Magaluf – Megamuff or Shagaluf in the vernacular of Britain’s rutting youth, for whom a visit is almost a teenage rite of passage – is this island’s partying capital.
It boasts a long strand of sublime beach, gently-lapping waters and is world famous – or infamous, depending on your viewpoint – for its late, late scene, where sex, booze and drugs are in plentiful supply.
I know the place well; too well.
Punta Balena (a.k.a. ‘The Hill’) is the resort’s magnet for 18-to-25s on heat in the heat. Probably a half-kilometre long, the incline is choked with cheap bars, discos spilling out ear-splitting noise, tacky eateries and supermarkets crammed to the gunwales with budget hooch.
Garish, flashing lights make 4 a.m. seem like mid-day and it must be a surreal vision to teenagers, off their heads on cocaine, Ecstacy tabs or spliffs, washed down with of litres of San Miguel and shots of tequila chasers.The local cops police it well, maintaining a watching brief unless something kicks off. Invariably it does, since there are up to 6,000 partying along The Hill on any given night during high season. So it’s testimony to the conscientious vigilance of Calvia’s Policia Local and the Guardia Civil, acting in loco parentis, that worse damage isn’t done to person and property.
As a senior officer told me during an investigation for the Daily Mail this summer (see: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2181830), ‘They all seem desperate to drink to excess, which is bewildering to us Spanish. There are plenty taking cannabis and ecstasy, too. We have police patrolling Punta Balena, but there is nothing we can do to stop them partying.’
The Hill, however, could double for a nightlife strip in any UK city, where bars stoke a binge-boozing fury, liberating sexual inhibitions and leeching drug dealers are only a nod or nudge away.
However, the key difference between Magaluf and Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds or Liverpool, is that each summer an average of five to seven of our kids perish here, while many others hobble home on crutches.
Some cynics might argue that with up to 400,000 youngsters a year letting their hair down in the island’s most-headlined resort, that’s a small percentage. But any fatality is one too many and it begs the question: WHY DO SO MANY OF OUR PRECIOUS KIDS DIE ON HOLIDAY IN MAGALUF?
Undoubtedly cheap booze – like ‘happy-hour’ deals offering all a kid can knock back for €10 (approximately £8) – and the ease of obtaining drugs are contributory factors.
But curbing their availability isn’t the answer to the problem the Spanish call ‘balconying’, whereby youngsters accidentally death-dive off balconies in the slab-sided jungle of hotels and apartment blocks near Punta Balena that serve as dormitories for our holidaying children, many of whom are away from mum and dad for the first time.
Most of the fatalities are young men, wanting to show off, surprise friends or impress a girl by playing Tarzan. One mistake in this dice with danger and a young life, brimming with promise, self-belief and joy, is snuffed out in seconds.
As I journalist covering Mallorca, nowadays I take the coward’s way out and refuse assignments involving ‘balconying’ fatalities. I’ve just seen too many young corpses, spreadeagle on pavements of the resort’s complexes, covered by tarpaulins, waiting for an ambulance or the mortuary van to take them away.
And I’ve shared the anguish of too many bereaved parents, wearing that familiar look of disbelief and sorrow, as they confided to me tearfully, ‘But he only went away on holiday…’
The exuberance of youth, however, anaesthetises fear. Bravado, braggadocio, a crackpot, spur-of-the-moment impulse overtakes them and the lucky ones who survive live to regret it, their bodies mangled, their legs smashed.
Under the influence of dope or booze – or both – the devastation they’ll reap on their poor families back home never occurs to them.
Of course, there’s a debate about the height of hotel balcony rails, required by law to be 1.3 metres (about 58 inches) in minimum height and, to the best of my knowledge, all hotels comply with this rule.
Maybe, however, that’s not high enough today, given each generation is taller than the last and a strapping, six-foot teenager is a head higher than his dad.
But we Brits in general – and our kids in particular – don’t do balconies, because how many UK homes have one? That’s a rhetorical question I don’t apologise for asking, since it’s a statement of fact and one of the reasons why British teenagers don’t have more respect for the dangers posed by foreign hotel balconies.
So I return to the dilemma: What can be done to stop our kids coming home from holiday in coffins?
The hotels, of course, could glass in or cover the balconies with bars or chicken-wire. This would be unsightly and possibly result in other security problems, as in the case of a fire. And nothing would have stopped one kid I know, who climbed out of a second-story, staircase window and tried to scale the outside of the building to apologise to his girlfriend after a tiff. He was lucky – a poolside sunbed broke his fall and he survived the 30-foot drop, but nonetheless needed hospitalisation.
Then there are the bars and discos enticing kids to drink to the max. Do these need to be culled or forced to ratchet up their prices to make getting rat-legged unaffordable?
Not a chance, especially when Spain is in financial tailspin and needs all the revenue it can muster. Plus, most kids are canny enough to pre-load on €4 (£3.20) bottles of spirits from the local supermarkets before hitting The Hill.
So, again, back to my question…
Dispassionately, there probably isn’t a 100% surefire solution. But there are ways that could help minimise the carnage of ‘balconying’ death plunges.
Tour operator Thomson specifically warns of the dangers on its website, saying, ‘Never sit or lean over the balcony rail and do not try to pass items to someone on another balcony. Never attempt to climb from one balcony to another… after drinking alcohol as your judgment might be affected.’
And the Commonwealth & Foreign Office (CFO) carries a similar, online caveat.
This, though, smacks of officialdom just covering its back. It isn’t sufficient a deterrent, because youngsters rarely bother to read websites, unless they are social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Badoo.
So, something far more proactive and on-going – maybe for years – is required.
And it can be done through a partnership between the local hotel operators, who cringe at the publicity ‘balconying’ deaths generate, and the British authorities, who got pretty well nowhere (judging by the UK media coverage it generated and lack of impact it had on fatalities) in trying to highlight the deadly issue with a story featuring Olympic diver, Tom Daley.
No, what needs to be done is something far more proactive; a strategy implemented here, on site, in situ, where the kids are, that stop them being a menace to themselves. And it can be achieved through a partnership between the local hotel operators – who cringe at the publicity ‘balconying’ deaths generate – and Britain’s representatives in Spain.
It could even extend to the likes of Facebook, but mostly it requires a little creative, joined-up thinking, like a PR and publicity poster campaign targeted at the vulnerable and, on reflection, I’m surprised nothing like it has been tried before.
Leaflets setting out the perils of balconies to our kids should be distributed on flights en route to Mallorca; hotel lobbies should be plastered with images – the scarier the better, because that works on cigarette packaging – emphasising the dangers.
And the balconies themselves should display permanent, health warning notices, if they don’t already do so.
The message should be explicit and hard-hitting: ‘Enjoy your holiday, but beware of balconies – or you could go home in a coffin,’ it could say.
I’m not naive enough to believe such an initiative will eradicate all ‘balconying’ deaths. But if it stops one kid from climbing over a balcony rail only meet his maker, it will be worth it.
Because one less family won’t have to suffer the unimaginable grief I’ve witnessed etched on the faces of innumerable parents, who have flown to Mallorca to take the child they’ve nurtured so lovingly and tenderly home in a box.