Jilly: Virtual Vacay–My Father’s Island

Do you like to travel?

As a child I dreamed of exploring the world, and as an adult I’ve been lucky enough to visit some spectacular places. I’m glad I didn’t wait until I retired. Right now, thanks to covid, we aren’t even allowed a day trip to Brighton.

I know it’s not the worst consequence of the pandemic, but I feel sad that our skies and borders seem likely to stay restricted for some time to come. I hope we’ll find a way to open up again.

In the meantime I’ve been recapturing that sense of wonder by re-reading some of my favorite travel books. I decided to share one or two here, in the hope that you might be inspired to refresh your own post-covid bucket list.

This week’s treat was My Father’s Island by Johanna Angermeyer, which I first read in 1997, just before we visited Galapagos. I love this book. It’s memoir, but the author’s story is fascinating enough to be fiction. To borrow from the dust jacket:

In 1935 Hans Angermeyer and his four brothers escaped from Nazi Germany and sailed to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles west of Ecuador. Surviving incredible hardship, the Angermeyers began an extraordinary Robinson Crusoe existence surrounded by giant tortoises, tame birds and prehistoric iguanas.

When Hans met Russian-born Emmasha, the couple set out to make a life together on what truly seemed to be their portion of paradise. But Hitler’s war caught up with them, shattering their idyll and sending Emmasha back to the United States with three young children.

Johanna Angermeyer, the youngest daughter, always daydreamed about her father’s island but never expected to go to the Galapagos—until one day she saw her long-lost uncles on a TV adventure programme. Seeing her cousins, ‘children born in paradise, their toys are the wild animals,’ and hearing about her people who ‘made their own shoes, delivered their own babies, built houses from lava blown from the bowels of the earth…’ left nine-year-old Johanna with a dream and a vow to return to the Enchanted Isles. With determination her family returned to South America, where the author began piecing together the story of her parents’ extraordinary marriage and her father’s tragic death.

My Father’s Island is a wonderful story—funny, moving, surprising and satisfying—and the descriptions of the Galapagos Islands after Darwin but before tourism, before the archipelago became a National Park, are some of the most vivid word-pictures I’ve ever read.

Reading this book wasn’t as good as a Galapagos vacay, but it left me refreshed and delighted. It’s not available as an ebook, but if you’re tempted it looks as though second hand print copies are quite readily available for a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket 😉 .

Do you have any recommendations? Favorite travel books or destinations for my post-covid bucket list? Thank you!

10 thoughts on “Jilly: Virtual Vacay–My Father’s Island

  1. LOL, compared to a plane ticket, so many things seem cheap. I can’t wait to visit the States again when people are properly immunized and the COVID cases go way, way down. (I need underwear, a special shampoo/conditioner, some jeans, and to see my family members there!)

    If Biden can get herd immunity through vaccination by the middle of June, or even fourth of July, my daughter and her husband might be able to visit in the fall.

    But, Japan errs on the side of caution. Just after the rather strong earthquake last night, the government announced that they were going to ban foreign spectators to the Olympics. Sad, but it makes sense — only some medical people have gotten vaccines over here, and the elderly were supposed to be able to get vaccinated by the end of this month, but . . . there are only 10 days until the end of this month, and I don’t know anyone who knows how they can get the vaccine. Vaccinating the whole population is going to take some time. Someone even said May 2022! I don’t know where she got that number, but at the current slow pace, it seems depressingly closer to truth.

    All of us guinea pigs, dreaming of a bit of sun and adventure. Thank goodness for books, right?

    • Dreaming guinea pigs–exactly! Mr. W and I had our first shots just over a week ago. Sore arms, and a few hours of a kind of out-of-body jet-lag feeling (which may not even have been due to the jab). Otherwise so far, so good.

      The UK is vaccinating away as fast as we can. Over half the adult population has now had at least one shot, and the figures have improved drastically. But one of the govt scientists said yesterday that it would be madness to waste that progress by letting us all hop on a plane this summer and bring back all kinds of nasty new vaccine-resistant variants. That seems to make sense. And the Chief Medical Officer gave evidence to a Parliamentary committee recently, and said a third wave was very likely indeed. So I’m only dreaming of faraway places this year. First, I want to be able to get a haircut, go for a meal out, travel around the country and be free to meet up with people. To be able to hug them and not wear a mask would be huge. And most of all, I want us to avoid another lockdown.

      I hope you get your US trip soon, and a visit from your daughter and her husband too!

      And in the meantime, thank goodness for books! 😀

  2. This isn’t a travel book, exactly, but the autobiographical “Daughter of Earth” is such a compelling story of Agnes Smedley’s life (mostly) in China that it makes one feel that one has truly led a boring existence. Born to a poverty-stricken coal miner, Smedley became a teacher and then a journalist, learning both German and Chinese. She was a correspondent in Berlin and Shanghai, campaigned for Indian independence, traveled with Mao on the Long March, and was arrested for espionage (not necessarily in that order). The novel is about Smedley, not travel per se, but it definitely makes a person want to go to faraway places and do exciting things.


    • Wow, what a life! Thanks for this gem, Kay. I never heard of Agnes Smedley, but that’s a barnstormer of a Wikipedia bio.

      Do you think there are people today living such action-packed lives? I suppose there must be, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

      • I think the kind of frontiers that Smedley investigated are gone, but maybe space exploration will become for future generations what China and India were for Smedley. Even now there must be people having action-packed lives. But, yes. Right off-hand, I can’t think of any. 🙂

        • I think there may be still a few unknowable places on our planet–North Korea springs to mind, and maybe West Papua. I bet you’re right about space, though. Astonishing to think that space travel may become normal in our lifetimes, but it seems increasingly likely.

  3. I love West with the Night by Beryl Markham. It follows her early life in Africa and becoming a pilot in the 1920s. The title comes from the fact that she was the first woman to fly from Europe to N America, doing Lindbergh’s flight in reverse. Fascinating look at life for whites in Africa and her life as a pilot in early aviation. On my reread shelf.

    • West with the Night reminds me of Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. Those two books were one-two literary punches for me when I read them as a college freshman. I haven’t reread them since, and I’m not sure what I’d make of Out of Africa now. Dinesen also wrote Babette’s Feast, which I haven’t read, but the movie was terrific. 🙂

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