The Curious Lives of Out-Islanders

The Curious Lives of Out-Islanders

My husband and I have recently jumped overboard from the ship of reality. We moved from an already small island with a population of about 2,000 people during peak season, to an island with about 20 people on a crowded day. This island has one restaurant, an airstrip, and a long, bumpy dirt road that runs the length of its 6 mile fishhook shape. There are beautiful untouched beaches and water that glows in neon blues and greens with periodic contrasting white sandbars intermingled.

But on this island there are no grocery stores, no gas stations, government offices, police stations, or anything that would constitute a proper settlement. In fact, the closest official town to this collection of islands is 25 miles away by boat or airplane. All of the island supplies, food, and equipment must be flown or barged in, and the #1 motto here is “Don’t get hurt”, because medical help is an expensive charter plane ride away.

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The windblown shrubbery of vegetation struggles to survive in the harsh salty conditions, a sharp contrast to our lush, tropical garden in Nassau, just 40 miles away. It’s dry and hot, and although the human count is limited, the mosquitoes bustle with a city-that-never-sleeps efficiency and seem to be as densely populated as all of India.

If you’ve seen the reality TV shows about rugged Alaskan bush men, just think of our island lifestyle as the tropical version of that – only without the large deadly mammals.

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Awaiting an arrival at the island airstrip

The only reason we even considered subjecting ourselves to such potential madness, is that we just so happened to live on this island before, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were in for. I originally landed in the remote, yet strikingly beautiful Northern Exumas in 2009 and met my now-husband. Surprisingly enough, despite the limited population of this island and surrounding islands, we made some wonderful friendships during our time here.

I’ve heard of people being lonely in cities, surrounded by an unending potential for finding like-minded people, but here it was like we were slotted as prime candidates for the one and only support group, not currently named, but probably ought to be known as Out-Islanders Anonymous. The old adage “We’re all here because we’re not all there” rings true. Maybe we are actually “there” in the head, but we’re all here because we’re all the same types of adventurous souls. I like to think of it more as we’re not all there” in the suburbs with everyone else, commuting 2 hours each day to jobs in cubicles with fluorescent lights. If you’ve ever seen the movie Joe vs the Volcano, the viewer observes Joe eking out his mundane office existence by sneakily attempting to find solace in his cheery but unauthorized little hula lamp. That scene is the antithesis of my life.

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A typical island social gathering for dogs and people alike.

Some people can’t stand the solitude; some people find it beautiful, but couldn’t possibly imagine living here, so far removed from first world mod cons; and a very small percentage are truly envious. I remember being at the bar one dark rainy evening talking to some people from one of the dive boats that regularly passes through. They asked, “So where’s the town?” to which I replied, “You’re in it, and we’re the village people.” gesturing to four others mingling around or serving drinks at the bar. They tilted their heads and gazed at me with a boggle-eyed I-don’t-really-get-what-you-are-saying look about them. This lifestyle is difficult to explain.

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A neighboring island – reminiscent of a proper castaway isle

I think the people that are able to understand it best are those that live or work on boats. Everything on a remote island functions like a boat – we have generators, solar panels, reverse osmosis water makers; things break and we have to fix them with whatever supplies and manpower we have on-hand, sometimes becoming very creative in the process, sometimes borrowing from our neighbors with the expectation that they too will be borrowing from us again in the future; “jerry-rig”, “jimmy-rig”, and numerous other “rig” words are a regular part of our vocabulary; we have to be conservative with power and water consumption, and of course, we’re surrounded by water – everywhere you look is a vast expanse of a never-ending sea with low-lying islands dotted in the distance.

Getting here isn’t easy or cheap. Most people that can afford it charter their own plane. It helps if you have friends with airplanes, or can convince someone with a boat that you’ll chip in for gas and beer if they captain the expedition. Somehow over the years we’ve always managed to hitch hike our way here, and we’ve always been welcomed with open arms.

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The airstrip doubles as a road so watch for planes while in transit!

The island, it seems, is having a hard time getting rid of us. Those of us that keep returning agree it’s some kind of island juju that we’ve tapped into. So here we are, back where we started, and upon returning, we have immediately settled into our old social scene.

Recently we were invited to a friend’s home for a potluck dinner with a few other residents of surrounding islands. This island and the Exuma island chain in general, is known for missing out on the heavy amounts of rainfall that generally flood the larger land masses like Nassau, Andros, and Abaco during the summertime, which is the main reason for its desert-like scrappy vegetation. However, on this particular day, the rain gods had different ideas. We sat in our cozy living room watching black clouds and a wall of rain approach, which led to an impressive lightening storm and wind-blown sideways rain. After about 30 minutes of harrowing cracks and ominous rumbling, the dark clouds drifted off over the ocean to make way for clear skies. Thinking the worst had passed and that it couldn’t possibly rain again for another few weeks after that session, we gathered our potluck swag and the two dogs to make the 4 mile trek to our friend’s home for dinner.

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Our current transportation is an obnoxiously noisy Polaris Ranger that’s missing a windshield. The dogs hopped delightedly into the back mini pick-up bed and I settled in with my potluck garden salad tucked safely between us in the front seat and our cumbersome bag of libations on the floor at my feet. We had filled our Tervis Tumblers with our to-go beverages of choice and as a second thought, donned our raincoats, just because it was still a little breezy with a hint of a damp nip in the air.

The rain had caused every little dip in the road to fill with copious amounts of water. Cruising at a normal speed, the first puddle had no qualms about jumping right into the Polaris, spraying all of us with a good dose of murky dirt water. We laughed and trekked onward. Moving forward, each puddle was navigated at a snail’s pace in order to prevent coating ourselves in a grayish-brown bath of mud. Four miles was going to take a loooong time at this rate. And then, the unthinkable happened.

The skies opened and a few big drops started to fall, leading the way into a torrential downpour. With no windshield to protect us from the elements, the rain poured right in, trickling onto the seat and soaking our bottom halves from all angles. I pulled up my rain hood, but it was no use; my hood acted as a scooper, the rain rushed horizontally into the rear part of my jacket and started running down my neck and onward to my back. I glanced at the dogs who were squinting and squirming as the rain pelted them, so we stopped and put them up front for some added protection. Just when we thought it was going to let up, it started raining harder. We were soaked, our raincoats were proven flimsy, unhelpful pieces of material, keeping only our armpits dry.

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It was a very long, very wet ride. By the time we reached our friend’s house, the rain let up. We rang the arrival bell and then slopped our way up the stone driveway and onto their beautiful airy deck overlooking the ocean. I shivered in the cool breeze, which was probably close to 78 degrees, with the wind chill factored in. Our gracious hosts welcomed us and gave us air-hugs to prevent an unwanted shower. We shook off our raincoats and hung them on the windward side to dry. They provided towels for us and for our wet pups, and even a fresh change of shorts for me.

The sun crept out from hiding and in an instant it was steamy. The dogs took off into the bush to check out what scents had changed from their last visit. We laughed about how unconventional this social setting seemed, so far removed from traveling in enclosed vehicles with windshield wipers and temperature control, and of driving on smooth highways and byways. No neighbors, no city noises, only sounds of the ocean breaking onto the rocky coastline, the wind rustling the palm fronds and seagulls and tropic birds chattering as they swooped and dove for fish.

A few more friends arrived by boat from a neighboring island. We caught up on the latest sip-sip, which didn’t take long since there really isn’t much going on from one week to the next, so we moved onto more important topics like the fishing report and the unusual, but welcomed, wet weather on this dry little rock.

At the end of the evening, and feeling the jubilation of numerous intoxicating beverages but knowing there was no concern of a road block or police check point, we mixed our extra large tumblers with one more cocktail for the long trek home and headed south in the cool night air. The night hawks flew ahead of us in the headlights, with their white spotted wings leading the way, land crabs scurried across the road, disappearing into the bush as quickly as they appeared, and mosquitoes lightly batted against our faces the entire way. For an island with a limited human population, the night was bustling with life; my favorite kind of life – nature.

A curious life we live, indeed.

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7 Unavoidable Island Beauty Disadvantages

7 Unavoidable Island Beauty Disadvantages

For the most part, living on an island has brought out my inner beach babe in all the ways I dreamed it would. The endless sun gives my skin that healthy, year-round glow that friends back home can only attempt with a spray tan. My closet is packed with cute dresses, boyfriend-style shorts, and playful, printed hats. I’m never forced to throw on a frumpy coat or cover myself in down just to stay unfrozen.

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But as with everything in life on a rock, for every positive point there is a concession. While I realize there are many more important things to care about than whining over beauty debacles, I think these tropical trade-offs are still worth mentioning – if only as a means for a little island girl therapy session. So tell me – can you relate to the following?

Here are 7 Unavoidable Island Beauty Disadvantages I’ve come to realize:

1. Endless Summer = Endless Shaving

This is something I truly did not think through properly before moving to Curaçao: living on an island = shaving every single day. Year-round summer weather means I literally have to be ready to potentially be in a swimsuit 365 days a year. Back in the Netherlands (my home country), I could easily not shave my legs for weeks (ok fine, even months) during the winter. Even my underarms and “downstairs” could be skipped for days at a time, especially during my boyfriend-free stretches. But on the island, it’s almost impossible NOT to shave. During weekdays, I sometimes try to smuggle in a few shave-free days by wearing long pants and a blouse in the air-conditioning at the office. However, on the evenings and weekends, it’s unavoidable if you want to enjoy the pleasures of tropical living like impromptu beach days, pool parties, sailing trips, and hot summer nights without looking like a hairy monster.

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2. Bikini Body Always on the Brain

I used to be so lazy in the winter, skipping the gym and hiding extra kilos under big sweaters and oversized pants. Now? What happened to my winter hibernation months? They’re gone. Wearing all these short shorts, sundresses, and bikinis means I’m confronted with my bad food choices, cellulite, and stretch marks every damn day. It’s not so easy to get lazy around here, which may be a good thing for my health, but definitely a loss for my inner lazy girl who just wants to lay around and eat pizza for a few months.

3. Entanglement in the Wind

On Curaçao, surrounded as we are by ocean in every direction, the wind blows heavily almost every day of the year. While the high winds definitely make this hot desert rock more bearable to live on, they do make it near impossible to maintain any kind of polished hair style. The wild, out-of-bed look works well for the beach, not quite for the office. Whipping strands of hair wreak havoc on the eyeballs and I must say I spend a ridiculous amount of time pulling hair out of my lipgloss (not sure why I even bother with it in the first place!). Experienced island girls therefore know exactly which seat to take during a dinner outside. So, no guys – we are not cheeky because we always pick our seat first, we just want to be able to look at your handsome face instead spending our meal fighting back our mane.

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4. Blonde Hair, Like it or Not

One day, I decided to walk over to the brownies camp. I wanted a more grown-up look, which I thought could be achieved by coloring my light blond hair to a darker blondish brown. Out of the salon, I couldn’t have been more pleased with my transformation. Unfortunately, it only lasted a couple weeks. Due to the overwhelming amount of sunshine I spend my time in every day, my hair bleached itself back at a rapid pace. Before I knew it, I had been kicked back into the blonde camp. The island made its point – I’m stuck with my “girls just wanna have fun” look for now.

5. Yellow is the New White

On this sweaty, dusty rock, the color white doesn’t exist; it has been replaced by yellow. Things that once were bright white – from tank tops, t-shirts, bikinis, to the pillows on the couch – have all been yellowed here in the tropics. The combination of perspiration, sunblock, skin flakes, dust, and happy hour spills are so persistent, that even the washing machine is no longer effective.

6. Unsightly Soles on Display

Perfectly pedicured feet are what one wants to see in flip flops – generally what the tourists possess, fresh out of the pre-vacation trip to the nail salon. The feet of an island girl are much less pampered… quite the opposite, actually, and yet still out for all to see all the time. Dry, rough skin, callused cracks, and fungal nails are all the unfortunate side effects of all this barefoot beach walking.

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7. The Raccoon-Woman Look

Waterproof mascara tends to be thick, sticky, and unnatural – not to mention, terrible for your eyelashes when used frequently. So I prefer natural mascara, when I wear any at all. However, even if I stay out of the sea, all this humidity and sweating means I risk (and by risk, I mean, it’s a sure thing) having raccoon eyes by the end of every day.

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Despite these beauty disadvantages though, there’s still nothing like coming home after a long day’s work, taking a seat at the pool and popping my ugly feet and hair-free legs in the water, pulling my sunglasses ever-so-carefully out of my tangled mass of very blonde hair, and soaking up the sunset with my raccoon eyes. Being in a place that’s warm where people care so much less about all of the above is freeing.

In the end, feeling happy and at peace inside makes me feel my prettiest on the outside. I’d still prefer to shave less – a lot less – though.

Keep in touch with the tropics!

 

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