The waves are gentle as the hands of a child, lifting the boat up and passing her softly from palm to palm. The others have pitched a tent on the island, but our two boat men sleep in the cabin below me, and I am on the cabin’s roof. I have been struggling to sleep well for weeks, tossing with anxiety each night and waking at witching hours, unable to find rest. But today, lying on the roof with my raincoat as a pillow, the gentle waves and the gentle breeze and the gentle starlight lull me into an untroubled slumber within minutes. When I wake in the middle of the night, it is to a sky filled with a thousand thousand stars – constellations and galaxies swirling overhead in an endless saga. I am almost disappointed when I start drifting off again, but as I do, I see a shooting star and wish for you…
We are here to find dolphins and any other cetaceans we may encounter. Three young biologists, out on the sea. Somehow, with many requests and permissions from the right people and departments, we have ended up on a tiny, nearly uninhabited island – Cinque. The sand is white and the water is the photoshopped, pristine turquoise blue of a Windows 2000 wallpaper. There is a small, half-constructed shack which is home to a few rotating guards who look after turtle nests on the beach, and the rest of the island is swallowed by lush trees, spotted deer and monitor lizards. The guards are here for two weeks before their duties shift. For these two weeks, they have one or two solar-powered lights and chargers, a “kitchen” of sorts with basic food supplies, and bedsheets to sleep on. They are utterly bored. They tell jokes and play cards and warn us about rats at night. My two friends are attacked by rats the first night, and pitch their tent the second. I, of course, am safe and happy in the boat.
Dinner is with the boat men; we cook together – a simple meal of fish, vegetables and rice (minus the fish for me). Our chopping board is the deck, flecks of paint that chip off and make it into the food are ignored. It’s the most delicious hot meal I think I’ve ever had. I ask our guy what magic spice he’s used to flavour it, and he laughs and shakes his head saying it’s just the usual mixed spice you get in the market. I don’t believe him, it’s too good.
In the beginning, our first several trips, staring through binoculars constantly on the look-out for any sign of a dorsal fin cutting through the waves gave me headaches and occasionally made me feel rather seasick. A few days ago, when I was feeling particularly sick, our boat guy gave me a glass of something to drink. I took a few sips and almost spat it out, it tasted strange and disgusting. It also didn’t help in the slightest.
An interesting thing – the fishermen’s remedy for seasickness is to drink some seawater. Almost as though, if you put a little bit of the sea inside you, then it can’t harm you. That’s what he gave me to drink the other day.
We have spent the last three days living on the fishing boat – cooking on the boat and washing our plates with seawater, going snorkelling and (stellar swimmer that I am) swallowing plenty of seawater, me brushing my teeth in the morning and at night with seawater. Now the sea is inside me and outside me and everywhere all around. And would you believe it, I haven’t felt seasick at all this whole time! Perhaps there is some wisdom to the fishermen’s remedy after all…
There is so much to see – a six-foot long sea snake slithering up and down between the surface and seafloor, huge fish leaping metres out of the water, a quiet herd of deer, turtle eggshells, bioluminescence darting around the hull of the boat and in its wake like little green sparks. I fell asleep high up a huge, dead driftwood and almost fell off. So much to see. So much to do. Most of all, just being on the boat feels so right. As someone who has grown up on stories of sailors and pirates and mythical sea creatures, I was always enchanted by the idea of a life at sea, and look, I am as taken by it in reality as I thought I would be. Writing this was hard, because now I am back and frustrated with life. But I promised myself I would write, even if I don’t quite have the right words. I missed you terribly through it all. I always have, I always will.