3 days on a cargo ship. That’s how long it took me to get from Tahiti to Fakarava. I also brought some medicine for my friend Hugo and his broken leg when I arrived. And that’s when I got to know his neighbor: Mana. He happened to be the captain at Fakarava’s diving school “Topdive“. And that’s how this crazy idea came about. I asked if he knew a small, lonely island, where nobody lives, nobody comes around and no signal. And if he could take me there. I only had to have one requirement: there must be coconut palm trees. Several times Mana said that this would not be a problem. However, more often he asked me if I was really sure about my plans.
Preparation for island life
Occasionally I took lessons in my first week on Fakarava: Mana’s wife showed me how to make clothes out of coconut leaves – after all, I wanted to get adequately dressed for my new island. On other days, Mana taught me spearfishing. At daylight under water. At night on the reef. Most of the time, however, I was busy with coconuts. Knowing that they will soon be the source of my life. And after 1 week I was ready. Mana took me to the diving paradise Fakarava Sud by boat. From there we waded together through the narrow reef lagoon and across several islands – some were private, others not inhabited – to my new home. When we said goodbye, we agreed on 5 days. It was clear to both of us how existential his arrival would be for me.
Mana is gone. I look around. The beauty of this island goes beyond your mind. Nice and rough at the same time. The leaves of some palm trees are missing. Perfect imperfections. Somewhere else I might have seen people or a ship. Not here. Once in a lifetime, I want to experience what total isolation means. Physically and mentally. I don’t even have a watch. What I took with me as an emergency if I won’t find anything to eat or drink for 5 days: just 2 cans of beans, 3 liters of water. That is why coconut fruits were my only requirement when I chose an island. Other things: tent, towel, knife, machete, sandals, camera, flashlight, toothbrush. 5 days, 4 nights. An experiment. For me. From me. About me. With me.
First I put up my tent. Creating an access from those razor-sharp coral shards on the ground. How great that I have my sandals with me. Ready. All my senses open. Now I get to know my neighbors: the crab family. Politely I say hello to the sea and each coconut palm tree. 63, if I calculated right. I need about 20min for a tour around the island. That’s how big my empire is. The coconuts I’ve found along the way I’m putting on the coral stones in front of my tent. They are both my breakfast and milk for tomorrow. In the evening I fall into line with that perfect idyll that promises nothing and keeps everything. My laziness thrives. It lies in the shade. I take a deep breath. Pure joy and relaxation. My view: coconut palms. Sun rays spinning from palm to palm. It’s getting dark. The red fireball on the horizon disappears. But the next high light appears just a little later. Like a butter stain it hangs in the sky with a yellowish shimmer: it is a full moon. Bedtime.
Since 3 hours I’m awake now. It should be 8 am. The moments pass slowly. I look up at the blazing sun. It’s hot and humid. My tent is wet. The air is already pressing against my lungs. There is hardly any shade on my island. Opening the first coconut takes a long time. And when I started to drink, I taste fermented water. I remember Mana who encouraged me 2 days ago to keep on drinking with a smile: “Tastes like warm sprite.” Good for mental strength. But I won’t take many sips. A little later: The sun is hurting me. It is so hot! For those situations I initially planned cooling off myself in the sea. But now I realize that I can’t swim in it. The reef is razor sharp and the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash with a deafening sound on it. Too dangerous. What’s left for me are those warm, shallow, knee-deep little lagoons through which sometimes a small shark is passing by.
Slowly I’m getting sick. Suddenly I feel everything turning around myself. Dehydration. Dizziness. I can hardly breathe. My heart beats faster and faster. Looking for someone and getting help is pointless. Where the heck should I go?! I’m on a tiny little island in an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. No signal here. I’m getting crazy. A panic attack. I scream. SCREAM. Shouting out a loud: “Aaaah!” Louder. The loudest! All my energy I’m screaming out of me! Then I got dizzy and it seemed everything gets dark.
Okay. Now my fear is calling back my sanity. I have to act: Exhaustedly I’m dragging myself to the sea with heavy steps. I just had to cool off. Carefully with my feet I’m trying to feel and find a possible sea entry on the reef. Waves are crashing with a tremendous noise onto the reef. But hands and legs start to bleed. Of course I cut myself on that reef. But now. Finally: water. Cooling off. Awesome. Now quickly getting back under the thin palm shades. Lie down. I close my eyes. So many thoughts. Storms of, no, hurricanes of thoughts. It’s just day two. How am I going to stand that for 5 days?
I really want to see people again. Please. Anyone is welcome. A bird lands in front of me. Or in my head? ‘What do you have to tell me now?’ I think I’m turning insane. A song from my time in kindergarten emerges from my subconsciousness: ‘Why just why?’ At some point I fell asleep. I have no other memories to day 2.
I thinking about yesterday. A culture or reality shock coupled with illness – that has triggered my panic attack. Romanticized ideas about a lonely island might seem beautiful. However, reality in front of me is tough, sharp, hot and humid and tastes either spoiled or too salty. Looking back: a win. The fact that nobody else can help me here puts new virtues into perspective: humility, organization, independence. Above all, it reveals an essential learning process: to be grateful and satisfied with what you have right now. And always make the best of your situation.
For me, this means, that today calmness is giving me a hug. Silence is actually no longer fashionable. This model has expired in our Western society. I admit, that was the case for me as well. Always working on something, always doing something to construct some meaning. In contrast to yesterday, the phenomenon of boredom no longer occurs today. In Western societies, if you do nothing, you would think you haven’t used your time well. Then your own restlessness leads to cluelessness. Simply because you suddenly have to deal with someone with whom you have never really dealt before: yourself. Here I’m finding out now some things about myself. I consider these days as a mental exercise deluxe. The wind is blowing. And with him my thoughts away. Today, is a good day.
Stone Age. I am a hunter and collector. Collecting coconuts. Hunting fish. Starting a fire with dried coconut shells. Lonely? Two days ago I was perhaps the loneliest person in the world. The reason why people feel lonely is not because no one else is there. But because they are not in harmony with themselves. And if no one else is there, they are lonely with their enemy: themselves. But that’s not the case for me today. My happiness barometer is definitely not at its highest level. Life here is still tough, sharp, hot and humid and tastes either spoiled or too salty. But I am deeply delighted about how much is actually happening on this small island. You just have to have the patience to watch and listen.
For example. My opened coconut fruits have already been colonized by crabs. And I watch them. Smaller crabs that can’t climb inside the shell immediately start to help each other. Fantastic. In solidarity with each other they form a crab bridge up to the coconut crater, just in a way that other crabs can taste the fresh water as well. A little later a brown-footed booby lands on my island. I probably would not even have noticed that bird before. And certainly would have never devoted all of my attention to it. But once you have seen blue-footed and red-footed boobies 3,000km east on the Galapagos Islands, you are completely impressed. So here, mother nature gave them another shoe color: brown. I’m lying in the sand, looking at the water desert in front of me. With a smile.
Hopefully Mana will pick me up. My water bottles are empty. Beans too. But I don’t have to hope for long. I can already hear him calling me. What a joy! We hug each other. Rarely before I have been so happy to see someone again. We didn’t talk to each other. Which words could have expressed any meaning now?! I smile. And look at him. He smiles too. With his boat we drive 1 hour back to the north of the huge Fakarava Atoll. Now I’m walking on a street again. I sit down on a chair again. At the table I receive a knife and a fork. I’m totally amazed! How practical these human inventions are. And how nice it is to see people again!