Paradise in perspective

Spend a week on this tiny Caribbean island and you’re tempted to believe that life could be a lot simpler, slower, less stressed.

that's it, the whole of Salt Cay, a triangle in the ocean about a mile long

that’s it, the whole of Salt Cay, a triangle in the ocean about a mile long

For a week (plus) we had roosters awaken us rather than alarm clocks, biked to the beach (hoping to see it all before we left), we siesta’d in the heat of the day, we took walks at night to look up at the stars.

IMG-20130126-00449     IMG-20130127-00478

the locals were very friendly

the locals were very friendly

We’d go out for a swim and some beach combing, look for new fish on the reefs and amble back to the house for a bit. Swim, eat, repeat. IMG-20130123-00310



It was perfection. Except that my conscience followed me there.

Staying with a local couple, we saw up close how they carefully planned the use of food and other stores because it’s not possible to just stroll out to a Super WalMart to stock up. They have cisterns in their yards to capture rainwater for drinking. We took showers in 1/2 cup of water. Or just about.

But the beaches we visited told a story that was very different. Considering that the island’s longest side isn’t much more than a mile long, it was absolutely shocking how much junk piled up on them. Disgusting, even. And there’s no lack of irony that one of the great beach areas on the island was accessed by taking a left at the dump the locals use. Where they burn their household trash.

IMG-20130127-00459  This was just one of hundreds, maybe thousands of plastic jugs we saw washed up. Need I repeat that the island offers only a mile of beach to collect this trash? Where does the rest of it end up, and how much is floating out there somewhere? The organization Oceana tracks such pollution, but a peek at their web site is a reminder that the big plastic pieces are the easy ones to spot. Mercury and other stuff that are killing the reefs not so much. Think about it: our synthetic clothing (fleece) breaks down a little each time we wash it, discharging tiny plastic particles into the environment and adding to the burden. Even the founder of retailer Patagonia gets it and feels the guilt.IMG-20130127-00454

Snap a photo in any direction on these beautiful beaches and you get piles of fishing net, dozens of individual shoes, buckets, baby doll legs … you name it.

IMG-20130127-00455Yes, that’s the object (a tank that formerly held formaldehyde, we were told) that appears considerably smaller in the photo above. And that is Mike standing next to it. Something that big washed ashore. “How’d you like to hit that in your sailboat?” he asked, evoking the storyline of a friend’s book about losing his boat near the Azores (probably to a submerged object) and drifting a very long way in a life raft.


can't say if one of the refrigerators we saw on the rocks could sink a boat, but the sight of it was enough to sink my spirits

can’t say if one of the refrigerators we saw on the rocks could sink a boat, but the sight of it was enough to sink my spirits

Sure, we enjoyed our brief foray into the tropics, the feeling that a little time away from our usual schedules really puts life into perspective. We weren’t counting on the beaches putting our buying and recycling habits into perspective. Sadly, as we walked the beaches, Jack Johnson’s neo-hippie beach tunes were continually being pushed out of my head in favor of Joni Mitchell singing, “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”


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One Response to “Paradise in perspective”

  1. Nancy O'Leasry Says:

    It’s one interconnected world and everything we do has an impact. Sometimes we stick out head in the sand so we don’t have to be accountable. But, really, we can’t escape our accountability. Emjoyed reading this. Thanks.

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