Article & Photos By: Bryan Herb

Have you ever had that experience where you taste something that instantly transports you to a prior memory? This recently happened to me when I was at the gorgeous One and Only resort in the Maldives. When I tell you that this resort is fabulous, that is a severe understatement. Palm trees galore, crystal clear aqua water, white sand beaches, huge, beautiful accommodations, gorgeous, sexy public spaces, impeccable service, unfathomably delicious food, and entertainment. But I digress…

I was at breakfast, drinking a glass of champagne, while dining on my favorite things, which are berries and fish (not together), and I put a beautiful plump strawberry in my mouth and the flavor instantly transported me back to when I was eight years old, in summertime in Oregon during strawberry season, when I picked these beautiful red morsels to pay for my school clothes. With that innocent strawberry bite at breakfast, my body swelled with unexpected emotion. All of a sudden I was starring at strawberry fields forever.

It was grueling work, especially for a child so young, and it was made even worse when Mount Saint Helens erupted, which covered Oregon’s Willamette Valley in inches of volcanic ash. That ash mixed with the soil, and is probably part of the reason why certain things grow so well in the Willamette Valley, but it also made things dusty. Honestly, it was toxic as well, and therefore we had to wear masks. Little did I know that years later I would once again be donning a similar mask, this time because of a global pandemic.

Ironically, the pandemic gave me a lot of free time: free time which I used to explore the Maldives and become an expert in the region. To date I’ve personally explored more than 40 luxury resort islands, such as the One & Only, whose gorgeous strawberries at breakfast inspired this memory.

As I sat at the resort, eating my berries, drinking my champagne, and looking out to the crystal Tiffany-colored waters, tears started to well in my eyes. I thought about what my life was like back then: getting picked up by a bus long before sunrise, and picking berries all day, so sunburned from the hot Oregon summer heat, that I had blisters on my ears, nose, and mouth. My back, even at that young age, feeling like it was going to break from being hunched over for at least eight hours, and then riding that same bus home to my bus stop, covered in sweat, dirt, ash, and berry stains that made my hands bright red.

I’m not sure what the worst part was about it, but I definitely hated the insanely early mornings, and I definitely hated the effect it had on my lower back. But, it just kind of was what it was, and I wasn’t in the position to question it.

I would give anything to be able to go back in time and go to that little boy (me) and somehow magically show him the me of today, and what his future would hold for him. And I would tell him that all his hard backbreaking work would not be in vain.

I would show him that I would always be picking berries throughout my life, but now it is because I get to, not because I had to, and I am picking them off of a gorgeous plate that probably is worth more than I would make an entire summer of picking berries. And after picking my berries today, instead of going home on a crowded stinky bus, and walking by the houses of my childhood friends, who had spent the afternoon playing together… no, today I leasurely rode my bike through palm trees, to arrive at my massive villa on its private beach in the Maldives.

Even as I write this, I am well aware of how it can come across. I know that I am fortunate and blessed beyond measure that I get to do this these days. But I honestly appreciate every second, and I don’t take a moment of it for granted.

I also don’t look at my childhood with sadness and regret. I know that those hard summer days, picking strawberries and then later also blueberries to pay for my clothes taught me so much that has led me to where I am now.

One of the biggest lessons I learned at an early age is that hard work, comfort, necessity, and happiness are all relative concepts. You see, it wasn’t just a bunch of kids out there, whose parents had them picking berries either to keep them clothed, or to keep them out of trouble. There were also buses full of migrant workers from Mexico, picking berries in fields right next to ours. They were people my mom and dad’s age. They weren’t picking berries because they wanted to look presentable at school. They were picking berries to feed their families. For me, the alternative to picking berries would’ve been wearing the dorky ill-fitting hand-me-downs from my brother (plus I don’t even think my parents would’ve given me an option not to pick berries). For the migrant workers I met, the alternative was to not have life’s basic needs.

And they absolutely slayed on the berry field. They had serious skills that literally blew my mind. Now, in strawberry picking lingo, it is all about hallocks and flats. A fresh market flat of berries, contains 12 hallocks (or pint baskets) of berries. Each of the 12 small baskets that make up a flat typically contains enough berries for 2 to 2.5 cups of sliced berries. At the time, I earned $1.50 a flat. I think when I was eight years old, the most flats I ever picked was four and a few hallocks. That was on a good day when we were picking a variety of strawberries called totems which are especially huge. I eat strawberries all the time, but never get flashbacks to those days until I ate this big juicy imported berrry in the Maldives: I realized that this subtle flavor difference was the mark of a totem! They look beautiful and certainly are tasty, but I mainly loved picking in the totem fields because you could make more money, due to their size. I think the most flats I ever picked in my life was when I was picking in a totem field when I was 11 or 12, the year that I was the number one picker of all the kids, and I think I picked around 12 flats one day.

In comparison, the migrant workers were picking 12 to 20 flats even on a “bad” day, when the berries were small. I admired them so much, and they were some of my earliest role models. Looking back, I still don’t know how they picked so fast and so consistently. But when you’re picking for the basic needs of yourself and those you love, that must be a pretty big motivator.

Now, my name may not be Jenny, and my block may be a farming community and strawberry fields, but I definitely see the value in remembering where I’ve come from and all the hard work, sacrifices, and at times tough decisions I’ve made that have led me here.

And as I look at these gorgeous Maldivian waters, I am also keenly aware that while we may be traversing the same seas, we do so in very different boats. Some are fishing for fun while others are fishing for necessity.

That being said, there is not a human on the planet who hasn’t weathered storms, and developed some scars of their own along the way. When we get a scar (like the scars on my ears from my strawberry field blisters), the healed part is stronger and tougher than the skin that was there before, and much more interesting. Humans are the same. I am the person that I am today because of my life experiences, and I would not change a thing.

Bryan Herb
is co-owner of Zoom Vacations®,
a US company that creates stylish international private events and gay group vacations to the world’s hottest destinations. Learn more about them at or call 773.772.9666.
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