Friday, June 11, 2004

Marcus Meets Europe! -- The Balearic Islands

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I arrived in Ibiza homeless. There are reckless adventurer backpackers who take pride in never booking accommodation in advance; I'm not one of them. It's because I've seen the consequences of winging it: backpackers going from hostel to hostel at 7 in the morning, freaked out that they don't have a safe place to sleep at night. They waste time moving around that they should be spending on seeing the sights.

I wish I could say I was homeless because I went the spontaneous route. Alas, it was a case of good old-fashioned stupidity. I've gotten used to just printing out the e-mails from my airlines and hostels, then using them to check-in. I booked a hotel in Ibiza, because there were no hostels in Ibiza. Hotels do things a little differently, knowledge I've since filed under "Things I Learned Too Late." I printed out the e-mail from the travel website without reading it, which was the mistake that got me into that mess. The e-mail had my hotel reservation info, but also said that I had to log into my online account and print out a hotel voucher.

I presented the e-mail to the front desk clerk. He looked at it and said, "Okay, where the voucher?"

"Where's the what?" I asked.

He explained that I had paid my money to the travel website, not the hotel. The hotel needed that voucher to get their money from the website company. A lesson in e-commerce the hard way.

When good things happen in your travels, they feel 100 times better, because you won't get those experiences back home. Life being a zero-sum game, however, means that the reverse is also true. Small problems--Shit! I'm out of socks!--can become one man's international crisis. At home, you know where to go and who to see when things go wrong. It's a luxury I've missed dearly while travelling. My fiction professor in England warned me, "You have to be prepared for those days when everything just seems to go wrong." She could have been talking of my first day in Ibiza.

The hotel clerk directed me to an Internet Cafe across the street. The problem would have been solved right then if their printer hadn't been broken. The clerk gave me directions to another Internet Cafe, further away. I found it and said, "No way in hell is my luck this bad." Internet Cafe #2 had gone out of business. Workmen were taking apart the inside of it. The third cafe was far, far away from the hotel. I tried to find Internet Cafe's along the way, but there were none to be found. Finally found one. I went in, logged on, found the voucher online, moved the cursor over to the File menu and . . . nothing. The computer froze on me. That was okay. The next computer printed out my voucher. Triumphant, I stepped outside the Internet Cafe to realize I was totally lost. I'd forgotten my map of Ibiza Town at the hotel. It took me 45 minutes to do a 10 minute walk back to my hotel. The interesting thing was that I found three Internet Cafe's on the way there. It's easy to get what you want when you don't need it.

In retrospect, I'm glad that fiasco happened when it did, instead of at the beginning of my trip. Back then, I was still the old Marcus that had to have everything taken care of in advance. Because once you're in a foreign country, you're helpless. I was very suspicious of simple faith in the past; I'll take hard planning and reservations, thank you very much. Then have a heart attack once something went off track. I've become more adaptable. Now, I just believe that I'll figure out a solution and things will always turn out all right in the end.

The first mission I assigned myself was to buy clubbing clothes. My long-sleeved shirts wouldn't cut it in Ibiza's hip discotheques. The area in front of my hotel turns into a cool sidewalk market at night. There were lots of boutiques to choose threads from. I saw a slime green sleeveless shirt on a rack. It was so ugly it had to be cheap. I flipped the price tag over: 83 euros ($100.45). A hundred dollars to scare away every fashion-conscious girl in the club?! No deal. At another store, I saw a simple white cotton button-down shirt hanging outside. It was an Eivissa (Spanish for Ibiza) Collection shirt made in a rough cotton weave, and almost transparent, like a Filipino barong. The price: 25 euro ($30). Style on a budget.

The clubs in Ibiza go from the a.m. to sunrise. Many clubs didn't even open until 1am and didn't really get going until 3am. A far cry from Norwich, England, where the clubs closed at midnight. This forced me to change to a Batman schedule of sleeping in the afternoon and haunting the clubs at night. I'm used to paying my entrance at the door. Ibiza was different. To get cheaper prices, it's common to buy tickets from a music store or bar before going out. I was relieved to find this out. I was worried about tight door policies. Like having to look like a Calvin Klein underwear model to get in. With a ticket in hand, entrance was guaranteed.

My first night clubbing wasn't that great. I was still recovering from jet lag and I didn't dig the music. As I left the club, I passed by the front counter. There was a stack of handbills advertising the next night's theme. The Spanish girl behind the counter saw my interest and pressed one into my hand. It showed a black guy in disco-era clothes, holding an M-16 in one hand and a cigar in the other. There was a gleaming white Cadillac next to him. Here's what it said:

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When I walked in that night, there was a big white sheet stretched across the top of the dance floor to show the movies. I caught the tail end of Cleopatra Jones and the first half of Truck Turner. The techno remixes of funk songs were off the hook! The music was at such odds with El Divino's location, which is on a marina surrounded by yachts.

The surprising thing I learned was that the big seven clubs in Ibiza were spread out from each other across the island. Pacha and El Divino were in Ibiza Town on the east side of the island. Eden and Es Paradis were in Sant Antoni in the west. Space was by itself down in Platja d'en Bossa beach. Privilege and Amnesia were between Sant Antoni and Ibiza Town. I had come before the high season of July to August, which had its pros and cons. The pros: shorter lines at the door, more space to dance, less tourists. The cons: the night Discobus wasn't running yet (expensive taxis were the only option), the best DJ's were still to come, and the crowds of young European partiers hadn't descended in full force.

Space was my favorite club. Huge dance floor, excellent house music, effective light set-ups. The big draw was the crowd. This was the first club in a long time where I've seen more guys on the floor than girls. Moreover, the guys were better dancers than the girls too. I didn't know that was possible. They were busting out Latin American-style moves like no tomorrow. Salsa, meringue, and samba at the speed of techno. I'm more comfortable dancing to techno now. Either I'm finally doing it right, or I've stopped caring if I'm doing it wrong. Still, I was intimidated by these guys. How can so many of them dance so well? Then I saw two guys holding each other close and dancing. Oh.

The person doing the spinning can make or break your night. At Pacha, the DJ was really bad when I went. She would try to bring the audience up and down by manipulating the volume of the music. The problems were when she lowered the volume. She would lower the treble and the bass, leaving us dancers stranded with nothing to move to. The DJ at Space always left the treble in when he did that, which increased the audience's anticipation for when he would crank it all up to full blast again.

I left Pacha and hung out at an Internet Cafe for a while. It was called "Cafe's Ibiza." Soon, two guys and a girl showed up together. We struck up a conversation of why the DJ at Pacha sucked. They were all from Montreal, Canada. I asked them about something curious I saw at Space. There were a lot of guys sucking on lollipops. Was that the latest fad? The girl explained that Ecstasy pills cause you to grind your teeth hard without you knowing it. Lollipops keep you from chewing up your gums and cheek. The things you learn travelling. It's been an Education for Outlaws.