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Squatting your way through Spain’s Balearics


“We’ve got the house!” said my friend Anna, with whom I was going to spend the next week in Spain’s Balearic Island – Formentera. A friend of a friend, of a friend who lives there, has a house and is willing to let two strangers stay there for five days. Brilliant! So we no longer need to pay for accommodation. Money saved: €200.

To get to Formentera, you first need to get to the one-and-only clubland Ibiza, where you catch a boat. The minute you check-in at the airport, be prepared to feel alien among the true stereotypes, dressed-up and ready to experience the ecstasy the island promises rave fanatics. 
 
So a techno plane trip and a nauseating boat ride later, we arrive in Formentera to find, to our delight, our host waiting for us at the port. How nice. He was 35-ish, with a distinct Mediterranean tan, ripped jeans, worn out t-shirt, baseball hat and sunglasses. He greets us with a warm smile and begins telling us about the island. It is selfless incidences like this that reinforce my faith in people when I travel. 
Post the where-are-you-from-what-do-you-do banter, he tells us while in his battered 1988 Ford Station Wagon: “The thing is…I don’t exactly live in a house.” 

Not being too picky about our beds, especially when they are free, we say with a smile. “Ah, don’t worry about it, we are not fussy.” He seemed relieved and decided to take us straight to the beach. It was after all, a beautiful afternoon. 

That first garage home

As the sun began to set, we started heading to his place that has been home to him for the last five years. It was a garage. A shed with a small window, a light bulb, no bathroom, and no running water. However he did have a fridge, a washing machine, and a laptop.

Our blank facial expressions perhaps said a lot, as he conveniently decided to disappear the minute we entered. After five minutes of silence, not knowing how to react, we burst out laughing.
 
Post convulsions, we decide – it’s free, and anyway, during peak season, everything else is booked out. It’s not like we had other options. Long live our sleeping bags!

All of a sudden our host reappears. We bite our tongues and listen to the rules of the garage: “Do not make noise in the morning and do not be in sight between 4pm and 6pm. You only have this place for two nights.” Mr. Wonderful didn’t seem that wonderful anymore.
 
Anyway, we dump our stuff and decide to get a beer and call the other two friends of friends of friends, who might just remember us, to see if we can crash with them.

Turns out that Bea, the Valenciana library-owner-turned-hippy, would be delighted for us to bunk with her. She lives in a forest, under a pine tree with a bush as a wardrobe and a sleeping bag as a bed.
Bikram, a Nepali immigrant, also lives in the forest in a hut. Four walls made of wood with a roof made of leaves and bark. No electricity, no water.

Conclusion: our garage is luxury.

“But we only have it for two nights,” I say.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we have to,” responded Anna. With the vibes of the silently shared thought: ‘we are on one of the world’s most beautiful and untainted islands, we’ll be damned if our sleeping arrangements mess it up for us’, salvaged the rest of our trip. 
As we were out all night the first two nights, it was easy to escape the cold garage floor.  We caught up on our sleep on the beach, soaking in the Mediterranean sun.
 
Come night three, our “forest” friend Bea fixes us up with a friend of her friend, who lived in an abandoned house, in the middle of nowhere. A creepy walk through a deep forest while dodging police flashlights at around 4am brings us to our home for the night. It had a roof, and a well that gave us access to fresh water for the first time in two days. It was illegal, and we weren’t offered another night there, nor did we ask.
 
Not disheartened, but longing for a clean shower and a good night’s sleep, our Nepali friend Bikram calls as if he felt our plight, and tells us he has a mate who has a beautiful, real, house in the mountains. “Chicas! It has four walls, light, water, beds, bathroom, kitchen and television. He is a good guy and for €10 each, would be happy to shelter you for a night.” Jackpot!

Our three nights without real accommodation were surprisingly good. Quiet and comfortable, they gave new meaning to the whole ‘living with nature’ experience. The fact that we didn’t know where we would be sleeping also had its own rare and random kick. However, since we hadn’t walked through a real door, or had a shower, or used a real bathroom for 3-days; a house sounded great. 
 
Our €10-a-night host Ivictor turned out to be a handsome bloke: 23, athletic, blonde, blue-eyes, training to be a sports coach in Barcelona.
“Join us for dinner?” we said. “I’ve eaten, but we can have a drink,” he replied. That one drink for us turned out to be 10 for him.

Ready to sleep in our real beds and positive he couldn’t distinguish a person from a tree; we agreed he was harmless and followed him to his house. An hour of walking to what seemed the end of the world brought us to his home.

Des Res deluxe

The house was a beautiful, fully furnished, small 2-bedroom villa, with a garden. We went into our room with the biggest smiles, shut the door and got ready to sleep.

 “It’s raining men, hallelujah, it’s raining men,” we hear Geri Halliwell’s voice, resonating at full volume and our €10-a-night host singing his lungs out. Yes, things were too good to be true.

10-minutes later, the music was still full blast, but it seemed like he had passed out. We creep out, turn off the stereo and the television and quietly slip back into our rooms.
 
5-minutes later we hear “love shack, baby love shack; love shack, baby love shack.” Great. We decide to speak to him and request him to keep it down a wee-bit.
 
We open our room door and there is our host – butt-naked, sleeping on the sofa. Thank the heavens above that he had passed out. We don’t dare leave our rooms.

We shut the door and try to sleep, but all we can hear is noises of him singing, talking, and banging into things, things falling down and other strange noises I rather not describe. He banged into our room a few times too, scaring the living daylight out of us. With no lock to our room, we do whatever we can to jam the door from inside and try to fall asleep.  Freaked out, listening to terrible and loud noises, we plan to leave the house at the crack of dawn. <–page–>

Our alarm goes off at 8am; we can still hear him doing something. Scared out of our minds, we hurriedly pack our stuff and sneak out the window of our room and make a run for it. No way were we paying that €10. Post one-mile sprint, we felt relief like never before.

Formentera is one of the most beautiful islands I have visited. It has everything – fresh air, crystal clear ocean, white sand, exclusive beaches, thick forests, haunting mountains and a sense of tranquillity that you can only find on an untouched island. We rented bicycles and made it to three of the four island view points. We rode up hills, through forests; watched the sunset while effortlessly riding downhill, breathing in fresh air, not a soul in sight. We rode along the coastline, from beach to beach, swam and bathed in the ocean, ate organic food and slept in the wilderness.
 
At night we didn’t have means of getting around. After riding a bicycle all day, it can get tiring to hop on it again at night, and if you fancy a drink – it’s not a good idea. No taxis, no buses. You have to hitch-hike. Bless all those people who stopped to give us a ride and shame on all those people who didn’t. On a day when you need a ride, you won’t get one. It’s karma.
The last boat from Formentera to Ibiza was at 8:30pm and our flight to Valencia was at 7am the next day. Our plan was to party all night in clubland and go to the airport at around 6am.
 
Starving, we decide to eat first. We found this decent and inexpensive pizzeria, where we went for a pepperoni-and-cheese pizza, and a much needed extra-large jug of Sangria. Come time to pay, I give them my bank card and 10 minutes later: “Sorry, but this doesn’t work,” says the restaurant manager. We had €35 in our pocket, our bill was €27.

So here we were two chicas in Ibiza with €8 and no friends. That was not even enough to get a taxi to the airport. Buses had stopped running. My phone was dead and credit-less. Our phone cards didn’t work in Ibiza. This was going to be a long, long night.
 
Luckily the restaurant manager was a sweetheart. He had a friend in the restaurant who agreed to drop us to the airport and even take us around town, if we felt like hanging with a big, African, non-English, non-Spanish speaking dude from Senegal for the rest of the evening. Yes, at least some of the people you meet when you travel are wonderful.
 
Fingers crossed in our pocket, we agree. It was midnight, there was no way we were going to spend what would probably be our first and last night in Ibiza, at the airport.
 
So here we are with René from Senegal, who took us to Playa En Bossa, one of the most happening beaches of Ibiza. He seemed to know a few bouncers so we got into places for free. With €8 in our pockets, we couldn’t even buy water.
 
After taking on the role of silent observers in 6 bars and 2 clubs, we desperately needed a drink. We went to the mercado, got a litre of beer and sat on the beach till 3am. Just as René began thinking he was making friends for life, we decided it was time to go to the airport to spend the rest of the night squatting in the lounge.

All-in-all, it was a great trip. As everything is imported on the island your pockets might seem to get deep, but it’s all well worth it if you fancy a get away in the heart of nature; or simply a squat.

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