I write these words to you on the front porch of my bungalow, waves gently lapping down below. Butterflies as big as birds fly around me, and I stop for a minute to gaze at the crystal clear waters, the sunlight dancing on them, as a boat gently glides past. I now see why when I would tell people on my plane ride here, that I was coming to the Kei Islands, people would stop and say, “Aahhh, the forgotten island.” This Spice Island feels very forgotten, like the last place on earth, and here I have witnessed extraordinary beauty and gone way beyond my comfort zone to do so. I am in Maluku, about the southernmost part of the Spice Islands as I can get. I guess the dreamer in me was hoping for nutmeg and clove scented air, nutmeg jam, nutmeg wine, and vanilla lemonade. Instead the only scent of spice in the air comes from the Temple Spice incense that I bought in Bali, and when I was asked about nutmeg trees, I was told there really weren’t any here. That I would have to go to the Banda Islands for that. (A place I was planning to go, but now the only way is by boat and it would require for me to be there for two weeks in order to go). What is here are beautiful beaches, incredible snorkeling and coral gardens, and a very simple way of living.
I went snorkeling yesterday with some Germans who were staying at my hotel. We had a boat take us to Ngaf Island and were incredibly surrounded by loombah-loombah, or as the locals also call them doll fish. The dolphins surrounded our boat cavorting and frolicking in the water, and it was a majestic sight to see.
We were then dropped off on the deserted island with a lunch that Katie, the owner of the hotel had made for us, and were told “four”. We weren’t sure if that meant four hours or 4pm, but I was grateful that I had asked for an extra bottle of water to take. And then the snorkeling began. It was some of the most amazing snorkeling that I’ve ever done with some of the most alive coral that I’ve ever seen. Fish that looked like boxes, red and orange fish, electric blue fish, a spotted blue ray, clownfish, huge purple starfish, some of the biggest coral formations that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, my underwater camera turned out to be not so waterproof and was soon filled with water before I could take pictures of the really good stuff. I am hoping to find a new one in Ambon to take pictures of what is supposed to be even more amazing snorkeling in Raja Ampat.
Unfortunately, to get to the good stuff, we sometimes have to go outside our comfort zones, and I have definitely had to do so to be here. For instance, we unwrapped our lunch, only to find our fried chicken was just covered in swarming ants. What did we do? We ate it anyway. Here I have known real hunger, and I promise you, that means that I was at my wit’s end of hunger to eat chicken covered in ants. I am in a very isolated place. There are no stores around, nor restaurants, and we have to rely on the time when the next meal is served in order to eat. I had brought food, but since I didn’t have time to eat lunch on the long series of plane rides to get here, the small amount of food I had bought was gone before I got here. Kettie, the owner is an amazing cook, and always cooks plenty, but when you are used to grazing, like me, eating small amounts at a time, you realize that you should never take for granted always having food around. I was delighted this morning to be presented with an entire bushel of bananas instead of yesterday’s four, and thought I would save them to eat throughout the day. I put them in one of my drawstring bags and hung it on a door hook thinking, the ants wouldn’t get to them that way. But, no, I came back and have never seen more ants in my life. There must have been thousands. So much for those bananas. And about those ants. These ants aren’t just ordinary ants who like sugar. Oh no, these are straight out of a horror movie type ants. They eat meat. And there are thousands. For instance, my first night I killed a centipede in my room. Now, I will share my room with lots of critters, (praying mantis, geckos, other unknown things), but I refuse to share with a centipede. By the way it took eight good wacks with my flip-flop to kill the darn thing. But by morning, using much less effort than I had to use to kill it, the ants were busy eating away. The centipede was half gone. I went and asked for a broom since cleaning is not part of the deal here. I am always sweeping these ants out, as I’m am terrified that I will die in my sleep and no one will ever find me because the ants will have already carried me away.
A few other things to contend with: There is a jug of purified water to fill your water bottle with, but it is very often empty, and many times no one around to fill it, so I am very often thirsty. There is no such thing as cold water, only water that has only been left out in the heat. They use the small refrigerator for beer, one of which I treat myself to every night just so that I can drink something cold. I used to be uncomfortable with cold showers, until I lived this way where there is no shower. There is only a mandi where you scoop cold water out of (somehow this water is much colder than the water that I drink) and pour over your body right onto the bathroom floor. The mandi also doubles as the bathroom sink. Also, there is not a flush toilet. Instead, you scoop water from the mandi to flush it. This leaves the bathroom and your room smelling something like raw sewage the entire time. Electricity is also no guarantee. In fact, I often wake several times during the night when it goes out. This is because the one and only fan stops blowing and it becomes deathly still and hot. Also, the room becomes so dark, that I can’t see my hand in front of my face. It becomes almost too dark to sleep. I had to laugh because it went out while I was eating alone at dinner. All of a sudden, one of the family members arrived and held a lighter above my head while I ate so that I could see my food. That’s how dark it was. I could go on and on, but you get the idea, it is definitely not a comfortable place to stay.
I also went outside my comfort zone today by hiring an ojek (or motor scooter) driver to take me around this beautiful spice island. Here the roads are less busy, and they had a helmet for me, so I felt more secure. The first part of the trip was the best. We went to see a cave. It was gorgeous with it’s emerald green waters. However, I fell once again (no broken ribs this time) going down the algae covered, uneven, slippery steps. I finally just took off my shoes and went barefoot. The road here, though, didn’t go around the island, so there were no views. We just seemed to be going through neighborhoods. It was fun to see how the people lived. The streets seemed to be where everyone gathered including the chickens and dogs who were always lying in the middle of them. We once rounded a bend to come upon a child walking on his hands in the middle of the street. One girl was sitting on the road, facing the grass and texting on her phone. Everyone waved to me all day long and called out hello. It was a great chance to see more of the island and its people.
I leave here, honored that I got the privilege to visit Maluku and her Kei Islands, to hear her jungle sounds at night and swim this spice island’s silvery shores. I witnessed the most breathtaking sunsets that I’ve ever seen in my life. I heard an International Airport would be built here by next year. I worry what will happen to these islands. I worry that more development will leave the sweet jungle birds, bats, and butterflies with no home. I worry about what will happen to the untouched coral, the beautiful fish. I also leave here forever grateful for the smallest things, food that is available whenever I am hungry, drinking water, ice, showers, sinks, fresh towels, toilets that flush and, most of all, for Amdro. Where am I again? Oh yeah, Paradise.