Many people's idea of paradise would be a private tropical island, complete with clear water lapping against a white sandy beach. For most of us however, two weeks summer holiday abroad each year are the closest we will ever get. For one ex-pat though, the dream of being a modern-day Robinson Crusoe has actually become a reality. Richie Sowa, 49 years old, lives on Spiral Island, which is situated in a lagoon off Puerto Aventuras, an exclusive resort just south of Cancun, Mexico. Over the last four years, Richie, a carpenter from Middlesbrough has built his very own patch of paradise from nearly a quarter of a million plastic bottles. The island is, in fact, a huge floating raft. Stowed in nets and bags, the bottles are clustered underneath layers of plywood and provide enough buoyancy to keep the island afloat
Man-made island paradise floats on 250,000 plastic bottles
More impressive than Robinson Crusoe's abode, Spiral Island boasts three beaches, a garden and a two-bedroom house with a toilet and shower.
Many people who dream of escaping to a desert island will never get further than the travel agent's, but Richie Sowa has proved that he's got more bottle than most.
In fact, he's got 250,000 of them -- and they've been used to create his very own paradise, just south of Cancun in Mexico.
Measuring 22 metres by 18 metres, it took Mr. Sowa, 49, a former carpenter from Middlesbrough, England, four years to build what he now calls Spiral Island
Mr. Sowa first thought about building his own island when he was working in Germany in the 1980s, finally deciding to take the plunge after the breakup of his second marriage.
He started with a basic raft made from thick bamboo poles, stuffing the plastic drink bottles -- which he got from passersby on the island by setting up a stall -- into nets, which he tied to the bottom of the poles.
The island is basically a huge floating raft supported by the air in the bottles and floats in a lagoon off the exclusive resort Puerto Aventuras.
Mr. Sowa nailed layers of plywood onto the poles to create a secure base on which to build a home and garden.
His home, which is rather more impressive than that inhabited by Robinson Crusoe, now consists of a large living area, two bedrooms and a kitchen and has walls of plaited palm tree.
The roof of the house is a layer of plastic sheeting which doubles as a gutter and collects fresh water for drinking.
However, Spiral Island is in a tropical climate, which brings the problem of extreme weather conditions into play.
Mr. Sowa has managed to combat the searing heat by planting mangroves, some of which are now more than five metres high and keep the island cool.
The lush vegetation has the added advantage of securing the island, preventing it from drifting, as the roots grow around the island.
This also ensures it's robust enough to withstand the high winds that often whip around the island
Mr. Sowa now wants to become self-sufficient, although he currently relies on supplies of bread from a nearby shop.
He's well on his way, though, having already planted grapes, beans, eggplant, tomatoes, bananas and coconuts in his garden.
As if that doesn't sound idyllic enough, he cooks his food on an open fire on one of the island's three beaches, which were created using sand from nearby construction sites.
Meals can also be cooked using a specially created solar cooker -- a huge spiral-shaped mirror that uses the sun's rays to bake food hanging above it.
There's enough energy from the sun to power lights in the evening and a CD player, on which Mr. Sowa listens to his favourite Beatles and Pink Floyd tunes.
And to complete his host of creature comforts, he also has a fully operational toilet and a warm-water shower, using water heated by the rays of the Caribbean sun.
Financially, Mr. Sowa's life on Spiral Island is kept afloat due to the fact he's become an enormous tourist attraction.
Along with his dog Bonga, two ducks and four cats, he now attracts around 100 visitors a day, most of whom give him generous donations before they leave.