Because they are both beautiful and bountiful, many of the small Polynesian islands that litter the South Pacific are dangerous places. At the first sight of such beguiling shores, too many men fall in love and jump ship, foolishly believing that they have found a paradise where the mangoes are never wormy and worrying is against the law.
On any of a hundred Polynesian islands noted for their largess, a man—if he is not careful—can waste away in the midst of plenty. Although an island rat can get along on the fruit of a single palm, a man who tries to do so usually finds he cannot live by coconuts alone. Even the lovely hibiscus blossom that abounds on the islands is edible—sea turtles relish it, and man can stomach it—but it is not nourishing. The man who goes to paradise to spend the rest of his days quite often finds after only a month that his senses are surfeited and starting to decay. The hibiscus and the dancing colors of the lagoon fade and are wasted on the eye. In time even the mango loses its taste, and only the worm remains. Although none of the island songs mentions it, it is a fact that paradise has a sneaky way of turning a complex man into a discontented vegetable.
To live in paradise, or even to enjoy one of the islands briefly, an outlander needs certain built-in credentials. Consider, for example, the case of 27-year-old Erwin Christian (no relation to the Bounty mutineer) as he stood in the Tahiti airport five years ago on a fine June day. In the last minutes before he was to board a jet and leave paradise, perhaps forever, Christian was both sad and happy. He had spent seven weeks on Tahiti, scratching out a living and enjoying life. During work hours and off hours, he had learned the byways and folkways of the island. He had wandered through the cloudy mountains of Tahiti and, with a tank on his back, had explored the undersea scarps that surround it.
In the year before he quit ship in Tahiti, Christian had courted—or at least had flirted with—various attractive islands of the Atlantic and the Pacific. Although he had liked them all, he had been able to leave each behind with the cool detachment of a sailor who knows he will always find another port and another love. But somehow Tahiti caught him. It was perhaps only because Tahitians have a festive way of making departure almost impossible. Christian's farewell party, a relatively modest Tahitian affair, started in midafternoon the day before he was scheduled to leave. He spent the night wining, dining, beering, dancing, singing and saying goodby to close friends, as well as to a great many people whom he had never seen before.
On the morning of his departure, Christian's farewell party became motorized. Somebody fetched an island passenger truck. Two dozen of the goodby party climbed aboard and kept on drinking beer and eating and saying goodby to Christian as they traveled with him around the island enjoying scenery they had all seen often before. At the airport bar the party kept on drinking beer and saying good by to Christian, who by that time was the perfect image of a man happily disintegrating in the tropics. His clothes were rumpled, his brow was damp and he was brimming over with beer. In the past 20 hours so many friends and strangers had draped fragrant leis and strings of shell beads around his neck that by takeoff time his nose barely cleared the top layer and breathing came hard.
Since the other passengers were already aboard, an airline stewardess said to Christian, "You must come now. We are taking off."
As Christian gazed blearily at the stewardess over the mound of flowers and shells that were stifling him, a bit of Shakespeare's metric wisdom crossed his mind: "We must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures."
"I am not going," Christian said.
"But you must go," the stewardess insisted. "Your bags are already on."
"Take them away," Christian replied. At this, his friends cheered. Then, still cheering, they took Christian back to his thatch house, where they continued the farewell party.