Monday, October 03, 2011

Music Video Monday: Venga Boys



Twenty years ago on this day, I was in Ibiza for my first port visit in the U.S. Navy. My ship, the USS Orion had departed Gaeta, Italy for a few days in Ibiza before returning to the home post of La Maddalena. Since Sardinia is in between Italy and the Balearic Islands, we passed by our home port to visit this Spanish island. I had never heard of Ibiza until we visited. I had heard of Majorca and its capital city of Palma de Majorca, but not of the other islands in that chain.

Because Ibiza was my first liberty port in the Navy, it will always have a special place in my heart, even if I don't consider it a remarkable or particularly memorable place. Basically, if I had a lot of disposable income and was looking to vacation somewhere, Ibiza would not make my Top 100 list of places to see. Its a typical Mediterranean port: a city with a fortress on a hill. Overrun by British tourists. In fact, Ibiza has since become known as a a party circuit place, popular with ravers.

The song, "Ibiza" by the Venga Boys did not exist at the time (thank God! What a crap song). The Venga Boys was a band that the Washington Seminar roommate I did not like very much actually loved. So, whenever I hear the Venga Boys, I can't help but think of that roommate. He would probably fit in well with the party people who flock to Ibiza.

Interesting to reflect, though: Ibiza in October 1991 was my first liberty port in the Navy and Ponce, Puerto Rico in October 1995 was my last liberty port in the Navy. I served on three ships in five years and my first and last liberty ports were not places I cared to see. My favorite ports were Gibraltar and Toulon, France.

Our timing of the visit in Ibiza was interesting. We arrived the week after Ibiza played host to a big gathering of homosexual groups, which we were warned about (that there might still be homosexual visitors on vacation). I think I saw a few, but I didn't care. I was too busy enjoying exploring the main city of Ibiza. I loved the narrow pedestrian-only streets filled with stores, which winded its way up the side of the hill up to the fortress. I walked all over the place, still enjoying the fact that my first month back in Europe seemed more like a vacation than actual work. Not a bad way to begin my Navy experience!

I mostly explored the town on my own, though I did go out with some sailors. We ate at a restaurant, sitting outside under the umbrella'd tables. I learned that pictures can be deceiving. Many restaurants displayed mouth-watering photos of big, juicy hamburgers on their menus. When the meal came, the burger looked nothing like the photo and it tasted like no hamburger I had ever eaten. Someone said that it was most likely a "lamb burger." I learned early on that the best food to eat is the local cuisine, not the faux American selection. If in doubt, order a pasta dish. Anything was better than a European's version of a hamburger with whatever mystery meat they used.

In one store somewhere in Ibiza, I saw a bottle of Brandy in a Napoleon-shaped bottle. I wanted to buy it just for the bottle, but I knew that we were not allowed to bring any alcohol on board ship. I later learned that we actually could buy alcohol to bring on board, but we had to turn it into the Master-at-Arms until we get back to homeport, where I could take it off the ship to the barracks. It was a nice looking bottle and I was a fan of Napoleon.

The ship's MWR office offered a few tours of Ibiza and I signed up for one. It was a barbecue one night. I did not know that a few officers from Squadron 22 had also signed up to go, so I got to know them a little bit that evening. The barbecue was a tourist gimmick. Had I known what it would be, I would not have gone. Basically, the tourist gather at a certain time. Dinner is served at once. It was a Cowboy "hoedown" theme. There were British tourists as well as American sailors. I don't remember much about it, other than the Squadron officers introducing me to a young British girl named Julie Young. We talked for awhile. She was just as bored as I was. We exchanged addresses. After I got back to La Madd, I was hesitant about writing to her, because she seemed kind of boring to me. She didn't seem to like a lot of things nor did she know much. I was surprised that she wrote to me first and I kept in touch with her until one day a year or so later when she actually sent me a letter asking me not to write her again. I don't know what happened, but I honoured her wishes. It was a strange request. Most people just don't respond and after I send a few letters and don't get a response, I stop. However, she is the only person I know who actually wrote to ask me not to keep in touch anymore. I wasn't heartbroken because even her letters were boring. She and I just had nothing in common.


After that port visit to Ibiza, I thought I would never visit there again. However, the MWR office in La Maddalena offered a special New Year's Eve celebration to welcome in 1993. The tour was to fly to Ibiza on New Year's Eve for a party at a special club and then fly back on New Year's Day. It sounded cool at the time: flying to another island just for a one night party. Something that only the super wealthy did. The whole thing turned out to be a scam. Everyone on the plane (which included Italians, as well as a bunch of American sailors I knew from the ship) went to the club. As the time clicked closer to midnight and they would not let us into the club, which was out in the boonies, away from the main town of Ibiza, we began to get restless. It was kind of cold, so we were anxious to get inside. The doors opened right at midnight or just shortly afterwards and as soon as we rushed into the club, we realized that it was no warmer inside than it was outside. Small tealights were on tables and as we looked around, we realized that this was not a real building, but a hastily put together structure that gave the appearance of being a club. It looked more like someone's backyard patio with canvas tent set up.

So many of us got angry and realized that we had been scammed. We came all the way to Ibiza to party and we were led out to the boonies to some makeshift and phony backyard tent. Many of us called cabs to get the hell out of there. We asked the cabdriver where the big parties were and driven to a town on the other side of the island (about 30 or 40 minutes away) in the town of Sant Antoni. We salvaged the evening when there were crowded clubs all over packed with people (not from the plane). The music was loud, the drinks were plenty, and the women were gorgeous. We danced the night away and caught a cab back to the main town of Ibiza in the early morning to await our chartered plane back to Sardinia. This was one flight I did not want to miss, because I had no easy way of getting back to La Maddalena if I was stranded (I'd have to take a ferry to Barcelona, a train to Genoa or Rome, a ferry to Olbia, Sardinia, a bus to Palau, and a ferry to La Maddalena).

One female officer in our group was so angry about the experience that she complained to the MWR office and demanded her money back. As we learned later, even the MWR office was tricked by the Italian tourist agency that set up the special tour. I guess no one knew that whoever set up the backyard club in Ibiza was scamming us all. But the most vocal complainers were the ones who did not go to Sant Antoni. In their disappointment about the club out in the boonies, they returned to the main town of Ibiza where nothing was open and they just waited for the flight back to Sardinia. Those of us who went to Sant Antoni had an awesome night because apparently, that was where the island residents go to party.

So, that is my experiences with Ibiza. I'll likely never see that island again, which is okay by me. There are so many more worthy places to visit. However, as I said above, Ibiza will always have a special place in my heart because it represents the first liberty port I visited in the U.S. Navy and it is also the place where I had the craziest New Year's experience of my life. Below is a picture I found through a Google image search of the main town of Ibiza with the fortress on the hill lit up at night.

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