I wrote this post way back in December 2011. It describes a trip I took to an uninhabited island off the coast of Fiji and what I found buried on one of its beaches. This post formed the inspiration for a story-telling contest I entered and won several years ago.
I’ve had this story tucked away, hiding and unread for awhile. I like this piece a lot and thought I’d repost here to share now with my wider audience. ~Sarah
Fiji is one of my favourite places on earth. Get me away from the bustle and poverty that is the main island to search out its real beauty, its magnificent islands. I love Fiji because it’s close to home, the people are friendly, it’s easy to navigate and even easier to island hop. Parts of it, particularly the untouched and remote parts are visually stunning, both above the water and below it. Whatever you picture in your head when you close your eyes and think of an island paradise, Fiji has it.
On a trip several years ago, I was on large catamaran, spending the day island hopping. The final stop was to the island of Monuriki, an uninhabited island a couple of hours boat ride west of anything that resembled civilisation. Monuriki is famous because it is the island where the Tom Hanks movie ‘Castaway’ was filmed. It is a large island and its volcanic past is evident in the high mountain at one end that’s covered in rock and dense scrub. The islands surrounding it gave rise thanks to the volcano’s activities thousands of years ago.
I remember this day because it was unbelievably hot. Every inch of shade on the boat to get to the island was taken up with bodies. No one, not even the locals, wanted to be in the sun that afternoon. Stepping off the dingy and onto the island, my feet weren’t prepared for the assault that was the hot white sand that had been baking under the sun all afternoon. I quickly headed up and over the beach away from the water and straight for the shade of the palms and scrub that dotted the main beach.
It was too hot to do anything. Draping myself over a palm tree that was bent almost to a right angle, I couldn’t help but think about how Hollywood made a movie here. Did they have to sweat through days like today? I thought about the only line from the film that I remembered, the one about the most famous volleyball of all, where Tom’s character unmistakably cries out, ‘Wilson!’
The bottle had a piece of paper inside it. A long piece of paper, rolled up tightly into a small cylinder. To keep the paper cylinder in place, it was tied at the middle with what looked like a long length of regular brown cotton. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t open it. The cork was firmly in place, like it had never been opened before.
I had found a message in a bottle, on an uninhabited island in the middle of the South Pacific. I inspected it closely, turned it over, shook it, anything to give me a clue as to its origin or contents. How did it get here? Was is washed ashore from afar? Or more likely, had someone left it here for me to find?
With my new prize in tow, I proudly showed it off to anyone who would listen on the boat ride back. I even showed it to the boat’s captain. ‘Open it!’ was the common response. I couldn’t. I didn’t have a bottle opener. Wine and corkscrews aren’t commonly found on isolated islands in the South Pacific.
I took the bottle and its precious contents back home with me to Australia. I don’t often keep mementos of my travels, but this was no ordinary memento. I remember being fearful that it might break if I stored it in my regular luggage so I took it onto the plane in my backpack as hand luggage.
In my home, my message in a bottle took pride of place on the mantle. I looked at it every day as a reminder of the wonderful location in which I had found it. Over the years I have been seriously tempted to open it and read its contents. But mostly I just imagine what its contents might be.
Is it a convoluted map to a loot of buried treasure? Or is it a desperately sad love letter written to an old flame? Is it a marriage proposal to an improbable love? Is it a suicide note of someone who later jumped into the volcano and to their death? Does it tell me where Wilson ended up after Tom’s character lost him at sea? Does it contain the secret to curing cancer or solving global warming? Probably not.
And so it remains unopened, my message in a bottle. Leaving it unopened keeps alive the mystery of its contents and its original owner. Having said that, what I want to know is this.. did you write on a piece of paper, roll it into a cylinder, tie it with brown cotton, shove it into a wine bottle from Northern California, re-cork it and leave it for me to find on Monuriki Island off the west coast of Fiji? Drop me a line if you did. I have something that belongs to you.
Buy me a beer and let’s uncork that bottle for the final time, together.