Port of call
— published in: On drifting (2020)
— author: Nuria Ribas Costa, journalist, jurist and urbanist, Norway

Nuria Ribas Costa

— I just don’t understand why there are so many of them.

The water is calm.

— Perhaps we were not aware of it when we were younger?

— No I think it’s not that. I think there are more arriving now.

— But this constant drip is not sustainable. I mean this is an island. There is no room.

Autumn started a couple weeks ago,
but one would not tell. People strive to extend summer, blurry the boundaries of season change. And bright, blue days help the cause.

— But why? Why so many?

The sun shines proudly, and no wind is blowing during the hottest hour of the day. The shore melts within the water. The sand is soft, it appears warm.

— A friend of mine told me a couple of days ago that the idea that workers are needed here is spreading. So there’s a bigger aval- anche of people fleeing their home countries, convinced that they will find a job here.

— Who said this?
— My friend Rosa.
— Is she the one who lived in Senegal? — She is.

There’s a saying in the island’s native language to describe waters like today’s: “ com una bassa d’oli ”. It means “ like an
oil pond ”. Waters so calm, so quiet, so static, that evoke the parsimony of heavier liquids, harder to move, harder to enrage. Waters like these succeed in fooling inexperienced seafarers and tourists equally; tricking sailors to believe the sea is, sometimes, a gentle beast.

— But imagine how dangerous, just paddling through the sea, trying to get to shore, to cross a border. I mean, anything can happen, it must be so scary…

— Who knows what they are running away from, if still they decide to put themselves in such danger?

— Well I don’t know how they get the idea that there’s a need for workforce here. What is needed is work. If we don’t have jobs for ourselves what jobs are there going to be for them…

— And again, this is an island. There are only so many we can fit on this land. There’s no room for all.

The beach is practically empty.
Empty of those hedonist nomads they call tourists these days. The surrounding hotels and apartment blocks are also almost empty. The roads, the terraces, the shops, the souvenirs. The vast, fast, fore past remains of a one-directional infra- structure: hospitality. Designed to be filled, the island aims for a yearly flood of people. Long-awaited horror vacui during the hot- test months.The nakedness of the surroundings and the acknowledgement of the touristic nature of the place highlight the inner contradictions of statements such as “ we don’t fit ” or “ there’s no room ”. The insularity is deployed as a political tool, used in a re-definition of the capacities of the land. As if it were destined to host only a selected group. As if hospitality detached definitely from its original meaning, that used to imply kindness, friendliness, warmth. Welcoming, just not for all.

One year ago, early in the morning, something shook the collective imaginary of the island’s residents. It was the end of August 2019, and the water was calm, com una bassa d’oli. A fisherman woke up early. He started the engine of his boat before the kick of dawn and sailed into the sea. The sun rose while he was out fishing, lighting up a beautiful, hot day. The water was smooth, no wind swelling the sails of his boat, the small engine purring. By the time he returned to shore the sun was high and the blue of the sky melted into the horizon, but it was still early.

Suddenly he spotted something on the coastline. That beach was well known for
its steep walls covered in loose stones and dusty, white earth, almost lacking vegetation. As soon as he looked closely, and realized what he was staring at, he pulled out his phone and started recording a video that
all local newspapers would compulsively publish afterwards.

The recording shows a small motorboat arriving to coast and up to 16 migrants going ashore. Some of them carrying bags, others empty-handed, some taller, some smaller. The fisherman zooms in to capture how one by one all of them jump on the beach and start walking towards the slope of the cli . For a couple of seconds the camera moves back and forth from the group to the boat, to portray how it’s been abandoned
on the shore. Then the image shows a 360o view around, capturing the full beach as the fisherman speaks its name: Sòl de’n Serrà, on the Eastern side of the island. After that the camera stays static until the end, filming how the 16 black silhouettes quickly climb upwards.

The combination of the calm, clear water and the white cli sprinkled with bodies climbing with determination was extensively reproduced in local media 1 and informal communication channels such as Whatsapp and Telegram group chats, constantly shared and re-shared to exhaustion. The power of the image was undeniable, provoking mixed feelings and curious conversations, defying rational opinions, appealing to emotions – to a sense of belonging, of owner- ship, or even, dare one to say, a strange type of fear of occupation.

Of course by now the island’s collective imaginary already normalized a beach completely covered in hammocks, beach beds and food and drink facilities. Beach clubs, exclusive parties and privatization of the shore coexist now with traditional life as if they had always been there, despite some occasional opposition and scrutiny by the public opinion, although arguably not as emotional or sensationalist as the disembarkment in Sòl de’n Serrà.

Such an arrival resonates within the past of an island that was, for generations, a stop- over. A place of transit, whose appeal defined the character of natives that grew to become independent individuals, generally poor and autarchic, reluctant to power and attached to the land. Phoenicians and Punics first integrated the island in the commercial routes of the Western Mediterranean in the 5th century b.C., consolidating it as a strategic point within these waters. Romans followed, then Muslims, then Catalan Christians, but the island’s undeniable condition of point of passage remained. Its strategic position was as well its greatest weakness – a crossing point, a place of transit, a port of call.


Besieged by pirates in the 16th century, one could argue whether the avalanche of tourists in the1970s (160.000 in 1968 and 500.000 in 1974, a ratio of 12 tourists per inhabitant in 1973) 2 was, as well, some sort of siege. But it is naive and surreal to compare pirates and tourism: the former meant scarcity, the latter meant money. The revolutionary introduction of a brand new industry on a piece of land that had 3 been, for years, detached from History.

The 20th century meant a radical transformation of the island’s territory, and a re- definition of its meaning within the European and Mediterranean context. Citizens saw the possibility to earn money, improve their quality of life and leave back the predominantly self-sufficient ordinariness that characterized the place for generations. Land suddenly became wealth, and that long-standing connection to the territory stepped back in

the name of quick enrichment, of “ progress ”. Strikingly, this progress meant the cutting of the ties with the rest of the Mediterranean, and the consolidation of a main definition: Ibiza as the playground of Europe.

However, there are no human-built borders between the island and the rest of the Mediterranean. Borders as such remain in fact a construct. The fluidity of water and air does not, per se, entail detachment, at least not any more in the 21st century. But as commercial routes define the intellectual routes, the connections with the rest of the territories bathed by the Mediterranean waters are progressively blurred – a capitalization of the border that entails a capitalization of human relations, a selective hospitality industry.

A simple metaphor: yachts versus rickety boats, pateras in Spanish. The sun is dropping and the air cools down. Autumn proves its arrival.

— Are you hungry? I am hungry. Should we eat?

— Should we go to a bar?

— Not sure what is open in this area, every- thing seems empty.

— Let’s go see.

Packing starts. They move their towels
in the air, shaking the sand o the fabric. There’s nobody left on the beach. The sun is setting, and the water looks purple, red, pink, orange. On the horizon, the silhouette of the Iberian Peninsula cuts against the sky. Like Algerian coasts are visible from Almería. Like Moroccan ones from Marbella.

On a clear day they look very close, much more than they actually are.

[1] Redacción (2019) “Un pescador graba la llegada de una patera a Ibiza”, Ultima Hora Ibiza. /https://www.ultimahora.es/noticias :على اﻟﺈنترنت local/2019/08/31/1103681/pescador-graba-llega- da-patera-ibiza.html

[2] Bisson, Jean (1977) La terre et l’homme aux Îles Baléares, Édisud. P 256

[3] Buades, Joan (2004) On brilla el sol: turisme a Balears abans del boom. Res Publica. P 79