I'll Follow the Sun

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One steamy night a few months ago, Kim Gravelle finally succumbed to the rat race. Literally. Stranded in a tiny guest house in the Solomon Islands, a tropical outpost filled with jungle-choked WWII memorabilia and not much else, the writer-photographer awoke to the sounds of rodents snacking on the T-shirt he had carelessly dribbled tuna juice on. Problem was, he was still in it. 'I finally just said, 'You can have it!'' he remembers. 'And they ate it.'

For the past quarter century, a typical day at the office for Gravelle has been very different from one of yours or mine, featuring kava sessions with Fijian villagers, trips up fire-breathing volcanoes in Vanuatu, coffee breaks in Tahitian cafes or chewing the fat-or betel nut, as the case may be-with Solomon Islanders on a lazy South Pacific afternoon. Sure, it's a tough life, but why does this guy get to live it?

A jealous observer might just say Gravelle got lucky. Plunking down in Fiji in 1974, fresh from a four-year stint on Papua New Guinea, he began editing a handful of South Pacific inflight magazines. All offered paid access to tongue-twisting, palm-fringed Edens such as Nukualofa, Funafuti and Navuniivi in exchange for a quarterly contribution of feature stories. Life has been very good since. Gravelle jets off to Bora Bora one day, Vanuatu the next, with just a bit of strategic courting of immigration officials in between for a never-ending train of work permits.

Awarded Fijian citizenship a few years back, the former Michigan resident is philosophical about the career he's carved out of island-hopping. 'I've purposefully been on holiday for 30 years,' he concedes with a laugh. And the proof's in print. Romancing the Islands, an assortment of anecdotes he collected while on assignment, is a primer on how to find adventure living what you love.

There's the time he spent eight days as unofficial first mate for Bill Verity, a modern-day adventurer trying to recreate Captain Bligh's inauspicious voyage across the Pacific in an exact replica of the Bounty launch. From Tonga, the actual site of the mutiny, the pair endured the rains and the rays in an open boat whose only allowance to comfort was uncushioned wooden benches. When they sighted Fiji, Gravelle, a Fletcher Christian for the '70s, respectfully disembarked.

Other assignments took him to the fringes of archipelagoes to bring back tales from a South Pacific undiscovered by Club Med. Like the time he teetered on the 'rim of creation' for a story about Yasur, Vanuatu's belching and spewing volcano, or canvassed Guadalcanal-still haunted by 'the overpowering force of a thousand ghosts'-and found Aaron Kumana, one of the guardian angels who came to John F. Kennedy's rescue after his PT 109 crew was sunk off Plum Pudding Island.

Gravelle's employers have even condoned drinking on the job, provided he didn't down so much kava that he couldn't get the details straight later. Besides, partaking of the grog bowl is only the polite thing to do when socializing with Pacific Islanders, who tend to drink Gravelle under the tapa mat at these sessions. 'Soon after the sixth or seventh bilo (cup), my nose bumped the dirt,' he writes about one such evening in far-flung Rotuma, Fiji's answer to the Emerald City.

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