I have spent the last few months moored off a remote island in the Caribbean. In my 'backyard' I had the world’s biggest swimming pool, a short kayak to the beach, with turtles, giant sting rays and the odd shark as my neighbours. An Island where meeting twenty people is a crowded day; one restaurant, an air strip and a bumpy dirt track that runs around the perimeter of the islands two mile coastline. A grocery store, but no gas station, police or government offices or anything that would constitute a larger settlement. The closest town to this island is twenty five miles away. All island supplies, food and equipment must be flown in or delivered by sea.
Almost everything on a remote island functions like a boat. Generators, solar panels, water purifiers; if equipment breaks, it needs to be fixed with whatever supplies and manpower we have on hand; sometimes becoming very creative in the process. Conserving power and water is essential. And of course, we are surrounded by the sea with tiny neighbouring islands in the distance.
To many this is paradise. Beautiful untouched beaches - when you look back you see only your own footprints in the sand. Water that glistens with hues of blue and green. Majestic sunsets reflecting on the sea. It is a rugged landscape with cacti towering above and a dense thicket of windblown brush clinging to the rocky hillsides. I was mesmerised by the natural beauty that surrounded me, catching only glimpses of the incredible rainbow sky moments whilst working.
The tender was my only transport to the store in the next bay. Local fishermen return to the island in their colourful wooden boats around midday. Their small crafts, with little protection from the elements, head out into the Atlantic swell each day. The fishermen are tough, thick skinned and good humoured. No fish, no money. Barracuda, Tuna, Mahi Mahi, Kingfish, Wahoo and Lobster are lined up on the concrete floor in a hut near the beach. Flies gathering in the heat.
Discovering Caribbean fruit has been a fantastic experience! Giant sweet Mangos, drinking from Coconuts, Passion Fruit, Genips (giant limes), spiky Soursop, bundles of Bananas, Pineapples, Papaya, Plantain, Okra, Kalaloo, Tamarind…the list goes on! The hardest decision was knowing when to buy and when to eat them. Learning the hard way, how to keep fruit fresh on a boat in warm conditions and which fruits last. The local supplier was full of useful tips and recipe ideas.
Whilst shopping on the island, I have learnt to be prepared for any eventuality. I was never surprised to find that key ingredients were not available or supplies had run out. What was in stock was totally dependent on the speed with which deliveries were processed by Customs and, of course, the weather! Occasionally there was a welcome surprise and I have found Cashew nuts, Kale or Hair Conditioner, grabbing them as they were certain not to be there next time. I have learnt to get imaginative with my shopping list, remain very flexible and always head out with a back up plan or be prepared to do without.
I have become adept at making instant decisions and alterations to my menu and meal planning. Produce is expensive but that is to be expected when you live on a rock! Almost everything is imported except for the locally grown coconut and mango. Going to the shop was a test of my mental and physical strength. I have needed to be fit enough to carry large quantities of supplies back to the boat, regularly returning with a tender laden with drinking water and mountains of heavy fruit and vegetables. The return trip is always a wet one; usually heading into the waves or big swell clinging onto the precious eggs that are always in short supply on the island.
There is always a new and unusual creature to discover. Its a seemingly natural routine for me is to nonchalantly extract a small bug or two from fresh salad or removing a floating creature before devouring a drink. I have experienced the joy then heartbreak after admiring a teeny lizard scuttling along the floor only to discover that I have accidentally crushed it with the laundry bag five minutes later! I never left for a trip without my bug repellent spray - it seems there are critters everywhere, day or night.
The weather can turn in a matter of seconds. Often, when walking back to the tender dock in glorious sunshine, a sudden breeze builds with an intense gust, immediately followed by a torrential downpour. It doesn't last long and is usually followed by a spectacular rainbow appearing on the horizon. On many occasions I have been caught in a flash storm whilst carrying large bags full of provisions back to the tender. People new to the island are warned never to take shelter under a Manchineel tree when it rains, nor to eat the fruit from it, that resembles an apple. The fruit is extremely poisonous and the sap and bark are highly toxic so should never be burned. Luckily, the trees are usually marked with a red ring painted around their trunk.
A much more social potion, with a serious kick, is the local rum punch. It tastes as good as it looks, but needs to be enjoyed in moderation if working early the following day! The after effects from over indulgence are possibly, the worst I have ever experienced!
Paradise has its challenges, there are very few people on this island, less than there are in my tiny village back home in England. It is not unusual to experience a sense of isolation and disconnection from the world beyond. In such circumstances, the best solution is to get proactive - go swimming, diving, hiking, running and most importantly chat to the locals. There is plenty to do if you search for it.
The colour turquoise pervades everywhere and the only ‘traffic’ is a tortoise slowly crossing the road! However, living and working in Paradise is not always perfect - the life style has its challenges, no matter where you are or how idyllic the views are that surround you.
Like any Rock Dweller, I look forward to revisiting civilisation!