Silly Isles

Silly Isles by Eric Campbell covered the author’s visits to sixteen islands or archipelagos. Campbell visited some islands that I dream of going to (the Kurils, Spitsbergen, Greenland and the Falklands), some I have already been to (the Faroes and Iceland) and others that I may have no current interest in seeing, yet made fascinating reading nevertheless (the Spratlys, Zanzibar, Timor-Leste, King George Island in Antarctica and the Republic of China which occupies the island of Taiwan).

The first chapter was to a place I knew well, the Faroe Islands. Campbell was in the islands during grind, the pilot whale hunt, and relayed the importance of this hunt to the islanders. He did not pussyfoot around the opinions of the Faroese towards international whaling commissions or those who are ignorant of Faroese culture.

The most interesting chapter was about the Spratly Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea which is claimed in part by four countries (the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam) or in its entirety by one (the mainland part of the Republic of China). I was genuinely surprised to find a chapter on this island group, and that Campbell managed to go there. He sailed to the Spratlys aboard a Filipino supply ship en route to replenish the rusting BRP Sierra Madre, which was deliberately run aground off a reef in order to support the Philippines’ territorial claims to its part of the archipelago. The Sierra Madre has been rusting and falling apart ever since, while keeping a small crew of the Filipino navy aboard its dilapidated hull. Campbell’s ship had to dodge patrols by the Chinese Coast Guard in order to approach it.

Campbell visited Greenland, and reported that its citizens didn’t consider global warming to be a disadvantage to their lifestyle. The melting ice gave them more arable land to engage in agriculture yet I wonder if he was telling the whole story. Wouldn’t the melting of the glaciers and shrinkage of the ice cap have a deleterious effect on hunting, animal habitat and migration? For a population dependent on the ice for its very survival, I’d be worried that a significant melt would do more harm than any increase in arable land could offer. I had to shake my head at one passage, when the author wondered why he couldn’t drive between Greenlandic communities. The island’s agricultural consultant told him:

“All the settlements are like small islands. Even though they’re connected by land there are no roads between them.”

What I found so puzzling was that Campbell discovered this on his fourth day in Greenland. Wouldn’t you notice an absence of roads or road signs by then? And no one told him upon his arrival that the only way to visit other communities was by boat or plane? I did like his observance of the Greenlandic language:

“He began an animated conversation with the Inuit captain in Greenlandic, a language that sounded to me like they were swallowing marbles.”

Campbell held no punches, often calling out countries for their incompetence or naiveté:

“I was planning a shoot in Ecuador and needed a second story to make it cost-effective, so naturally I started researching the Galápagos Islands, which are administered by Ecuador even though they’re 1000 kilometres from South America. I knew about the amazing flora and fauna, but until I looked closer I had no idea of the other feature that made the archipelago unique–the most diverse ecosystem in the world had the most dysfunctional conservation agency on the planet.”


“Fast forward a decade and everything had changed. Iceland had not only come to see itself as a major world player, it had even kick-started the catastrophe known as the GFC, the global financial crisis. Under Davið Oddsson, first as prime minister and then as head of the Central Bank, this remote volcanic island community had embarked on perhaps the dumbest campaign in the history of Stupid. It had decided to become the new Wall Street.”

Campbell did not include a visit to the Scilly Isles in this book, however he did refer to the archipelago a number of times. The book came without a table of contents, which I would have appreciated as well as headers on each page to inform me which chapter I was on. It wasn’t easy to locate passages I had already read, or to find chapters while composing this review.

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