When someone recommends that you read a book called “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” because “It’s really funny” and “You’ll like it a lot” you really can’t help but be curious. What exactly was it about me that made someone recommend a book with this title? The truth is, the book has very little to do with cannibals or their sex lives. It does have to do with the author, J. Maarten Troost, who decides to join his girlfriend when she gets a job offer in the South Pacific. Because honestly, could anything be better than living on an island paradise?
“We began packing. It was a high stakes game of If you were stuck on a desert island…”
The answer to that question is yes. A lot of things are better than living on an island. I hate the term “laugh out loud funny,” but this book is actually laugh out loud funny. After visiting and living in countries that, how do I say, lack certain creature comforts, I found this book highly relatable. But beyond that, it’s just a fun read.
“In the late afternoon, after a hard day of thinking, I usually went biking. Sometimes I turned left and went down the atoll, sometimes I turned right and went up the atoll, but mostly I wished I had somewhere else to bike.”
Maarten and his girlfriend Sylvia head out to the unknown with very unreasonable ideas of what an island is really like. He makes the unfortunate mistake of packing sweaters on an island that is only two temperatures: hot or hotter. They accidentally leave behind their music and are subjected to the islands favorite song “Le Macarena” which is played on repeat over their two-year stint. Having items flown in costs a small fortune and most packages never arrive due to the lack of mailing addresses. And, on top of all of that, they only have one type of food available. Fish.
“ ‘You see,’ said Bwenawa. ‘The water dries in the sun, leaving the salt. It’s tasty. We call it salt fish.’
‘Ah,’ I said. ‘In my country we call it rotten fish.’ “
One of my favorite parts of the book describes the bathroom situation. If you follow my blog, or know me, you know ridiculous toilets are one of my favorite topics when on the road. I’ve found tarantulas in bathrooms and also stood in bathrooms that were one butterfly landing away from collapsing. However, I’ve never swam in a toilet, and here Maarten has me beat. He decided to go for a lovely swim in the ocean one day when he saw a giant man take a dump in the very same water.
“When he was done, he wiped himself with sticks. Not leaves. Sticks. Small branches. Twigs. And they were coming my way. Riding the ebbing tide, the sticks homed in on me. I became the North Star for s***-encrusted sticks. Whichever way I moved, and I was moving very quickly, these sticks seemed to follow. They were closing in. I began to curse. In Dutch. This only happens when something primal is stirred.”
Beyond the ridiculous experiences, he also shares his journey of adapting to a brand new culture. One that has almost nothing in common with his own. The government officials drink all day. The airplane lands on an airstrip covered by stray pigs. Women are considered “the guardians of the culture.” And my favorite, there’s a system of asking for things which one cannot refuse. This discourages anyone from making money or owning anything too nice because anyone could just come and ask to have it. And you’d have to say yes!
If you can appreciate sarcasm and have ever asked yourself the question, “What would I do if I was deserted on an island?” then this is the book for you. I honestly can’t recommend it enough. It’s witty and full of interesting facts that you’ll never really need to know. Mostly, it highlights a totally different culture and reminds you to be thankful for running water, air conditioning, and food other than fish.
What’s your favorite travelogue? Share in the comments, so I can check it out!
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.