“Bring a mosquito net,” advised an inhabitant of a nearby island. “And have you thought about food?”
Actually, no. I hadn’t. And then David Hocher, owner of Staniel Cay Yacht Club – home of the Exumas’ happiest happy hour, where I will not be drinking cold Kaliks this afternoon – drops me off on my island. Or at least close enough so I can wade to it. In front of me is a sun-blazed white beach straight out of a middle manager’s corporate-office daydream. David motors away, leaving me standing in water up to my thighs with the sun already burning my neck.
For the next 26 hours I’ll be alone with a pocket knife, a fishing pole, a hammock and no way home. I squint at the beach and the boat’s disappearing wake. What if he doesn’t come back? What if I fall in a blue hole? Are there snakes in paradise? But I have work to do. I have to explore the island for the best hammock-hanging trees and set up a sun shade. And I need to find something to eat.
Nine hours later I’m standing on a tide-worn cliff, muttering. “Take the hook. Please?” There’s no one around to hear me. I know there are fish. Earlier, near my beachside campsite, a big parrotfish swam past me without fear, along with snappers, jacks and other delicious creatures. I should’ve fashioned a spear from a palm frond. Now the fish nip at the bait – tap, tap, tap – teasing me.
The hook comes up empty again. I pull another whelk (sea snail) from my damp hip pocket and impale it on the hook. All along I steal glances across the channel separating me from the next cay north. Is that island inhabited? Maybe by chefs and bartenders? Is it worth swimming over there to find out? I contemplate what’s in the water and wonder if it (whatever “it” is) is as hungry as me.