LOCATION: A Remote Island
DATE/NUMBER: Spring 2003/81
The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing
new landscapes, but in having new eyes -- Marcel Proust
Try to do the right thing, play it straigt
The right thing changes from state to state -- Soul Asylum
So I'm doing some globetrotting and decide to place a letterbox on one
of the islands I visit. The original letterbox at Cranmere Pool was
probably placed with the same motivation -- get somewhere cool, and leave
a memento for the next person who manages to get there -- the old cairn
at the top of the mountain or at Dettifoss kind of thing (try to get to
Dettifoss, its harder than it looks, at least it was when I did it).
I usually write my clues before I get to the place, and then find a place
that works. That way, I get the same problem solving enjoyment as those who
hunt my boxes. In this case, I wrote a couple sets of clues, and I'm
thinking about them on the flight over, and I'm not in love with them --
one set involves finding three landmarks on the island and triangulating
to the place, the other involves translating to the indigenous, extinct
language, requiring the hunter to figure out what language it is, then
translate back. I'm not in love with these ideas because I've done both
previously, and I usually like to try something new, or put a new spin
on something old.
So we touch down, I check into the lodge, and find I'm the only tourist
on the island! Its off season, of course, but that's never happened to
me before. A whole island to myself. Its one of those islands where
everyone knows everyone else, and there are less than 20 tourist beds, I
figure, and the only place to go out to dinner is closed along with
Its a beautiful place, and with no choice and nothing else to do, I
ask the lodge to make me dinner, and decide to go for a very light
two hour training run to take in the scenery and think about where to
drop the box. I do a loop thru the nature preserve behind the lodge,
thru the dunes and gnarled forest, spying a few cool places as possibilities,
then out the long drive and north up the main road, soaking in the scenery
of shimmering seas, windswept scrub and pasture land, and the stray
dense forest. Its a wet place, and a refreshing rain shower kicks up
while I'm running, but its one of those places where the rain disappears
just as fast as it appears. I do about 18K, not counting the
length of the trail run at the beginning, which took 22 minutes.
Dinner is an appetizer of fish from the island's large lagoon, followed
by baked catch of the day from offshore. I consider my clues over a glass
of the national cream drink whilst flipping thru the lodge's library. One
thing to think about when writing clues is making them what I call
"google proof"; most of my clues are that way (when I want them to be),
and working with the material in the lodge would be a good way to get
that done. On the wall of the lodge is this huge topographical map
of the island -- a mapsurfer's dream -- with this right there, the
triangulation idea really comes into focus.
One of the attractions of the island is a rara avis called P. magenta
or something like that -- I'm not much a birder, but their location seems
like a cool thing to be one of the points of the triangle. This one is a
crown jewel of birding -- or so I gather from one of the books on the shelf --
but then I learn of something even rarer in the island group, so rare you
need a permit to visit, so that idea is out -- I can't even get a bag of
cheese noodles around here, much less a permit.
I decide to take a walk. One of the best things about traveling to remote,
relatively undeveloped places, is the lack of light pollution. You'll be
blown away by the stars. I could still see Orion up there, but he had much
more company than I'm used to.
The next day I decide to visit the famous carvings near the abandoned
airstrip. This seems the sort of place to place a letterbox, and is
certainly a cool word that probably has never been used in a clue -- at
least I bet Ryan would appreciate it. But the place is spiritual,
mystical, and magical, and probably the only place of its kind on the
planet. I'm not particularly keen on placing letterboxes in sacred
places (indigenous or otherwise), and hope all letterboxers/geocachers
reading this agree with me.
So I drive back to the lodge. One thing I notice about this island is
that almost every driver waves when you pass them. I think that's cool,
the way islands seem to develop their own traditions, like the Faeroes
with their singing, and Kihnu with its dress and its strange dialect.
I decide to drop the box at one of the cool locations in the nature
preserve, and then go back to the lodge and write the clues. I find a
distinct nubbin in the middle of the area, then find a great hiding
nook at 300 degrees, 12 paces from the nubbin, under a triangular
rock. I'm a big believer in making the last part of the clue explicit,
no matter how complicated the clue, so people won't have to tear up the
area, even tho it is their responsibility not to.
Back at the lodge they are having a party. The place was
as dead as a doorknob the night before. Turns out some locals have booked
it for an after christening celebration. They invite me into the mix of
a blowout dinner of local fish and crayfish. The dream of all true
travelers -- the authentic, serendipitous local experience. Being an
American, they start asking me about the war. I've traveled enough to
know never talk politics in a foreign land, especially after a vineyard's
worth of wine has been drained and in a county where the locals are
reportedly pretty intensely anti-war.
But the islanders turned out to be hawks. C., with his pony tail
and cowboy hat tells me we waited way to long to drop the bombs. R.
tells me all the anti-war politics is "bull****", underneath it all
if someone tried to blow up my buildings and was building more nasty
weapons, I'd blow them off the map as well. G. turns out to be the only
dove of the group, and asks me if I know George Bush personally, and
tells me to tell him to keep his fingers out of other peoples' pie. I
decide to keep my opinions to myself, but am amazed about how astute
and knowledgeable the islanders are about the issues, occurring half a world
Meanwhile, F. tells me he came to the island a few years ago to watch
the sunrise, and never left, but the locals have yet to accept him, while
K. is trying to figure out how to fire the cannon on the lodge's front
porch, when he makes the mistake of asking the owner for help, who takes
the powder away.
That's when jacks and joints break out. Joints I'll leave to the role of
the reader, being a "basically legal" activity according to R., who tells
me the fine is only $100, or $56 of my dollars, less than a speeding ticket.
Jacks is a drinking game that is best played when the bar is part of the party,
and doesn't have to worry about tort law as in the States. The way
the islanders played this game was to take a deck of playing cards,
remove the cards lower than 7s, and deal out one card at a time to everyone
sitting at the bar. First person dealt a jack picks any drink on the bar
(the more obnoxious, the better), the second person buys the drink, the third
sips it, and the fourth "skols it". I'm not much of a drinker, but its nice
to find places on the planet where the locals keep fun legal.
So then I decided to tinker around with my letterbox clue. I found a
dictionary of the extinct, indigenous language on the bookshelf, which
noted that this was the first publication of it since the 1800s.
Definitely "google proof" and my idea of the cool, obscure stuff that
requires real detective work that can be the fodder of letterbox clues.
I noted that the specific area of the box placement translated pretty well
as "pohatu ngaherehere". But then I noticed there was no grammar to go
with the vocabulary, which would have meant doing word-substitution over an
English gloss rather than a real translation, which is pretty lame.
Additionally, there was English to indigenous, but no indigenous to English,
which would have made tedious work for the solver. But the kicker was that
there was no word for "Northwest", despite words for most of the other
directions, and there was no way I was gonna go out and move the box to make
it work with the words I had, like I often do.
So instead, I thought about how to do a clue that would best capture my
experience of the island.