More than a decade ago, I worked in a fancy restaurant in the district of Huertas in Madrid. You know those places that use humungous plates for puny little meals and ridiculous extended garnish? I used to work as a waiter in a place like that. One time, a co-worker, Dani, asked me to go with him to Ibiza the following summer. Dani knew the owner of one of the most popular beach restaurant on the island, and he promised me that I would make a lot of money.
But according to Dani, I could’ve made a lot more.
Dani was already on the island when I arrived in Ibiza. Javi, a bartender, who was another colleague of mine, decided to also try Ibiza with me. He left the capital a month earlier so he could “feel” the temperature of the magical island. He was also going to prep for our accommodation and found an apartment right next to the beach in Talamanca, just outside the city center. It sounded perfect: having the beach at your doorstep and work was ten minutes by foot.
No to those expensive apartments
That was a mistake. That apartment alone would cost around 700 euros monthly. We didn’t listen to Dani’s advice to stay in one of the pisos pateras of the city. I found out later on that they were all over Dalt Vila (downtown Ibiza). Pisos pateras are two or three-bedroom apartments for ideally two (or three) people but instead, twelve people or more are all crammed up in them so as to pay even less money for rent. Who needs privacy in Ibiza when you are on the island for one basic reason: fatten your bank account by the sweat of your brow all summer.
I would’ve made a lot more money working in Ibiza if I had only followed Dani’s recommendations by the book. I was young then and my body was excited for a change. Madrid tends to become a lonesome European capital in the summer and the idea of having the sea in the horizon was an attractive wanting.
Get to know the island
The first time I’d heard about Ibiza was in Manila, during college. It was a radio station called 99.5 RT and around 1 or 2 in the morning, the cool DJs would call in the Chill Out Project session and music like the Café del Mar’s album tracks would sound and I thought, “how I’d love to be there, wherever it was.”
Ibiza is a great summer destination for the rich upper-class Spaniards. Though I am no expert in this. (I only worked there for two summers actually and once again later on, I came back there but as tourist and not a worker) but I did hear that the crowd has been constantly changing since the 90’s. But there are always the constants: upper-crust Spanish people, the hippish crowd, the extremely moneyed West Europeans, the gay collective and then, when I went there the first time, the rowdy English townies.
That was the time when cheap Ryanair flights were accessible to our tea-drinking Briton friends. The locals frowned upon them and I, in one time, overheard them say, “This is what happens when there is no filtering going on in our airports. Now the island has lost its glamour.” I really didn’t have any perspective then to really make the comparison. All I knew was, it was exciting to be there. The island should be accessible for everyone!
Waiting on the super rich
Javi and I did get that job that Dani provided us. He used his influence on the owners. I didn’t need to print a resumé nor pass through an interview. I already had the job for me waiting one month before I started. The owners were one of the power couples in the island: French Parisian Jews. And they knew what style was. All of my previous bosses then were not really keen on their appearance as long as their humble restaurants or cafés in Madrid were working.
This couple though, they reeked of style and glamour even though they were not the most admirable people in the world. They were constantly thirsty for profit. That’s why they were successful. Are.
But I learned a lot from them, and one of those lessons was keeping my composure under pressure.
They would divide the big beach restaurant by area and they would designate to me the “tourist” side. One guy, Alejandro from Uruguay, got the privé, the private little area a bit “separated from the main dining area” where the broad powerful white guys could dine privately with statuesque Russian prostitutes. Alejandro complained once to me, with full and untouched plates on his hands, “Man, they rarely eat!… they are just there to be seen.”
Check out the socks and watches
One time, the wife’s owner would storm at me when I was treating a table “normally”. That was my philosophy, I don’t care if you are prince or a pauper. If you are at my spot, I will treat you like the rest.
Boy, was she furious! She pulled me out of the dining area and left my other co-worker by herself. “Don’t you know who that man was?” she asked. He was this hotshot and that hotshot from some hotshot place in the Middle East.
Ibiza was exciting! I was the only Asian in the whole employee tier and it was a very attractive set of workers. The owners really made a casting out of the whole team. Slender, prim, clear-skinned and pleasant-looking modern slaves from The Philippines, Mexico, Argentina, Belgium, Romania. It was a tough button to button.
Our salaries would gradually increase as summer went by but part of our deal of working in Ibiza was, NO ONE gets a day off in the months of July and August. More money for the price of your mental and physical exhaustion.
Party like how they party in Ibiza
You get by through the friendships you create with your co-workers otherwise, it would be utterly unbearable. We had that stupid and cheesy Flash Mob (when Flash mobs were still a thing) that eased the long evening hours. At the end of each shift, we would be taking home like a hundred euros each for tips.
By the end of the summer, the island is slowly drained of its people and like traitors, everyone leaves. I would’ve made more money if I had wanted to. But you can’t work in Ibiza and NOT PARTY after a whole night’s toil. And party tickets in Ibiza are crazy expensive and overrated but who cares if you are up to your ears with MDMA and extasy and you are elbow to elbow with greasy and gaudy townies from Sheffield, UK, right?
And when you are back in Madrid in autumn, you hear a saying that goes: “Tienes una mano delante y otra atrás.” You have one hand at your back, (hiding all the summer profits you have made) and another up front, begging to have your Madrid job back.
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PC Dolores is the pseudo name of a creative Filipino expat in Spain.