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Sound of Silence: Winter in Mallorca

Sound of Silence: Winter in Mallorca

As a kid growing up in San Diego in the eighties, I remember painstakingly, painstakingly, cobbling together a small scale Spanish mission made out of salt dough and sugar cubes. It was all part of a statewide history project unveiling the conquests of a certain Spanish missionary named Father Junipero Serra.

The Franciscan priest who colonized California is the controversial icon of our childhood: in 2015 he was canonized a saint by Pope Francis despite evidence of his brutal treatment of Native Americans during the Spanish conquest. (This part we were not taught).

I came to learn that Serra actually came from Mallorca, an island 100 miles off the coast of Spain. It’s where I find myself as I write this, heavily pregnant and with my three-year-old in tow, and suddenly I’m wondering if I’ve figuratively swapped places with a religious fanatic from the 1700s.

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It is early February, when the almond blossoms are only beginning to unfurl their spectacular pink and white across the interior of the island. We head north towards Pollença, an old Roman town at the foot the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. Apart from the bicyclists training for the Tour de France and a Bavarian school group here to hike, we are the only outsiders.

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There is magic in the mountains, far removed from the paralyzing holiday resorts and evidence of, at least during the summer, too many people and too much development. It doesn’t help with the recent unrest in Turkey, Greece and Egypt that tourists are being siphoned into more fragile places in the Mediterranean.

Mallorca, the largest island in the Balearics, has been thrown into this boiling pot of overtourism along with Barcelona, Venice, Bali, Dubrovnik, Tulum and others, struggling with over a thousand flights per day during peak season. It is no wonder locals have shown up at Palma International Airport with signs reading "One Airline Every Minute is Not Sustainable!”

I asked the woman who runs the patisserie on our corner over a killer ensaïmada, Mallorca’s infamous pastry, what she thinks about it all. “Up here, it’s ok, it’s good for business,” she says in Mallorquín (a version of Catalan, akin to Spanish). “En el sur, en el Verano, es demasiado.” In the south, in the summer, it’s too much.
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But in February, in the middle of winter, it is actually possible to hear the echoes of conquerors past.

We road trip south through the lush valley of orange groves and weather-worn fincas to Sollér. We greet the man on a horse in the parking lot and spend the morning hanging around the Plaça Constitució with families eating sobrassada- the Mallorquín version of pizza- in winter coats and tennis shoes. Sia trails a group of older girls around the seriously baroque Sant Bartomeu church, trying desperately to win over their attention (not succeeding).

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We head west towards Deía, an artist's enclave with a spiritual twist overlooking the sea. As we wind through the antique terraced landscapes that have exchanged hands from Islam to Christianity throughout history, it is clear my uneasiness with being a neocolonialist plunderer is a meager blip on the radar on this ancient piece of land.

I think about it often. What I as a traveler am doing to our planet, what we as a collective are doing to our planet. With 1.3 billion travelers last year, it seems unsustainable to the most fragile places. Not only to our natural ecology, but our cultural ecology. Junipero Serra himself traveled in the 18th century over 25,000 miles over the course of his lifetime. Are we as humans designed to migrate, explore, colonize- or to evolve to preserve it?
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Mallorca has long been a conqueror’s paradise: everyone from the Vandals to the Phoenicians have laid claim to it. Am I, with my heavily-flawed Spanish, airline miles and best intentions, just a modern day conquistador?
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As a traveler I am often conflicted with where we go from here. The world is crowded, many are entitled, and without a lot of reflection about how we are using our resources. The stories of places are still largely written by predominately white westerners (like myself) instead of the observations of locals or indigenous peoples. We could shift the narrative, we could empower others to heed responsibility for their own land, we could work as a global community to make things better. We could.

In the meantime, there are plenty of small things we can do as a collective. If we do tread, tread lightly. Go in the off-season, to the off-places, pack lightly, support local businesses. Don’t waste resources. Train instead of fly, if possible. Make an effort to speak the language, even a few words. Share and empower the stories of locals. Reciprocate what you take.

Sunday we stay in the north, where the succulents, chaparral and pines induces an alchemy that transports me directly back to California. The bay at Port de Pollença is a deep green glass and empty aside from a few buddies spearfishing and an elderly German couple doing their best Wim Hof on the beach, nude.

In Pollença we manage to summit, complete with three year old’s legs and a pregnant belly, the 365 steps to the Virgen de los Ángeles at the top of the hill. I can almost, almost, hear the sermons of Junipero Serra reverberating in the tiny chapel. The light in the early afternoon is half-mast and aside from the Catalan guitar player taking a smoke break, we are alone.

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