Monday, April 14, 2008

Island Paradise

Here's another assignment by Laura harkening back to the "Write a story set during your most recent vacation" assignment. Enjoy!

Island Paradise
by Laura Mahoney

A New England September is like a hunk of week-old cheese: cold, clammy, and slightly off-putting. The last vestiges of summer filled with visits to the cape, eating corn on the cob and lobster rolls by the seashore, are but a golden memory, and you begin to brace yourself for the unavoidable onslaught of winter.
At that time of year, I would give anything to hold on to that pure ecstasy of summer for just another week or two. I long for the chance to transport myself to some sunny paradise where I would never be more than a stone’s throw from a beach. So when I learned of the opportunity at my office to win a trip to anywhere in the world, I jumped at the chance.
But which paradise would be my paradise? There were so many to choose from, and as a travel agent, I was all too familiar with their names and resorts: there was the Beachcomber Resort on its own private island off the coast of Fiji, reportedly the best place for snorkeling in the country due to its status as a protected marine wildlife sanctuary. Or perhaps the Secrets Resort in Playa del Carmen Mexico, where an all-inclusive lifestyle would surely give me that sense of luxury I desired.
When faced with so many decisions, it became a bit overwhelming. I finally sat down to write my application essay, and thought about what I loved about traveling in the first place. I began to realize that all of my favorite vacations had involved being on the water in some way. From crossing the Atlantic to Scandinavia aboard a training ship for 2 months on a summer break from college, to the boat I took to a deserted island off the coast of Jamaica. There was also my trip to Costa Rica, where my traveling companion and I made a point of being on the water in some capacity at least once every day.
I flipped through a couple of tour brochures, all glistening with photos of dozens of boat trips. There was a triple-decker wood-paneled passenger boat for drifting lazily down the Amazon in Peru, a majestic-looking tall-ship for a week’s journey from Sao Paolo to Rio de Janeiro, and even a glamorous yacht for island-hopping in Greece.
But the one boat that caught my eye was neither glamorous nor majestic. It looked to me like it had seen one too many tourist seasons. The photos of the cabins looked as though they were peering into the dark cramped space of a closet, rather than a room where you were expected to stow yourself and a week’s worth of luggage.
But all that could be endured, I thought, because the destination this boat would give me the freedom to explore was Croatia.
Not the first place you think of when you think of “beach paradise.” The mere mention of the place most likely conjures of images of a politically unstable, war-ravaged landscape. For me, however, it was just the kind of remote, less traveled place I was looking for.
The trip I took was a 7-day island-hopping excursion. I pored over the tour dossier excitedly, and tried to wrap my mouth around exotic words like Makarska, “Brac” (pronounced Buh-rotch), Hvar (ha-var), and Mljet (still not sure about that one.) We ate, drank, slept, and drank some more while sunbathing on the well-worn decks of our “vintage sailing ship.” Though the sun was almost always shining, sunbathing was something you could only do in spans of about 45 minutes to an hour. Our tight schedule meant we were sailing from about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day at a fairly high speed, so wind was constantly whipping over the decks, causing the Croatian flag hung proudly at our stern to be nearly ripped to shreds. For respite and to nurse wind-burned faces, it was necessary to gather your things and go indoors to the dining room for a game of cards or to read a book.
Our crewmembers were all Croatian and spoke no English, save the waiter. He was a forty-something guy named Tonchi with lots of lines in his face. There was the cook, a grisly old fellow who we affectionately named “Cook,” in part because his given name was also Tonchi. Moving up in the ranks, there was the first mate: a tall, lanky fellow of few words, who had an unsettling way of sneaking up on you, and who was the son of the Captain, or El Capitan to my raucous Australian boatmates.
The fact that English was a rare commodity among our fearless leaders was something of a challenge. Living on a boat in an unfamiliar country, and traveling from place to place each day, requires at least a rudimentary form of communication between passenger and crew. Take for example the scene that unfolds upon arrival at one of the afore-mentioned unpronounceable islands. It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, and thirty-two young adults, near exhaustion from overexposure to sun, wind, and warm Croatian beer, anxious for some solid ground and a change of scenery, are all clambering to run off the boat and see the sights while there is still a little daylight left. But what is this place? Where is here? And what time is it necessary to be back on the boat to ensure that we don’t get left behind while the rest of the group continues on down the jagged coast? The only information we received in return was Tonchi (the waiter)’s chicken scratch on a chalkboard above the gangway leading off the boat. All that appeared there was an indication of the time we would need to be back on the boat in the morning: 0700. Thank God for the universal language of the 24-hour clock.
All in all it was a fabulous trip, highlighted by the 2-hour walk around the two-story high medieval wall encompassing the UNESCO world-heritage site at Dubrovnik, which affords spectacular views of the ancient stone city and the island-dotted Adriatic sea that crashes up against the wall like an enemy invader. Despite my many adventures along the way, including a pirate theme party on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I don’t think Croatia is the beach paradise I was hoping for. While beaches do abound in a coastline with over 1,000 islands, they’re mostly covered in pebbles and are painful to walk on. Maybe next time I’ll stick to the old standbys, and leave the exploring to someone else.

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