My friend Kate and I decided that we wanted to go explore the Island across from us. We live on the mainland, and going to the Island has always been our dream. Nobody that we knew had been, so we wanted to be the first in our group of friends.
It isn’t something that is done casually, we discovered. It turns out that you have to apply for permission to go there. We didn’t know this and almost got into a lot of trouble.
We set sail on a sunny morning in September. We paid our fare to ride on a sailboat out to the Island. The captain must have thought that we had all of our papers in order because he didn’t ask us any questions. He could have saved us a lot of trouble.
There were many different kinds of sailboats in the water between the mainland and the island. When we got closer, we noticed that there were actually two islands. From the mainland, it looked like there was only one. We sailed for about an hour, enjoying the salt air and the sound of seagulls. The captain offered us tea and cookies but we declined. Having never sailed before, we were a bit queasy. Also, we’d packed a lunch for later that we were looking forward to.
The captain expertly steered his sailboat right up to a dock and waves us off. We thanked him and started to look around. There wasn’t much activity going on here. This must not be the commercial area. Perhaps this side of the island was just for tourists like us. It looked like we were the only ones today. This was surprising, since it was such a beautiful day and school was out. Where were the families? Where were the young couples?
Then these guards came up to us.
It was hard to take them seriously with their huge coconut helmets. They must be twins too. Look at all those awards! They have to be wearing these for show. No real soldier who means business would wear all of that nonsense on duty. We relax. Maybe everything is going to be fine.
He takes us to the guard booth and makes us wait. We can’t go further on the island until he can confirm our story, and he can’t do that until he can get a translator. He picks up a phone and tries it.
No signal. He picks up an older one. He has the same result. He picks up the oldest style and it works.
After about ten minutes another guard comes.
He looks at us suspiciously and speaks to us in a language we’ve never heard. When he sees that we don’t understand it, he tries another. And yet another. It is just like with the phones – no connection. By the fourth try we have something that will work. It isn’t a first language for any of us, but it will do.
He interrogated us for about thirty minutes. Somehow we managed to say all the right things and we are free to wander the island without an escort. This is the best possible outcome. We were afraid we’d be sent back home. Maybe he thought we weren’t a security risk because we were school age. Whatever the reason, we were grateful that our adventure could continue.
They had a few rules we weren’t aware of. We weren’t allowed to take pictures. They took away our cameras while we were on the Island, only letting the captain of the ship give them back to us when we were back at sea. We weren’t even allowed to draw pictures of what we saw. They are sure secretive! They didn’t exactly swear us to secrecy, but they sure didn’t want us talking too much about what we saw. Maybe some of our friends had been here, but just had been too afraid to tell us.
I decided to write letters back to myself on the mainland, and use their stamps to illustrate what we saw. They are certainly different about keeping in touch here! They don’t use phones very often. Nobody has a computer. They communicate in person or by mail. They are really thrifty too – they use stamps from all over. They don’t make their own. There is probably something about security in this idea too, but I haven’t thought about it much.
There are no maps for this island. It isn’t very big so you can’t get lost for long. We decided that we wanted to see as much variety as possible, so we went wandering. We went walking into the forest first.
There certainly was no fear of getting lost in this forest. It was composed entirely of bonsai trees. These beautiful old trees only reached to our knees. After about ten minutes walk the trees started to get bigger, but still not so tall that we couldn’t see our way through. There were wide easy paths to walk on as well. It was beautifully laid out and made for an easy stroll.
While walking in the tiny forest, I noticed this huge blue dragonfly.
He sat calmly on an immense fern and let me get really close to him. I marveled at how shiny he was and how he sparkled. He looked like he was made of gemstones, but he was alive. Maybe this was why this island is so well guarded.
Shortly afterwards I saw a lovely box turtle.
He was walking away from an unusual orange flower. I think he was trying to eat it, but didn’t like the taste. The turtle reminded me when I was a child. I used to rescue turtles who were crossing the road. Sometimes they didn’t make it to the other side. Sometimes they made it to my house instead. Boy, were they surprised! I left this one where he was. If they didn’t want me taking pictures, I’m pretty sure they didn’t want me taking wildlife.
We came upon a hillside covered with castles.
Normally hillsides are covered with flowers. These weren’t anywhere near as welcoming as flowers. Maybe this is what they were trying to protect. There were five huge stone castles, stacked almost on top of each other. We turned away, sure that we’d not be welcome here.
By this point, we were getting very hungry. We sat on the hillside that had the castles, but not in view of them. I put down my poncho so Kate and I could have a sort of a picnic. She took out our peanut butter and jam sandwiches from her satchel and we quietly ate them, thinking about how unusual our trip had gone. Our lemonade had gotten warm, and it wasn’t that sweet anymore. We looked around and saw just over the hill a large field of strawberries –
We ate ourselves sick on them, and curled under a normal-sized tree for a nap.
When we woke, we were being stared at by a bunch of black birds.
They were all the same, and all chirping animatedly at us. They looked a little ominous, with their sharp beaks and shiny black feathers. More started coming so we left the area and kept on exploring. We were concerned that their cries would draw attention to us and we’d not be allowed to stay all day.
Soon we found another tree to sit under. This one had three birds sitting on the same branch.
We liked the fact that they were all different and all getting along. We thought maybe this was the nicer part of the island.
Then we went to the shoreline and looked at the fish. We saw some large fish that looked like they were fencing with each other. I wonder how they decide who won, with three of the fencing at the same time?
Then we saw a huge school of fish, all swimming in the same direction.
We wandered on a little further and found a cove with only pink sea life.
Well, they all looked pink. Maybe it was just the light at that time of day. The sun was starting to go down, so we knew it was time to leave. We were told when we arrived that we had to leave before the sun set – no exceptions. There were no hotels on the island, and they didn’t like the idea of putting us up in a private house. We wondered how (or why) anybody moved here.
As the sun’s light was fading, we sailed back to our home. We loved the fact that the island was so large that it took two stamps to illustrate it.
One day wasn’t enough to explore all of this island. I’m sure there were more curious parts to it. If only we had more time. If only we were allowed to stay. If only never gets you anywhere, though. I’m just grateful there was a way to show you what we’d seen that honored their requests.