Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

“People don’t always mean to stay in Menorca. But it happens nonetheless.”

Alberto has lived on the island for over forty years. He must be in his seventies, this white-haired Einstein lookalike – and he tells us the history of Menorca, quietly intertwined with his own personal story.

The way he arrived one summer to explore the island and somehow, seemingly against his initial will, never managed to leave.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

What am I doing in Menorca?

I’ve come to Menorca with a group of bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers — or ‘social media influencers’, as we’ve been collectively christened. I wonder what Alberto thinks of us, and whether he uses all the social media channels we do.

It doesn’t seem to matter.

Each morning, after patiently waiting for us to board a bus outside the Salgar hotel, he strides purposefully through the streets of Mahon, the island’s capital. And every few minutes he doubles back when he realises most of his insatiable brood have lost themselves somewhere, forever in search of photo opportunities.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Alberto is our guide during a week of Menorcan exploration – but aside from the blue lanyard around his neck, the light grey suit and his single silver stud earring hints at something different. Something more.

Menorca’s hidden histories

Our first morning in Menorca, Alberto kneels on his seat at the front of the bus to point out a set of old ruins which flash past through the window. He tells us how Menorca was constantly attacked by pirates in the 1500s, so they brought convicts from Valencia to repopulate the island because they were the only people suitable to live somewhere so dangerous.

It makes me think Alberto must have something of the pirate in him; that all islanders living here must feel the same indescribable tug to a place renowned for its isolation.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Of course, life in Menorca nowadays is anything but dangerous.

This little Spanish island is stunning: it boasts two hundred kilometres of coastline surrounded by startlingly blue Mediterranean sea, along with all the favourite travel-writer-cliches of cobblestones, colourfully crooked buildings and skies so bright that they seem to have been painted on by a very excitable artist.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Yet over the course of the week, I feel like Alberto is quietly challenging us to see his adopted home through a historical lens.

He leads us through the old curved tunnels of Fort Marlborough and the archways of Mahon, and when we duck our heads to walk inside an old monastery (now converted into a fruit and vegetable market) I suddenly realise how alive the history is on this tiny island.

Moreover, I can clearly see Alberto’s passion for explaining that history to us.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

At the century-old Favàritx lighthouse Alberto strides out ahead of us, alone for once while our industrious group set up drone cameras and practice our Instagram poses.

We’re a different generation, and our style of gadget-documented travel seems barely comparable to the way he first experienced this island in the 1960s.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

And yet when we reach Lazareto island, a tiny spit of land across the bay from Mahon harbour, all sixty bloggers congregate to hear what Alberto has to say.

We stand stock-still in the evening breeze while he explains the heartbreaking history of Lazareto: how sailors and seaborne passengers who’d contracted cholera, bubonic plague and yellow fever were quarantined here in the 1800s. For the century that the complex was operational, over a million people stayed here – and many thousands died and were buried in the island’s cemetery.

Today, Lazareto’s buildings sit empty and abandoned, awaiting either renovation or an eventual reclamation by the elements.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Why are these Menorcan stories so important?

Alberto’s choice of locations have a lot in common. During the brief time we spend in each place, I can practically feel the ghosts: troops of gun-touting soldiers, boatloads of hard working fishermen, and listless cholera patients waiting for their illnesses to heal.

Though it may not be the prettiest of impressions for a little Spanish island to provide, it’s hard-hitting in a way that feels much more important. Indirectly, Alberto’s been showing us remnants of the countless lives which have played out across Menorca’s landscapes.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

It’s admirable that Menorca has embraced its rocky history, and is converting that into something attractive to tourists.

Whether it’s allowing a group of rowdy social media folk to run rampant around an old island hospital, or carving a bar inside the cliffs of an old pirate hideout, that’s the beauty of regeneration: we make use of what we have, and repurpose it for another audience.

And it’s even better that someone like Alberto is bridging the gap, and communicating the history which gives these places more meaning.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

We’re all constantly hunting for our perfect shot and our perfect story. Too often, that’s how my generation of travellers behaves: we’re fast and rushed and perhaps not fair on the place itself.

But people like Alberto really live those stories. They spend their whole lives experiencing one place, and giving it all the legitimacy its entitled to.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Travelling like clouds do

One afternoon while sailing around the coast, we ask Alberto for stories about the island. He points out the sea-carved archways in the rock, offers us beers and talks about the way the clouds move above his house on a Menorcan cliff edge.

“Clouds are like travellers,” he says.  “Whenever I see them, they all move the same way – but each is isolated. They remind me that I always want to be travelling.”

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Throughout my travels I’ve often been drawn to places of isolation. Places on the edge of the world; places which urge me to think. I understand why Alberto’s decided to stay here in Menorca, and I vaguely hope I’m like him when I’m older.

I’d like to feel an inexplicable pull to a place I never dreamed I’d stay in: one that won’t let me go.

Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca || What happened when I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a tour guide named Alberto (and sixty other bloggers)...

Have you ever been to Menorca, or met a tour guide as passionate as Alberto? 

 

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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19 Responses to Lepers, Pirates & Lighthouses: A Tour Guide’s Passion for Menorca

  1. frederick hayward June 29, 2017 at 4:00 pm #

    Flora thank you for the article about your trip to Menorca the lovely photos. I have never been abroad
    However this month I went for my first ever trip to Devon the people there were amazing and friendly.
    It was a big adventure for me .Regards Frederick

    • Flora July 2, 2017 at 11:43 am #

      That sounds like a lovely trip, Frederick! I’m glad you enjoyed Devon – it’s such a beautiful part of the world 🙂

  2. Cheen June 30, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

    Your article reminded me of a particularly passionate tour guide in Berlin, who had the German flag painted into his hair. Perhaps you have encountered him too 🙂

    • Flora July 2, 2017 at 11:44 am #

      Aha he sounds like an absolute dude!!

  3. Abby June 30, 2017 at 6:08 pm #

    Your writing is beautiful, and you’ve made me add Menorca to my list of places to visit. Thanks. 🙂

    • Flora July 2, 2017 at 11:45 am #

      Thanks so much Abby! I’m sure you’ll love Menorca too – glad I could help inspire you to visit!

  4. Jennifer Howze July 2, 2017 at 7:22 am #

    I love this post. Alberto was an amazing guide — so quietly charismatic and as you say, he seems to embody Menorca is a special way. The island was a surprise and a real delight. Plus, your pictures are fantastic!

    • Flora July 2, 2017 at 11:51 am #

      Wasn’t he fantastic? I’m so glad you enjoyed the article Jennifer – and my photos!

  5. Suzanne Jones July 2, 2017 at 7:37 pm #

    Alberto was so quietly in love with Menorca. He helped me look beyond my own eyes to seek out what it was that he found so enchanting about the island. I found a lot. Lovely article Flora 🙂

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:12 pm #

      Thanks so much Suzanne – I’m glad you thought the same about Alberto!

  6. Mimi July 4, 2017 at 1:07 pm #

    I really want to meet Alberto!

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:10 pm #

      You’d have loved him!

  7. photoammon July 5, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    Great article Flora. Loved this guy. Even when I was hung over and not in a mood for history, he managed to get my head back in the game 🙂

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

      Hah! Hangovers and history don’t usually mix, do they – but Alberto did a phenomenal job with us all!

  8. best desert safari July 11, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    nice article about Passion for Menorca but i like your photos then article you are good photography

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:14 pm #

      I’m so glad you like my photos!

  9. Willy July 21, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    Hey Flora.
    It’s so interesting to see your perspective of Menorca. This island is very close to my heart – in the 90s we spent every summer of my childhood there in my grandparents villa. The villas back then were filled with locals and were absolutely beautiful; small wooden gates, low stone walls with huge lavender and rosemary bushes hanging over them, filled with the buzzing of bees. My parents went to have a look at it a few years back and all the house’s big white walls were 12 ft high, with huge black electrical security gates. It did make me sad, but to see that the essence of the island still lingers gives me hope. It is such a special island. I’m glad you felt it too.
    Keep it Real 🙂
    Willy

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:19 pm #

      Aww Willy, it’s both sad and beautiful to hear that the island has changed so much since you grew up there! It sounds like it have been such a gorgeous place to spend your childhood though 🙂 and I can attest to the fact that it still feels like somewhere very special. I hope you still get to visit occasionally?

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