swimming to my favorite island





you can’t get here fast enough
i will swim to you
i will swim to you


It is shaped like an irregular shark, head in the East, fin in the center, hooked tail in the West.  I remember cycling along the beach and looking out at the Caribbean Sea.

The early evening sun is hot, but not oppressive.  After passing the bay, I make my way towards the central northern coast.  A straight and flat stretch of road with few cars.  From what I can tell, everyone is a tourist and they are all determined to remain planted on the beach until darkness falls.  After taking a detour towards what appears to be a dead-end, it is along this expanse that I come across a sunken ship, just beyond the shore past several rows of large rock.  I can see its sharp edges jutting out of the ocean, blackened with algae and barnacles, like the rusty skeleton of a beached metal whale.  It is stranded and collapsed to one side, having given its final sigh of navigation long ago.  I get off the bike and walk towards the ocean.  I stand as close as possible, at the edge of the pavement.  I stare at this structure.  An eerie feeling of haunting melancholia matched with welcome isolation.     

For awhile I stand and stare as the back and forth pull of the waves overwhelm this ship with their tense embrace.  They are eager to cradle this structure as soon as it is willing to succumb.  The waves would welcome it beneath the sea, into the deep expanses of blue where it could disappear.  It is a quiet plea, but it resonates forcefully.

//


I arrive to a clean and precise island with small rows of leafy palm trees gridded amongst densely crowded high rises.  The first signs of daylight are edging their way into the sky as I make my way from the airport in the East to the center.  One can forget that this is a self-contained country.  Shaped like a hobbyist-cut diamond, the majority of the 42km-wide land is developed and accounted for.  What was once a wildly lush and tropical rainforest has now become a haven for progress and production.  It takes merely a jet-lagged metro ride to get a general sense of it, to feel the first beats of efficiency.

It is not difficult to blend in with the pace of things here, but it is extremely difficult to geographically situate myself.  The shape of this territory is unfamiliar, it resonates as an abstracted symbol.   Like an explorer consulting a map of a foreign land, I am startled by the jagged border, the small size, the multitude of surrounding, even smaller shapes, all greenly sprinkled on a background of blue.  I am living on an island for the first time and I feel as if I should be consciously aware of it.  Aware that I am untethered and floating, surrounded by water.  Aware that when I look out from any perch of verticality that I can and will be confronted by the open sea.  This water is not a canal, river, or lake, it is salty, untamed, guided by the tides.

//

To the south, a one-hour ferry ride away is the paw-print-shaped island that offers a different pace.  Chaotic honking traffic and a plethora of unmatched buildings alongside abandoned development sites.  This is where I go in an attempt to geographically situate myself, to get on a boat so that I can physically see one island disappear behind while approaching another.

I take the ferry in the early evening, as darkness begins to seep in.  I stand on the upper deck and stare out at the flickering lights of nearby boats and the coastline of the city we are approaching.  The boat bounces up and down, keeping a rapid pace through the water.  Sounds of thunder roll alongside—the dry crackling kind, warding off rain with each long, drawn-out breath, ominously slow, but ever graceful.  I turn to face the thunder, looking up to see electric shocks of light bounce from one cloud to the next.    

Most of the other passengers seated at deck level have dozed off with the boat’s steady rhythm, save for a row of men.  They share the spectacle, shirts billowing fast with the wind, arms raised to clasp the upper banister.  I can tell from their relaxed stance, that unlike me, they have seen lightning like this before.  They have been on such a bobbing boat with thunder above and black water below.  They know their place within these in-between waters and know them well as a geographic sliver to transport them from here to there.  The certainty of it all reflected in their silhouettes, strong against the night sky.

In contrast, I find myself neither here nor there, precariously battling balance.  Seduced by the hot pulses of electricity, I am a boat in unknown waters trying to find a place to dock.  Sometimes I come close to the shore, but am pulled out by the tide again.  Like the sunken ship, I am forever in the sea, bobbing alongside the wind and the waves, where I can never be found.



April 2013