Boats are fundamental in the lives and livelihoods of the people who live on Formentera. It’s the smallest inhabited island of the Baleares, which include Minorca, Majorca and Ibiza and is accessible only by boat. It is roughly 30 square miles in size and, at its extremities, only 12 miles of largely infertile terrain connect one end of the island to the other.
Over the course of many centuries, Formentera has managed to survive the invasions, depredations—and the unfortunate rule– of Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Byzantines and Muslims, as it has also survived the intermittent attacks of pirates from Northern Europe and Africa. In contrast, modern buccaneers arrive here only during the summer months, especially in August, when Europeans traditionally take their vacations. They come in waves on enormous ferries, each one of which carries hundreds of passengers in a half-hour voyage from Ibiza, and so the normal population of 10-12,000 souls who live here throughout the year swells to tens of thousands of vacationers, tourists and party-goers, mostly from Germany and Italy, who flock to the white sands, transparent waters, bars, clubs, nude sunbathing and the promise of an earthly heaven of sun, sex and alcohol. Whether Formentera will be able to survive these modern invaders remains an open question. In any case, although invaders come and go, the invaders still rule.
When I first visited Formentera in July of 2007, I was surprised to see hundreds of motor scooters for rent lined up on the streets of Es Pujols, the village where my friends, Manolo Blasco and Toti Romero have a summer home. The scooters were awaiting the arrival of thousands of Italian youths who, according to Manolo, and police records, would then drive them into ditches, smash them against trees and boulders or crash them into each other in the drunken frenzies of August. To avoid such hazards Manolo and Toti rent out their place during the month and return to their primary home in Valencia, coming back to the island only in September after most of the invaders have left.
By October, there are many less boats anchored in Formentera’s bays and inlets and the island seems to shrink as restaurants, bars, boutiques and markets close for the season. A few tourists remain, but by the beginning of November, Es Pujols will feel like a ghost town. However, the boats of the fishermen remain in their ramshackle sheds. Here’s a watercolor of one of them.
(Incidentally, one afternoon while I was drawing one of the boat houses, I felt the presence of someone looking over my shoulder. I turned and asked the elderly gentleman who had been watching me my standard question for onlookers: “Te gusta dibujar?” “Do you like to draw?” His face went blank, then he answered me in English with a shrug: “I am German.”)