Let's boil this down. What's the main reason you go to the Caribbean? Well, the West Indies is made up of some 3,000 islands, of mixed French, Dutch and English foster parentage and they're all different. You might be going to Jamaica for the music, Barbados for the luxury, St Barth's to shop, Trinidad to party or Grenada because you have an obsessive interest in the history of nutmeg. But when we're finished with the test tube and Bunsen burner we're left with a single concentrated image: an empty white beach, a palm tree, the sea lapping at your toes and no one else around.
That image is pretty well engrained in the Western psyche. The ideal of going back to nature, a prelapsarian life when we lived with wild nature and didn't try to govern it, reached its fullest expression in the Enlightenment. This notion is still going strong, in books like Alex Garland's The Beach and in the farther reaches of the environmental movement. Every day, in a newspaper somewhere in the world, there will be a cartoon of a man with only a palm tree and a bit of sand for company. And it will be there in the minds of anyone touching down at Georgetown, Kingston, or Port of Spain for the rest of this winter.
But there's one book they all look back to: Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, the first volume of which was published in 1719. 'The life and strange surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, mariner: who lived eight and 20 years, all alone in an uninhabited island on the coast of America, having been cast on shore by shipwreck, wherein all the men perished but himself. With an account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by pirates. Written by himself' - it didn't need a snappy title to sell. Crusoe was a blockbuster from the beginning, selling out four editions in its first year and launching the phenomenon of the 'industry' around a single work of art. Defoe, like thousands of authors, musicians and film-makers after him, found the commercial pressures to come up with a follow-up too great: he wrote two. The book has since been repackaged countless times for children and adults who can't cope with several hundred pages of dense 18th-century prose. It's available in every language. It's been filmed, rethought and paid homage to in Swiss Family Robinson, The Mosquito Coast, Cast Away and others.
It also launched the phenomenon of cultural tourism, whereby tourist boards lay claim to a popular piece of art in order to get people to visit. In 1966, Más a Tierra, a tiny island off the coast of Chile renamed itself Robinson Crusoe Island. That was an astonishing tribute to the power of the book - a bit like New Zealand deciding to rename itself Lord of the Ringsland. Más a Tierra is the place where Alexander Selkirk, a disputatious Scottish sailor, was put ashore - at his own request - in 1705. He lived there in isolation for four years and it was those experiences that are popularly supposed to have inspired Defoe.
Perhaps they did. But Más a Tierra is no more the island described in the novel than the Isle of Dogs in London's East End. Defoe is at pains to present Crusoe's adventures as a real document, and he's meticulous in describing the island. Defoe says it lies at the mouth of the Orinoco river, north of a larger island whose savage inhabitants pay murderous visits, and that in turn is just off the land mass of South America. Crusoe even gives helpful co-ordinates. Crusoe's island is Tobago.
'Welcome to the capital of Paradise,' said Captain Cook. The good captain was driving a green 1970s American Ford Granada. I slipped alongside him onto the hot green leather bench seat and nearly slipped off again. What I wasn't quite ready to do, just yet, was slip into a state of Crusoe-like simplicity. 'Um - does this taxi have air conditioning?' 'It's alright, man,' said Captain Cook. 'We're drivin' up Atlantic side. Plen'y of air up that way.'