Cleaning ladies’ island, Teutonic grill, alcohol corpses, mass tourism – when I enter the bay of Palma de Mallorca, I expect the most embarrassing place in the world (after Zurich and Las Vegas). Two months later, however, I have also seen a beautiful island. Only: Where does this penetrating smell of cat piss come from?
Mass tourism as the last chapter
A huge brown Gothic nave emerges from the morning haze. Countless pointed turrets rest on even more pillars. Palma Cathedral sits by the sea, among sand-colored palaces with Arab-looking archways. A city wall, palm trees, cypresses, urban car traffic. There is nothing embarrassing about this view. This is not a plastic product for package tourists, but a real place. Cosmopolitan. Generous. Busy. Mass tourism and the Ballermann beach S’Arenal are at most the last chapter of a long history.
Sadly. The unholy alliance of money and overtourism clutters up at every turn with fabulous penetrance: next to every sandy beach on Mallorca’s coast – and there are many beaches in many romantic bays – a hotel complex lolls about. Better yet, an entire vacation village. The hills of Port d’Andraxt, for example, are cleared and cemented up to the neck with houses in which not a single light burns at night. Here, everything that could somehow be terraced and flattened is sold. Even in the most undestroyed part of the island, the mountainous Serra de Tramuntana, you can find parking lots bigger than football fields.
Mountains like hammer
Nevertheless, it is the Serra de Tramuntana that blows my mind away. Which Mediterranean island has such a beautiful mountain range? Cracked limestone, karstified especially towards the east, gray with orange flashes. Towers, figures, faces. Vertical cliffs. In between, large fertile plains where the ghostly eyes of ossified olive trees stare ominously into time. Lemons and oranges pile up on trees and on the ground – Corona has seen hotel demand plummet. There are forests, ravines, small villages, a loving touch of culture in the old house of British author Robert Graves. And over everything hovers the penetrating smell of cat pee.
Even if it would fit so well into the litany of my prejudices: The culprits are not the feral pets of vacation home owners. The German-language “Mallorca Magazin” (5.5.2011, online) holds a bulbous plant responsible for the stench: The Asphodelus miorcarbis, albus or aestivus pokes out of the ground before many other plants after the first abundant rains. Enough for the ancient Greeks to fondle this plant as a sign of continued life after death. Personally, I do not think a continued life in this smell is necessarily desirable, but smells like tastes are different.
Navigationally, we circumnavigated the island in the wrong direction, counterclockwise. For the rough north coast with frequent mistral winds, which look intimidating red-black on the wind map, this results in a direction of travel from northeast to southwest. Since easterly winds are rarer than westerly winds, this choice seems unfortunate. With Port de Soller there is only one sheltered harbor along the coast, and it seems anything but safe for storms from the north.