Saturday, May 21, 2011

3 Boys Lost in the Ocean for 51 Days

It began, in the grand tradition of ill-considered ideas, with a group of boys and a bottle of booze—the most common of circumstances in the least common of places. The boys were gathered in their clubhouse—broken sofas, graffitied walls—near the end of the only road in the only village on the Pacific island of Atafu. Atafu is one of three atolls that make up the nation of Tokelau (which is not, technically, a nation but a territory of New Zealand). The total amount of land on Atafu is 1.4 square miles. Population: 524.

The nearest atoll, equally tiny, is fifty-seven miles to the south, well beyond the range of visibility. The closest significant land mass is Samoa, a twenty-eight-hour ferry ride away. There is no landing strip on Tokelau. There are also no dogs, prisons, lawyers, pavement, or soil—the land is mostly bits of broken coral. The highest elevation is fifteen feet. Coconuts and fish are the traditional diet, though the ferry, which comes once every two weeks, brings so much junk food these days that obesity and diabetes have become significant problems. From any point on Atafu's shoreline, nothing can be seen but water, all the way to the horizon.

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