Spending Christmas with the Lighthouse Keeper on Remote Palagruza

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July 3, 2018 – Part two of Carmen Tomasic’s experience of swapping life in sophisticated Sydney to a month with the lighthouse keeper on one of Croatia’s most remote islands – Palagruza. The perfect place for a family Christmas… Read part one here.

Food supplies and Palagruza.

It sounded simple enough. Deserted island, no shops, no supplies, but an ocean full of fish which Ivo would catch every day, so we’d eat like kings. Meaning, just one big shopping trip required to stock up on dry supplies for the month before we left and we were good.

Wait. For…. the…. month.

Don’t be fooled, this isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.

I don’t even know what I want to eat for breakfast tomorrow, how do I decide on what I want to eat for a whooooolllleeee month!? What if I crave chocolate on day 22 but already ate the last of it on day 20!? How do you ration for chocolate!?? It’s an emotional eat, your go to comfort food, how do I know how many PMS days I’ll be gifted with on a remote island?

And I mean, have you ever had to actually consider how much milk you drink in a month!?? No, of course you haven’t. Noone knows that! Noone!!!

Well, except Ivo.

Ivo grabs the trolley and in true man style (hating shopping and wanting to get it done as quickly as possible), he routinely bustles through the aisles chucking in what he needs in bulk. It sort of feels like one of those reality tv shows, where someone wins a shopping spree and has to chuck as many items into their trolley as they can, within fifteen minutes to get it all for free.

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RUUUUUUUNNNN THERE’S NO TIME TO WASTE!! TAKE IT AAAALLLLLLLLLLL!

This won’t do. I need to be a little more thoughtful in my approach.

As he charges ahead, I start getting all Einstein and working out the mathematical equations of what I’ve eaten over the past few weeks, hoping to find some logical pattern that will help me decide what I’m going to really need.

I eventually narrowed my essentials down to- iced coffee, milk, chocolate biscuits, nutella, pickles and frozen fruit. (I trusted Ivo had all the really important stuff covered).

When we left for Palagruza, I was feeling optimistic. We were prepared.

What I wasn’t prepared for, was the wonderful bug I’d picked up thanks to the Egyptian water- which is known to stay dormant in your stomach for up to a few weeks before it kicks in.

Within days of arriving on Palagruza, this little friend comes to visit, and I spend about five days in a fit of throwing up. Remember how I said you don’t want to be sick here? I was talking from experience. I couldn’t eat a thing, I could barely drink water, I felt like I was going to diiiiie. It was hell and there was no remedy, help or relief in sight.

The upside of this however, was it meant I was five days up on my food rations. Woohooo!

So when I recovered, I freely indulged in my stash of chocolate biscuits and iced coffee, confident that we had more than enough to last the remaining couple of weeks.

What I hadn’t bargained for, was the fact that that couple of weeks would end up being a couple of weeks PLUS one.

Yep. Remember the part about how Palagruza can only be accessed by boat, if the weather allows? Well the weather didn’t allow. And instead of being able to go home to Korcula in time for Christmas, we ended up being there until just before New Years Eve.

Up until then we’d managed ok. We’d make our own bread, Ivo would catch fish when he could- but again- the weather was crazy and this meant conditions didn’t always allow for it. (So PS, I never got my lobster).

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Yup. Lots of nets. Lots of starfish. No lobster.

We’d been for squid a few times, an experience which gifted me with the Croatian word ‘strca,’ as the alien like slimy creatures I caught squirted ink on me. Their last-ditch attempt to make a dash for freedom, provoking a roar of laughter from the two boys.

Christmas was fast approaching and we were due to leave Palagruza around the 22nd. I’d SOOOOOOO been looking forward to Christmas on Korcula. I love Christmas. The decorations- the cheesier the better. The lights, the carols, the Christmas trees- the magic in the air. I couldn’t wait to see our village in all its festive glory!

Then Ivo broke the news to me. The weather forecast was looking dire. The Bura wind was blowing in full force. The boat couldn’t come for us and we were going to have to spend Christmas on Palagruza.

Our food rations were minimal by now, consisting of mostly the bread we made, some rations of frozen meat and vegetables, and pickles.

Being 24 and to be honest, still quite immature and self-indulgent, I protested about being stuck there and having nothing more than one turkey breast to share between three of us and some pickled cabbage (as though it was somehow Ivo’s fault for bringing me to this godforsaken place).

So I went outside to pretend the day didn’t exist at all and wallow away my sorrows in solace.

I then thought of where I’d been this time last year. How different my month had looked. Christmas day with my mum, a table full of her days’ worth of cooking, from turkey and seafood to her famous Christmas cakes. My heart warmed.

And then I remembered the weeks around Christmas the years prior. I’d been hanging out with U2, attending Oprah’s private after party at a five-star hotel, attending the U2 and Gorillaz concerts, looking after the likes of Basement Jaxx, Salt ’N’ Pepper and Naughty by Nature, who were in town for the music festival my boss owned. I went to that too and even the tennis as a player’s guest.

Basically, just enjoying the Sydney summer thanks to the enormous network my job with Merivale provided.

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Bono from U2 and 23 year old me….Bestest friends (ok… not really, but we got a photo together and I’ll pretend we were)

Yet here I was Christmas day, alone, hanging out with a donkey (we’ll get to that later), hungry and sitting on the cold steps of a lighthouse. Cold, cold steps, which were probably freezing my ovaries, (if the advice of the grandmothers in my village was to be believed).

The funny thing was though, in realising what I had then, vs what I had now, I somehow felt better. I mean, I never really cared about the glamorous perks that came with working for Merivale, it just was that way and I was used to being around it, having worked there since the age of 18. But I really realised just how much none of it meant at all (except my mum who I was missing badly right now).

Yeah it was fun, but lots of things are fun. It didn’t actually mean anything to me as a person, it didn’t make me feel much. It was all pretty empty, superficial stuff. So what did it really matter that I was here on Palagruza for Christmas?

What I was doing now, this stuff was character building. This was stripping it down to the bare basics. This was something not even 1% of the world would ever do in their life. I was exactly where I needed to be.

I had time to stop and really know me. No distractions, no fast pace, just me. Now who was I going to be in life? The girl whose ovaries froze because she was sulking on the steps of a lighthouse? NO. I had my health, I had life, I had some rations of food, my ovaries were still warm and I had a choice. All in all, more than what a lot of people have in this world.

And with that, I got up and I went and enjoyed that damn pickled cabbage like it was the rarest  Russian caviar. It tasted good. And from then on, I think everything I ate tasted just that little bit sweeter.

By the time I got back to Korcula, the novelty of having a little shop in my village (which I previously used to feel was missing so many items compared to Sydney,) suddenly felt like the best thing ever. The lunch I had on my return, however modest- felt like a feast for kings. And more importantly, having been separated from a community for a whole month, every human gesture in that small, sleepy place, suddenly held so much more weight.

Life was good.

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