Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dinner in the Jungle Restaurant

As my trip to Raja Ampat drew to a close, I spent my last few days at Minahasa lagoon Resort. Arrival at this boutique hotel near Manado was a welcome respite of luxury after a "Lonely Planet" boat charter. Minahasa lagoon is quite literally a place which makes one's jaw drop at its exquisite beauty and fabulous jungle locale.
Following a lazy afternoon by the infinity pool and a long massage, I decided to try dinner at the resort's much touted Jungle Restaurant. I prepared carefully by dousing myself in insect repellent and wearing long loose clothing, and carried a dive torch to light the way.I strolled through the grounds up a path through the security gate. The loose gravel crunching beneath my feet was drowned out by the shrill chirping of cicadas and night insects. Clouds from the afternoon's thunderstorm cleared for a glimpse at the indigo night canopy filled with constellations. The guard showed me a small entry gate across the road, and motioned up the hill into the trees. Perched atop a steep slope, I saw a balcony and faintly lit wooden structure. I began climbing the rickety wet stairs as they creaked and swayed under my weight. One flight led to another, and then more. I now understood why all guests were asked to sign a liability waiver to stay here and venture up the hill.As I climbed higher the stairs grew increasingly steep and narrow, tapering to a ladder. I felt clammy from the intense humidity, and was wary to brush aside what felt like wings or webs of insects.
I arrived at last at a platform outside the restaurant, which resembled a large tree house with an open kitchen and a fire pit on the top level. Three small tables lined the outer balcony peering out into the darkness that was the sea. In the distance tiny lights twinkled on the horizon, probably small boats moored for the night, or another resort on a nearby island.The ambiance was exotic and stunning. A waitress appeared and asked only one question"Spicy, or not spicy?". A traditional Indonesian feast appeared: raw grated cucumber and carrot salad with pineapple and ginger and sugar crystals, wood grilled lake fish,chicken satay with peanut sauce,fried pork, and the ever present fried rice with water spinach.I could barely finish the delectable morsels.No alcohol was served, obviously to ensure my safe descent back to the main resort. As I finished the platter of intricately cut tropical fruit, I just sat and absorbed the buzz of the jungle night sounds, the crackling fire and billowing smoke when the fish was grilled, the sizzling bursts of the ingredients in the wok,and the clanging of cooking implements.I wanted to keep that magic interlude long after the plates were cleared away and the last bit of dessert consumed. It was in every sense, a dinner in paradise.

Return to Indonesia December 2007

My first foray into diving Indonesia was an organized group to Wakatobi in South Eastern Sulawesi. Suffice it to say the location did not live up to the expectations built up by a glossy set of brochures and promotional images. Still the area around Sulawesi was touted as the mother lode of bio-diversity and a true must see for an underwater photographer.
In late 2007 I booked a trip to head to the edge of nowhere and join an Equator Crossing charter on Raja Explorer to the Raja Ampat area. I did not have WIFI and could not blog as we were at sea for 12 days touring the area around Misool back up to Kri Island and Sorong, so I will offer here two handwritten journal entries that stand out from this trip. Weather impeded a fabulous dive experience, but it was still one of the most fabulous places to discover.

Finding paradise in Papua
Unable to dive due to a severe sinus squeeze, I availed myself to a break in the diving schedule and ventured onto Mioskon Island for a shore exploration. It just happened to be a quintessential tropical evening , with not a breath of air stirring the mirror like surface of the se. We landed on a powder white sandy beach, the small islet was covered in dense jungle foliage and birds called out as the sun lowered due West. The landscape glowed in a golden precious light only seen at the close of an exquisite tropical afternoon.I lowered myself over the edge of the small tender and waded carefully though warm crystal clear water , sinking up to my ankles in soft sand before I reached the shore. The narrow beach was strewn with an even ring of coral shards, broken shells, sea grass,tree and palm fronds, and regrettably, refuse items one finds everywhere, even on this remote little island jewel off Western Papua.
I had hoped to find some sea shell specimens for my altar at home. Gazing down on broken bleached shell fragments , I strolled further around the shoreline. Several trees were down and the trunks made crossing impossible.A small trail led off into the trees and I followed it . The birds were singing loudly, "sundowning", and they were obscured from view by the dense green canopy overhead.
I found a few interesting specimens: one round white coral knob with a hole in the middle resembled a modern sculpture.I continued to comb through the rubble and soon gathered a small handful of delicate striped shells.I had not taken my camera with me, although this was the most idyllic setting we had encountered on the trip.I did not want the distraction of taking images, but rather chose to immerse myself in my surroundings. I only wanted to see, to gaze at the beauty of nature with awe and reverence.I could feel the evening dissipating the heat of day, smell the plants and flowers.I felt in this setting a mystery, yet also a knowing of some order or force which created such utter perfection.
The sun slid below the horizon line as a huge crimson orb, turning the entire sky rose and lavender. As the tide was ebbing we had to leave. I waded out clutching my little shell collection, when , on the sand before me lay the most perfect and beautiful shell of all. It was a large spider crab shell like the ones I had found in the maldives.I stopped happily to pick it up. It was unblemished,colorful, intact, exactly what I was searching for . The shell had been lying there next to the pile of rubble and garbage, on this quiet beach on a perfect evening, waiting for em to find it.I cradled it carefully on the ride back to the boat.I wished on the evening star as it peeked out of the twilight, believing in all possibilities for my future.