It's 3 a.m. on a Sunday, and the narrow streets of this pretty island are jammed with 20-somethings throwing fried chicken at one another. Hundreds of others are jumping up and down to the jackhammer beat of techno music; others line up to get into clubs. A brunette in a sequined silver halter top is passing out on the pavement.
Ibiza has become synonymous over the past two decades with the drug-infested clubbing, or raving, subculture. Every summer, hundreds of thousands of young men and women from around Europe Britain in particular come here not to sun themselves, but to escape into drugs, alcohol, nonstop dancing, and anonymous sex.
Jane Hoadley says she used to do a lot of wild clubbing when raving first began in the early 1980s. She says she still likes to party, but, as she considers the scene at Ibiza, where she is vacationing, the single mother of four acknowledges that ideas of "fun" have gotten out of hand.
"We wished we could feel good 24 hours a day. But we should have been careful what we wished for," she says. "There is a difference, a boundary, between fantasy and reality.
"This new generation does not like being unhappy. They refuse to sit with thoughts and feelings, and instead go for a quick fix," she says. "And when it's all over, they are walking around so incapable of dealing with problems that they can't even tie their own shoelaces."
The pace here is swift, the young people good-looking, and the beat of the music infectious but underlying it all is a faint sense of desperation.
Like raving tours on other islands, such as Ayia Napa in Cyprus or Faliraki in Rhodes, the Ibiza package usually involves a cheap charter, a crowded hotel room, and a troupe of fawning, loud 'club reps' who bundle visitors into minivans, escort them to parties, and unofficially tell the new arrivals where to buy drugs.
Ecstasy and cocaine are the drugs of choice here. "I bring a few hundred pills in from home," confides Ralph, a courier-service dispatcher from Nottingham, England, who flew over the European continent hiding a stash of Ecstasy on his person. He says that last year in Ibiza he fell over on the pavement on his first night out and broke seven toes. "I messed up then ... so this year I have to make up for it and party harder," he concludes.
The largest clubs hold thousands, and at 8 a.m., when the last of them finally shuts its doors, clubbers, kept awake by the drugs, move on to "afterparties" at smaller venues until the late afternoon, then maybe take a fitful nap somewhere, and start the cycle all over again.
A survey carried out at the Ibiza airport last summer by John Moores University in Liverpool, England, found that over 50 percent of clubbers admitted to taking at least one Ecstasy pill during their one-week stay on the island. Almost 31 percent of those surveyed said they had used more than one type of drug, and 90 percent said they had drunk alcohol on five or more nights of their stay.
The research further found that 54 percent of the sample had had sex while on vacation and more than a quarter did not use a condom although 23 percent had had sex with more than one partner. This year, say clubbers, there has been an increase in the use of Rohypnol, the "date-rape drug" which makes unsuspecting takers suddenly feel drowsy and fall asleep for a short period of time.
Like other Spaniards here, Pablo Vicente, a local resident, resents the clubbers, but benefits from the tourism money they bring in. "We complain, but we need them," he sighs.
Lisa, a cable-TV saleswoman from Manchester, England, leans on a club stairwell watching some 2,000 dancers hop up and down. She says she recently divorced her husband, who cheated on her and beat her. "Yeah, I have had rough times," she says. "And that's why I want to cheer myself up here."