The Allure of Islands

A calendar of island pictures reminds me how difficult it is to reach paradise.

A palm tree always means paradise (Koh Samui, Thailand)

I love palm trees.  And sandy beaches.  But sometimes it can be difficult for me to enjoy looking at pictures of islands.
Some destinations, I am happy to view from faraway.  Shanghai fascinates me, but I do not feel that my life is emptier for not having visited.  Istanbul looks exotic and alluring.  I desire to visit, but I feel I can live a full life without making the trip.  However, picking up something as simple as a calendar of islands leaves me feeling empty, unfulfilled.  I must get to Fiji.  I would love to visit Waimanalo Beach in Oahu.  No, I really must go.  How hard will it be for me to get to Barbuda?  Unfortunately, the answer is always the same:  very difficult.  Islands, with the exception of barrier islands, are difficult to reach.  Heck, even some of them can only be reached by a two-hour ferry.  And in a nation of four-day weekends, that just isn’t enough.
The Caribbean seems so close, but with often prohibitive airfares and regularly prohibitive room rates, it is easy to postpone the journey.  When I can take a trip to Europe for less than the cost of the Caribbean, the Caribbean unfortunately gets left behind, which only makes my desire stronger.  And even within the Caribbean, some islands are easier than others, which are nearly impossible.  Saba, a quiet Dutch island without remarkable beaches but pleasant sea breezes (or so they say), was at the top of my list for a long time.  But when I researched the details of how to reach it, I just couldn’t work it out.
I consider a cruise, but I have to qualify the sense of discovery.  I have been to Mexico on a cruise—to the Riviera Maya, where I sat in a thatched roof hut on the beach in a former fishing village, drinking cervezas.  It was truly a divine day, even with the sudden rainstorm.  But, have I really been to Mexico?  My passport does not say so.  I also spend 6 hours in Incheon Airport in Seoul, but I cannot say that I have been to South Korea.
When people are going on a cruise, they do not say, “I am going on vacation.”  They say, “I am going on a cruise.”  They do not say, “Next week, I will be visiting Key West, Montego Bay, and Grand Cayman.”  They say, “I will be going on a cruise.”  It is only with the obligatory follow-up question (“where will the cruise be stopping”) that you learn the destinations, for the cruise, and not the islands, is the true destination.  I do not want to spend 5 hours on a beach.  I want to spend a week.
So I must look at the calendar of sunlit beaches, which, in addition to furthering the goal of relaxation, can also take the form of torture or self-denial.  Yes, we all want to sit in our cubicles in February and look at those beautiful palm trees and dream ourselves there.  But then we do a quick airfare search, and the number ($600 or $900) tells us we cannot be there.  So we take the calendar off the wall and flip to the back cover with all of the pictures on it.  Then, we pick the one island to put on our list.  We promise to go home, put on shorts, listen to Jimmy Buffet or Don Ho, mix up a rum drink, and brainwash ourselves into believing the islands are really not that far away.

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