A love affair with islands
I hadn’t consciously thought about it until now – but I recently looked over a list of places I’ve visited over the many years I have been traveling, near and far.
It’s then that I realized I seem to have a great affinity for islands. Ask most people where they like to travel – or even where they prefer to live and they are apt to reply: in the mountains or near the ocean.
As for me, I seem to have a fascination with islands, and I like small islands most of all. Perhaps this is because they are easy to explore and have very defined limits. There is a sense of isolation and “time” seems to be suspended. I seem to sleep more soundly when the pounding surf lulls me to sleep. You can get to know them more intimately and in a fairly short time. I also think they seem to offer a bit more personal safety, particularly on the small ones. There is a tremendous variety of islands, varying in size from really tiny islands, such as Sark or Herm (see below) to huge islands like Sumatra, as well as in temperature, population, culture, flora and fauna, and so on.
Here is a short list of my favorite islands, the majority of which qualify as small:
1. Capri, Italy: Located in the Gulf of Naples. It’s very easily accessible by ferry from either Naples or Sorrento. This is a rich man’s paradise, but quite affordable and doable on a day trip!
2. Orkney, Scotland: Rather bleak and barren for the most part, but what a history! There is Scapa Flow, once the main base of the British Home Fleet (see WWII history), the Ring of Brodgar (think Stonehenge) and Skara Brae (a prehistoric village) and the two towns of Kirkwall and Stromness. Orkney is accessible by ferry from John O’Groats, at the northern end of Scotland.
3. Paradise Island Resorts, Bahamas: I enjoyed Nassau with its English/Colonial atmosphere, its sharp-looking policemen in their starched, white uniforms, and the various classy resorts on Paradise Island, just across the bridge. It’s hard to find water as crystal blue or turquoise anywhere in the world, and with unsurpassed snorkeling sites.
4. Prince Edward Island, Canada: It’s been jokingly described as “a potato patch surrounded by two oceans.” It’s also totally flat, and is the home of “Anne of Green Gables.” Japanese tourists come here in droves in the summertime, apparently because of their love of this book by Lucy Maud Montgomery, to view the Anne of Green Gables house and see a stage performance by the same name.
5. Channel Islands, U.K.: Situated strategically in the North Sea between Britain and France, these islands belong to the United Kingdom, but issue their own currency. Besides the two main islands of Jersey and Guernsey, there are Herm and Sark, each less than 3 miles long, where there are no paved roads or cars. A great place to read a good book and relax.
6. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: They became famous through the work of Charles Darwin, who formulated his theory of evolution after studying the plants and animals there. Teeming with exotic species, this is an animal lovers’ wonderland. Expect to visit for at least four-to-five days, spending nights on a boat which sails nightly to a different island where other animal species await you. You are not allowed to go by yourself or to roam about, but need to be accompanied by a licensed, local tour guide at all times.
7. Hvar, Croatia: Bathed in almost perpetual sunshine, this island jewel is an ideal Mediterranean get-away, beautiful and peaceful (except when a swarm of motor bikers may invade the island for brief periods). It’s also known for its abundance of lavender plants. I’ve had pizza here as good as anywhere in the Mediterranean – and maybe better!
8. Santorini, Greece: Famous for its Black Sand Beach; a harbor that used to be the caldera of an ancient volcano, whose last major eruption occurred 36 years ago; and houses, all of which are whitewashed and gorgeous looking in the brilliant sunshine. Take a funicular to the top to see the capital Fira, or better yet, take a donkey ride to get there.
9. Kauai, U.S.A.: The Garden Island of Hawaii with its luscious vegetation. It supposedly has the wettest spot on earth. It features the “Grand Canyon of Hawaii.” It’s a popular travel destination for Americans and is fast becoming the hot spot for vacation condos or second homes.
10. Beachcomber Island, Fiji: This is one of the 300 plus “outer” Fiji islands, reached by an hour and half boat ride from Nadi, one of the two big Fiji islands they call the “mainland.” Beachcomber Island caters to younger tourists, who are into parasailing, kayaking, snorkeling – and partying! The water here is warm, clear and inviting. There was too much to do here – this is not the place to relax!
11. Bali, Indonesia: Bali has the only Hindu population in a nation of Muslims. The crafts, arts and culture abound here. Each village specializes in its own crafts, such as wood carvings, silversmithing, weaving or mask making. There are nightly theater performances somewhere on the island, featuring native dances including their well known Kecak and Fire Dances, puppetry shows, etc. A wonderful island for buying great souvenirs for the folks back home and art works for yourself.
12. Crete, Greece: Home of an ancient civilization, which was destroyed by an earthquake (or perhaps a tsunami?) prior to 2000 B.C. There are still many well preserved ruins from that era. The lifestyle is unhurried and reminded me of a time when a more leisurely lifestyle was the norm. One of the highlights of my visit was a hike through the narrow, 18 km long Samaria Gorge.
13. Isle of Sky, Scotland: Now that there is a bridge connecting it with the mainland, Sky is that much easier to visit. It offers some of Scotland’s most scenic landscapes and hiking trails. If nothing else, the name of the island sounds quite romantic, doesn’t it?
Before closing, I want to tell you about one special island, which most people have never heard of, but which I remember very fondly. It’s tiny Gili Trawangan, which, together with Gili Air and Gili Meno lies just off the coast of the island of Lombok, Indonesia. I visited Gili Trawangan in September 1988, when it was very primitive and undeveloped (I understand it has become somewhat of a resort spot since then).
To get to this Gili (i.e. island) I first took a large ferry from Bali to Lombok and then went to the so-called “ferry” departure point at Pemenang at the north end of Lombok. This “ferry” consisted of an outrigger canoe with an outboard motor, filled to the limit with some 25 or so people, mostly tourists, plus a crew of three Lombok natives. The ride took about an hour, over open water, which luckily was not too choppy. (As to life preservers, who ever heard of them?) Incidentally, I was part of a small group of six tourists (three young Aussie men and two adventurous Danish women), whom I had just met the night before when we decided on this little side trip off the beaten path. Upon our arrival in Gili T. we found very primitive bungalows on stilts (called “Losmen”) as well as a place to eat (named Pak Majid) and which looked like a mess hall with one long table. Most of the diners were German backpackers. Surprisingly, the food was delicious, consisting of eight dishes, including chicken and salad and the total cost was equal to US$1.30!
Together with the night at the bungalow and a lunch of fresh fish cooked on the beach my total cost on Gili was $3. There really was nothing much to do on this island except snorkeling (treacherous because of lots of coral). Everything, including water, had to be brought over by the “ferry boat.” All we took back on the return trip to Lombok were empty Coke bottles – and good memories. This was a great little adventure trip, albeit a very short one.
Well, dear reader, there you have it. There isn’t one of these places that I wouldn’t want to return to – but only a couple that I have actually revisited. There are just too many other islands that I would like to visit. Micronesia comes to mind, as well as other islands that may be exotic, remote and relatively untouched by modern civilization (as I get older I do, however, appreciate some luxuries, such as a comfortable bed on which to rest my body and a fairly decent bathroom!)
Maybe this article will inspire you to seek out your favorite island or two and make it your next vacation destination. Not all of them will offer you entertainment or even gourmet food, but almost all island destinations will give you a chance to relax and to recharge your batteries. Bon voyage!
Walt Fraser is a frequent traveler and can often be heard on KVMR radio. He lives in Grass Valley.
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Editor’s note: The following is the 2021 Valedictorian Address for Ghidotti High School, given by graduate Amina Federspiel-Otelea.