How much would you pay for nothing? To sleep outside, with no electricity or refrigeration, in the middle of nowhere, sipping plain water under the tropical sun? Turns out, that sort of nothing has a price, and it’s $10,000 per night.
That’s the cost of entry for unburdening yourself via the R.O.C.S. Island Experience, an adventure as experimental as its name is inscrutable. I was dropped off on what I was told was Alfuros Island—which, it turns out, doesn’t exist on any map—by Alexa, a traditional Indonesian phinisi transformed into a high-design pleasure yacht, which tendered me through a thick ring of mangroves and onto this remote patch on the outskirts of Komodo National Park.
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The landscape was scrubby grass, small trees, and loose rock; lodging was a two-bed open-air bamboo hut with a sailcloth roof and an exposed shower and toilet. There was fire pit and a dining table and, for some reason, a generator that could charge a phone, though there’s little reception and no Wi-Fi. If you break an ankle or your appendix bursts, good luck. You can’t land a helicopter here, and the nearest hospital (which I was told lacks anesthesia) is 30 minutes away by speedboat—assuming the tides cooperate.
R.O.C.S. stands for Reunion of Conscious Spirits and hints at what this place is really about: spiritual indulgence through material abstinence. “You come to the island and you realize that you don’t need anything,” says Veronika Blomgren, who runs both the isle and the charter yacht with her son, Alexander. Initially, she and her husband sought $100 million from investors to develop luxury villas here, a plan that was abandoned, instead, for renovation and preservation. The pair are slowly restoring the island, planting gardens and fruit orchards, reforesting a landscape stripped naked by dual plagues of fire and goats.
“My dream is for this island to be covered in trees,” says Blomgren, a successful interior designer from Russia now based in Bali. “I wake up in the morning and go for a swim. I have a cup of tea with a friend who’s baking amazing bread. Kids are running around. Someone is a musician, somebody is an artist, someone is gardening, and someone is breeding birds. People call it utopia, but it should be something normal.”
At the moment, it’s decidedly neither. I spent my time on the island mostly bewildered. I used a frying pan to boil water for my coffee because there was no kettle. Dinner was brought in by the yacht captain, otherwise it’s whatever you can cook over an open fire. The beer tasted like fish—my flashlight revealed the water sloshing around in the ice chest to be a green slurry.
I didn’t sleep at night, and my third eye didn’t so much as blink. Still, the beauty of the neighboring islands jutting from the sea and the brightness of the Milky Way at night inspired contemplation. I didn’t regret being there. Indeed, I felt lucky.
Until I remembered the $30,000 price tag for the weekend. As it turns out, I’m not the target audience for this experiment in blindingly expensive asceticism, and it’s hard to imagine who is. Someone so voracious and decadent in their daily life that forced austerity on a mostly abandoned island is the only cure? I doubt it.
Actually, it’s probably the opposite. This adventure is for the hardest of hard-core romantics, people capable of seeing beyond just what’s there. It’s for those who bring their fun with them, for whom wonders never cease. If you’re one of those individuals—if you’re able to luxuriate in simplicity for its own sake and appreciate the beauty therein, and if you don’t ask too many questions about how it’s all supposed to work let alone why it’s there in the first place—then I know someone with an outrageously pricey deserted-island vacation to sell you.
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