This story starts in London.
“A man who is tired of London is tired of life,” Samuel Johnson once wrote. In my case, the city had become deeply fatiguing. It was only made worse by the constant echoes of that great English writer—my friends and colleagues all ventriloquist puppets of his most famous quote.
Little did they know, the second clause of that saying goes something like: “For there is in London all that life can afford.” Johnson was wrong, though; a key error of his judgement being that he had never travelled outside of the British isles. Surely there’s more to life and the world than one overpopulated, expensive, dreary city.
I didn’t start out hating London. Arriving in 2014, shortly after graduating from college in America, I had an insatiable urge to expand my knowledge through both higher learning and travel. The world’s capital seemed a perfect landing spot; and it was, for a time. Everything and everyone from everywhere can be found in London. It often seemed like the center of the universe.
Fast forward to 2017 and I was barely getting by. Work was enjoyable, but also stressful—and ultimately I’d hit a dead end. Relationships seemed to be dwindling with time, and even those of substance were becoming more difficult to maintain. And that incessant noise of the very worst sort of humanity was a plague on my soul. The chaos of the morning tube to work, the evening tube home, and of course those nocturnal beasts yelling outside my window at 3am, was unbearable. The screams and shouts of the city’s populace, all drunk on some invigorating elixir that I hadn’t been offered, became one endless loop of painful sound tearing through my ears and burrowing into my skull.
All this led to a severe bout of anxiety and sporadic depression, something I had never had to deal with throughout my 25 years of life. I felt like a rat trapped in an endless labyrinth, with all the other rats enjoying themselves—oblivious to their surroundings.
I needed an escape—any escape. Setting out for the unknown, not unlike the great European explorers who set sail over 500 years ago, I was in search of more open space and greener pastures than Brockley, southeast London could provide. In July I booked a flight to the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, packed my things, and attempted to grin and bear it ’til the bitter end.
Mark Twain was famously quoted as saying, “You can go to heaven if you want. I’ll stay right here in Bermuda.” Called the “Isle of Devils” by the earliest explorers from Spain and Portugal, they wouldn’t have agreed. Due to its treacherous, hull-shearing reefs and superstition that it was inhabited by demons, early sailors tried (and often failed) to steer clear. In 1503 the first known captain to reach the island, Juan de Bermúdez, claimed it for Spain. But it remained unsettled. After all, there was no gold, land, fresh water, or natives to subjugate/kill.
It was an English merchant ship—the Sea Venture—bound for the failing Jamestown, Virginia colony with desperately needed settlers and supplies, that fortuitously landed on the unwanted island during a Hurricane in 1609. All 150 settlers and crew (and one dog) survived the storm, swimming onto Bermuda’s shores for safe haven. The English, lagging in the colonial race at the time, decided better late than never, and sent a few hundred more settlers three years later to officially establish a colony.
Unlike the countless mariners marooned on Bermuda during the Age of Discovery, Mark Twain’s arrival would have been somewhat less tempestuous. Instead of fighting to stave off starvation and mutiny, he saw out the final years of his life writing stories and enjoying the “peaceful serenities and its incomparable climate”, in what must have seemed a life apart from reality.
Since his terminal romance with this exotic island muse, foreigners have come in droves to temporarily experience that same idyllic version of life, just 700 miles adrift from America’s east coast. Luckily, if you believe in luck, I was one of approximately 900 births on the island in 1992—Bermuda is my home. So it made sense to stop off at this waypoint, as wandering writers and seafarers have done for centuries.
Having spent a large part of the previous seven years abroad studying and working, and considering my discontent with London, the prospect of home (especially one with beaches and sun) was particularly inviting. As British Airways flight 2233 (the only direct flight from Europe) made its final approach to runway 12/30 (there’s only one runway), the chimerical scene outside the window—21 square miles of beaches and craggy coastline, and the endlessly mighty Atlantic—took my breath away.
Upon disembarking the plane via old-school stairs (jet bridge? yeah, right), my respiratory system was further impinged by a wave of warm, humid, subtropical soup that passed itself off as air. Graciously, there was that enduring, cool sea breeze that I had dearly missed. “I’m back in paradise,” I tried to convince myself, in a dreamlike state disbelief.
The drive home, barely 10 minutes west across the Causeway and through Bailey’s Bay to Crawl Hill, was a further sensory overload. Such vibrant colours—deep blues and pure greens that I hadn’t experienced in what seemed forever—and the sounds of nature that were either nonexistent in London, or drowned out by the roar of civilization.
Within 24 hours of my return I had company. My very best friend from my time studying in America had decided to come down for the week. This was his first time on the island, so I was looking forward to playing tour guide. Summertime in Bermuda is bursting with kinetic energy and life—even more so with Greg and I back on “the rock”, as locals call it. In addition to the approximately 65,000 inhabitants, over 100,000 tourists per month visit during the peak of summer.
Our first stop was The Swizzle Inn, an iconic pub and restaurant that’s been boozing up locals and tourists alike for almost a century. Their namesake, the classic Bermuda Rum Swizzle, is the customary drink order. Repeatedly, ice-cold pitchers of this refreshing libation were ferried our way as afternoon turned to dusk; the sweetness of fruit juice only interrupted by subtle hints of aromatic bitters, a nonverbal warning that each sip was more potent than the beverage let on.
The rest of that day, and the next week, was a bit of a blur—in a good way. We made the most of our time, unlike in London, where time had made the most of me. We toured the centuries-old fortifications of the Town of St. George, the imposing Royal Naval Dockyard, and the magnificent National Museum—full of pirate treasure and all. We swam in the serenity of Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve and explored South Shore’s jagged limestone cliffs, rewarded for our adventurous spirit with hidden coves lined by pink-sand beaches.
We went to Cup Match: a two-day Test cricket match between the East end and the West end, a national holiday which commemorates the good fate of our country’s founders in 1609 and the emancipation of the slaves in 1834. We also enjoyed Beach Fest, an informal annual beach party in celebration of the aforementioned, only with far more Bermuda Black Rum and far less cricket to be endured.
Reacquainting myself with Bermuda’s natural beauty, rich history, and relaxed lifestyle (and rum) reminded me of why I love my homeland. Once Greg left, however, I recalled why it’s difficult to be content here.
Visitors get to leave; pocketing their little piece of paradise in memory, perhaps coming back a time or two, but never having to experience the reality of living here. I’m often asked, “Why would you ever leave Bermuda?” As if we locals live each day as tourists, blissfully unaware of jobs (and unemployment) and (struggling to pay) bills and the rest of life’s (many) challenges.
What had started as a pleasant disconnect from London eventually became a feeling of isolation. Despite the scorching August sun, I began to feel cold and lonely.
It is perhaps telling that, of the 150 passengers and crew who survived the Sea Venture shipwreck, only two remained behind to settle Bermuda. The rest sailed on to a Jamestown colony that was barely hanging on. Most of them probably died shortly after arriving in Virginia. There were all manner of disease, less-than-amiable native tribes, and when food ran short—cannibalism. Had they stayed behind in Bermuda’s pristine isolation, their lives would have been far more comfortable.
Therein lies the dilemma of humanity, that which Mark Twain may have unwittingly described of his literary muse of an island. Most of us go out in search of heaven when it’s right in front of us, condemning us to hell, or worse—some sort of wandering purgatory.
Unfortunately, we have no control over this impulse—at least I don’t. In the spirit of Bermuda’s motto, “Quo Fata Ferunt”, or “Wither the Fates Carry Us”, I’m once again escaping my island escape for an ill-defined length of time. Leaving paradise to follow fate, in search of some vague notion of happiness.