See a Sinking Island Before It Disappears

IMG_2500I’ve often romanticized Tangier. The tiny island on the Chesapeake is so isolated, that locals retained a hint of a British accent from colonization hundreds of years ago. This remote fishing village has been visited by linguists from around the world, eager to study the phenomenon.

And the island is disappearing. Almost 70% of its landmass is gone, along with the population. Global warming and rising sea waters have encroached upon this island, which will be uninhabitable and fully underwater in about 50 years.

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We had to see it before the ocean swallowed it whole.  Just getting there was an adventure. The boat was  surprisingly fast, and saltwater sprayed our skin as we sunbathed on the upper desk. It was about an hour each way from the mainland.

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The second best part of the day was sampling a local specialty – crab. And my plate of cheesy crab fries disappeared in a blink. We caught a hint of a strange accent from our server, but everyone else sounded a variation of Southern. “It’s the Internet,” one local explained, “They routed in a microwave cable, and ever since, our accents started disappearing.” I’m sure TV ate away at it as well.

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Talk about stepping into the past.

We toured around the island in a golf cart. But while our guide was friendly when selling us on the tour, she was hasty zipping us around the island. She pretended not to hear us when we asked her to slow down for photo ops, eager to hustle the next boat of tourists. As was a young girl we met loitering outside a gift shop. She was eleven years old, and somber as she spoke to us about collecting seashells to sell to tourists for a quarter. Sometimes she can’t find seashells, and rummages through her home for other goods, like canisters of gritty Play-Dough and kitchen snacks. In mid-conversation, she saw a new boat docking and sped off, barefoot.

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The gift shops were sparse. You could get a bottle of Tylenol or a plastic dolphin for the kid, but there were no regional must-haves to speak of. We strolled along the quaint downtown streets, which are car-free, and visited a charming ice cream and candy shop, painted pink with checkered floors, playing a 50’s juke box and nostalgically steeped in the past.

We came with high expectations, hoping for an other-ness that you sometimes find in American towns, such as New Orleans. While it felt more familiar and tourist-driven than we had hoped,  it’s still the closest thing we have to a modern-day Atlantis.

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