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A Journey to the Disappointment Islands (bbc.com)
120 points by tin7in 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

Fascinating story -- and the author really lucked out in that the technicians were there at the same time, because just showing up in places like this without making arrangements is not a good idea.

For comparison, some thoughts about the opposite end of the spectrum for Pacific travel:


While it's nice to read a negative review of a Fijian trip for a change, I wish you'd made it more obvious that your experience was limited to the most boilerplate tourist resort island (Denarau) and one other aussie-owned resort.

It's a bit like going to Disneyland and complaining about the manufactured happiness there.

There are 300 other islands in Fiji off the extremely well-beaten path you walked where your experience could have been very different. Or you could have just visited a village that isn't part of any pre-packaged travel tour to find that in fact most rural Fijians will be extremely welcoming, hospitable, and amazing with kids without any expectation of payment.

Fair enough, but it's worth pointing out that Denarau & the Mamanuca island resorts are the "Fiji experience" for the vast majority of visitors to the island. I need to rewrite that last paragraph though...

> Denarau & the Mamanuca island resorts are the "Fiji experience"

Denarau is mostly multinational chain resorts (Accor, Sheraton, etc) so yes the experiences there are pretty boilerplate and "manufactured".

But there are numerous different resorts of all shapes and sizes in the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands. There are resorts owned by foreigners like the one you went to, resorts owned by locals, resorts for backpackers, resorts run by their owners, and 5 star resorts. To assume you'll get the same there is like walking into McDonalds and saying that all restaurant food is crap.

Indeed, a terribly interesting read.

I have a couple friends who have a knack of landing on their feet like that. Somehow, they can plan nothing and experience everything in great intimacy and depth. It's a skill. I have no doubt that if the technicians were not there at the same time, some other opportunity would have arisen.

If the technicians had not been there, the author would have stayed on the slightly large island for a week instead of going to the tiny island too. Perfectly OK I think.

Despite the questionable tactic of forcing oneself uninvited upon the hospitality of a group who hasn’t seen a visitor in 20 years, the writing was absolutely wonderful and it’s the first long-form article I’ve found on HN that I read all the way through in one sitting, which is pretty high praise. I would like to read a book of similar stories at some point.

> questionable tactic

Keep in mind that this is what all travel used to be like before tourism grew to where it is today. Done right, as in this story, it's a net positive for all involved.

I've done similar things a handful of times over the years, rocking up in remote places without any infrastructure to deal with tourists, hoping for a bit of luck in finding a place to sleep.

But here's the thing. It's not like you show up in these places like the stereotypical loud american demanding things and handing your wheelie duffel to the first local you see. It's more like the give and take you have when hitching a ride, essentially paying for your lift with fun conversation and wild stories, and by being an "interesting thing that happened" in this other person's life.

There's a little fishing village on the Pacific coast of Columbia with a river behind it containing fifty zillion perfect skipping rocks, accumulated over the millennia in front of a population who had never though to try skipping them. And now there's a batch of kids, teenagers now, who know how to do that thanks to that "English" couple who rocked up unannounced that one time, stayed at Linda's house, bought fish from the guys on the beach and sometimes spent their evenings sharing un-refrigerated beers with the locals in front of the depósito.

If you ever find yourself just about off the map someplace, I'd recommend making the effort to step over the edge once in a while to see what's there.

It sort of doesn't matter either how things used to be, or how polite you are.

He had the opportunity to make things easier on his hosts. He was even told to do so by the travel agent. He chose not to. Romantic as you may consider it, that makes him rude.

I despise the attitude of this reporter. Showing up unannounced in this place without doing research, and not having enough supplies to survive. It seems arrogant that the community you impose yourself upon will take you in and support your gallivanting around their homes.


This person essentially behaved like a child who couldn't even be bothered to notify his implicit hosts beforehand of his arrival and extended stay.

Then he writes as if he's doing them a favor not wanting to inconvenience them. The reality is he's being a lazy selfish jerk.

They literally had to monitor his hydration for him and coddle him like an invalid.

He was irritating. I cringed on behalf of the people of that island. He also ignored another important thing, what will happen if the beetles kill off the coconut trees, that would be horrible for the people on the island.

> I cringed on behalf of the people of that island

From his (entirely believable account) they seemed pretty happy he was there.

Unfortunately for the islanders, their homes may be under water due to rising sea levels caused by global warming before the beetles destroy all the trees.

There's always breadfruit! (And Elaeis guineensis, of all things...)


"In fact, Severo said that no-one could recall the last time a non-Polynesian had come to Tepoto – certainly not in their lifetimes."

I have a feeling this island is about to get quite a few visits from readers of the BBC...

I doubt it. The process of getting to the island sounded prohibitively difficult for all but the most motivated travelers.

And potable water is a challenge. When basic necessities require heroic engineering, tourists go elsewhere.

Tourism is one of the great tragedies of the commons, and really tough nut to crack too.

Yeah. I like to go where few people have gone before, but that's not something that works when everyone does it. Maybe artificial attractions (Disneyland and the like) can absorb a large part of tourism, deflecting tragedy.

But when you crack the nut, you get coconut water!

There's nothing quite so colonialist as jotting down "ISLANDS OF DISAPPOINTMENT" on your map for generations of future travelers to see because the locals responded to your desire to pillage their food supply by threatening you with spears and chucking rocks at your party.

If their interaction was going to be similar to any other interaction with polynesians from Byron's excursion, it would have involved trading goods for food.

Hey look, if you threaten to kill me, and chase me off before I can ask you what the name of your island is, then on the maps for my own people, I get to name it whatever I want!

Wouldn’t have mattered, anyway. Being a 18th century Brit and thus totally lacking any cultural sensitivities, Byron probably would have named the islands after the King’s favorite fox hunting hound.

Because a ship full of people dying of scurvy can't be 'in need'?

what a wonderfully well written news story from an organization I don't normally expect to invest in long form writing. Andrew Evans is a rising prolific writing journalist.

I enjoyed it as well, and then it occurred to me that his buildup and the way he just dropped in on them and would be stuck for a period of time read like Ford Prefect researching for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I was left wondering if that was planned or something that crossed his mind during the trip.

So will this be ruined within months?

The BBC has a program called The Travel Show, I’m guessing this might be an item in the next episode...

Dude, I gotta go see that coconut tree...

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