Ibizan drug culture is in the news as two British women face trial for alleged drug smuggling. Here, I reflect on myown experiences on the island
Merely yards from a harbour overlooking the Mediterranean sea filled with luxury super yachts lies a bikini-clad girl. While the image may conjur up a supermodel relaxing aboard a film-star’s latest purchase, this girl isn’t enjoying the rays from the Spanish sunshine; she’s lying on a bench, half-naked, alone and unconscious.
Last year 600,000 British holidaymakers flocked to the hedonistic Balearic island of Ibiza along with a summer workforce of mostly teenage men and women looking to spend the season in the sunshine and maybe earn a bit of money while they did it. And while many enjoy the super clubs, hippy markets, and stunning beaches, others fall victim to the slightly seedier underbelly of Ibiza.
When I turned 24, finally out of uni and in a full time job, Ibiza caught my eye.
Admittedly I did ask the bartender to repeat himself when he asked me to hand over 12 euros for a bottle of water in the world’s largest nightclub, Privilege. I had been slightly put off by the pricey reputation that preceded my first visit, but armed with two of my best friends I took the plunge and instantly fell in love with the place. Two years later my excuse for a second visit was a hen party and last week I introduced my other half to just some of the reasons he never hears about anything but beautiful Eivissa.
However, following the arrest of Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, from Co Tyrone, and Melissa Reid, 19, from Lenzie, near Glasgow, who were stopped at Lima airport in Peru for allegedly smuggling £1.5m of cocaine, Ibiza’s drug culture has become a hot topic of conversation once again.
In the 1970s when the island was little more than a place for hippies to spend their holidays, there was marijuana and LSD. This was followed by ecstasy in the 90s and now, while ecstasy is still the drug of choice for many on the island, a move towards ketamine and cocaine is swiftly taking over.
Even while staying in the relatively family-friendly area of San Antonio bay, just feet away from our hotel, one of the resort’s many ‘looky looky’ men moved on from selling ‘Roy Bon’ sunglasses to whatever drug he had that day in seconds and on the beach that our hotel overlooked, empty bottles of vodka were often found washed up as if cast aside by raving pirates.
While it appears I’m not exactly selling the island paradise, the question must be asked. What is it about Ibiza that causes seemingly straight-laced men and women to go off the rails?
In July the body of a British mother-of-two was found washed up on a San Antonio beach while more recently a 24-year-old Pembrokeshire man died after falling from a balcony following a night out with friends, and a 19-year-old from the North East was seriously injured after falling from the fourth floor of a hotel.
Though many of these accidents happen to tourists trying to cram as much as possible into a one or two week break at many of the resorts, the case must be different for those working there during the May to September peak season?
The bar tenders, club promoters and hotel staff – many of whom were from England and Eastern Europe – that I spoke to during my time there pretty much said the same thing; that if you’re looking to try something, it can be found.
One man, who did not wish to be named, spent a summer working in Ibiza when he was 25 and said drugs were pretty easy to come by on the island however he refrained from taking any himself.
He said: “If you wanted drugs, it was pretty easy to get hold of them – the ‘looky looky’ men used to ask if you wanted any “sniff”, “pills” or “weed” every time they walked past you. I met “workers” who’d gone out as I had for the full season but instead of working behind a bar for like I did, they’d be selling drugs to make a living.
“You only had to go to a gig and you’d see people dancing away with sunglasses on and pouring with sweat – it’s not rocket science to realise what they’d been up to.
“Even chilling on the beach watching the sunset with a few beers, you’d be approached and be asked if you wanted to buy any thing.”
But our worker is keen to stress that drug-related incidents don’t define the island.
He said: “People have a certain stereotype about Ibiza and, yes you can get hold of drugs, but they aren’t everywhere you look like the common myth suggests but it is an amazing, beautiful place.
“Unfortunately, the dance scene seems to have a certain stigma attached to it and so as a new generation comes to the island, they seem to think it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do as it’s what the stereotype suggests.”
Carmen Ferrer, tourism counsellor for Ibiza Tourist Board, said: “We are aware of some isolated drug problems that can appear, however, these are punctual and mostly caused by external factors.
“In Ibiza, private companies and institutions are working together and dedicating resources to prevent any problem that might affect those who just come to enjoy vacation, which are the most part of our two million visitors each year.”