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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.