Castaway: Five Top Tips to Survive on a Deserted Island
So your plane has gone down on an island somewhere in the Pacific where there are around 30,000 uninhabited islands and you are the only survivor. How will you survive and put yourself in the best possible scenario for rescue?
You won’t need a Wilson branded volleyball to talk to. You won’t need Gilligan’s skills and hilarity. You won’t need Lord of the Flies style rules and you definitely won’t need Captain Jack Sparrow to drink rum with when you get stranded on a desert island. What you will need is some ingenuity, the survival instinct and these top tips…
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Now most uninhabited islands are uninhabited because of one thing…the lack of fresh water. So if finding a stream fails the next best thing is to drink coconut milk. The milk from a fresh coconut is high in potassium and other essential minerals which is great for the human body. What you don’t want however is to have to rely on coconut milk as your only source of hydration as to much will cause your bowels to move much more frequently and without warning.
Until the first rains come, coconut milk is a great alternative and once it does rain, collect the rain water using tea tree leaves as funnels into your left over coconut shells. In minutes, the run off from a few of these leaves will give you some much needed fresh water.
Build a Signal Fire
Passing ships and planes should pass nearby your Pacific Island fairly frequently as the Pacific has major shipping lanes right throughout. What you need to do is build yourself a signal fire using tinder from the hibiscus tree which is prevalent on most Pacific Islands. Build a tepee style bundle from dead and dried palm leaves over top of the tinder, and place green palm leaves on top as the green leaves produce more thick, whiter smoke. Don’t light the fire however until you are sure that it is a plane or ship that you can see.
How do you light this signal fire you say? Well of course another fire will need to be started also, not just to light your signal fire, but to cook, keep the insects away, and give you light and warmth at night. The best way to start this fire is by using a spindle, maybe cedar or another hard wood, and rubbing it against a dead piece of hibiscus which flakes fairly easily. Once smoking, place your tinder upon the hibiscus and blow lightly on it. Friction based methods of fire starting are by far the hardest and most frustrating. If you can find some bits and pieces from your downed plane, do it.
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Build a Shelter
Ideally you would want to build a shelter up off the beach so as to give you more natural shelter from the elements and the high tide. But when looking to be seen from the air, out in the open would be a more suitable place. Obviously you won’t be able to build a lean-to on the beach unless you have a sizeable rock to build against so your next best bet is to build a square frame from bamboo which is hard but flexible. Use two Y shaped sticks to dig into the ground at the front and lash your bamboo together using the hibiscus bark which peels off like string and is very resilient. Lean the front of the bamboo frame on the Y shaped sticks and leave the back end on the ground. Place palm leaves over the top, layered from the bottom up so as to provide better water proofing. Dead palm leaves will ensure that unwanted sand getting into various orifices from the bottom of your shelter is kept to a minimum.
Now as well as the coconut milk, the meat from a coconut is great eating but again will leave you with bowel problems if too much is eaten at once. So for that much needed protein fix, other meat is definitely required. Now most islands in the pacific boast an array of birdlife and pigs which however, can prove to be quite taxing to obtain for a meal. But there is definitely no shortage of fish and it’s definitely your best bet for a quick feed. Make yourself a spear out of a bamboo shoot by splitting one end into for pieces and creating prongs by inserting sticks between each split and then sharpening the ends with a splintered piece of rock. Use the spear in the shallower waters to dive for the abundance of life in the ocean. Make sure to aim around 6 inches in front of your target for the perfect catch and watch for tiger sharks also on the hunt for food in the warm Pacific waters.
To cook your catch, make yourself an umu or hangi pit which is like an underground oven. To do this dig yourself a hole in the ground and layer the bottom with hot rocks heated from your fire. Wrap the fish in palm leaves so as to trap the moisture inside and also keep it from soiling after placing the sand back on top. In an hour or so, beautiful steamed fish will be melting in your mouth.
Bide your time by taking a dip in the tranquil waters, ensuring your signal fire is ready to be lit at any stage, hunting, and generally keeping yourself sane. Alternately, you could start the construction of a raft made from bamboo, which has great flotation qualities because of the air pockets inside the wood, and lashed together with hibiscus tree bark. Use a catamaran style which has been used by Polynesians for thousands of years to travel long distances. A sail will be needed to ensure you catch the all important trade winds and don’t just travel with the currents. A sail can be constructed by weaving and plaiting palm leaves together and attaching it to a bamboo frame. It sounds fairly straight forward but could take you a while to construct. Remember though when stranded on a deserted island, all you have is time.
(photo source: images.salon.com)