Remembering ‘Shagaluf’ – Spain’s Shittiest Party Spot
I hadn’t heard of Magaluf at the time, but in the UK it had already earned its reputation as the gross version of Ibiza, the cheapest holiday in Europe and every British lager lout’s perfect weekend. It was 2007 and I was an 18-year-old Australian kid backpacking through Europe with callow and privileged ideas about seeing the world. I’d scraped through high school with below-average marks, worked at a supermarket, had sex a couple of times and was getting pretty good at drinking. Those seemed the most important measures of my life experience at the time—and considering I was about to spend a summer in Magaluf, Spain’s infamously cheap and nasty party spot, they probably were.
On the afternoon we arrived, a pretty young British girl approached us on the street, told us it was her birthday and begged us to come into the nearest bar for a drink. She was overtly flirtatious and so we agreed to be ushered inside and served pints. But within seconds she disappeared, leaving us in the empty bar. We soon figured out that she was a rep, which meant she was paid commission to drag people like us into the bar by whatever means necessary. Magaluf’s streets were full of these people, who would flirt with you, insult you, offer you free drinks or even claim it was their birthday just to get you into the bar.
Within a week, we’d landed equally dishonest jobs with a water sports company. There were a couple of speedboats that towed tourists around the bay on inflatable rings, a banana boat and a parasail. The boats were manned by few salty old Spanish men and our job was to take photos of the tourists and attempt to sell them the pictures. I got to be the photographer and my friend was the salesman. Since I knew nothing about photography, I’d just set the camera to full auto, press the shutter and hope for the best. When the bay was choppy, I couldn’t capture anything more than blurry images and videos that jumped around with the motion of the boat. We sold the pictures as a burnt CD so there was no way of checking their quality. Since it was 2007, people seemed to be okay with that, at least until they got home and saw that they’d paid €10 for blurry lines.
Magaluf’s main strip was littered with chalkboard advertisements displaying beer prices, Premier League match times and all-day full English breakfasts. Most of the pubs had themes, which were generally based on absurd clichés. At Coyote Ugly, women in bikinis and cowboy boots stood on the bar and poured cocktails into men’s mouths. Contrary to the film it was based upon, the women looked bored and the men infinitely more desperate. At BCM Square, people paid €25 for unlimited alcohol and they held foam parties every other night. At BCM Plaza, it cost €10 to be thrown off a mechanical bull. At the Indie Bar, kids with fringes danced to the Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party and The Killers. And there was even an Australian themed bar where they sold Fosters and had a misspelled road sign for “Sidney” on the wall. There were countless others, most of which simply advertised pool tables, football and cheap beer prices, which, to be fair were more than enough to entice most.
At 18, I was enthralled by the sheer debauchery of the place. Growing up in Australia, my friends and I had barely imagined that we could get completely paralytic and act like arrogant teenagers inside public venues. We were used to horrible pubs in coastal towns where steroid-abusing security guards in polo shirts were employed to make sure nobody acted drunk. Magaluf was tacky and pretty cringe, but unashamedly so. No one even pretended to care about health or safety or dignity. You could probably crawl into a bar on your hands and knees and still get served, provided you had enough money in your pocket. And as long as you didn’t break anything or fight anyone, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted. Unsurprisingly, this gave these bars a bit of an edgy atmosphere, more risqué and grotesque than anything I’d experienced at the time, and we embraced the whole scene with epicurean teenage enthusiasm.
Like pretty much everything else in Magaluf, the water sports were catered toward British tourists, and it was impossible not to notice the abundance of horrible, generic tattoos on flabby white skin. Back then, tatts weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are now, and I’d never seen so many people branded with their football team’s coat-of-arms or women’s names in Celtic font. At work, we got a commission of €2 each per sale, with no retainer. On rainy days we’d be lucky to make anything, but on average we made €30 or €40 each. It wasn’t much cash for a full day’s work but we managed to pay rent, feed ourselves and drink beer almost every night.
Five of us crammed into a one-bedroom apartment not far from the beach; there were two other Australian guys, a Polish couple and me. The couple had the bedroom, while the three of us alternated between the couch and the tiled concrete floor. Eventually, we stole a couple of inflatable pool mattresses from the beach and slept on those. The room was a cramped, sweaty pit where we ate, partied and passed out. There was a club directly below us and from the balcony you could hear the clashing sound systems of the whole strip, so it was pretty much impossible to have a quiet night in. The Polish couple were working 14-hour days and stoically saving money to take back home so they seldom left their bedroom and no doubt regretted their decision to live with us. We were loud, perpetually drunk and constantly pinching their food. It wasn’t that we didn’t like them, but we carried that toxic combination of naivety and arrogance that made us the worst housemates imaginable.
We’d arrive at work still drunk most mornings, so the Spanish guys who drove the boats nicknamed us “el boraccos” (the drunks). To them, drinking was to be done in moderation, with food. Showing yourself to be intoxicated was considered somewhere between uncool and tragic. Our colleagues often spoke disgustedly about the way British people drank, and even though we were no better, they treated us with a kind of avuncular disapproval. At work, our boss had taught us some basic techniques for pushing people to buy photos and encouraged us to treat sales as a sport. To him, lying about the quality of the product was just a bit of a joke; a way to make a little extra money out of the British lager louts who were overrunning his home. We followed his lead and blindly accepted that lying was part of the job.
We spent about half the summer there – paragliding, lying to customers, living cheap and partying every night. Gradually, the sun began to recede and as the customers dwindled, so did our commissions. Before long, it was just costing us money to be there, and we figured there were more interesting parts of Europe to visit. For a kid on a gap year, it was an absurdly tacky, alcohol-fuelled fantasy that happened completely by accident. And while I enjoyed it for a few months, it soon came to feel a bit repetitive and depraved. We’d learned a lot about British drinking culture but almost nothing about Spain.
Photos supplied by the author