'But no one could erase those small letters, those fly’s feet that Cadmus the Phoenician had scattered across Greece, where the wind had brought him in his quest for Europa carried off by a bull that rose from the sea.'
- Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony
A getaway, please. High time, yes, for an escape from reality. Winter and its gray have outstayed their welcome; now I would like some sun. A white sandy beach and some pineapple drink. Sunglasses, my big hat, and a book. My bags are packed, at least in my head. I travel, in my head too.
Palau: an island in the western Pacific Ocean. Two hundred, to be exact, with just under 21,000 inhabitants, limestone and volcanic rock. Each coated with luscious green forests, wrapped with a pristine shore, encased in a turquoise lagoon. Yes, the real world will not find me here.
A holiday in Palau would be cheap. A week in paradise, on sale: the country’s purchasing power parity is 80% lower than here. For a week, I could escape the pollution, noise, pace, problems, news, and winter, gorge myself with ripe fruits and denial that this cannot last forever.
My daydream flies me all the way to the airport. The sea is well in sight. I can almost taste the salt in the air, the pineapples, the coconuts. One last stop at Passport Control. My escape is almost complete. A bright blue stamp, a pen, one last formality: Please read, acknowledge, and sign.
‘Children of Palau, I take this pledge,
to preserve and protect your island home. Palau is the first country in the world to have a ‘green’ immigration policy.
The Palauan islands have been inhabited since 1,000 B.C. The conquistadors, however, did not come across them until the 16th century. They colonized, Christianized, traded, exploited, left. Now they come as tourists, leave their Diet Cokes on the shore and take bits of coral reef as souvenirs.
These getaways fuel the country’s economy, but degrade its environment; the annual number of tourists has reached seven times the population. They snorkel and suntan, wine dine and deplete, and after high season return to the real world… forgetting that Palau, too, is real.
As are the coral reefs, ozone layer, rainforests razed to the ground. The green lands turned deserts and ice caps turned liquid and flooding of seaside towns. As were the 10,178 species gone extinct this year…
so far; that number increases by one every five minutes approximately.
Real actions have real consequences and footprints leave deep imprints on the sand. Conservation is not a novel concept; Palau has been doing it for centuries. Villages have a bul system in place: a temporary halt on all fishing, whenever the number of fish in the sea has been observed to decline. Everybody abides by the ban until marine life has replenished; everybody understands that if they do not, everybody loses.
It takes a village. Actually, it takes an entire planet. A mass movement of little changes: like reusable bottles, not plastic. Like switching off the lights and eating in season, all-you-need rather than all-you-can. Taking walks, taking in the sights, taking only photos. Buying local, authentic souvenirs. Signing a pledge that children wrote to preserve and protect what is theirs. Being grateful, being careful as I lay on the sand, soak in the air and sea they lent me.
This is it; no getaway from this earth, however far away we try to run. And I would like Palau to still be beautiful when I do go there some day.
‘Children of Palau,
and everywhere else, I accept your pledge.
I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully.
I shall not take what is not given.
I shall not harm what does not harm me.
and most importantly,
The only footprints I will leave are those that will wash away.’