The Island of Flores spans approximately 200 miles East to West, with light to no wind this time of year all along its Northern coast. Is covered in jungle and surrounded by mountain peaks made of volcanoes. In addition, fishing FADs, nets, and unmarked fishing canoes litter the coastline. We decide to take the island in bite sized chunks, traveling 20-40 miles per day and tucking into pleasant little anchorages each night.
Our first anchorage boasts a beach made of thousands of black rocks polished smooth by waves. Here, I see my very first family of monkeys in the wild. They swing, jump and climb on vines hanging from bamboo and jungle trees, just like monkeys should. Andrew finds a strange bug with a tail that puffs up into two little pom-poms when he's scared.
We visit a village, where one woman is trying to combat the garbage problem by creating sturdy, fancy looking shopping bags out of old yogurt cups and fishing line.
We visit their local school, where doggies stand guard in the doorways and children study in bare feet. We are invited to join one of the headmasters for tea.
Then, we drop anchor in the back yard of a beautiful dive resort - Ankermi. We are welcomed by owners Kermi (a Bali native) and Claudia, and we immediately schedule ourselves for diving the next day. The resort has a lovely restaurant and bar, and beautiful grounds with lilipads, custom built doors, and unique carved wood ornamentation brought from all around Indonesia. You can easily tell this resort is the work of a lifetime dream built over twenty years.
The next morning, we load our dive gear into a put-put fishing boat, the kind we hear passing us from a mile away every morning. Peeking below the floorboards, you can see a giant, Chinese knockoff of a Diesel engine, with no starter, no transmission, and no exhaust pipe — only the basics. There are two men charged with driving the put-put boat - one younger and one older, father and son? The son hustles to the bow of the boat and uses a long bamboo pole to push us off the beach into deep water. Then, he runs back, tucks himself into the gremlin hole where the engine resides and swings the flywheel in a circle with his arm, faster and faster until the whole boat shudders and with a “Pop…….pop……pop…….pop….pop…pop..pop.pop.pop.pop.pop.pop. With the engine started, the father turns a big tiller attached to a rudder and we head off to the dive sites approximately an hour away.
The sound is deafening. We all sit in the front part of the boat, covered by shade but there is no escaping the sound. Each “pop” of the motor rolls sidelong against my eardrum, vibrating the roots of my teeth. How many times since we’ve arrived in Indonesia has Andrew said, “I don’t know how these fisherman have any hearing left!” And this must be true; we are experiencing it first hand. I smile as I learn something new about Andrew: he plugs his ears by folding his floppy earlobes up and over. Is this a common technique? Then, I can’t take it anymore, and I crawl out of the shade and onto the bow where the sound of the engine is just slightly less painful. We should have brought earplugs.
It’s a perfect sunny day, without a breath of wind. Great day to be diving, perfect day for Sonrisa to rest at anchor. Every so often, flying fish jump into the sky and skeet along the surface to avoid the path of the dive boat. I enjoy my morning boat ride to the dive sites. I think back on all the different types of dive boats I’ve experienced in the last two years: long, skinny fiberglass canoes with yamaha outboards, giant black inflatables that look like they could cart around Navy Seals, The Tin Can in Tonga, 1st world fiberglass speed boats, ridgid inflatable boats, and now this: a wooden fishing boat cobbled together, painted bright colors, with shade built of a table cloth or tarp. I decide that the dive boat is part of the dive experience.
The dives are nice. We see huge schools of fish, shark, an eagle ray, a grumpy stone fish, a yawning scorpion fish, shrimp, and my very first set of sea horses.
Later that evening, we decide to take a walk along the road just outside the dive resort. The road is new pavement, cut through jungle. Rice is laid on tarps to dry in the sunshine. It’s not crowded with traffic, but some whizz by every now and then, giving us a warning beep to say “I’m here, here I am!”
As we near a little village, we see a group of rowdy young men sitting on an overpass. They are a bit tipsy. “SELAMAT SOREE!” They break into smiles with enthusiasm as they see us approaching. They shake our hands, introduce themselves, and try to speak the little bits of English they knew. They wanted to know where we came from, where we are staying, how we got here, and how long we are staying.
From where we stood, music with loud and clear base rolled down the village street to us. Live music? We love finding places with live music. So, we try to ask our new friends. “Is that live music? A restaurant?”
They shake their heads and scowl. They say a few words we don’t understand. Then in English, “You want to go? I’ll take you.” We’re game, okay.
Our friends lead us up the neighborhood row to a house that has a large crowd milling around. Small plastic tables with chairs are set up in the yard all around the house. Rows of chairs are set up facing a giant wall of speakers stacked on top of each other. Music pumps out at a volume sufficient to light up Wimbley concert hall. A group of men and women who can only be described as the village elders are sitting in their finery, their hands in their laps, facing directly into the wall of speakers, just sitting and watching.
Their heads turn with surprise as we walk past them.
Two young people dressed in shiny silk sit together on a couch in front of a little box.
“Oh, no, Andrew!” I say, “I think it’s a wedding reception!” I look on in horror as we are lead into the party. We are introduced to the happy couple and we shake their hands. We say “congratulations” in English because we forgot the cell phone and we do not have any google translator to help us with wedding salutations.
Check out that sound system!
We are invited to sit with a group of men. I suspect I’m in the wrong spot, but I’m certainly not going to venture off. They offer us a nip of their locally brewed spirit called Arak. It's like rum, but distilled from rice rather than sugar cane. You know, the kind the guidebooks warn you not to try lest you may go blind. The re-used plastic bottle is half gone and they are all drinking it themselves, so we figure a sip or two won’t do us in.
We are invited to eat dinner and shuffled into the buffet line. Everyone is so enthusiastic to see us there. We fill our plates with foodstuffs we cannot identify other than to say it smells of delicious Indonesian curries made with galangal root, kafir lime, coconut milk, and tumeric. I ask the gals serving the food if I could take a picture and they hop with excitement. “Yes! Yes! Yes! They giggle and put their arms around me to pose for the picture.
Back at our table, all eyes are upon us to see if we like the food. I put a scoop in my mouth and bite down on what I now understand to be a cube of pure pig fat — with a little hair left on one side.
“Mind over matter, Leslie.” I tell myself as I chew, and chew, trying to break down the square into a chunk small enough to swallow. Unfortunately, it does not separate from itself, and I am left bouncing my teeth against one side of the cube and the other as it rolls around in my mouth, stubbornly remaining whole.
“Oh, no.” I think. I look out the corner of my eye toward Andrew, who traditionally has a very limited palate for strange textures. He’s giving it his best go, too, and I watch his Adam’s-apple bob with great pain and effort as his tongue forces the unwilling glob down his throat. There is nothing to be done, and I follow suit. Bristles of pig hair tickle the roof of my mouth and throat as it goes down. I look at my plate, in resignation to the fact that I have at least four more such globs of this to go.
“YOU LIKE!?” Our table yells at us over the music, six hopeful faces turned our way. You see, this is ceremony food, celebration food. Turning our nose up at pure fat of a pig would be like heading to Christmas Dinner and refusing to eat the painstakingly prepared goose - when the goose cost the months’ salary for ten of your closest family members.
I widen my eyes, “OH YES! SAYA SUKA! (I like it) THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING!” I’m shouting at full volume to have my voice heard over the speaker system. I look over at Andrew, he’s blinking and smiling, maybe nodding.
I’m nervous, so I chatter nervously. I try to ask them what’s with the giant speaker system, but the English/Indonesian translation isn’t working and they can’t hear me anyway. “DO YOU DANCE LATER TONIGHT?” I try to ask, using my hands and elbows to suggest “dancing.” I’m trying to understand the motivation for the wall of speakers. But, a mistranslation occurs, here, and they think I’m asking if we can dance.
“YOU WANT TO DANCE!?” They enquire happily, one gets up from the table, nodding enthusiastically and motioning with my arm for me to follow him to the open area in the middle. He directs someone else to change the music to a good dance song.
“No, no no!” I try to tell them I don’t want to dance, I was asking if they dance, later in the night. But, my explanation can’t be heard or understood and they shuffle Andrew and I to the center of the room and wave their hands to say “Go on! Dance!” One little girl joins us, our friend who brought us here, Andrew and I stand in a circle and bop a little bit, so awkward. I bend my elbows and move my hands in fists up and down, dip my head right and left. I should have had more Arak...
When the song is over, I duck my head, yell "THANK YOU!" over the speakers and make a bee-line back to my chair.
The table finishes their bottle of Arak and the groom disappears into the house to retrieve a new one. Eventually, one man from the end of the table points me out and in the little English he has says something to the effect of “No talking,” and points over toward another part of the room. Yes. I see, I’m the only lady sitting at the table of gents, and the ladies are over by the buffet. I think it’s time to sidle off. We stand, thank them for their hospitality, congratulate the bride and groom again, and leave them with a gift of money in their wedding box.
As we walk back to Sonrisa, I blink one eye closed, then the other. "How do you know if you are going blind from a poorly distilled spirit? Does it happen all at once, or slowly over the course of hours?" I ask Andrew.
Andrew stares straight ahead, and doesn't respond. "Andrew.....ANDREW!"
"WHAT!?" He turns and looks at me.
"Oh, good," I think, "He's not going blind, he's just deaf."