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One day in February of 2008, I stepped on this bottle:

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That’s how I found it—no kidding: I stepped on it.  I was walking on dunes covered in vines and succulent tropical plants, and suddenly my foot slipped off something roundish.  When I pulled back the vines, there was this bottle,  glinting sunlight back at me.

That wasn’t the only interesting thing about the day: it was also my mom’s birthday!

Yay Mom!

The day started early, around sunrise.  Mom, Dad and I met our guide at his boat–a little turquoise number that would take us to a neighboring island:

Boaters: does this qualify as a “dinghy”?

When we reached the island, we walked the beach for a while, and I found a waterproof camera washed up on the shore:

Mystery Camera

It was kind of like finding a message in a bottle!  What photos, I wondered, would I find when I got the film developed?  Could I even get it developed at all?!  Would I get arrested for the photos on the camera?!  Were they murder photos?!

What I imagined happening when I took this camera to be processed.

Anyway, Mom’s knee was hurting, so she decided to hang out on the beach, while Dad and I hiked onward.
Mom used the washed-up camera to take this photo of me and Dad as we took off on our hike (there ended up being no murder photos, and no arrests):

Dad Points the Way

One great thing about hiking this island is that it is uninhabited.  Thus, it is quiet, peaceful, wonderful.

OK, I lied, it’s not totally uninhabited: donkeys live there.  Check it out:

*Caution: DO NOT, for any reason, take a politician to this Island.  When it’s time to leave, you won’t be able to tell the stubborn asses apart, and they will be lost forever!

It’s like Gulliver’s Travels, huh? The donkeys even make little donkey trails which we sometimes follow to avoid the denser brush. Donkeys, at least, get things done.

The day wore on, the sun beat down, and sometime after noon, my foot slipped off that bottle. Once I recovered from the shock of finding a message in a bottle under a carpet of vines, I put the bottle in my bag and walked on.

Eventually, Dad and I turned around and headed back to Mom.  I used the camera I’d found to take a few photos.  I like this one of us getting ready to get back on the boat at the end of the day:

Mom and Dad Gathering Gear to Get on the Boat and Head Home

And this one of the three of us as we motored home, safe and tired in the boat–I love it. The strangeness of the light, the result of this camera nearly melting in the sun, makes me feel dreamy. All you can really make out are three smiles and afternoon sunlight:

Heading Home

Back at the house that night, we all showered and got cleaned up before sitting down to discuss the events of the day. I had found two messages in bottles that day, which is why I am holding two in this photo:

Brushes and Combs are for Losers

Since it was my mom’s birthday, and since I didn’t have a “real” present for her (I know, I know…I’m a bad son!  But hey, we WERE in the middle of the Caribbean on an island with a population of 250.  There weren’t exactly any gift stores nearby…), I decided to give her one of my bottles to open.  Everyone should have something to open on their birthday, right?

Mom decided to open the clear plastic one.  You really won’t believe what was inside that one—but that’s a story for another day.

This meant, of course, that I would be hauling the glass bottle with the brown paper home with me.  I carried it on this wee little plane:

Solo Flight

As you can see, I was the only passenger. I felt like a celebrity! A dirty, exhausted celebrity with two suitcases full of beach garbage…but a celebrity nonetheless!

I took the bottle home to Chicago, where I was living at the time, and snapped a few photos of it before I opened it:

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On a cold, snowy night in early March, my roommates were gone, and I was home alone.  It was dark and silent outside; inside, the bottle reflected the orange glow of our space heater.

I started by trying to take the cap off, but when I did, there was a hissing noise: the airtight environment inside the bottle was compromised.  I didn’t know what that meant for the stability of the message, but I knew I had to get it out ASAP. So, I wrapped the bottle in a trash bag, and smashed it with my hammer.

When I pulled the message out of the shattered glass and rolled it out flat, the paper dried out immediately.  The paper went from damp and supple to dry and brittle in five minutes—good thing I got the message out quickly!

Here’s what I found:

It says:

“April 4, 1981. Launched from the Delaware River, New Hope, Pennsylvania. To Whomever is the finder and keeper of this bottle. This is the date of our wedding and the start of our life together. We are leaving Pennsylvania on April 6th, 1981 to go on our honeymoon at Key Largo, Florida until April 12 of the same year. We hope to find this bottle while there and figure out the traveling time of which the bottle took (if it is a good time, the next time we come down there we will build a raft and just float down). If found, please respond with place found and date. Thank you. Mr. & Mrs. Bruce La Clair, P.O. Box 131, Pipersville, PA”

To give you a sense of the bone-deep shock I felt upon reading this message, just know that I was born in 1984.  This message was more than 3 years older than I was!

Would the senders even be alive after 27 years?!

Click here to read the second part of this story.

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