Tuesday, October 2, 2007
A marine voyage back in time!
We are back in Bali. We just got back from a maritime adventure the likes of which rivaled those of Darwin. After a brief stay in Sengiggi, armpit on a beach, we headed across the island of Lombok in a tiny bus filled with two giant Dutch people and a Czech couple. Jaroen, a Dutch sasquatch of a man started things out awkwardly with a joke about his mothers pants being too big, and falling down. He pointed out that if she were a hot 25 year old girl, he would love to see her naked. He would, in fact, cheer to see her pants fall around her ankles. He laughed and jostled me. Then became serious. "Of course," he pointed out, "I don't want to see her naked, cuz she is my Mum." This exchange was made more uncomfortable because his mother was sitting right between us on the crowded bus. Blushing furiously.
After a long ride around the island we arrived at a tiny harbor, which held boats in various stages of rusting and slipping beneath the waves, where they were settling in the underwater mud. Our little boat was rigged up completely with blue plastic tarp for sails and shades. My initial apprehension quickly turned to love as we met the friendly crew and our English speaking guide, Dedi. The boat, although appearing small at first, was the perfect size and very sea worthy, in an adventurous sort of way. The next four days and four nights we lived on the ocean. Our crew cooked us meals in the tiny kitchen, our baths were snorkeling excursions off the coasts of uninhabited islands, and at night we entertained each other with magic tricks and card games. The meals were all fantastic, culminating with a final meal of chicken. It was the same chicken that had lived on the boat with us for the last four days, quietly going about it's business, except when a very young, very smiley ship hand named Maty would give it a good shake and elicit a series of squaks which sent him into a fit of laughter. What a big grin that kid had! I couldn't help but smile every time I looked at him.
At one point we reached an island with a lake in the middle. The only sign of life was a huge billboard that read, "COMING SOON, GIANT HEALTH RESORT, INVESTORS WELCOME!" It was accompanied by an architect's graphic rendering of the place to be built. The only work completed so far was about half the pier, and it was being built by one man while four others watched lazily from the shade. The man was using all the fancy materials pictured on the billboard, but had completely neglected the geometry and angles. Parts that hadn't fit right had been replaced using large branches ripped from nearby trees and nailed into place hap-hazardly. We didn't invest. There was a tiny trail on the island that led into the jungle, and up to the tallest point. A sign read, "Stop! Don't go farther! Last lookout!" I went, alone. Deep in the jungle I discovered what looked like giant ant hills covered in monkey hand prints. Some kind of a chicken-sized bird began stalking me through the dense foliage. At one point I found a bush, unreachable by anything the size of a human, and all the leaves had been cleared away from its base in a perfect circle. Deep, musky smells hung heavy in the air. The hairs on my neck raised up. Something out there, was watching me.
On the Islands of Komodo and Rinca, the destination of our ocean voyage, we discovered what had made the mounds. Komodo dragons! (Or black pheasants. I'm not really sure. Our guide said they built them together but that seems ridiculous.) These things are huge! Growing up to 10 feet in length, and capable of killing a water buffalo, they stalk the island. They hunt by laying like massive hunks of wood or camouflaging in shadows, and they become almost completely invisible. Although I almost always spotted them before the guides, I came within 10 feet of one without even seeing it. It lay by the trail in the shade of a tree, at least 8 feet long, murder on it's mind. I didn't even see it when he pointed it out. Everyone on the islands carries specialized Komodo dragon attacking sticks. Basically, a hiking stick with a 'Y' at one end. When a dragon rushes them, the first pin its neck, and if it continues to charge they give it a hard whack about the head and eyes and it retreats. It is such a strange existence these people live. We saw just as many dragons in the little town, sleeping under the houses, as we saw out in the wild.
Jaroen asked our guide what the natural predators of the Komodo dragon were. When he was told there were none, he pressed, "Yes, but if ALL the animals lived together, WHICH ones would eat a Komodo dragon?" (I have a theory that he is the second coming of Noah, and is building an ark. I have much more speculative proof. Ask me about it if you are interested.) Our guide said no animals would eat it. I told him bears would. I think I was right but this prompted our guide to pepper me with a barrage of nature questions, all of which I got "Wrong" because of my "Western scientific background". The answer to, "Why does a fruit get colorful and tasty when it is ripe?" was not, "So that animals will come and eat it, and then distribute the seeds in their droppings," but rather, "Because a young fruit is like a child, a man shouldn't touch it. But when it grows up, it is like a woman, it puts on makeup and perfume, to attract the man, it says 'I am ready, come and take me.'" The description on his part was much lewder, and they continued to spiral downward as he bestowed more and more of his knowledge upon our group. Knowledge, he claims, he learned from a biologist!
I touched a komodo dragon with my hand!
Mia and I have gained a great love of the sea and it's marine life. Our scientific exploration gear usually consists of a mask, a snorkel, and a stick for poking things. We use advanced signals underwater to communicate with each other. A pointing finger with a thrusting arm means, "Look over there!" and a closed fisted hand on a thrusting arm means, "Poke it with a stick." It's amazing how much more you can learn about a plant or animal by poking it with a stick. One of the plants I poked with a stick resulted in the revealing of a giant eel. The poking of the eel with the stick revealed that this type of eel will bite a stick! So much learning! We are like two little knowledge sponges, and every day we soak up more and more!
I caught a fish one day using just a piece of line and a hook while we snorkeled. I pulled it up and turned it into the freshest sushi I have ever had, right on the deck of the boat. Only Mia and I partook. Everyone else was repulsed.
I loved sleeping on that boat. The stars were magnificent. Mia and I would lay out on the bow at night as we chugged along, gazing out at the night sky and the silouhetts of islands sliding past. The shooting stars were so bright and clear, you could see them break into pieces and become clumps of tinier shooting stars before fading away. We slept down with the crew on the lower deck, closer to the water. Not up on the second story with the pretentious Czechs and Dutch. We were rocked gently by the waves and cooled by the spray of the sea as the captain stayed the course through the night. The blankets they provided had faint, damp aromas of salt, engine grease, and some type of sweet animal scent. Huddled up in them, warm and exhausted, we fell asleep next to the crew in our own little 1st deck heaven.
We landed on the island of Flores in the little port town of Labuan Bajo. It was nice to finally be in a place with hardly any tourists, and even fewer people who spoke english. Our indonesian improved greatly in the 3 days we were there. We found a restaurant that served massive helpings of 'Cuakamole' (the best Guacamole EVER!) After consuming a generous portion our first night in town we went on a quest for tortilla chips and cheese the next day. The best we could do was thin crackers and Kraft cheddar, but when we combined those ingredients on our bungalow porch with two more giant orders of carry-out guacamole, it was paradise on earth. We spent an hour slowly devouring a good four avocados, a block of cheese, a box of crackers and an ice cold Bintang beer while we watched the sun set over a bay of a thousand islands.