Follow the hashtag #islandlife on Instagram and you’ll find almost ten million posts depicting the picture perfect life surrounded by sun, sea, sand and clear blue skies (and probably a perfectly placed beautiful girl in a designer bikini). There are sunsets and boat days and old towns and beaches; there are cocktails and dreams; there are no worries in the world. Island life is simple, uncomplicated and you don’t need material things to be happy (aside from your phone in order to use the aforementioned hashtag).
Except, as most of us have all come to realise, Instagram is not real life, and as such #islandlife is not #realislandlife (a hashtag that is yet to reach 500 posts). Real island life – just like real life anywhere in the world – comes with its own trials, tribulations and triumphs that are not always Instagram-worthy, but are indeed a big part of island life on a day to day basis. I believe island life teaches you patience. Don’t even get me started on the concept of ‘island time’. Combine that with the Spanish mañana mañana mentality (which I can assure you is very real) and you spend half your time wondering whether your meetings or appointments are real or figments of your imagination.
People are surely one of the very best aspects of island life in my opinion. Ibiza is a small island, and as such, it’s got small town syndrome: everyone knows everyone, which means everyone knows everyone else’s business. This can be a good thing, for example if you’re looking for contacts or like-minded friends, but it can be a bad thing if you’re seeking anonymity (as some people who retreat to an island are want to do). Just this morning I met my newest neighbour – she smiled, said hello, introduced herself and immediately invited me over for a glass of wine (yes! In the morning! I love her already). Now, I don’t remember experiencing such warmth or friendliness anywhere else in the world in my life. Here, people are open. They are happy to get to know their neighbours, no matter what walk of life they come from.
Speaking of neighbours, I live in an area that’s populated by gypsies – and when we say gypsy here, it’s not a derogatory term. These are big local families, who all live in the same street (and have done for generations), who basically spend all summer outdoors (often in pyjamas), having barbecues and parties and celebrations in summer. One of my favourite things – a true #realislandlife moment for me – is when it gets really, really hot, the papas who live behind me break open the water pipes in the street and create a splashing, gushing fountain for their little kids to swim and play in. Sure, it’s highly illegal – but the joy on the children’s faces prove that it’s worth it.
Ibiza is truly a melting pot of cultures – there are Ibicenco families with hundreds of years of heritage; there are expats from all over the globe who’ve adopted the island as their home; there are the guiri-cencos who are born to one Ibicenco parent and one foreigner (a guiri) and then over time, there are their own offspring (is there terminology for that?). There are seasonal workers and there are those who relocate here permanently and there are those who are here for a fleeting amount of holiday time each year. And you know what I love most? Everyone’s got a story. Island life, for me, is listening to all these stories. Who needs a library when you’ve got all these amazing tales to be told?
Well, that brings me to my next point. Culture is indeed a little limited on an island – if you’re looking for arthouse cinema, art exhibitions, design, high fashion, literature, even trending street food, well, you might want to take a holiday and visit a city. Now, this can make you lazy or it can make you curious. We have the internet at our fingertips, quite literally, and so instead of feeling frustrated, seek and ye shall find. Island life is meant for enjoying island things – the weather is beautiful and the beach is on our doorstep (though many who live here will tell you #realislandlife means you don’t get to visit the beach as often as you’d like). And who needs high fashion on an island anyway – it’s so hot a bikini and a sundress will suffice in most situations and for anything else, you can order online (or tap into the unique creations of island brands – or Zara, quite possibly both).
That being said, the inefficiency of the island postal service really takes some getting used to. It doesn’t matter what the sender has paid their local post office in the country of origin to get a parcel to you within X amount of days, it doesn’t matter whether you pay for Amazon Prime, nor does it matter how swish and high-tech the all-new renovated Ibiza town post office looks – once said parcel arrives in Ibiza, it will sit on a shelf in the Correos for at least a week before anyone attempts to deliver it to your house. Attempt being the operative word – rarely does a parcel ACTUALLY arrive direct to your door – rather, your friendly neighbourhood courier or postie (mine is very lovely and quite cute, actually – can’t blame him for the inadequacy of the Correos) simply brings a slip with your name on it directing you to your nearest post office to collect said parcel yourself.
Then you have to trudge to the post office or courier’s warehouse in 34-degree heat (because there is no parking in the area) and have to line-up for around 45 minutes to an hour just to sign for your parcel. Half the time they can’t find it, which means even more waiting and whatever you do, DO NOT forget your legally recognised form of ID because a bank card or driver’s license from another country does not cut it and then you have to repeat the whole thing again. On the subject of queuing – no one does it here on the island. There’s a whole weird system of people standing and sitting all over the place (be it a bank, the post office or the hospital) with no sense of logic. The trick is to simply ask ‘la ultima?’ as you walk in, so you can identify who the person is before you, then you can join the free-for all.
Island life means waking up on a random morning only to discover you have no electricity – not through any fault of your own, it’s just that today’s the day the electricity company decided to do some works in your street. And no, they have no idea when it will be restored. Same too goes for water. All of a sudden… you have none! And speaking of water – #realislandlife means you can’t drink the tap water, so you’re constantly buying bottles in bulk and wondering how it will ever be possible to reduce your plastic waste? Those who live in villas and country houses will often have a giant water reserve that is filled up by the Agua Potable trucks you see around the island, so for them it’s a matter of being aware when reserves get low. Oh – and checking for snakes in your water tank too. Once one of those slippery suckers gets in there, it’s contaminated and while you can still use it to shower, you have to go back to buying bottles of water to drink…
The beauty of visiting the store to buy water so often means you get to know your local shopkeepers. If you forget to bring your wallet one time – no pasanada! That’s totally fine. You can pay them next time. The level of trust and openness on the island is really nice to see. My friend Miss L, who also happens to be a mum, tells me this, along with a sense of freedom, is one of the most wonderful things about bringing up a child on the island. Her son has grown up seeing the farms where she buys her veggies from and meeting real animals, not in a petting zoo. She says Ibiza kids are super conscious about what and how they eat for this reason. And when it comes to eating – the island (and Spanish) way is to take your children with you anywhere, at any time without fear of being judged. Children are in nice restaurants with their parents after 8pm (which is standard city ‘no kids allowed’ hour) and thus learn how to behave in public from an early age.
We are surrounded by nature – even in our biggest ‘cities’, the beach is just a ten-minute walk away. Kids are encouraged to play outside rather than on an iPad – that’s not to say they don’t get tech-time, but they’re not ruled by it. This could be partly because the island’s internet is still so damn s-l-o-o-w – heaven forbid you need to upload something in a hurry! It’s fast enough to stream Netflix though and I can assure you, #realislandlife includes as much binge watching as it does beach time.
Getting from A to B if you don’t have a car is definitely a struggle when it comes to island life. We don’t have Uber, our taxis are almost non-existent in the height of summer (and they just don’t come when you call them), and the public transport system schedule seems to be the same as it was in the 70s. For one of my friends to get to Ibiza town by 9am, she needs to catch a 7am bus from Santa Eulalia – true story. And yet, it’s just a 25-minute drive. But you can’t fight it – it is what it is, and real islanders use it as time to catch up on their reading, emails, admin, podcasts… just like those who travel a two-hour daily commute to get to their jobs in big cities.
Our supermarkets are stocked with the most limited selection of products – even the biggest ones (and there are more and more of them springing up this year) still only stock basic brands. They just fill more shelf space with them! I am constantly perplexed as to why I cannot buy Charlotte Tilbury make-up here in Ibiza – I mean, she grew up here! And as for electronics – well, let’s just say come August 1 every year, every single electronic store on the island has sold out of fans and dehumidifiers (even though previous years should have taught them to double their order) and there’s no chance of finding one until the restock in September. And if you’re thinking of ordering from Amazon – well, remember what I told you about the postal service. You simply learn to plan ahead.
Whenever I travel to a city, I feel like a little country girl who’s found herself in a supermarket/department store/mall for the very first time. Half the time I need excess luggage just to make up for every day purchases. But here’s the thing I’ve learnt living on an island. You don’t need fancy shampoo or special flavoured cheeses to be happy (though they are nice). You don’t need 24-hour supermarkets or restaurants serving all-day breakfasts or coffee shops specialising in long-named drinks you can’t even pronounce. All you need, as The Beatles famously sang, is love. You just need to love the island and all its ups and downs, and you’ll love #realislandlife.
Despite the humidity and the never-ending mould it creates, despite the unrelenting heat and consequent sweat trail down my forehead, despite the queues and general lack of organisation, despite the limited shopping resources and tourists overrunning our towns for half the year, despite the lack of decent greeting cards available, despite the lackadaisical approach to life (and business!) in general, I love my #realislandlife. I wouldn’t swap it for any other life in the world. It may not be #islandlife, but I’ll keep following the hashtag anyway. After all, it’s beautiful. It’s aspirational. It’s like a highlight reel of all the best parts of #realislandlife and a reminder of what inspired me to move here in the first place.