10 Things You'll Miss When You Live On An Island

Written by Jennifer Ritchie

I should start out by saying that I have been living on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean for the past 10 months.

I wake up in the morning with a balmy sea breeze fluttering through the louvers and gently lifting the white cotton sheets from my feet. The sights and sounds of nature fill the house from the birds flying in through any open door to snack on bananas, to the hummingbirds delicately feeding from the nectar of the Aloe Vera in the garden. The palm trees rustle noisily in the wind and as the sun rises higher in the sky the smells of Caribbean spiced cooking fill the air. At night the huge hermit crabs scurry to their underground lairs and the tree frogs begin their high pitched chorus completely out of tune with the crickets!

The mosquitoes are vicious by day and by night. Any food not in the fridge ends up wriggling with tiny bugs, especially staples like pasta, rice and flour. Forget sugar – the ants will have it before you get there! You get used to living with bugs: there are tarantulas which are apparently not too dangerous, but there is a flesh eating spider that is rare. There are wild goats and donkeys and horses and mad crazy drivers and music and people walking.



Solace can be found in the sea and on the beaches, which are a feast for the eyes and a drink for your heart. I will never tire of looking at the shades of blue over shallow reefs and rocky coastlines of watching the water in ceaseless motion, of feeling the cycles of the moon on the tides, the fine white sand, the green Manchineel trees growing right on the beach, the shells and the driftwood.

How do I feel living here? At times trapped by the constraints of such a small island, the inadequacies of supplies, the expense of everything and the constant decay of anything precious. At other times I am freed by the ability to go anywhere or see anyone in a day and to always be able to see the ocean and devour the views and to be part of life surrounded by nature. I don’t read the newspapers or follow the celebrity trends. I meet people and ask them about their lives instead.

The supply ships come once a week, on a Tuesday. We get what comes in, as long as we shop on Wednesday! We miss everything that seemed normal to us before. Fruit and vegetables are simply seasonal, so I haven’t seen an orange for 6 months now.

The government charges fierce duty, often as high as 65% on importing goods, so we don’t dare have parcels sent from family or orders from online shopping. We just live sparsely, until we have the long awaited trip off the island to England or America or wherever and then we tend to SHOP!!!

So what do I shop for? Here is my top 10 list of things that I miss from mainland life:

When I booked my recent flight back to Ireland, the first thing I hunted for was tickets to a show. I miss the arts here! Ballet or stand-up, musical or drama, it doesn’t really matter too much as I like it all – the tickets, the dressing up, the anticipation, the dimming of the lights and then the curtains lift and I am enraptured and inspired.

I have a ridiculous love affair with books and bookshops. There is no spending limit when I get into a bookshop and I tend to spend hours browsing all of the different sections – latest bestsellers (to get some easy beach reading), cookbooks (they never help my culinary skills but I just LOVE reading mouth-watering recipes), classics (I always feel the need to read another classic that escaped me while at school! I am currently reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for the first time!), children’s books (I tend to go a bit mad here, for the children obviously), crafting inspiration (for my next hobby….).

Sunscreen, mosquito repellent, anti-histamine, meds. Obviously you can get these things on the island, however they all come with a caveat: they have either expired, gone off pre-expiry or are the most chemical-laden products that have been banned in most other countries! I fill my suitcase with all the brands that I know and love so that I am ready for the return to island life….

Oh, and toothpaste!  I am so stuck in my ways that I love to get the brands that I know. The list is always long on this one, from moisturisers to face masks and scrubs, make up, make up remover, hair products, etc. You know what you need (and what sometimes what you need to make you just feel good!). The surf hair seems like a good idea until you actually have it!

With haphazard internet connections and regular power outages, magazines make me feel as if I am in touch with the world even if hopelessly out of date (when 3 months later I find myself still re-reading the same magazines). The printed word is always available and needs no charging or waiting. It is instant gratification and the extra joy of snipping out favourite articles and sticking them in a real scrapbook. I am all for Pinterest but when you are relying on island-style internet, it might just take forever to load.

With all of these stunning views on an island paradise it would be a shame not to capture them, so a pocket size digital camera is a priority. I managed to drop my last one and the sand reduced its capability drastically! With a new camera I also get a new hobby, as island life gives you back one thing that mainland life has robbed us of – time. My new task, with that extra time, is to actually learn how my camera works and to try out all of those extra buttons and functions!

I have decided to learn Shibori. It seems to be all the rage everywhere, so I bought the book, the dye and the bits and pieces of fabric that I intend to try my new techniques on. I know it’s a lot like tie-dye, so it fits in perfectly with beach chic style too. The children want to learn how to knit and sew, so I also get some brilliant kits that are available inexpensively in the hobby store. I might secretly borrow some needles and wool in the evenings myself too, and make some groovy scarves for our next trip back ‘home’.

Family games like Monopoly, Backgammon and card games like Dobble are just wonderful to have in the house. As a young family we don’t have very much choice at the moment so it is fun to pick out a new game together. Friday night is movie night and Sunday night is time for a family game. I love building our own family traditions!

And socks! To escape the locally available choice of polyester or nylon socks (hot, hot feet anyone?), I stock up on cotton socks. Also a new outfit to replace a sun faded one from my closet is a good idea. Sunscreen stains white clothes hideously and white is the best colour in the heat – typical!

10.  FOOD
Nuts and seeds typically. They are so expensive here. Random ingredients for Thai food and condiments that remind me of home are good too. Then, whatever is in season on the island I can put in a Thai curry or stir fry and everyone is happy.

As I have been writing this list, I have been thinking about these things that I miss. None of them are really essential.

Living on an island, we get used to a simpler life with less distractions of the modern world. We spend more time with family and friends. Children are satisfied to play outside in the greatest natural playground that there is. We need the media to track hurricanes as life depends on that. But we don’t need to be brain washed by constant propaganda.

Perhaps our minds are narrowing to the closeness of the shores of the island, or are we being liberated to explore the power of our own creativity and community instead?