Far enough southeast off the coast of Somalia where the threat of pirates does not pervade day-to-day life (albeit perhaps in a loose macroeconomic way), Seychelles (pronounced: sāˈSHelz) is the political designation of an archipelago of 115 tropical islands, all of which sit about halfway between Africa and the South Asian Subcontinent, which (I must admit) is a bit misleading because although each island is dotted w/ lush, tropical vegetation, inhabited by exotic species, and circumscribed by elegant beaches lined w/ the clearest white sand and the most pristine water, the measly (documented) population of 100,000 primarily inhabits only 3 islands: Mahé, Praslin & La Digue. I’m here.
Handing over 3 tickets, we cross the dock onto the ferry. My father motions to the top floor. An employee – bulky, broad-chested – holds his hand out and points to the lower deck.
——— Sorry sir, your tickets are for the lower deck.
Frustrated, my father looks back to the ticket office where he was under the impression that he had just paid for upper deck tickets.
F ——— Whatthefuckman?
——— Sorry, sir.
F ——— We can still, you know, climb up when the boat’s in motion, right?
——— Of course, sir.
We step inside and find three adjacent, non-reclining seats lined w/ the same quasi-velvet upholstery you’d expect to find in a $1 movie theatre. The air smells of nothing particular; it’s sterile: it smells of tourism.
The beauty (and economic significance, perhaps) of Seychelles lies in what hasn’t been done: its absence of human intervention. Here, the sunlight feels crisper against the skin; here, the water redefines blue; here, at night, Andromeda is visible to the naked eye. Above all, man and beast harmonize rather than conflict. By this, I don’t mean to suggest the feral coexistence of the Indian subcontinent: the harmony of necessity, of utility-maximization. Rather, Seychellois coexistence is willing, unforced, agential. In fact, green and blue lizards make good company whenever the A/C is cranked full blast inside my bedroom.
While Seychelles is wild and untamed, it is peaceful above all. Life here serves as a gentle reminder of both how nonexistent the division is between what we construe as natural and what we deem artificial and also how simple human reintegration is w/ so-called-untouched nature.
Yet, so easy is this experience pimped.
First glance ethnic observation: >75% of the population onboard is Caucasian. The engine kicks into gear. The TV monitor switches on. A dark-skinned employee cues the safety video on his console: standard protocol minus the disproportionate attention given to refreshments available on board (unless I’m mistaken and excess is the benchmark).
As the video concludes, the Creole up front begins fidgeting again w/ the console. Now, while the ship’s onboard legroom was closer to that of an Amtrak Reserved Coach™ than a Greyhound StudentSaver™ (let alone a United Domestic Economy™), I felt claustrophobic. Yet, the source was neither the lengthxwidthyheightz of each undesignated seat nor the proximityπr2 between the sweaty non-natives and I. Rather, it was situation against context: the semi-translucent mirrors that bounded the left and right sides of the lower cabin.
On Mahé’s coastline, the Indian Ocean stretches to infinity, interrupted only by other even more remote islands. Yet, through these windows tainted by dust, particle, and sweat, that infinity was framed, packaged, and positioned beside a $. In essence, the infinite compressed into the quantifiable.
As the employee up front stops tinkering, another video loads up onto all the screens staggered along the lower deck. Fellow passengers turn to the monitors. System 1 faithful, I too look up to one of the screens positioned halfway up the extended cabin. Buffering for a moment, an episode of Just for Laughs: Gags begins.
A man pretends to be electrocuted as he crosses a metal fence. In traditional gag-video fashion, the footage is looped before that silent, uncalculated expression of shock is recaptured from different camera angles. All the while, a laugh track echoes behind the standard-definition video.
I immediately detach my attention from the screen. Passengers around me smirk. Some even laugh. Then, the gag repeats, this time on a new victim. Cue the same expression of shock, the same camera shifts, the same use of background laugh track. It’s cyclical.
A few more sever the umbilical, but still, even more remained attached.
My brother and I exchange mutual looks of disgust. Even as I approached the final leg of a journey through which I hoped to escape consumerist intoxication, here it came back to haunt.
R ——— Tryna head up?
A ——— Yeah, let’s go.
Pushing past the flimsy lower deck door, all three of us stand outside and watch Mahé recede behind the splashing current. The sky is overcast, and the greyish white billowing clouds encircle Mahé like a lustrous halo. We climb up the steps to the top floor.
Just for Laughs: Gags continues to run, but up here few people give it notice: only the children, if anything. The top deck built w/ sides exposed, brave souls could venture out to the ledges if they wished to be battered by the wind and pricked by violent beads of water.
My brother and I swing out left to port, doing our best to avoid being swept off the ship’s side by the relentless bobbing motion. Two hands on the outermost railing, I strain my neck right. Tropical gusts beat against my face. Nothing but open ocean. I face forward. Again, nothing but open ocean. Behind us, Mahé is indiscernible in the receding fog.
The water stares back at me, emotionless. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if I was out there, alone. How long could I bear unquenchable thirst before I would drink the salty ocean, even though I knew it would only dehydrate me further? How long could I paddle before I would drown? How long would it be before I lost my mind? How long could my will hold out?
The waves keep rolling, but the ocean tells nothing. It only stares back, calmly, meditatively. Here I was — a land animal — conquering the seas. Yet, somehow, it felt wrong, undeserved. How many generations before me had looked at the same water and saw impenetrability? How many men before had looked at this same water and seen impossibility, insurmountability?
I sit down on the ledge, resting my Hyperdunk-laced-feet against the moist railing. Crossing this stretch of ocean was easy, by any means. I simply had to surrender over the cost of a nice dinner to a broad-chested employee and park my ass in a seat for 50 minutes. But where was the glory in that? Where was the integrity?
I felt no different from those still glued to the TV monitors downstairs.
While I had separated myself from temporal, consumerist pleasure, that did not bring me any closer to the ocean, to the all-consuming natural. Here I was, my ass parked on a lateral walkway instead of abused velvet, reaping the fruits of labor that was not mine, could not be mine.
I knew I would feel no different if I was instead captain of the ship.
Because I craved neither knowledge nor control of the ship; I desired self-sufficiency: absolute autonomy. Watching the dispassionate waves roll over each other and crash against the ship, I craved to be in the ocean, alone, w/out supplies, w/out help, thriving.
Yet, I knew that I desired impossibility.
We cannot live w/in competitive-advantage-driven-modernity and likewise be self-sufficient. These lifestyles are at ends w/ another. So I wondered: is self-sufficiency merely the ability to survive in all conditions, or is it the ability to do everything to survive in all conditions?
Deep w/in me, I felt that self-sufficiency lay in the means, rather than the ends. Its personification is more Rambo than it is Scarface, at least in my view. If not, then a case is to be made that a 500 lb. couch potato w/ the money (and familial support, I assume) to maintain a lifestyle of watching television and eating potato chips indefinitely is more self-sufficient than a nomadic hunter living in a decaying forest absent of much edible flora and fauna. The threat of death to the nomadic hunter’s existence looms much larger, and hence, he must be the less self-sufficient.
So, even if we accept that self-sufficiency lies in the means, we are forced to ask: do we clutch to an antiquated maxim of self-sufficiency? Perhaps. Why should the self-sufficiency of the prehistoric be the same gauge by which we peg our modern selves to? Over the past 10,000 years, we have evolved, perhaps not substantially in the biological, but w/in the realm of the technological, we may as well consider ourselves a different species. Specialization yielded industry and our world became driven by the economics of comparative advantage. If true, then we should view self-sufficiency not in what all we are able to do to survive, but rather in how little we must do to survive.
So then, is fat — not muscle — the most evolved of human flesh?
I continue to watch the waves roll over, my stomach growing increasingly queasy. In through the nose, out through the mouth: I began breathing meditatively. Up and down and up and down: the ship continued to rock and I could feel undigested airplane food swim and gurgle inside my stomach. Breathe, breathe, w/ control of the breath comes control of the body. For the sake of Columbus, Magellan, da Gama, I had to stay out here, I had to prove to myself that I was not like the men and woman still glued to the TV monitors downstairs; I was different: I was a relic of the age-old self-sufficient.
Up and down and up and down and up and down. A glob of semi-processed Air Seychelles biscuit began to rise up my throat. Relax your face, breathe, dammit, keep breathing. This was nothing I couldn’t take. After all, I was one of the old guard.
Up and down and up and down and up and down: that partly dissolved glob continues to rise. I couldn’t do it.
A ——— I’m going to head inside.
R ——— For sure, I’m going to stay out here.
Clutching the railing, I dash inside and find an empty seat behind my father. His eyes were closed; he didn’t notice me. Up and down and up and down. I shut my eyes and continue to breathe. Up and down and up and down. Even behind closed eyes, my vision grows dizzy. The glob continues its slow rise. I rush down to the first floor.
Rather than completely descend, I sit on the steps between decks. Catching my breath, I look out to the ocean, watching the streams of water cascade behind the throttling engine. The glob of liquefying biscuit held static. As a few strangers pass me on the left, my vision grows a little less blurry. My brother comes down.
R ——— The water was hitting me like bullets after you left.
Up and down and up and down. I don’t say a word. Up and down and up and down. My brother goes inside. Up and down and up and down. I feel the glob again start to rise. Breathe, breathe, goddammit. Up and down and up and down. I give in. Standing up, I push the lower level door open and search for the bathroom. I notice many still glued to the television monitor.
Door. Handle. Twist. Open. Close. Twist. Lock. Toilet. Spew.
The whole time I spend hurling C++ grade airplane food, I can’t help but wonder what a small target this toilet bowl is. Maybe I was in the kids’ bathroom; it wouldn’t surprise me. My stomach empty a few minutes later, I look over to the sink, take a couple steps and twist open the faucet. Cupping water in my hands, I bring it up to my lips. Just as I began to gargle out the sour taste in my mouth, the ship comes to a stop.
With that, I had conquered the seas.