By Dick Jordan
Forget it. You aren’t going to this place in the sun: Ujae, Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Why plunk down $1,600-plus for a twenty-hour trip to the middle of the Pacific Ocean when you can get to Hawaii “on the cheap” thanks to a United Airlines air-fare sale? And that huge wad of cash is only going to get you as far as Majuro, the capital city.
The local airline may no longer fly from Majuro to Ujae even on a Maybe-Tomorrow-Maybe-Next-Week “schedule.” The supply boat visits Ujae only three or four times a year, but finding out when it is going to sail is problematic.
Even if you did manage to get to Ujae, you could get stuck there for weeks or months before being able to hitch a ride off-island. And on Ujae you won’t find any resorts, Internet service, or other “creature comforts” that American tourists demand.
But you can vicariously visit this tiny atoll: Read Peter Rudiak-Gould’s book, Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island.
A naïve Rudiak-Gould headed off to this speck of land set among thousands of square miles of ocean with a noble purpose: Spend a year teaching little children of the Third World to read, write, and speak English. After being reviled and nearly driven mad by his impish charges, he turned out to be the student, learning to speak Marshallese, learning how to spearfish in the lagoon, and learning about Kindness, Generosity, and Communalism in a society where getting along with the neighbors is an essential “survival skill.”
At the end of those twelve months, Peter was considered a “local” by the locals. He realized that his mind had become attuned to life on Ujae, but that his heart was still firmly anchored in Western civilization. So here was his dilemma: Stay in “paradise” or return to America? He could have tarried at least another year in this Not-Quite-Eden. What did he do? You will have to read the book to find out.
You can buy “Surviving Paradise” from Book Passage. We have this wonderful piece of armchair-travel literature thanks to Andy Ross, former owner of the late, great Cody’s Books in Berkeley, California, and now a literary agent for writers like Peter Rudiak-Gould. Ross has been on the faculty at the annual Book Passage Travel, Food, & Photography Conference; he taught the class “Finding and Working with an Agent” on January 8, 2011 at Book Passage’s Corte Madera store.
(From time to time travel writer Dick Jordan posts book reviews under the “Armchair Travel” section of his blog, Tales Told From The Road. His last post to the Book(ed) Passage blog was “The Anti-Bucket List.”
When he isn’t traveling, you can usually find him hanging out with other members of Left Coast Writers at the Book Passage Corte Madera store on the evening of the first Monday of each month.)