It sounded great. A chance to have a Caribbean island (Thomas Cay in the Exumas) all to myself. Unlimited sand, sun and sea for my exclusive use. No iPhone, TV or Internet, no world financial crisis or lawn maintenance. Count me in.
“Bring a mosquito net,” advised an inhabitant of a nearby island. “And have you thought about food?”
Actually, no. I hadn’t. And then David Hocher, owner of Staniel Cay Yacht Club – home of the Exumas’ happiest happy hour, where I will not be drinking cold Kaliks this afternoon — drops me off on my island. Or at least close enough so I can wade to it. In front of me is a sun-blazed white beach straight out of a middle manager’s corporate-office daydream. David motors away, leaving me standing in water up to my thighs with the sun already burning my neck.
For the next 26 hours I’ll be alone with a pocket knife, a fishing pole, a hammock and no way home. I squint at the beach and the boat’s disappearing wake. What if he doesn’t come back? What if I fall in a blue hole? Arc there snakes in paradise? But I have work to do. I have to explore the island for the best hammockhanging trees and set up a sun shade. And I need to find something to eat.
Nine hours later I’m standing on a tide-worn cliff, muttering. “Take the hook. Please?” There’s no one around to hear me. I know there are fish. Earlier, near my beachside campsite, a big parrotfish swam past me without fear, along with snappers, jacks and other delicious creatures. I should’ve fashioned a spear from a palm frond. Now the fish nip at the bait — tap, tap, tap — teasing me.
The hook comes up empty again. I pull another whelk (sea snail) from my damp hip pocket and impale it on the hook. All along I steal glances across the channel separating me from the next caynorth. Is that island inhabited? Maybe by chefs and bartenders? Is it worth swimming over there to find out? I contemplate what’s in the water and wonder if it (whatever “it” is) is as hungry as me.
For a change of scenery, I climb the cliff and peer over the sandstone cornice at another wild beach beyond. Scrubpalm jungle runs a mile down the length of my island. Somewhere out there arc feral goats and pigs I might eventually chase down and eat. The incoming tide below floods the pools where I found the whelks. So the five I have left are it for today. Back to the water.
“This is my last cast,” I swear to the fading horizon. If the fish like the taste of my whelks so much, I might just eat them myself. But then I feel the taps again, The line goes taut. The rod wiggles in my hands. “Oh!” The grati tude hits me. “I caught a fish!” I’m going to eat it.
The sun is setting as I run back to camp, careful not to fall and cut my hands on the jagged rocks. I build a quick fire out of driftwood and long-neglected les – sons — teepee of twigs, cabin of kindling, ignited with a waterproof match. This is fresh fish, five minutes from sea to coals. I pull the meat loose with my fingers. It tastes good. I try the whelks too, a cross between clams and rubber bands. I have no lemon sorbet to cleanse my palate.
As the daylight dies, mosquitoes and sand fleas attack, biting me a dozen times before I’m done eating. The half moon casts enough light to see by as I climb into my hammock, unbathed. I wrap myself in a sheet against the insects, covering my face like a mummy ” Paradise!” I declare, my voice muffled by surf crashing on the shoreline — my shoreline, Still, it would be sweeter if paradise had chocolate-chip cookies and fluffy pillows.