A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013


Bunaken, Indonesia

If you didn't like this weather you would call it an ugly day. The sky is low and gray, and the sea has darkened to match. Still, it is blessedly cool, with a tangled breeze chopping the water. I watch boats crisscrossing slowly in front of me.

Despite these peaceful surroundings, I feel troubled. Maybe it's merely a matter of sifting out the unuseful emotions from the useful ones. Nothing that disturbs me right now could possibly be useful since I could not ask for more from Bunaken, or life in general (except perhaps better health). The drizzle is all right. The gritty, trash-strewn beach is all right. The food and our room are much more than all right. Chris has gone off diving, and I have nothing to do all day--exactly how I want it. And yet.

I have been turning inward more and more lately. Perhaps my mind is saturated with new travel experiences, and nothing I see is coming in anymore. I feel, in a way, finished, though with what I cannot say. With Asia? We've exhausted ourselves these past few weeks. No wonder we feel constantly on the verge of sickness. Nothing heals but must always grow into a festering, unhappy wound. Obediently I slather on antibiotic ointment as Chris directs me, but I feel miserable and unsure. Constantly astonished that my body cannot seem to keep up. I shiver. Some breath of mortality blows up my spine.

Posted by chschen 17:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Death and Rain

Rain again. Every day it comes an hour earlier and lasts a bit longer.

By the time you get home the earlier part of the day has escaped you and already feels like a lifetime ago. What remains is the 4.5 hours you spent chatting with the Germal girl--you suddenly realize you've forgotten her name. When she told you you never knew it would be anything you had to remember, but of course if you spend the better part of a day with someone and even make plans to meet tomorrow...well, then a name becomes useful.

We have seen much today. As much blood and viscera as I expect to see in a lifetime. The mass butchery was a live lesson in anatomy. Of course that is the notion we tourists come away with, though for the people who mattered, the "real" attendees, it was a funeral ceremony. Sometimes we forgot this amid the bloodshed and laughter, but I had only to catch the grief on one woman's face to recall where we were and our interloper status. The dirges, too, were hauntingly sorrowful and, when coupled with the image of smouldering sow in the distance, strangely cinematic.

Everywhere was mud and meat. Smoking ruin. The glassy-eyed, detached heads of buffalo and pigs. Carcasses in varying stages of butchery. Blood the color and texture of paint. All those hack-'em blood-and-gore movies were accurate after all. How mysterious life seems when you see it fleeing the shuddering body of a slaughtered animal.

Mysterious and cheap. God must watch our deaths as indifferently as these men spitting casually into the mud. Certainly no one but a few startled tourists heeded the screams of the tied-up pigs. In that sense the animals' slaughter was a perfect backdrop for a funeral--a reminder not only of our mortality but also of our insignificance.

I don't deny I take a different perspective than the Toraja people may have intended to provoke with their ceremony. Perhaps I too infrequently encounter death that my thoughts on it are so quotidian--I can't see beyond the frightening fact that one day my own life will be snuffed out and, with me, all my world. Nothing will take me on; nothing will remain. My life, which consisted of nothing, will return to the nothing from whence it came. If someone once cared, he too will be nothing soon, and nothing will go on, not even the echo of an echo's echo.

And so I sit amongst the blood and flesh until the rain threatens and we leave in a daze.

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Mad Rain

Rantepao, Indonesia

The daily downpour has begun. A few warning pings on the corrugated metal roof and, just as you're wondering if you have enough time to get ready and slip out the door, the roar comes--so loud you must shout ridiculously to each other to be heard.

So we're stranded. Yesterday I was happy enough since I still had nearly a quarter of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet to devour, but our afternoon of rest quickly ate those pages up, and now I've only a new book to read, which I always begin reluctantly.

[Thoughts of future and writing, which I've mercifully spared you.]

I could be having these thoughts anywhere. I wouldn't have to be in Indonesia, watching the lightning storm from the little slice of sky our window affords me. But it is not my obligation to always write of traveling, to go dreamy or poetic or defiant or awed as each situation allows. I'm a person who lives mostly in my head, and my head is thick with itself sometimes, as now.

The rain has dropped to a murmur. Our chance to leave?

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A Day in the Life of

We began our day when it was still dark, waking up to the cock's crow and the rattle of the generator, which, mysteriously, stayed on all night. We took the boat across the water accompanied by the Milky Way above and a spray of bioluminescence below--both undiminished by the moon, which had already set. What brought us out of bed this early was the hunger to see the red bird of paradise, dancing for his mate at dawn.

We saw him. His hop and flutter, wiry tendrils flopping this way and that, coquettishly. He danced in the shadow, in the sun, in the open, behind leafy branches. When it was ending, he preened himself, gave a final dance, and then flew away. I do not know if he was successful.

Days begun this early feel long. It was only 2:30 pm by the time we came back from "exploring" the south side of the beach, where we spent several hours constructing an obstacle course of sand for any hapless hermit crabs we found. Most did not make it out without cheating or being helped--a disappointment to see the same failures repeat themselves as crab after crab took to scaling walls or turning always in the wrong direction.

When we returned I was tired enough to fall asleep (as usual) on the jetty's hard wooden bench. The dive boat's return woke me, but not a minute too early for soon after a gale unexpectedly picked up and sent our hair and papers flapping. Its suddenness was exhilarating. I watched the wind push a weeping thundercloud from one end of the horizon to the other while the sea turned an ominous slate. But, after raining a few drops, it just as quickly became clear again, and now I'm writing in the sunshine.

Days come. Days go. I feel again that I don't want to leave this island.

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Cast Out

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Leaving Biodiversity [Resort] was a bit like being cast out of Eden. When we arrived at Yenkoranu we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves. So we sat about and stared. We read. We slept. Tried not to obsess over the perpetually raw, weepy wound on my ankle. Chris talked about exploring. I made it known I just...couldn't...that day. I sat on the jetty and emptied my mind. Everything itched.

What makes someone comfortable? A table, a chair, room enough to walk without tripping, light, the absence of biting insects and flies, some breath of cool at night, not so much cleanliness as the absence of uncleanliness. And with the satisfaction of these requirements what a big smile you wear all day!

My mind is weary. It thinks of home. No particular detail but simply the notions of comfort that the idea of home elicits. A dream, an ungrateful dream.

Posted by chschen 17:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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