My alternative title for this post was going to be “The Caribbean Destroys Everything…Including Your Soul,” but I thought that sounded a tad melodramatic. Even for me.
But it’s true.
In reality, all the endless sunshine and salty sea breezes that so rejuvenate the common tourist (who enjoy said elements in very short bursts), have the opposite effect on anything – or anyone – who dares linger for longer than, say, a few weeks. So if you’re contemplating a move to the tropics, best to prepare yourself. Because there are some decidedly harsh island truths waiting for you. And how you respond to these realities will play a big part in how well you adapt to island life. Or how fast you’re packing your bags for home.
Behind all those picture-perfect Instagram shots of turquoise seas and over-saturated sunsets is a not-so-beautiful truth. The tropics are a very harsh place to reside. Everything you own, all material things, anything you value really…all of it will eventually fall apart. This includes, but is not limited to, clothing, furniture, papers, leather goods, hardware, vehicles, relationships, and…alas…even your sanity (if you let it). Basically, everything. To illustrate this point, a short story.
Recently, Island Boy (my better half) had a few days off in a row. For most people, this seems quite normal, I know. But he manages a dive shop and when the proverbial shit hits the fan (and it does often, particularly since boats are involved), he goes in to work on many of his days off. But this time around, no calamity befell his shop, the boats stayed afloat and he had free time. Yee-haw! With two full days of freedom just waiting to be enjoyed, we started to make plans! You know, like normal people do.
Day 1: Kitesurfing. Yay! An activity we both love. We giddily packed up our truck and went to the beach. Things were looking GOOD. Unfortunately, within a half hour of hitting the water, we had some setbacks. First, my kite developed a leak. Then his kite fabric tore. Finally, to add insult to injury, his board developed an inexplicable crack down the top third. All attributable to normal wear and tear, but dramatically accelerated by the intense climate here. Kite gear is no match for Caribbean sunshine and salty air.
Ok, this was not in our plans, but being the laid-back island souls that we try to be (ok, the island forces you to be), we shrugged, said “shit happens,” had a few beers and went home. Mildy dejected at the shortened beach day we originally envisioned, yet optimistic. After all, he still had another day off…and we still had plans.
Day 2: Household chores catch up day. Ok, not quite so “yay” as kitesurfing, but we’re grown-ups and stuff needs to get done. And it feels good to tick things off a “to do” list, right? First up, power washing the outdoor terraces. A regularly required task, by the way, due to the dust, Sahara sand and general crap that relentlessly blows in around here. Mere sweeping is an exercise in futility. If you live in the tropics, you need a power washer. You will learn this quickly.
Awesome progress was being made and dreams of meandering barefoot atop the sparkling tiles (at least for a few hours) began dancing in my head. Until the power washer hose split in half. Rubber stands no chance against the island climate, by the way. This was inevitable. But why today? Ok, we’ll go to the hardware store and get a new hose. No dice. The store doesn’t sell that model of power washer anymore and the parts they do stock now won’t fit. Brilliant.
Return home empty handed and realize your truck’s radiator is distributing coolant in a dramatic arc onto the driveway. Again. Apparently, the rusty spot that was temporarily fixed with filler has given up the ghost. Again. (Thanks to the salt-laden air here…everything on your vehicle rusts away much faster than normal. Way, way, way faster than normal.) Pray there is a spare radiator somewhere on the rock. One that you will, no doubt, pay a premium for. Call mechanic and get an appointment…in five days.
In the meantime, take the second vehicle to the auto parts shop looking for another can of radiator leak filler. You’re going to McGuyver vehicle number one into submission. Or die trying. And dying isn’t just hyperbole at this point, because by now the temperature has skyrocketed to 96 degrees Fahrenheit and the midday sun is perched mercilessly above the roof of your truck. The truck that is still weeping fluorescent green tears.
I wish I could say the tragedies ended at that point, but alas, they did not. There were a few more casualties waiting for us. Like the six-months new fabric shade sail that ripped in two after gallantly making our patio liveable during daylight hours. And the window blind whose pulley rope disintegrated when I attempted to raise it to clean the window. How dare I! And let’s not forget the clothesline that snapped while I was hanging freshly laundered white sheets to dry. So the destruction tally within less than 24 hours? Two kites, one kiteboard, a power washer hose, one window blind, a shade sail, clothesline (and related extra load of laundry to re-wash) and one vehicle. Oh, let’s not forget my spirit. All, in some way, attributed to the climate here. Expenses incurred within said 24 hours? Let’s not go there.
And this has the capacity to crush your soul…if you let it.
Any one of the mishaps noted above would be enough to make you feel a little bit discouraged. But when they all happen in near-simultaneous succession? Well, even the cheeriest of island transplants will find themselves questioning just what the hell they are doing living in such a destructive vortex. It is at that precise moment you have a decision to make. A very important decision. Let the totality of the circumstances turn you into a bitter, wild-eyed, angry fool ranting about how hard life is on a Caribbean island or laugh at the absurdity of it all, pour yourself a drink and relax. I usually choose the latter and then try to remind myself of the good stuff that island life brings. You know, yin and yang and all.
Like impromptu beach gatherings with friends. The ones where you are surrounded by the kindred souls who nourish your spirit and for which you are grateful you live exactly where you do. Those days don’t happen as often as I’d like anymore (the subject for a future blog), but when they do, I appreciate them all the more. Thankfully, one of these afternoons unexpectedly occurred just the day before the start of all carnage noted above. Thank you, universe! Those good days go a long way toward easing the pain of the harsher ones on a rock.
And, of course, it also helps to relax and spend a few minutes gazing at the sparkling Caribbean Sea or a technicolor tropical sunset. Either or both works wonders, too. Sure my life would be easier in many ways if I lived someplace not quite so harsh. I’d certainly have more good hair days, my furniture, clothes and household items would last longer, and I’d undoubtedly drive a more reliable vehicle. Or at least one not held together with duct tape, zip ties, and hope. But then I would have to forfeit the views, the relaxed approach to life in general (island time is a damn good thing), and the ability to feel warm, salty water on my skin at a moment’s notice. And my tan would undoubtedly fade.
The truth is, you have to take the bad with the good when you choose to live in the Caribbean. I know life’s all about trade-offs wherever you live, but I think that is even truer in the tropics. You just cannot have one without the other. You can’t enjoy those umbrella drinks with your toes in the sand without also accepting that the leather strap on your favorite beach bag will inexplicably break while you are packing for said beach bar day. And fighting it will get you nowhere, except maybe back on a plane with a one-way ticket to wherever you came from, bitter regret clogging your pores. As I tell myself often, “Just roll with it.”
And one last piece of advice…be sure to read Don’t Stop The Carnival by Herman Wouk before you get here. Buy it, study it, memorize it…because eventually, you will be living it. I never understood the ending to that book and honestly, naive, pre-island me was always greatly frustrated by how things turned out for beleaguered Norman. It took putting a few years of island life under my belt for me to finally understand the book in its entirety. Now I totally get it. And I re-read the book often, usually after a particularly tough stretch of island life. To say I love this book is an understatement.
I’m also a firm believer that this book should be a staple in every future island transplant’s suitcase, including yours. Then after you arrive, the book should be displayed within easy reach once you settle into your new island home. Trust me, you’ll read it often, too. If for no other reason than to feel temporarily smug, knowing you’re still sticking it out. At least until the next calamity occurs.
Got questions? Want to know more about island life? Thinking about making a big life change (whether that includes an island or not)? I’d love to hear from you. Check out this post or send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s connect.