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Dark Summer: Inside The Harsh Living Conditions Of Ibiza's Seasonal Workers

A severe housing shortage means that many of those who come to serve the millions of tourists on the Spanish island can't find a decent place to sleep. Some wind up sleeping in their cars or on flea-infested mattresses. The spirit of Ibiza as an easy-going meeting place is fading away.

A beach services worker walks along the beach behind holidaymakers.

A beach services worker patrols the beach as holidaymakers enjoy the area, Ibiza, Spain. 7 May 2021.

Esther Cabezas

IBIZA — It's a world-renown paradise off the coast of Spain, with more than 2 million visitors arriving each year. But now, during the summer high season, the island of Ibiza has become a hell for the many people who work to serve the rush of tourism in hotels, restaurants, markets, shops, parking lots and airports.

The workers say the situation keeps getting worse, in particular due to the lack of affordable housing and the unavailability of sufficient housing resources provided by companies to accommodate their staffs.

More and more, the seasonal workers who come to the "Beautiful Island" to earn a decent salary — as is also happening on the nearby island of Mallorca with caravans — have to rely on their imagination, explorer skills, or simply making do to earn a much-needed income for their survival and that of their families throughout the year.

If you take a walk around Ibiza, you will soon find parking lots, some well-hidden and many of them near workplaces, filled with cars serving as living spaces, camper vans, old and new caravans, improvised camps in wooded areas, half-built buildings filled with mattresses, people sleeping on the beach.

Each worker finds their own way to make it through the season, if they manage to do so. In this report, we have spoken with some of those in this situation who have kindly shared their stories.

Victoria, looking for normality

Victoria (a pseudonym) has been coming to Ibiza for 10 years, working sporadically around the island. The last two years, she decided to work the entire season. "I used to come with my vehicle and stay at the campsite if I was here for a short time, but they are so expensive, around 900 euros per month, and as I'm alone, I can't afford it. Moreover, you have to book in April or March, and then you have to set up everything yourself. My option has been to come, since last year, with my large car. I manage it very well, arranging everything in a compact way, and I lead a very healthy life. This is a must because housing is completely impossible. You rule it out immediately. I prefer to endure this way."

To make it through the season, Victoria has her tricks: a good latex mattress, buying pre-cooked organic food, fermented vegetables, seeds, miso envelopes, and above all, keeping everything compact and well-organized. "Order is essential for me," she asserts. "As for hygiene, you have to sign up at a gym and go there to shower. Also, I take many baths in the sea."

The situation gets complicated, she tells elDiario.es, if she gets sick: "Being sick is tough, you suffer. Thank goodness, last year when it happened, I had shade, my privacy, and the forest for whatever I needed. I hope I don't get sick again because now I don't have a place like that. I hope it doesn't happen to me this year because I wouldn't know what to do. I have sometimes stayed in a rented caravan in a parking lot, and nobody said anything. It depends on the parking lot, it depends on the patrol that comes. You have no certainty. They might come and tell you to move your car or give you a fine."

You may call it an adventure, but this isn't the reality. This is not living well.

However, the woman, who is in her 30s, always tries to be in beautiful places with good views, although she admits that sometimes it's not enjoyable because she is alone and fears for her safety. "I don't want to think about it, especially in a place like Ibiza, but it crosses your mind. I always lock the car, but you still feel a bit insecure. Sometimes I stay there thinking, Where should I go? Where will I sleep tonight? What if some crazy people come?"

Victoria explains that psychologically, it's tough: "Although you take it philosophically, because I'm doing what I love, it's inhumane. Sometimes I wonder why I'm here. It's discomfort, uncertainty, insecurity... You may call it an adventure, but this isn't the reality. This is not living well. By the second week of August, I'm already overwhelmed, and when I get home to the mainland, I'm amazed. I have a bathroom, fresh water, a kitchen counter, everything seems enormous to me; but in reality, it's not. It's a stark contrast."

Economically, it is worth it, but Victoria highlights that all the people who work to maintain the tourist services, should be able to access a normal quality of life.

She wonders why they don't set up a zone of "tiny houses" on the island for people who come to work."We are needed on the island for everything to function, to serve tourism. I don't understand it. It's a reality; we're not here for leisure. People are attracted here because of the service opportunities available.They always complain that we live in our cars. Last year, a girl told me she shared a studio with another person and she even had to share the bed. She was very overwhelmed. It's only natural, how could she not be? It's inhumane."

Waiters in striped t-shirts prepare drinks at a rooftop bar

A waiter serves drinks to guests on the rooftop terrace of the Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza, Sant Josep De Sa Talaia, Spain. 11 August 2023.

Clara Margais/ZUMA

Mohammed, one last summer

"I can't stand the living conditions. At 14, I came to Spain on a small boat from Morocco. I am 23 now and have been working on the island for two years, but I don't know if I'll come back. Look at all the insect bites I have!"

We are in the middle of a wooded area on the island of Ibiza.The heat attracts flies, mosquitoes, and fleas around an improvised campsite with a new and large tent where several men sleep on white sheets. Next to it, another colleague lives in his car. They have various kitchen utensils and a small camping gas stove where they cook, and their clothes are hanging on a rope tied between two trees.

One of the men who has the day off agrees to talk to us; the others are at work in a hotel very close to the campsite. Mohamed — a fictitious name — is very friendly and from a middle-class Moroccan family from the west-central part of the country, from Kenitra, near the capital, Rabat.

His family never understood why he decided to embark on such a dangerous journey: "They have businesses and tried to dissuade me. But I was sure, I wanted to make my own way, and at the age of 14, I got on a small boat with 72 other people. We spent three days at sea until we arrived."

Mohamed eventually moved to Valencia, where he lives and works all winter, coming to Ibiza in April and staying until October.

The young man earns around 1,600 or 1,700 euros as a waiter in a hotel, but accommodation is not included; he has no choice but to live like this. "In Valencia I have my own house and work in maintenance. Here, they ask for 1,200 euros a month to rent a house, and you have to pay two months in advance. This is impossible. That's why we live like this. It's very hot. We can wash our clothes at the hotel, shower there, and they provide us with food, although we cook here at night: vegetables, pasta... something for everyone," he says.

He explains that they live with tranquility, although they know that being in this forest is prohibited and they risk a fine. Mohamed claims that this is the last summer he will work on the island. He's tired of sleeping in his car.

Wilson, with his Ibizan son

We head to the Hotel Federation of Ibiza to discuss this situation. Its manager, Manuel Sendino, tells us that each establishment solves the problem as best they can, "by providing rooms in the same hotel, renting apartments or entire buildings, whatever accommodation is available."

However, it is evident that they cannot find enough resources. Near the hotels, we can find concentrations of vehicles in nearby parking lots where workers who have not been provided with decent accommodation live.

Some say they prefer to live in their vehicles rather than in a shared room or a basement, as Martin, a young man in his twenties who worked last season at one of the most famous hotels on the island, tells us. Workers from a hotel in Cala de Bou assure us that those directly employed by the establishment are provided with accommodation.

The appeal that Ibiza had before as a meeting place for citizens from all over the world no longer exists.

However, those contracted through temporary agencies are not given this option: "They are sleeping in their cars, those who have them, and the others wherever they can. Many sleep on the nearby beach. After exhausting work days, how is it possible that they don't have a place to rest?" says an outraged hotel employee who does not want to reveal her identity.

Wilson works as a gardener, although he studied Fine Arts in his home country. He says he is disappointed with the island and what it is becoming: "A place for the rich, but without any charm. The appeal that Ibiza had before as a meeting place for citizens from all over the world no longer exists."

He has to constantly move from place to place to avoid problems with the police: "I've heard they give fines of 700 euros. That's all I needed, to get a fine. I don't understand why I can't be with my vehicle and sleep inside whenever I want. It's my property," he says. "I am not a criminal; I am a family man who needs income that I earn with my sweat. It's a really unpleasant situation."

Wilson has searched for several places where he can rest in the shade because the heat is intense. "You come across many vehicles in the same situation as yours, driving around, and you might go to a spot that's already occupied. My work is tough, and I need rest, to clean up and eat well. For the time being, I'll keep going like this. But it's incredible that I, who have raised a family here, whose son is Ibizan and goes to school here, have to go through all these inconveniences. The Ibiza that I knew and that so many people loved is no longer."

Wilson bids farewell as he walks off with his dog toward the forest: "Tonight is a family dinner..."

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