Ibiza’s Surprisingly Quiet Side

Maybe it was just the effect of leaving a long week’s work behind me, but I felt an unexpected spark of happiness when the island came into view. It was small and lonely, in a calm sea that stretched to the horizon. There was only one hill, shadowy in the sunlight. Was this really the infamous island of Ibiza?

Everything I hear about Ibiza makes me not want to go there. I imagined hordes of drunks vomiting on each other’s feet, tinny dance music, disgusting cocktails and neon barbecues. Basically, it seemed pointless to fly somewhere to experience what was happening locally every weekend. But I was invited to a friend’s birthday, accepted the invitation, and have been putting off doing anything since then. I’ve watched the price of airline tickets go up and up, yet I still avoid buying them.

I bemoaned my fate to anyone willing to humor me, until one night I found myself at a party talking to a friend of a friend who had actually been to the White Isle. In fact, she’s been vacationing there for a week almost every summer for the past ten years. I barely had time to tell her how scared I was to go for the first time before she put a comforting hand on my arm.” It’s not at all what you’d expect.” She said.” The food was incredible, the beaches were amazing, the atmosphere…. ” she trailed off, nostalgically.” I think you’re going to love it.”

Ibiza town

Everyone around me cheered as the plane bounced to a bumpy landing and began rummaging through hand luggage for sunglasses. We stepped onto the tarmac of the Evisa airport, located on the southern tip of the island, and into the holiday heat. I was told that this was the “quiet side” of the island, despite the large clubs nearby. Even so, by the time my bus pulled into the Ibiza town in the late afternoon, I was ready for a string of hen parties, English pubs and touristy lads.

Despite my own curiosity, I wanted a glimpse of Ibiza’s famous hedonism. But the main road was almost empty. Some tourists were slowly migrating back to their hotels from the beach, sleepy from a long day in the sun. The locals, meanwhile, are taking refuge in cool, dark cafes. I spent twenty minutes looking for the next bus stop in the shady back streets, barely crossing paths with anyone. The last thing I expected was to arrive on an island in between naps.

The Last Village.

Three days later, I sat in the back seat of a car with the windows down and the sun shining in as we meandered through the countryside. Other than sunbathing lizards darting under the rocks and the occasional lazy eruption of birdsong, we encountered no other creatures for most of the journey. The sky above us seemed vast, with only the distant rolling hills visible on either side. On the map, it appeared that we were traveling along one of Ibiza’s main thoroughfares, but the road grew smaller and emptier the further we traveled.

We drove north, towards the “last village” of Ibiza. It holds no promise other than a market and proximity to some of the most stunning beaches on the island, and is said to be a haven away from the hustle and bustle of real island life.

A car drove past in the opposite direction from us. On either side of the road, the tarmac gave way to sunburned grass, dotted with trees, up to the base of the hill. Every now and then we began to pass isolated family-sized houses that looked like they were waiting for the suburbs to grow up around them. Then we came to a freshly plastered apartment with three identical square balconies, all of which were decidedly shuttered. This marks the beginning of a pristine white sidewalk, lined with black lampposts, leading to the village.

Mercadillo de San Juan (San Juan Street).

“Home-made honey! Do you want to taste it?” The honey seller had the kind of dark, thick skin that comes from years in the sun, and gray hair pulled back in a ponytail. His hands moved swiftly between the different honey jars, tidying up, wiping a spoon on his apron, taking out a new sample. There were far more market stalls and shoppers around us than seemed possible. But this wasn’t your average fruit and veg market; stallholders from all over the island watched as tables were piled high with homemade, artisanal and natural items. Home-brewed beer is stacked next to handmade wooden furniture, next to handmade silver jewelry. When we refuse, the honey seller nods and smiles kindly, his eyes crinkling into deep wrinkles at every corner.” No problem.”

We stopped at a café lined up on the edge of the market and sat down in a shady corner of their kitchen garden. Our table had been prepared with a small vase of flowers, a menu and a flyer advertising a nearby yoga retreat. A row of allotment bays filled with plump fruits, vegetables and herbs ran parallel to the table, stretching outward, again with a view of the hills. Other customers around us picked out salads and sipped fresh juices as they peacefully basked in their faces. Aside from what can only be a muffled Ibiza cold drink playlist in the background, the only sounds are the chickens clucking serenely, whispered conversations and the clinking of glasses.

“You can get a ride,” our waiter said. Like most of the other staff, he looked like he’d taken a summer job between college semesters. He was eager, like a newcomer, and with a haircut and necklace combo he’d probably regret in a few years. We had asked him about the best way to get to the beach in the afternoon.

“We can’t walk over there? Or take the bus?”

“No.” He laughed at the idea.” But it’s easy here,” he added, “it’s safe. Just take a ride.”

We walk past brightly coloured clothes railings and a table with a bonsai tree to reach the end of the market. Here the road begins to lead uphill into a group of neatly terraced white houses. Aside from the rows of small bonsai plants outside each house, the street is again deserted. One house’s front door was covered with vines, heavily laden with bunches of ripe, pale green grapes. The pink flowers reached as far as they could into the side of another house until their weight took over, arching backward and hanging in the street. A glimpse through the gap in the curtains revealed cool tile floors, old dark wood furniture, a pile of worn tea towels piled on a table. There was silence as you headed up. A few empty chairs lay on the sidewalk next to an open door, waiting to be claimed when the temperature dropped.

It was at this point, elsewhere on the White Isle, no doubt, that the stags were staggering, the barbecue was roasting and some poor cleaner was wiping up the excess from the night before. A few miles away, we came to the end of the street, the last house. The end of the village was as abrupt as the beginning. We looked out over the hills, at the promise of empty forests and secret beaches.

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