Indonesian Rantau

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    By John Michael Gorrindo

    Indonesian Rantau

    Chapter 10: Pulau Bukide: “Of Paradise Isles and their Modern Day Rajas”

    Butchering a sea turtle and distributing meat and eggs to fellow villagers Arriving in Sangihe Island in mid-July was to come during the height of the tourist season.  There must have been at least four of us on the entire island.  My visit was not strictly in the name of tourism, though, as I was seeking out a suitable island to live on for an extended period.  But as a first-time visitor, I wanted to see the sights and meet the people.

    Quickly enough I was taken in by the locals, as meeting Iver Kalangit my first day on Sangihe opened doors for me to return four and one-half months later to take up residence and secure a cultural tie to the island as volunteer teacher.  And as Iver was a teacher of tourism in a vocational high school, he jumped at the opportunity to accompany me as an impromptu tour guide during my inaugural tour of the island. 

    Sangihe had yet to develop its tourist industry, especially in terms of foreign visitors.  As a tourism teacher, Iver headed a four faculty department whose work prepared its students to directly enter the already fully-developed tourist industry of Manado, a ten hour boat ride south, and the only part of the Sulawesi Utara province where tourist-related jobs were in abundance.  On-the-job training was provided the students in Manado, too, as Sangihe Island provided no tourist infrastructure where the students could secure internships or paid work.
    Iver craved contact with foreign travelers, and for reasons that unfolded over time as we began to spend more time together.  Ostensibly he presented his interest in accompanying me around Sangihe as an opportunity to see what thoughts I had about the quality of Sangihe’s obyek wisata (tourist sites), and to pick my brain for ideas about how to best promote a future tourist industry on an island that had none.

    I did my best to satisfy him, as he seemed sincere and was a professional whose interests lie in helping local students gain a livelihood.  Personally, promoting tourism ran antithetical to why I had come to Tahuna and Sangihe island to begin with, but having to embrace the contrary seemed to follow me wherever I went, so I slipped into the role Iver wished of me with relative ease.

    Iver nursed ambitions that living on a remote tropical island had left unfulfilled.  He was best trained to teach German, not tourism, but had been asked to head the newly-formed department of tourism in his vocational high school.  Having pursued German language studies in Friedburg, Germany, his taste of the west and its educational institutions had helped instill in him further desire to travel and study abroad. 

    But Iver was married to a local woman and they had three young children.  His wife was a teacher, too, and their combined income was at best 250.00 USD per month. Given his family responsibilities, the only real chance he had to travel abroad and pursue further study lie in earning scholarships which were hard to come by in Indonesia.  This was a constant source of personal frustration for him, but it seemed his provincial roots had swept him up into traditional, settled life local to where he had been born before he discovered his higher, personal ambitions.

    This was not to say he didn’t appreciate his island life and his family, but there was a void he carried with him, however gracefully he bore it.  My foreign status represented both an outlet and helped fuel his dreams.  My person served to vicariously fill that void which he presented to me dressed up in professional clothing, but in the end I perceived as more an extension of his personal needs.

    As Iver’s motivations became clearer, I grew more empathetic and appreciative of his situation.  Even when we visited his home village of Sawang on nearby Siau Island where he proposed I contribute to the construction of a new home for his family, I was prepared to understand and not simply feel like a foreigner taken in and carefully cultivated until the right moment presented itself when the “pregnant request” for financial contribution was dropped in his lap.

    I could have taken offense, but had grown through experience to realize foreigners, their knowledge, and their money represented a “holy trinity” for many Indonesians who at the same time happened to value friendship as well.  Again, friendship and economics were naturally linked and could rarely be separated in Indonesia.

    Of course, it was not a blatant request for money without some compensation.  Iver and his wife Mikiana already owned a plot of land in Sawang, and if I could contribute, an addition to the house would be built for me.  He knew I wanted some such arrangement.  This would also mean Iver and Mikiana would be returning to Siau and their home village to live, something Mikiana dreaded, but Iver fervently desired.  Eleven years previous, Iver had impregnated Mikiana out of wedlock, and they experienced something of a shotgun-wedding as a result.

    Karlota, or gossip, was a vicious fact of village life in Sawang, and Mikiana had been branded a “bad girl” in her home town, even though she and Iver had made the best amends they could to community standards by marrying.  For good reason, Mikiana didn’t want much to do with Siau. Iver, on the other hand, was concerned about child care, and wanted to be close to family so that his young children could be regularly looked after in order that he could more easily pursue his dreams of study and possibly even work abroad.  Iver’s plans trumped his wife’s, as he wore the pants in the family.  If I could contribute to his dreams, then all the better.

    Personally, I didn’t see where living on Siau would advantage Iver, as the schools were quite inferior to those on Sangihe, and his professional status would fall accordingly if he were so employed as a teacher on Siau.  Also, telecommunications on Siau were dodgy, and telephone tower signals providing service for both landlines and hand phones were weak and intermittent. Iver, who clutched at his hand phone as the one vital, dependable link he had to the outside world, would have been driven into depression by being cut off.  And as for the internet?  Siau had no such thing!

    Iver cut more of a western profile of personality than most Indonesians- a man who led an outwardly genial existence, but carried within another life whose hopes and dreams were presently confined and sealed-off from expression.  To his credit, his inner life of “quiet desperation” rarely cast dark shadows upon professional and social life.  He was surface-calm, outwardly genial, and admired for his intelligent sense of humor.  I suppose few people who knew him appreciated his complexity and shadowy desires for experiencing more out of life.

    In another sense, Iver had no choice but to be easy going in nature because nearly everyone on Sangihe Island embraced and projected that winsome attitude.  The social contract demanded it, and for the most part, it wasn’t a put on.  The islanders were relatively well-off, had always known peace, and were very much in love with their island life.  This was not lost on Iver, and there was a lot he shared in this awareness and appreciation.  Sangihe offered a good life, and Iver knew it.

    Immediately after meeting Iver in Tahuna, Sangihe’s capital, he suggested we travel to Bukide, a small island that rested maybe twenty kilometers at most off the northeast coast of Sangihe.  My main interest was in searching out a good snorkeling spot, and though he had never visited the small island, the local tourist office pamphlets advertised Bukide’s coral reefs as healthy and intact.  Iver and I visited Tahuna’s “Kantor Pariwisata” (Department of Tourism), which occupied a large upstairs space in a traditional government-style, white-washed cement building located next door to Iver’s school.  The office’s vast, nonpartitioned space was half-filled with several government-issue desks and other office furniture, but only two staffers were present.  Upon one wall had been placed a handmade relief map of Sangihe with side bar photos and capsule descriptions of several points of tourist interest placed around the perimeter of the map’s island centerpiece, each set off to the side of the appropriate island location.  But the staffers hadn’t even visited most of these locales, and couldn’t offer any personal assistance, however friendly and receptive they were.   Their primary interest was that I signed their office guest registry, whose list of foreign names helped justify their bureaucratic existence.  It was embarrassingly easy to understand their plight.  Staffing an office of tourism on an island with few tourists created a Catch-22.  I came to understand the department’s head was also ineffectual in attracting foreign or local investment towards building a tourist infrastructure.  In all the times I visited the office, he was never present.

    None of this concerned me, and only served to confirm that Sangihe hadn’t yet been discovered by the world.  I was delighted by the prospect!  And I was immensely lucky to have Iver offer his guidance, as I didn’t have much of an idea as to how to travel around the island.
    Any foreign traveler with experience taking land or sea transportation in Indonesia carries with them a backlog of adventurous tales and certainly the conversations I overheard between tourists often focused on how, when , and where to find decent transportation from point A-to-B-to-C within the archipelago.

    While I searched for brochures, Iver doggedly pursued his desire to garner my insights surrounding how to promote tourism on Sangihe. After all was said and done, I had only two words of worthy advice to offer- “Improve transportation.”  He stared at me, and flip-flopping between awareness and frustration said, “But poor transportation is the reality here!”  I could only shrug my shoulders with a smile and shake my head.  Shouting “Catch 22!” out of cultural context was out of the question.

    For example, the island of Sangihe had an airport, but located far from Tahuna in a mountainous valley which wasn’t served by any local transportation.  Tourists could fly to the island in a twenty seat aircraft, but could spend the rest of the day hoping to find transport for hire to take them to Tahuna.  If they came up empty-handed, they would be stuck in a tiny hamlet with no restaurant or overnight accommodations.  You could travel directly to Tahuna by ship, but it was a rather exhausting overnight journey, usually requiring another day of rest in recuperation.  Considering the return trip to Manado entailed the same, in order to visit Sangihe, four days of travel was required.  Most travelers might have three or four weeks at most to spend on vacation, and there were many more interesting and easily accessible locales to visit in Indonesia requiring less time and travel.

    Iver and I left the tourism office in Tahuna and traveled by microlet to Mahente bus terminal, one of four in Tahuna.  It was still morning, and we sat and waited for some sort of vehicle to appear that was bound for Petta, a port town on the other side of the island. From Petta, we could catch a boat to Bukide, which was the main island of the greater Toades island group clustered offshore of Sangihe.

    A van bound for Petta rolled into the terminal about an hour later. Locating a vehicle going your way was crossing the first big hurdle in traveling from point A-to-B in most of Indonesia.  The next step was finding a quota of passengers, without which the driver wouldn’t budge.  Two other passengers came along, but the driver wouldn’t budge until there were ten.  After another hour, it was evident we wouldn’t be going to Petta, let alone Bukide unless I purchased all the empty seats, which I did.  This was neither the first nor last time I found myself having to buy up passenger space on local transport in Indonesia.

    Now having cleared the second hurdle, Iver and I had to hope that once we arrived in Petta, we could find a boat bound for Bukide.  But that was ahead of us, and the long wait and extra expense were soon forgotten as we began to climb out of Tahuna through magnificent jungle up a steep road which followed along a contour of Gunung Awu, the active volcano that dominated the northern half of Sangihe Island.  The driver was quite amenable to making stops, allowing me to take photos from several vistas, and to also enjoy up-close inspections of both clove and nutmeg trees, clusters of which grew alongside of the road in multiple locations as we descended from the road’s summit as we began the long, downhill trek to the island’s east coast.  It was my first experience of actually seeing the fabled spice trees, and in every small hamlet we passed through along the road, there were canvas mats set out on the roadside covered with either loads of round, brown nutmegs or cloves drying in the sun. 

    Sangihe was a true spice island, and as such, blessed.  The air all around was filled with the scent of drying cloves as they are the flowering part of the plant.  When first picked they are a brilliant greenish-yellow.  Over a period of several days drying in the sun, their pungency grows as their color changes into a deep, burnished reddish-brown.

    Arriving in Petta, Iver and I walked down to the port area’s cement breakwater and discovered the boat to Bukide had already departed, apparently earlier than scheduled.  Later I would begin to understand why schedules were often no more than rough guidelines in such a place as Petta.  The only people who ever took a boat to Bukide were the islanders themselves, and usually they all came to Petta to shop in the traditional market.  Once they had all completed their chores in town, they’d reassemble at the port, and when all were present and ready to return, the boat would simply take them back home.  If that happened to be earlier than later, then so be it.  This was inter-island transport organized around the needs of  villagers all of whom lived together and had the same business to take care of when they left their small, offshore island to traveled to the mother island’s nearest port town.  Iver’s recollection was that the boat departed for Bukide at 2:00 PM, but it was only 1:00 PM, and the boat was long gone.

    I stood on the breakwater holding on to my backpack while Iver roamed the harbor.  Finally he managed to contract a local fisherman who was willing to take us over to Bukide in his small, motorized fishing boat.  The craft was a brightly painted, traditional outrigger whose hull was very narrow and no longer than four meters.  I could barely wedge in along with my backpack, and as I faced forward, Iver sat opposite me on the
    boat’s bow. 

    It was early afternoon, and a gorgeous sun-drenched day.  As Petta slowly faded into the distance, the water grew more clear blue, clean, and beautiful with every passing minute.  In such a small craft, one couldn’t help but watch the ocean intently, monitoring whether the cross-wave action to our sailing direction increased as we progressed further out into the straight between Sangihe and the offshore Toades islands.  Indeed the sea grew more turbulent, and the lips of waves crested into the boat and sprayed up over us.  The fisherman stared ahead at the oncoming sea intently, but calmly; never uttering a word and making small adjustments to our direction of travel by swiveling slightly the boat’s small outboard motor.  Nearing the first member of the Toades islands, the waters grew calmer.

    Iver was confident we could find an island resident to take us in as two of his students lived with their families on Bukide.  It was summer vacation, and Gladys and Alfred- both having just graduated from Iver’s vocational high school in Tahuna- had returned to their home island.  Bukide had both an elementary and junior high school, but attending senior high school required students to move off the small island and into Petta or Tahuna.

    What Iver failed to know was that Bukide had two villages, not one!  For some reason, the fisherman took us directly to the smaller of the two villages, Limbalo, and after we had disembarked in the warm shallow sea just offshore and walked onto the beach, the fisherman had already turned around and sped away when a confused Iver suddenly realized this was the wrong place!  We had stumbled onto the beach of a remote fishing village, and Iver, the local tourism teacher, showed how little he really knew about the islands where he had lived his entire life.

    To the startled surprise of the villagers, Iver and I tread across the sand up the beach towards the rank of coconut palms which graced the entire length of the village’s one hundred meter long white sands.  Iver inquired as to the whereabouts of the Kepala Dusun (village head), as our immediate obligation was to pay him a visit, announcing our presence and intentions.  We are led by a couple of village men up to the Kepala’s house.  By this time, almost everyone in the village had dropped what they were doing to gather round and stare at the two strangers who just appeared out of the blue.

    The Kepala seemed none too excited to see us and refused the customary gift of clove cigarettes I offered him, saying they were bad for his health.  We were invited to sit in his front living room, and his wife scurried off to hide, wholly mortified by our intrusion.  Iver quickly told the Kepala I had come to do some snorkeling, and the Kepala agreed to contract immediate arrangements for a price of 30,000 rupiah.  Being swept-up into the flow, I asked for a dressing room in order to change my clothes and dig out my snorkeling gear.  I was shown to a back bedroom in the cement house, and after changing, was led back down to the beach where a spacious, old wooden fishing vessel awaited me.  A stoic, poker-faced boatman squatted at the stern, his hand holding on to the outboard motor’s throttle stick.  He was wearing a broad, coolie-style hat and his dark, weather-beaten skin belied a lifetime of working out at sea.  He failed to respond to my greetings.

    Iver and I climb on board, and the fisherman wheeled the boat about and slowly began to motor across the nearly still shoreline waters towards a large volcanic rock, rising dramatically twenty-five meters out of the sea, standing isolated a few dozen meters offshore from Bukide and a kilometer down-shore from Limbalo.

    Our boatman remained taciturn, and as we edged nearer the rock, he wheeled the old wooden vessel around and stopped.  Putting on my snorkeling gear, I propped myself up on top of the boat’s side, and back to the water, toppled into the sea.  The waters immediately surrounding were still and murky, so I swam until breaking clear into visibility. 

    Immediately I encountered the disturbing reality that the coral environment had been the victim of dynamite fishing.  There were some resurgent coral species scattered about the sea floor, some new to my experience.  The waters I swam in were shallow as there were in the sandy, silt-filled straight running narrowly between the island and offshore rock.  Tall sea grasses waved about gently and I spotted my first black and white banded sea snake, a meter in length, wending its way through the grasses, which is its favored habitat.  More remarkable were the sea clams.  They were encased, built directly into the larger super structure of coral with only their rippled shell lips exposed.  The clam flesh which protruded from the slightly opened shell mouths were stunning in their blotched color patterns- black in combination with either blue or brown.

    Soon I encountered bulk coral heads whose thick, tough hides were dotted with dozens of tiny flowering heads of bristle brush forms, variegated in color, and less than an inch in height.  Waving my hand through the water and above the flowering tips, a navel-shaped pore would appear as the tough coral hide dilated an opening, and the “coral flowers,” each uniquely colored, would be quickly swallowed up due to the disturbance.  The hide quickly resealed itself, leaving no perceptible pore marking or depression indicating where the flower had been.  Repeatedly I would wave my hand as before, and watch with wonder the same event unfold.  Coral species number over one hundred in Indonesia, and I had just experienced one of the more fascinating of varieties.

    After nearly ninety minutes, I signaled I was ready to return.  After hoisting myself on board the awaiting boat, we slowly motored back.  The afternoon had grown long and the descending sun reflected across the blue sea and island green the warmer colors that come with that time of day.  After a significant amount of time submerged in the sea and now back in the sunshine, Bukide’s gentle environment had begun to relax me, enveloping my body and senses and working its tropical magic.

    Our boatman pulled alongside Limbalo’s beach, and Iver and I jumped out.  Iver never did dive into the deeper waters with me because like so many Indonesian islanders, he had never learned how to swim.

    Our absence had apparently helped both the Kepala Dusun and his wife adjust to our presence, and both were much more welcoming upon our return to their home.  The initial shock had worn off, and we were served a plate of sweet cakes and coffee, sitting out front of the house in the afternoon sunshine with the Kepala who quickly invited us to spend the night in his home.  He informed us a boat would be arriving early the next morning which could motor us around a small promontory to Enggohe, Bukide’s other village where Iver’s students did in fact live.

    After our afternoon refreshments, Iver and I strolled along the  flat sandy pathway which separated the village’s only two, long ranks of living quarters which ran parallel along the entire length of beach and up above the colonnade of tall coconut palms growing just above the high tide line below.  Many large rectangular-shaped mats were spread out over large sections of the pathway, covered with drying cloves, all in different stages of the drying cycle.

    The villagers soon began to warm to our presence as well, the younger children being the easier converts.  Taking out my camera, I organized many impromptu photo sessions which created a huge sensation amongst the excited kids, the most memorable of which were taken on the beach with a gaggle of youngsters all chomping enthusiastically on long, yellow stalks of sugar cane, begging the camera’s audience.

    Up above and surrounding the tiny seaside village was a steep, heavily forested hillside, down whose slopes had been built a long trough of half-pipe lengths of split bamboo, carrying water down from a perennial spring hidden above in the dense foliage.  The bamboo water chutes were elevated above the ground by tall branches with forked ends across which the bamboo was laid and linked.  This provided Limbalo with its water supply.  Otherwise, there were no other utilities, including electricity, telephones, or plumbing.  Hand phones would be of no use as well, as there were no transmitting nor receiving towers yet built in and around Petta which could provide a signal.

    Limbalo was the first truly remote village I had visited in Indonesia, and it was not likely any foreigner had visited in years.  Villagers numbered no more than maybe one hundred who lived directly off the land and sea.  Their cash crop was cloves, for which they received 28,000 rupiah per kilogram from the spice brokers in Tahuna.  This was enough to buy food staples such as rice, clothes, tools, and any other items they couldn’t provide for themselves.  Limbalo also had its own village elementary school- a substantially-sized facility consisting of administrative offices and maybe six classrooms.  The Kepala Dusun was one of its teachers.

    Iver and I were told to look for flocks of large white birds that came out at dusk and roosted in the crowns of the tallest trees which grew in clusters around the perimeter of the village.  Binoculars in hand, I strolled the path through the village out towards the one end where the largest trees stood.  Soon enough flocks of the beautiful white sea birds took to their roosts.  Iver, the Kepala, and I took turns with the binoculars as we all shared in the joy of watching the birds in their evening ritual.

    Iver and I then decided to follow a trail we found just beyond the village’s rundown Protestant church.  It ascended steeply up a hillside which took us through thick rainforest up to a bluff above the sea.  Night was descending, so we had to return, denying me the chance to keep following the trail which wound its way around an uninhabited part of the island.

    We arrived back in the village just in time to help greet two young teenage boys returning with their small boat from a long day fishing at sea.  They carried up from their boat a large black plastic tub filled to the brim with the day’s catch of about one hundred fish.  Excitement and happiness broke out all around the beach.  A few villagers immediately took the initiative to start cooking rice.  One man grabbed a handful of empty coconut husks, making a small pile on the beach sand and lit a fire.  Another man took the fish from the boys, and poured them out on top of a mat spread out on the ground.  The blues, yellows, reds, oranges, and purples exploded off the now exposed fish scales, and it was breathtaking to behold.  My jaw dropped as I had never seen such a colorful catch.  I dashed off to grab my camera and returned to take a few photos of both the fish and the growing gathering of villagers who huddled on benches in front of the beachside bamboo houses with the fire light illuminating their faces and projecting their silhouettes against the split bamboo walls behind them.

    Before dinner I was offered “kelapa muda,” or young coconut.  Kelapa muda is still green, and must be harvested from the top of the coconut palm.  If a coconut falls to the ground chances are it already too ripe.  Foot notches are cut into sides of the branchless palm trunks, alternating from one side to the next, and span the length of the palm, from bottom to top.  A man with a small machete climbs to the top and usually tests one of a coconut cluster to see if the coconuts are at the proper stage of “immaturity.”  If all is well, he will cut several from their moorings and they fall to the ground below.  If the palm is short, a knife fixed to the end of a long stick can be used to cut loose the coconuts, but as the palms age, their towering height demand they be climbed.  The work is obviously dangerous, and not every young man necessarily takes to the work.  Those who do gain the skill can produce a small, but steady stream of income from their high risk abilities.

    A machete is used to “top” the coconut; just enough so that a hole can be pierced through the husk exposing the center cavity which is filled with a clear, nutritious liquid.  If the coconut is too ripe, the liquid turns milky white which is used in Indonesia for making bases for sweet fruit drinks or toppings for cakes.  The young coconut’s clear fruit nectar can only be called divinely thirst quenching.  It is sometimes fermented into an alcoholic spirit.  Once the liquid has been drained away, the coconut is split in half, and a uniquely textured gel-like, milk-white lining that covers the sphere shaped interior cavity is exposed.  A natural spoon is fashioned by splitting away some of the husk from the body of the green coconut with machete and used to scrape away the soft lining.

    Again, if the coconut is too mature, the gel lining turns rubbery and thickens into a tough meat.  This meat can be used as shavings for cooking, or dried into copra, which is processed and pressed into coconut oil.  Of the many forms coconut can take, copra is the most economically useful.

    Kelapa muda is a universally loved delicacy of nature enjoyed throughout Indonesia, and I’ve never seen anyone partake of it without being in rapture.  It is that rare natural food that could provide both enough water content and high caloric nutrition to sustain life without the need for further supplement.  Portable as well, it comes in its own self-sealed carrying case and stores away with no refrigeration needed, but kelapa muda fresh from the palm is by far the preferred way to consume it.  It immediately starts to dry and age once separated from the tree.

    Once the dried coconut hulls had burned down into glowing embers, the fish were thrown on top without the aid of a grill.  Rice and sambal were brought out, and those three dishes made up the evening meal.  By this time the Kepala was downright expansive in mood, and we carried on together the best we could despite not knowing each other’s language. Much of the village was present, and we all shared a communal meal.  Everyone was content and smiling. 

    My head lamp provided the light necessary for safely returning to the Kepala’s house, as there was no lighting of any kind in the village.  Once darkness fell and dinner was done, the villagers returned to their homes.  The rhythm of life was simple- rise with the sun and to bed when it set.

    It was difficult sleeping as the Kepala’s house was filled with wood smoke from the kitchen fire pit.  Ventilation in the house provided was by means of the air gap between the top of the walls and the roof, but the smoke lingered for hours anyway.  I coughed off and on throughout the night.

    Before sunrise I was rousted out of bed as the boat had arrived and villagers were already boarding.  I was wholly unprepared and hurriedly started packing by the light of my headlamp.  Iver, the Kepala, and other members of his family all hovered over me as I frantically threw my things together.  Their huddled proximity in the morning darkness was of great annoyance. Privacy is often little valued in Indonesia. (Maybe better said curiosity if a national pastime) I nervously ordered them out of the room and finally ready, bolted out, not being able to properly say goodbye nor drink the coffee waiting for me in the living room.  The Kepala refused to accept any money from me.  It was not a gracious exit, but it didn’t appear to offend anyone.

    Hustling down to the beach, I saw twenty villagers huddled, sitting together inside the boat cabin and on benches built into the stern.  I waded into the sea and was helped on board by one of the crew.  The water was undisturbed in the morning stillness, and as the sun began to rise above the horizon from the far side of Bukide island, the sky was faithfully reflected across the silver surface of the sea.

    The boat headed straight out from shore before turning right to follow Bukide’s coastline taking us around the promontory that separated Limbalo from the island’s west facing shore.  A crewman hurriedly let out nylon test from a spool from the stern, and within seconds had snagged a slithery, silver fish.  He smiled broadly and after pulling in the first catch of the day, released it from the hook and immediately tossed out the fishing line again.  The sun had now cleared the horizon and illuminated the limitless sky and surrounding islands.

    Minutes later our next seaside village destination came into view.  Much like Limbalo, its geographic setting was a long beach above whose high tide line had been planted a long colonnade of coconut palms stretching the full length of the white sands.  Many traditional fishing boats, some regally handsome and sporting fresh white, yellow, and blue paint sat beached and houses could be seen through the phalanx of palms.

    This was our original destination, our arrival now delayed a day, but how rewarding that diversion had been.  Enggohe was this new village’s name- a word quite difficult for me to properly pronounce as I was constantly corrected each time I attempted to say it.  Like Limbalo, Enggohe’s beach slowly gave way to a sandy flat area beyond the coconut palms after which a steep hillside of rainforest shot straight up from behind, spanning the entire length of the beachfront.

    Enggohe was an order of magnitude larger than Limbalo, and if the number of fishing boats on its beach was of any indication, a village much more involved in the business of fishing.  The village offered a broad and bright beachfront; fully exposed to the glories of the equatorial sun.

    Not only was Enggohe setting a place of paradise, it was also kept sparkling clean.  Later I noticed a sign in the village reading “Bersih itu Indah, Bersih itu Sehat” (Cleanliness is Beautiful, Cleanliness is Healthy), one of many national sayings promulgated by the central government, but rarely lived up to by Indonesians.  Enggohe was an exception, though.  I can’t say there weren’t a few blemishes of trash tucked away beneath its coconut palms, but Enggohe generally prided itself on appearance.

    Iver and I disembarked and waded through the warm shallows up onto the beach.  Soon enough, Iver found both of his students, Gladys and Alfred, who warmly welcomed us.  Gladys took us directly to her family home, where we were received by her mother who treated us like long lost family.  She prepared a room for us to stay.  It felt as if our arrival had been anticipated, but I was never aware that Iver had made contact or arrangements.  He certainly could not have reached Gladys by hand phone.

    Gladys’ mother was the kind of woman you would want as your own mother- lively, positive, resourceful, and energetic.  If there is a happier person alive on the planet, I would be surprised.  She made one bedroom available for Iver and I who would share the one bed rolled out on the floor.  While storing away my backpack in the room, I noticed an unusual power receptacle which was part of some larger black box electronics that had been attached to the wall.  Inspecting more closely I saw that it was a solar power terminal.  My curiosity peaked; I dropped everything and walked outside the house.  Sure enough, looking up at the roof I soon spotted a small solar panel.  I was amazed.  Enggohe was outfitted with solar power!  I soon asked Gladys about their solar energy, and she said their small panel provided enough energy to run the house lights at night, but that her family would have needed a larger panel to run the family television and stereo system which sat unused in the living room.  That the family even had multi-media electronics was surprising, but they weren’t alone in Enggohe.

    Our obligation again was to report to the Kepala Dusun, so Iver and I quickly prepared as Gladys would accompany us to make the necessary introductions.  Gladys’ family house was situated close to one end of Enggohe’s beach, and she escorted us out of the her house, through the front yard, and out past the front gate onto Enggohe’s lone promenade, a long sandy pathway some five meters wide that spanned the entire length of the village, its houses built along either side.

    We strolled along languidly, greeting everyone we saw.  Many women were out front of their houses sweeping clean the foot prints from the sandy surface of the path running past.  They used the traditional broom one sees everywhere in Indonesia- a tied bundle of stiff, stick-like bristles no more than two and one half feet long.  No matter how unusual it was to see a foreigner, all the villagers returned greetings with a welcoming smile.

    Within a few long minutes, Gladys showed us to the covered porch of the Kepala’s house.  Someone asked Iver and I to sit on some plastic chairs and we waited for the Kepala.  We sat for several minutes, protected by the porch roof from the growing heat of this mid-July’s morning.

    The Kepala finally made an appearance, carrying the village guest registry which he laid down on the table next to us.  He was strikingly tall, thin, and handsome.  He sported a mustache and wore a windbreaker and blue jeans. A little nervous, he spoke no English, but smiled graciously upon asking us if we would please join him in having some coffee.  He seemed quite pleased to make my acquaintance and patiently tried to follow my broken patter of Indonesian; nodding and smiling in support of my attempts to communicate.  His name was Bonny Lalo, and at the age of thirty-seven had already been the village head since the tender age of twenty-four.  Bonny seemed to have been cut out for leadership from birth, and I could instantly see he relished his position. 

    As the minutes passed, I could see he took true enjoyment in playing host to a foreign visitor, something he rarely had the opportunity to do.  Rare, indeed!  Within a few minutes of our introduction, he opened the large guest registry and showed Iver and I the very short list occupying the very top of the first and only page that contained any writing.  I read through the complete list totaling only six names.  The last entry was dated 2001- some four years previous!  If I was the first foreigner to have arrived in Enggohe in four years, I could only imagine how long it had been in Limbalo!

    My luck seemed boundless at this point, but I was well aware that my many long hours of internet research had rewarded me.  Bukide was a paradise isle, and Enggohe a dream spot.  A world removed from the noise, pollution, and social strife of an overpopulated globe, I sat in stunned awareness and appreciation of my great fortune.  With a genial host at my side in the person of Bonny, I knew my stay would be pure pleasure.  Like a finely-tuned orgasm, there had been a long build-up to this state of paradise, and even though it would last for only a few short days, the afterglow would live long in my body’s memory.

    Bonny enjoyed every minute of our conversation, and the more I butchered the Indonesian language, the more comfortable his smile as he sat smoking.  To say Bonny was a chain smoker was an understatement.  I never saw him without a lit cigarette for the next three days.  He quickly showed me his brand of smokes; an illegal Philippine import that only cost him 3,000 rupiah a pack.  Not only were they cheap, but they came thirty cigarettes to a pack!  I noticed few other men in the village smoked.  Cigarettes were a luxury few could afford.

    Bonny told us he would give us a boat tour the next morning, but invited us to come back later that evening to drink beer and play music.  It so turned out that both of us were guitar players, and this fact inspired us to truly look forward to the evening’s entertainment.  We shook hands and then Iver and I returned to Gladys’.  After a wonderful lunch provided by her mother, I grabbed my snorkeling gear and walked down to the beach.

    I stood on the beach and soaked up the gorgeous environment.  There were few inhabited spots on the globe as pure and clean as Bukide.  The island had no motor vehicles of any kind, and no more than five or six hundred people populated its two villages, Enggohe and Limbalo.  Once I had swam out into the reef zone some fifty meters offshore, I discovered Enggohe’s coral had suffered the fate of dynamite fishing- a turn of events I could have predicted- but the water was the cleanest and clearest I had ever experienced in any ocean setting. 

    For the next hour I swam parallel to the shoreline, well past Enggohe’s beach and out towards a rock promontory around which lie the uninhabited, north side of the island.  Ocean visibility was easily fifty meters, and the water’s transparency so complete it was as close to a space walk on earth as could be possibly imagined.  Better snorkeling was to be had on the north side, I had been told, but once I reached the promontory, I couldn’t overcome the strong current which wrapped around it and I was driven back in the direction I had swam.   About a kilometer straight out from the promontory was a huge rock, which the islanders called Bird Island.  Many beautiful birds roosted and nested in its vertical cliffs which shot straight up out of the ocean to heights of forty meters.  An hour after reaching the promontory, I made my safe return to Enggohe’s long, white beach.  Sheer exhilaration!  The seawater suddenly sloughed off my body.  Paradise works strange wonders.

    Later after finishing dinner, Iver and I paid our social call to Bonny, who was to be found holding court inside his cement house.  He sat at the only table in the room, around which several plastic chairs had been set, but at a respectable distance.  Bonny gestured for me to sit directly opposite him on the other side of the table, so the focus of attention would just be on the two of us.  Twenty villagers had already arrived, and were seated all around in audience.  Sangihe Island, not unlike most of the archipelago, had once been ruled by Rajas. Although Indonesia was nominally a democratic nation and Kepala Desuns were elected officials, the deference paid Bonny by his fellow villagers seemed rooted in the older tradition of “Rajadom.”  And Bonny took full advantage to mark the occasion. 

    Bonny both commanded and demanded respect simultaneously. With all their good natured demeanors fully-appreciated, the audience could only be described as showing instinctual obsequiousness to Bonny’s every gesture and mumbled word.  

    Bonny ordered a member of the seated villagers to go buy him a pack of cigarettes and a large coca-cola. The honored village man so commanded rose from his seat, bowing at the waist with head upright, facing Bonny and beaming with pride.  He advanced gingerly and took the money Bonny held out to him slipped between two outstretched fingers.  He did so without making eye contact while ushering the man off as directed by the flick of the same two fingers.  The man remained in a bowed position as he took the money from Bonny, and walking backwards, remained facing Bonny.  He started bowing repeatedly while offering words of love, peace, and thanks to his Raja Bonny.  Suddenly he turned and sprint out the door.

    Once the errand boy returned, the cigarettes and coca cola were again handed to Bonny in a bowed position.  The villager remained bowed while shuffling backwards in short, subservient steps until he had reached his seat.

    Bonny Lao was the undisputed Raja of Enggohe, and he had gone out of his way to prove it to me, but he did so because I was an honored guest.  Bonny’s duties included that of master of ceremonies.  Because I was an honored guest, it was his duty to entertain and take care of me.  The villagers’ deference to Bonny was in effect deference to me as well. Clearly, Bonny had used me to promote himself, but all for my pleasure.  We were symbiotic creatures in this ritual.  That Bonny could use the occasion to reaffirm his power and position was a necessary part of that ritual.   Surely it was the traditional practice of ancient island protocol.  This sudden insight swept me out of the present and away to hundreds of years past.  I suddenly felt as if it was the year 1500, and I was one of the first white men to have visited Indonesia.

    I could imagine the early Portuguese or Spanish Jesuit priests sailing into the “Rajanates” of Tabukan or Kolongan on Sangihe Island four hundred and fifty years ago being received quite the same way.  But I was no man of the cloth surrounded by naked villagers whom I had marked as potential converts to the Catholic faith.  I was just a snorkeling enthusiast who stumbled into paradise, surrounded by islanders sitting in plastic chairs wearing clothing no different than anything you can buy at an American discount department store.

    Bonny asked me if I would care for some beer which I gladly accepted.  He proudly showed me the large brown bottle and its label which read “Red Horse” in large, bold print.  He made a special point of saying Red Horse was an illegal trade item from the Philippines- just like his cigarettes!  He was visibly proud.  One sure way for Bonny to demonstrate his power and independence was to break Indonesian law.  Sure, he traded with illegal Philippine traders who passed by all the small islands.  Of course, he would also need to show he could get away with it.  So far so good it seemed.  Not that he was alone, but the fact his village openly traded with whomever he pleased showed some real cohones- or at least he was rich enough to pay the necessary corruption money to keep the Indonesian maritime police satisfied!

    The Filipino traders offered a sort of one-stop shopping extravaganza for the villagers of Enggohe.  The traders arrived in small crafts carrying Philippine-made cigarettes, coca-cola, rum, various soft drinks and beer; plates, glass wear, household items, and clothes as well. Filipino traders regularly made stops at many of the Sangihe-Talaud islands, and have been plying the waters of the Celebes Sea from their bases in Southern Mindanao for centuries.  The traders were based only a couple hundred kilometers to the north, and the wide expanse of the boundary region seas between the Philippines and Indonesia were under-patrolled by the under-staffed Indonesian maritime fleet. 

    Bonny strongly suggested I mix coca-cola with the Red Horse beer.  This, of course, was his preference.  Indonesians rarely drink anything unsweetened, including, in Bonny’s case, beer.  I refused for the first round, but obliged him the second time around.  Soon, a guitar was handed Bonny and he offered it to me, fully expecting a “command performance.”  I spent some time tuning, gearing-up, and preparing myself to entertain the expectant audience surrounding me. 

    Launching into a number of rock, blues, and rhythm and blues standards, I pulled out all the stops, shamelessly employing pat audience pleaser-and-teasers that Cab Calloway, Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley made popular in their stage acts.  I would have been either scoffed at or more likely pelted with beer bottles at such antics back in the states.  Quickly following would be a tar and feathering, a barrel stuffing and toss off a cliff.  But in Enggohe, I only drew delight, uproarious laughter, and ecstatic appreciation from the adoring audience.  Indeed- timing might be everything in comedy- but in music it comes down to both timing and context.  Fortunately, I already knew what would delight an Indonesian if a guitar was put into my hands.  I seized the moment.  Bonny was Raja of his village, but American music was still king everywhere.  I took full advantage, but for everyone’s pleasure, of course.

    After my energetic set, I handed the guitar back to Bonny, who played away at musical fragments, using the guitar mainly as a diversionary prop which just slightly took away from his main focus, which was nervously smoking one filterless cigarette after another.  He then asked me if I knew the lyrics to his favorite song, “The Unchained Melody.” Ah, well, requests have never been my strong suit!  I was barely successful in wrestling the chords and lyrics out of my aging memory, but enough so that Bonny chimed in and sang along.  That was good enough, and I had pleased my host sufficiently.

    By this time, some of the villagers were asleep on the floor or had filtered out to return home to sleep. It was after 10 PM, and past just about everybody’s bed time.  I excused myself sometime closer to eleven, and walked back to Gladys’ house in the dark alone.  Iver had disappeared long before.  I found him fast asleep in our bed, and settled myself in for a second night of sharing a bed with him, the first time being the night before at the Kepala’s house in Limbalo.  My only concern was that I’d disturb Iver’s sleep with my inveterate snoring.  I never did hear any complaints, fortunately.

    After breakfast the next morning, Iver, Gladys, Alfred, another island boy, Bonny, and I walked together down to the beach opposite Bonny’s house and boarded his freshly painted outboard motor boat.  Knowing I liked to snorkel, Bonny boated out to Bird Island, suggested I tour the island underwater, and snorkel around its circumference.  I wasn’t quite sure if this was the safest of suggestions, but I simply asked everyone to keep me in sight and not drift off too far as I would be signaling them to pick me up out of the drink at some point in time. 

    Bird Island up close was an alluring place.  Not only did its cliff sides vertically rise from its rocky shores, but rainforest crowned its ridge top.  The rock appeared to be a remnant of a volcanic pluton.  Not only did sea birds roost on the ledges far up the rock face, but several goats were at home on the ledges as well.  Villagers from another nearby island had introduced goats onto Bird Island, and simply let them roam free.  A ridge of vertical
    rock comprised about half the circumference of the island, tapering off gently into a depression which sloped down to sea level on the island’s opposite side.  This allowed access to a beach which could be seen from Enggohe.

    Outfitted for snorkeling, I fell backwards into the sea off the side of Bonny’s boat, just below a towering cliff, surrounded by huge boulders which lie half-submerged in the opulent blue waters.  I had no idea what the currents would be like, nor how strong the underwater wave action, though the sea’s surface was relatively calm.  My fear was being thrown into the rock cliffs by either waves or currents.  The waters were normally calm until late morning, but they picked up significantly after 10:30 AM.  It was precisely that time in the morning, and I could only brave the elements the best I could, hoping the waters would remain manageable and Bonny would stay close by. 

    There was little coral to be found off of Bird Island.  Rather, the ocean bottom surrounding the base of this remnant volcanic cone was laden with talus, ranging in size from boulders the size of a small house to large beds of smooth, polished stones that could fit in the palm of a hand.  This was a unique geologic location submerged in sea water even more transparently clean and brilliant than the waters closer to Enggohe village.

    Some larger fish and medium-sized fish in schools jetted about the rocks, and I spotted several shell fish, mainly of two varieties.  One had a smaller, symmetrical shell- smooth, off-white and covered in chocolate-brown spots.  This species was popular in the shell market.  The second was common as decorative fare as found in houses and restaurants around Indonesia, a much larger species with spiral shell structure- the whorled shell white and spiral grooved with horn-like growths that curled off the fluted ridges like commas.  These shell fish I saw on the sandy ocean bottom crawling along, hidden muscular feet pushing the shell forward, leaving a single track behind them.

    I swam in a counter-clockwise direction around Bird Island, and for the first two or three hundred meters I made good progress.  I surfaced regularly to watch the nimble footed goats jumping from ledge-to-ledge far up the rock faces above me, as well as the flocks of white sea birds taking-off and landing from their rocky roosts.  As I began to make the wide, sweeping turn around and past where the vertical ridge began its steep fall to sea level, I swam on towards the flatter portion of the island and Bukide Island came into view. 

    The sea suddenly grew rough, and I was put into direct line with the current that ran along Bukide’s north shore, powering past the promontory I had visited the day before through the shallow strait flowing between Bird Island and Bukide.  I suddenly realized what the prevailing currents were like in the immediate area, and knew that both current and choppy waters would soon exhaust me.  Making any headway soon became a real struggle, and the wave action against the island’s rock shore suddenly became violent. Bonny had drifted too far away for comfort, and I started waving my arms, signaling to be picked up.  It took a couple minutes for the boat to reach me.  Meanwhile, I bobbed up and down in the choppy seas like a cork, tossed around willy-nilly.  I flopped over the side of the boat like a flounder.  I had had enough snorkeling for one day!  Bonny just smiled and told everyone on board it was time to find a place to relax. 

    Bonny steered the boat on past the promontory and down along the calmer waters of the uninhabited north shore of Bukide.  The first kilometer of shoreline consisted of small rock coves surrounded by huge boulders and rock outcroppings.  The rocks suddenly gave way to a glorious, straight stretch of white sand some two hundred meters in length.  The paradise beach rose up from the sea and on to a vast flat of land that had been developed by the people of Enggohe into a coconut plantation.  Bonny personally owned a good deal of the land. 

    Traveling parallel to the shore, we glided over what had once been beautiful coral gardens, now destroyed by dynamite fishing.  Beaching the craft, we jumped out onto the coarse sands, and clambered up the rise over ground cover vegetation on to the flat above.  Coconut palms in the thousands were clustered in area scores of acres in size surrounded by a high ridge of rainforest over which a trail led back to Enggohe. 

    In a small clearing stood a caretaker’s small, wooden-planked hut.  An elderly married couple, maybe in their late sixties or early seventies, came out to meet us.  Apparently they spent a good deal of time here, tending to the palms, and commuted by either boat or foot back and forth between their little hut and their permanent home back in Enggohe.  Essentially they had the entire place to themselves.  Their lodging was most basic, and the interior walls were lined with newsprint for insulation.  There was no plumbing, electricity, nor toilet.  I never did figure out where their water source was located. 

    Bonny sent Alfred and his friend out with the old caretaker to harvest some kelapa muda. After the boys had nimbly climbed to the coconut clusters at the top of two neighboring palms, the old man directed the boys to cut down only one coconut each.  After the two coconuts had fallen to the ground below, the caretaker hacked then open with a machete.  Not satisfied with the coconuts’ readiness, he gestured with his machete for the boys to come back down and try two more palms.  I watched Alfred quickly descend, his bare feet securing foot holds in the notches that had been cut into the sides of the long palm trunk.  Notches were spaced far enough apart that reaching down for the next with one leg required the trailing leg to fold up in jack-knife fashion, and to such a degree that Alfred’s knee was practically planted in his face.

    The second set of palms proved to offer a better batch of kelapa muda, and soon coconuts were raining down as the boys hacked away, freeing the coconut clusters from their branches.  The old man fielded the coconuts below, and prepared them for consumption with his machete. 

    Somehow, this coconut plantation’s harvest was transported over to Enggohe and dried in the village drier, consisting of a cubical shaped cement oven into which coconut husks were thrown through a metal door into the box’s bottom and burned.  Aged coconuts which had been husked and split into two were thrown into a top oven chamber suspended some height above the oven’s fire pit and covered with a tarp.  Just enough heat was created by the burning husks below to slowly dry the coconut meat above so that it could later be processed into coconut oil in a pressing plant.

    After refreshing ourselves with kelapa muda, Bonny asked us to follow him over to the far end of the beach to a maleo bird nesting site.  We ducked through some thick vegetation and then on to a small clearing of disturbed sand.  The site was tucked up close to the hillside covered with rainforest and was hidden from view by ground cover and surrounding trees.  Before us lie a large sandpit, the sand turned over to a depth of two meters, and appearing as if several men with spades had attempted to dig for buried treasure, but finding none, threw the sand back into the pit and walked away.

    The maleo is sometimes mistaken as a grub fowl, and is about the size of a chicken.  Like chickens, they are poor flyers, but are equipped with powerful legs and claws for digging.  As in Tangkoko, the maleos incubated their eggs here in the sand, burying them to the depths of two meters, requiring the birds to excavate broad areas in the process.  Once they deposited their large eggs, they covered them over and returned to their homes in the thick ground cover in the rainforest on the hillside above.  Once the chicks hatched, they had to claw their way up to the surface, poking their bald heads and spindly necks out of the sand into the light of day.

    As an endangered species, the maleo’s habitat was restricted to such relatively undisturbed beach sides scattered throughout North Sulawesi.  As previously mentioned, their eggs were traditionally prized food for the native islanders of the Wallacea region and the raiding of nests coupled with loss of habitat had diminished the bird’s population quickly over the past century. 

    If Alfred and his friend were aware of this fact, it did not faze them, as they jumped onto the sand pit like young children, and began to dig furiously into the damp sands, conveniently made soft and pliable by the maleos- possibly just the night before.  They dug for several minutes, and it became apparent very quickly that reaching depths of two meters would be extremely difficult.  It was a delicate operation, as accidental breakage of an egg was a distinct possibility.  The boys scooped out long columns of soft sand with their hands cupped around the bottom as they lifted them straight up out of holes as deep as the length of their arms.

    I stood watching, wondering if these islanders so practiced at the art of hunting maleo eggs would succeed in their efforts.  Fortunately, they came up empty handed which saved me from deciding whether to convince them to return their prizes to the sands and cover them back up again.

    Soon after the futile search for maleo eggs, our boating party departed for Enggohe.  That evening on the village beach I witnessed the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen.  Spanning an interminable window of time, the sunset unfolded as a sequence of a half-dozen dazzling sky paintings, each unique in composition, contrast, and color.  Only masters of light such as Rembrandt or Monet could have attempted to represent in art
    what nature unfolded so effortlessly that evening.  To complete the sequence would have taken a lifetime of labor. 

    I stood transfixed on the beach for the duration, taking photographs as each unique play of sky, sun, and sea lapsed seamlessly from one majestic vision into another.  Reds, oranges, yellows, blacks, and blues formed the basic palette- but their tints, hues, and levels of saturation transformed by each successive degree the sun’s ball of fire closed in on the horizon. The accompanying cloud formations followed in parallel the transformations of color with their own transfiguration.  The sole works of man in view were the tiny imprints of small sail boats moving slowly across a motionless sea whose glassy surface was like a fixed plane spanning an infinite space.

    The purity of this extended vision rested like a divine abstraction in the mind’s eye, but it was wholly wrought by nature.  These visions of the heavens here on earth came with no prior notice nor fanfare, and passed silently, offering a peak experience for the seer who simply had to be present and aware. To enjoy a higher reality in paradise, one only need be present- and aware.  If death would have been the cost one must pay to truly become one with these equatorial lights at sunset, I imagine somebody could have been so moved.

    The next morning I awoke sometime after sunrise, and walked out onto the village’s sandy thoroughfare.  The air was abuzz with excitement and villagers were hurriedly passing back and forth along the path in groups.  Something unusual had just taken place and my attention was drawn to the near end of Enggohe’s beach front where a crowd had gathered.  I rushed back into my host’s house, grabbed my camera, and hurried out to meet the crowd.  There I witnessed a scene which to the degree would have horrified any animal lover’s sensibilities had in equal measure been a source of elation for the islanders.

    A man stood squatted over the dismembered remains of a giant sea turtle with a bloody knife in his hand.  Spread out on a canvas mat, the turtle’s scaly, green head had been severed and lay to the side of its breast plate and next to the great creature’s organs and flippers which were piled in separate heaps.  The man had just finished eviscerating the innards, and scraping clean the turtle’s breast plate.  Traces of blood and sinew only slightly marred the otherwise gleaming white inner surface of the plate. 

    A bloody scale sat next to the man, as he had already weighed-out and sold the turtle’s meat to several village women.  I took some photos of the turtle and then walked back on to the village thoroughfare.  Here, I took some more photos of women carrying large chunks of fresh, bloody turtle meat clinging to bones.  Then a young girl of seven or eight years of age walked past me holding a bowl of golden yellow turtle eggs, glowing luminescent in the morning light.  I took a photograph of the girl holding out the bowl of golden turtle eggs, gladly accommodating a good camera angle. 

    Yes, the turtle was female, and had been caught in the middle of the night by a village hunter as he lay in wait on the very same beach I had visited the day before.  Maybe she had come up out of the sea to bury her eggs to incubate in the beach sands, just like the maleos.  Whatever her reason, it was her last journey either into or out of the sea.

    I returned once again to where the slaughter had taken place.  The turtle hunter was now in the ocean just offshore along with his two young sons.  Their three faces were filled with elation as they played with the mammoth turtle’s shell, which was floating on its concave back and was being played with as a toy boat in the water.  Again, I snapped my camera’s shutter.  I knew these shots would blow minds and curdle blood back in America.

    However sacred the turtle is to many ethnic groups of the archipelago, it is even more revered as a delicacy, and many special dishes are prepared in the form of soups and stews.  The creation  myth of the Balinese, for example, tells of their world being created on the back of a giant kura-kura, or sea turtle, as it floated on the sea.  The sea turtle was as much a prized catch as it was a sacred symbol in Bali, and it was only recently that efforts were being made to collect, harbor, care for, then release tiny turtle hatchlings back into the seas off select beach breeding grounds found on the island.  Bali is one of the few islands in Indonesia where organized efforts to help rebuild turtle populations are at work and promotional campaigns to educate the islanders as to the endangered status of all sea turtle species are actively pursued.

    But in Bukide, the notion of any species of fish or fowl being endangered is still a foreign concept.  As in most of Indonesia, the sea is seen as harboring an endless supply of food as it always has.  The world’s greatest biodiversity of marine life is to be found in the greater waters of Indonesia’s archipelago, and still provides Indonesia daily with such great volumes of food that it is generally taken for granted.  Even though most of Indonesia’s reefs have been damaged or destroyed by dynamite fishing, the fish stock is still substantial, as the deep trenches of cold, nutrition-laden waters promote huge schools teaming fish life between islands throughout the archipelago.  Illegal harvesting of creatures such as the whale shark- whose sweet white meat fetches inflated prices across Asia- was common.  Fishing companies from Japan, Taiwan, and China are based in all of Indonesia’s ports and will quickly snap up any rare or illegal catch from Indonesian fisherman, box them in Styrofoam containers chilled with ice and fly them post-haste as part of the cargo on passenger jets bound for fine dining establishments all over Asia.

    Later that day I finally met Gladys’ father who had just returned from a few days at sea fishing with his partner.  A man of quiet strength, humility, and steely resolve, he took me down to the beach and showed me his fishing operation.  His traditional outrigger was very similar to all the others beached on the sands of Enggohe and a slightly larger sized version of the craft Iver and I had traveled on from Petta to Limbalo. 

    On board was a small air compressor which he hoisted out by hand in order to explain how it fed an air supply down a long, thin airline whose end he held in his mouth as he strode the ocean bottom weighted down by a waist belt of lead.  He then scoured the bottom in search of lobster, another prized catch that could be sold to foreign fish exporters for 100,000 to 200,000 rupiah per kilo. 

    From the boat’s hull his partner produced a large net bag filled with giant clawless lobsters, some grayish-red others grayish-green in color. Immediately two other men began pulling out the still-live crustaceans and carefully placing then into meter-long Styrofoam boxes, packing them in large quantities of moist sand which would keep them alive long enough to be packed in ice once they arrived in Manado’s port.  Soon thereafter, the live catch would be flown off to one of many select Asian destinations.

    Lobster fishing was a dangerous occupation.  Gladys’s father would dive to depths of fifty meters with only a mask and airline, and if the compressor failed, the decompression time needed to resurface without contracting the bends would be greater than the length of time most men could survive on one final breath of air.  Also, his tiny fishing vessel was subject to storms at sea, and lobster fishing routinely took fisherman far out into inter-island waterways.  If a storm swept through, a fisherman had to race to the nearest island for cover, and such escapes were often narrow.  Gladys’ father and his fishing partner would stay out for days at a time, and would often beach their craft on uninhabited islands to find shelter for a night’s sleep.

    Gladys’s father pursued this occupation for the sake of his daughter’s education.  Having just graduated from Tahuna’s vocational high school, she now had plans of attending college in Manado in a few, short weeks.  Her father would have to continue working at his dangerous occupation as lobster fisherman to pay for Gladys’s college tuition and living expenses for at least the next four years.

    Gladys’s father was a modest man and reserved pride for only the hard, dangerous work he did on behalf of his only child.  I stood with him on the beach and watched until all the lobsters had been packed.  The larger lobsters were the males, and their shells were khaki green with black-green stripes crossing over the shell bodies.  The total catch was worth well over ten million rupiah, a sum greater than many Indonesians earned in an entire year of labor.

    Gladys was blessed to have parents who were great providers.  They could afford to pay for her college education, and she along with Alfred were amongst the very few teenagers in Enggohe who were able to attend high school.  Reliable sources all agreed the rate of continuation from middle school into high school in the smaller islands of the Sangihe group was only 30%.

    It was difficult to know if those children left behind felt deprived of educational opportunity.  I just hadn’t had the chance to talk to any of the younger islanders. Impressed  by the easy-going smiles and laughter that animated the teenage youth of Enggohe, I was persuaded into thinking that the real paradise was here on their island.  I had watched them slip off at night to congregate together on the far reaches of the beach away from the prying eyes of their parents.  Iver swore to me they enjoyed the delights of teenage sex there on the beach of their village, and the suggested imagery was a powerful diversion from my thoughts of their futures and how they felt about living forever in Enggohe.

    To speak of Bukide as a paradise island now held for me a definition in real terms.  Nature was the primary provider, not only offering bountiful cash crops of cloves, but also coconut and fish. Water from the natural springs ran all year and many villagers had their own wells.  Island society operated on a spirit of cooperation which could be seen in how everyone treated each other with gentle respect and kindness. 

    The pride everyone took in keeping Enggohe clean was a striking measure as well.  As Kepala Dusun, Bonny- the modern day Raja of Enggohe- did his part to seek out, secure, and maintain services for the island from the government offices which were located on the mother island of Sangihe, a forty-five minute boat ride away.  Bukide’s close proximity to Sangihe Island insured easy access to markets for both buying and selling, as well as contact with other basic needs such as medical care.  The fact Tahuna was the regency capital was of great fortune to the villagers of Enggohe, as they could avail themselves of markets and services only a regency capital could offer.

    These qualifications made for the prerequisites needed to define an island paradise, and yes, Enggohe fulfilled the definition beautifully.  I also had discovered what had allowed Enggohe to maintain such a rarefied status.  As such, I was satisfied that paradise was more than just a transient state of mind conjured by the feverish flights of a poet’s longing.  This all had a salutary if delusional affect upon my psyche, so often impaired by the dread of living in a world heading for ecological catastrophe. 

    Still, I knew deep down that if anything, paradise is fragile.  It was easy to envision its destruction at the hands of both men and mother nature.  As global warming heated up and the terrible typhoon storms commonly found in the Philippines seemed to be moving  south into North Sulawesi’s Celebes Sea, maybe one day such a storm would ravage these boundary islands which lie so close to Mindanao.  And Bonny Lalo assured me he had plans for luring tourists into Enggohe. I shuddered to think! 

    For a foreigner like me to visit for a few days didn’t make for an immanent invasion, but I believed that the four years hiatus between my visit and the last foreigner to have landed in Enggohe was probably about as much tourist concentration a place in paradise could withstand and remain “pure.”  I felt it my duty to leave the paradise of Enggohe to its rightful stewards and make a sure departure quickly.  It was mine only to experience for a short while.  Upon my departure, I gave sealed envelopes of money to both Bonny and Gladys’ parents as compensation, and could only guess at what a fair price would be for their hospitality.

    To tread on paradise was like backpacking into the wilderness.  One’s responsibility was to leave behind only footprints on its beaches and fond memories in the hearts of its inhabitants.  I knew there were many more villages like Enggohe dotting the many small islands of Sangihe-Talaud in this spectacular boundary region of the Celebes Sea.  My careful research and great luck in meeting Iver had led me to this greater paradise, and it was wrenching to know how to deal with this knowledge.  It was all so fragile in appearance, and I had such a deep respect for it; a respect and understanding born of the loss of paradise I had painfully witnessed growing up as a boy on Lake Tahoe in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

    Because of these factors, it was easy to leave Bukide early on the fourth day of my visit.  Iver and I boarded a large wooden boat with thirty villagers, almost all of them women headed to market in Petta, and we motored across the waterway between Bukide and Sangihe Island in the early morning when the seas were dead calm.  The women nervously laughed at my presence, but mainly talked to each other casually while preening each other’s scalps, parting rows of head hair and picking away critters- maybe lice- between their thumbs and forefingers.

    Hours later Iver and I arrived back in Tahuna having found transportation easily once in Petta.  My next planned tour on Sangihe was to visit the small desa of Lelipang, which bordered on a large, protected rainforest reserve through which a large beautiful river ran.  Pristine waterfalls could be visited there with the aid of a guide as well as treks into the rainforest where patient search could reward with sightings of endemic bird species, all of them endangered and world famous due to their rarity.

    From my base in Lelipang I also journeyed out on a perilous speed boat ride to snorkel around an underwater volcano an hour and a half off Sangihe’s coast.  Unfortunately, corrupt officials from the small island nearby the volcano and poor planning by my inexperienced guide foiled my attempt.  This tale is simply one of a comedy of errors; that of a green foreigner making his initial rounds on an island that knew no real tourism.  I had been very lucky in Bukide, but not so in my tour of Mahenge’s underwater volcano.  I took it all in stride and felt blessed either way. 

    But of greater import, I would be returning to Sangihe in five month’s time as a volunteer teacher- not as a tourist.  A new chapter in my Indonesian Rantau would unfold, and my mission to Sangihe-Talaud would evolve, taking on dimensions that only immersion into the local culture by way of its schools could afford.  So profound an experience would it be that I would come to understand that not only had I discovered a suitable place to live simply, and simply live, but I would also be given an opportunity to return and make a long-lasting new life for myself if so desired.

    I would soon be reflecting back to my good friend Agus’s reply after telling him at the beginning of my journey what a mess I had made of my life in America. 

    The young man simply said and without hesitation, “Well, now you have a second chance.” 

    How prophetic his words turned out to be.