My Digital Detox on a Remote Tropical Island
Filed under Traveling in the Raw by Frederic Patenaude
If you found the most beautiful island in the world would you tell others about it or would you want to keep the location of this paradise to yourself?
I recently discovered the most beautiful beach and place in the world, for me at least. I remember sitting on the beach and telling my friend, “I’m not telling anybody about this place.” But I’m going to tell you about it today!
Some simple pictures taken with my phone camera, without any editing:
After reading a number of books on the South Pacific, I really wanted to experience living in a remote location for a week or two and really feel this slow rhythm of life that can be experienced only on a remote island.
Now there are different types of islands. Most of us are familiar with high islands that are created when a volcano erupts over the sea and then cools down and then as the volcano starts to fall into the ocean or creates valleys. This creates the geography of the islands that we know and love, like the islands of Hawaii, which are volcanic islands with one volcano as we know is still quite active on the big island of Hawaii.
Islands have a life-cycle like people, but their life-cycle is in the millions of years. Coral reef will form around many islands and when that happens the middle part of the island or the volcanic part of the island, the dead volcano itself, will start to fall into the sea at a very slow but steady rhythm.
This is accentuated by tectonic plates and their movement. The first stage of this type of island is the typical island that we know like Maui and so on.
Then, if a coral reef forms around the island, the next stage might be an island like Bora-Bora where a lagoon is formed around the island but the lagoon itself is surrounded by a coral reef where islets form. Eventually, this happens:
In Polynesian language these islets are called motus. If an island like Bora-Bora continues its life-cycle eventually the island itself will fall to the bottom of the sea and all that will be left is the lagoon, the coral reefs and some of the motus.
An atoll looks like this:
An atoll is the last stage of a coral reef volcanic island and it is a unique place in the world.
I’ve always been fascinated by atolls. I didn’t even know what they were until my first trip to French Polynesia.
In French Polynesia there is an archipelago called the Tuamotus with over 70 different atolls and each of them is unique. From Google maps:
Atolls themselves have a unique kind of life because very little grows on these motus. You have coconut trees and breadfruit and other kinds of vegetation but plenty of life, lots of birds.
It’s an incredible thing looking at an atoll lagoon and seeing how much life is happening at any one time. There are dolphins, sharks, turtles, whales, every kind of sea life imaginable.
The feeling that you get when you’re on a motu and an atoll is incredible. You really feel like you’re at the end of the world. You might walk from one side, the lagoon side, to the ocean side in just a few minutes. It can be a hundred, two hundred meters wide, and that’s it. Sometimes the villages will be organized around a road. Sometimes there are no main roads, no cars. It depends on the population of the atolls.
The atoll I visited is called Fakarava. This is a beautiful atoll known for its scuba diving.
I discovered that an amazing guesthouse or as we say in French, a pension, is situated on the southern side of the motus where there are no roads.
It’s far from the village so in order to get there you have to first fly into Tahiti and then take another one hour or so flight to Fakarava and then take a boat, which is going to take an hour and a half to get to this point of the atoll, the southern part of the atoll where the pension, Raimiti, is located.
In the pension, inside of the bungalows, there’s no electricity, only gas lamps. It is sort of a Robinson Crusoe experience.
However, there is electricity on the premises themselves, provided mostly by solar energy; on the restaurant side and inside of the reading area and so on. There’s no Internet either, but cell phones do work. For me it was not only an escape away from the modern world, so to speak, but also a digital detox – just you and the ocean and the quietness of it all.
My “Digital Detox”
I’ve been wanting to get away from the Internet for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it for more than one or two days at a time, even while on vacation.
I think the last time I completely disconnected from more than one or two days of was in 2008, and every time I tried to to disconnect a found myself extremely bored and just unable to to do it or missing that connection.
You want to text somebody, you want to tell them how it’s going. You want to check what’s going on elsewhere.
Instead, I spent a lot of time listening to the sounds of the ocean, reading, listening to music, chatting with people, and of course enjoying the lagoon. You can always meet new people that are coming in.
At first I was going to bed around 10, 11, and then I just started falling asleep at 9, and getting up before 6.
It seems like at some point when you remove all the distractions that your body requests some of the sleep it’s been missing for a while.
I felt an incredible sense of relief. There’s so much more to life than being connected and getting a Google answer whenever we need one.
We lost this habit of waiting. When I was younger, I used to order books in the mail and because I lived in Canada, they would take weeks to arrive.
Now we have Amazon, Prime shipping, two day free shipping, and Kindle books can be had instantly.
The same for movies. We used to have to drive to the Blockbuster or similar establishment to rent movies and DVDs and then return them. Now it’s all Netflix and downloadable movies.
When you add wait to your vocabulary something else can fill the void during the wait.
Boredom is another concept that we associate with negative things.
“There’s nothing to do.”
We’re used to filling all of our time with exciting things that we tend not to get bored too often.
I rediscovered the joys of boredom.
Every time I ask people who lived on Fakarava: “Don’t you miss the big city? Don’t you get bored here?”
And they always looked at me with this puzzled look on their face. “Bored? Why? I have everything here. It’s so beautiful. What when I go back to the city I miss it. I miss this.” And they point at the lagoon and the immensity of the ocean with the beautiful colors and I understand them.
Life can be simple. But the more complex it gets, the more we need to fill every minute of our time with something increasingly exciting and interesting. We forget how the little things can be fulfilling, like having an afternoon to yourself or listening to the sounds of the ocean.
If you ask me, “Would you have stayed longer? Are you eager to get back?”
To be honest, I would have stayed a lot longer than a week.
A part of me was eager to get back, but it’s only the part that wanted to tell others about this experience.
At the end of the trip, I felt like the island had shared something important with me — the atoll way of life started to become part of me.
So what are your thoughts? Have you ever done an Internet “detox”? Have you discovered any benefits from it? Share them below in the comment section.