Any ex-pat, of any nationality, living here, on this island of Tenerife, off the coast of Africa, but with all the advantages of being a part of Europe politically, and with arguably the best climate in the world (got the picture??), will tell you that they are the envy of their pals back home, and yet……..they just have to get “off the rock” at times. In fact, lots of local people feel that too. Conversations with dwellers of other islands confirm that this is true no matter the island. There is a sense that you’re missing out on something a lot of the time.
A tweet from Jenny of www.whereisjenny.com/ set me thinking. She’s itching to get away from the stress and hustle of all that goes with a normal, modern lifestyle in the West, and thinks island life would suit her. The mañana syndrome is for sure alive, well and resident (along with a few thousand ex-pats) on this island, and there are things you should take into consideration before you hop on the ferry. Here are some, considered (and hopefully not whingy) downsides to island life.
1. If you like/want to travel (which is a given here) getting anywhere is more expensive – because, first of all you have to get off the island. There have been times when I’ve paid more to get to Madrid or London than I have to get from those cities to Charlotte or New York, or wherever. I enjoy almost every tiny bit of the travel process, so prolonging a journey doesn’t usually faze me too much, but I do resent the extra cost.
2. From time to time (especially in May/June and November /early December here) the supermarkets run out of your favorite breakfast cereal, or the only dog food which doesn’t make your pet fart, or, horror of horrors (and this is a regular occurrence) that particular shade of hair dye which takes ten years off you……. and you can do the rounds of every supermarket you know, and you still won’t find it. They are all waiting for “the boat to come in”. If one’s out, they’re all out. These things are produced over there **waving in general direction of mainland Europe**, and have to be imported, and the smaller the island the more this happens and the longer it takes to replace.
3. You just have to face it, there are some things which will never be available on your island, what they are depends on which island you’re on. If you’re on a remote atoll in the Pacific then it might seem obvious (most things we take for granted in the West), and you probably don’t care about this one, but when you’re walking through the busy hub which Santa Cruz is these days, you might wonder why this is. Who knows how the market research is done, whether a product is tested here and it’s decided that it won’t sell in sufficient quantities to merit importation costs? It seems to me this applies less than it used to, but then I have a sketchy idea of what’s available on mainland Europe these days! Years back, (when baggage restrictions weren’t so strict of course) I used to bring back cases heavy with the Vidal Sassoon shampoo I thought I couldn’t live without. Of course, for whatever reason, I learned to live without it at some point. In fact, it’s a useful lesson in life – learning to live without things, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. No matter what, no matter how big a port the island builds, no matter how many pop stars put on a show, no matter how quickly the mail now arrives (and it used to be that when the postman went on vacation there was no-one to cover for him, so you got no mail for a month), no matter that the latest movies open on the same day they open in Madrid, an island will always be a backwater, an after-thought, the period at the end of the paragraph that is the mainland country.
4. Island time is not, necessarily what it’s cracked up to be. Today I queued for almost an hour in a bank, a couple of weeks ago I waited over an hour for a bus which never arrived, people think nothing of cancelling appointments at the last minute, or even not turning up at all. I like the idea that there are things more important than the 9 to 5. I like the idea very much. However, not at the expense of common courtesy, and not without regard for other people’s lives and schedules. Let’s face it, in one sense I do have the time to queue these days, and I always have a book in my bag, so I can even enjoy the excuse for some extra reading. Take Carnaval……I am the eternal mugwump on this one, even after all these years. Precisely one half of me hates that the banks close early Carnaval week (oh I can rant and rave with the best of them on that one), and the other, precise half thinks that it is just brilliant that there is a place in the world (yes, I know there are others, but we’re talking about islands) where pleasure is ranked more important than work.
5. Islanders can be very closed-minded, as can any small community. It isn’t necessarily an intentional thing. It’s a lack of worldy-wisdom, which seems to breed a lack of curiosity about the world outside, about the potential and the possibilities, the splendor and the grotty stuff too. Many islanders never leave their island, even in this day and age. A friend told me recently of a conversation she’d had with a young islander who refused to accept the advantages and the adventure a trip beyond the limits of his small world might give him. He maintained that he lived in a perfect world, why should he move outside of it. Sounds a bit sci-fi-ish doesn’t it? I don’t mean to tar everyone with the same brush by any stretch of the imagination, I’m just looking at what might be the disadvantages of island dwelling for my purpose today.
6. In an emergency chances are that it will be worse and more difficult than a similar disaster on the mainland. I offer you the horribly tragic example of Haiti, where the lack of suitable docking facilities delayed essential aid reaching people.
7. Things can be more expensive than on the mainland because of importation and transportation costs. In the Canary Islands this is, actually, offset by being on a different level of purchase tax than mainland Spain, but that isn’t true everywhere.
8. If you like to travel, you miss out on all of those special deals, you can’t, at a moments notice, take advantage of that really cheap ticket to St Petersburg, because you can’t get off the island on the right day, and anyway, that makes them not so cheap. I’ve sickened myself many an evening surfing the prices of flights to places I really need to be.
I suppose I’m thinking of “modern” islands when I muse on this. If you go to live on a remote Cook Island, then you pretty much know that you want to chill, and the fact that there is only electricity from 9am to 4pm every other day or whatever, is not going to bother you, but “modern” islands have a problem in finding a balance. They want everything the mainland has, a lot of the time they think they have it, and they act as if they do, but they don’t, neither are they willing to go the extra mile, put in the extra hour of work, open on a Sunday, whatever it takes to make the “Big League”. It’s finding the balance which seems to be difficult, and that’s what makes it so frustrating for those of us who’ve lived on the mainland. When someone says “I’ll see you at 4 o’clock” , we believe them. We’re programmed to do so, and that’s when island time baffles us. These people, laywers, bankers, accountants act as if they’re professional by mainland standards, but it falls short of our understanding of professionalism. If they dressed in Hawaiian shirts and always had a mojito in hand, we’d likely make allowances…………and shrug.