. We are uncomfortable with things that cross over those categories or fit into more than one. In discussing her recent trip to India, she says,

“India is a paradox. Everywhere you turn there’s the spiritual, then the capitalist, the compassionate, then the destructive, the rich man, then the poor man. But then again, life is a paradox. Each and every one of us is a paradox. Our society terms these types of paradoxes as hypocrisy or inconsistency, when really these situations are quite normal and natural due to the malleability of the essence of life. We, as well as the surroundings we maneuver ourselves in, are all so multi-dimensional, so who’s to say that we can judge a person, place, or society for changing certain core values when presented with differing sets of situations and priorities? Before judging someone, find a parallel to your own life. Where do you see hypocrisy in yourself? Where can you find yourself straying from your idea of who you are and what you stand for?”

I am again reminded to stop working so hard to put people in boxes. If someone wants to self-identify as a hippie and also own a yacht, who am I to say that they are hypocrites? I myself am full of contradictions. My likes and opinions change constantly as I grow and continue to learn. I make people forgive me for my confusing qualities, yet I don’t let people have their own.

A lesson to be reminded of on a daily basis.

So many things happen here that anywhere else in the world might seem so out of place, but in a place like this, make sense. People have even made peace with it: “This is Ibiza. You can do whatever you want.” Such a phrase is meant to help diffuse any shock or surprise that comes from behavior that otherwise would be considered obscene.

Just yesterday, the teacher I work with at the high school was talking about the open house that the school is putting on. The day is meant to give a preview to the kids in middle school who are considering choosing to study at our high school. Each group of students is given a country, and they have to decorate their classroom with that country and pick an activity. The kids I have who have Hawaii decided to make “mocktails” (fancy cocktails without alcohol). When they were explaining it to me, one of the students joked that they were going to put alcohol in them.

I said, “Are you serious?” in complete disbelief. “You’re actually going to put alcohol in the drinks for the open house?!” The teacher, not in full understanding of English, said, “Well, yes. This is Ibiza,” as if he was confused as to why I was shocked, and as if this explanation should suffice. Why should I be so scandalized?

Turns out he misunderstood the conversation, and thought I was simply talking about teen drinking in general. So, luckily, the school will not be serving alcohol to 12-year-olds on the day of the open house.

However, I do enjoy this phrase. From now on, the only explanation I believe I need to give to people is, “…well…this is Ibiza.”

Just take it for what it is.

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8 thoughts on “How The Hell Do You Explain This Island

  1. What an eloquent phrase: “Each of our experiences are reality, because what we are living is *real*. I can’t negate someone’s positive experience in Ibiza by claiming that it’s not “real.” There are multiple realities and multiple ways of life- and they don’t have to mutually exclusive.”

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  2. Really well written article! This irony of hedonistic materialism vs. natural raw beauty is hard to come to terms with. It happens in other places (like California) where someone might wear super expensive sunglasses around their neck tied to twine. But it sounds like the paradox of Ibiza is super glaring. I think you are right when you say we naturally want order and we automatically try to categorize things – when it’s not so easy we get frustrated. But people are many faceted and some people change every 15 minutes and like Kim says – more eloquently than this – give them a pass!

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