Kayak to Bird Island

“This time does not come again.” The names and organization of months, hours in the day, even the conception of “morning” does little to augment the sound of waves on a rocky beach. Personally speaking, December is a month of significant events: two family birthdays, a love affair that has lasted 34 years, major travel, and of course the seasonal occasions and insistent cultural conditionings that help mark the passing of (the illusion of) time. Hello again, December.

Actually, I want to write about the last day of November.

The morning started with a ragged throat, roosters all around, and a beautiful sky of clouds to the east. I opted for no A/C last night and think that is the way to go despite the sweaty body I’m stuck with. Two Japanese cold tablets let me sleep through the call to prayer and even early morning roosters at the same time (3:35 a.m.) I head down to the gazebo around 6:45, mostly to escape the roosters and children playing behind the bungalow, and because there is no water in the pipes. There is zero wind moving at the water’s edge but the light and clouds are lovely so I photograph the scene, almost dropping my camera into the lagoon. One more little bump on my arm after stubbing toe against a lounger and poof, it would have been gone. Expensive-looking junk. Use the damn strap (for the thousandth time)!

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Mostly I want to note the afternoon kayak trip to the rocky island said to be in a marine park off shore from Breve Azure. The two Dutch women met the previous evening suddenly showed up around noon, after going to Omah Alchy to find me. Their homestay could not find a snorkeling tour for them to join and so, disappointed, they decided to seek me out. I’m honored, even though I know it’s the place they’re actually interested in.

Lise and Anouk will be general practitioners when they return to Holland in 3 months after interning in Semarang. They are smart and charming young women and so I am happy for their company. Although I’m feeling a little pooped and under the weather, we work out a plan that they will swim and snorkel around B.A., then we meet at 3 to head to the rocks, followed by a fish barbecue on a nearby beach, provided by the B.A. staff (and the idea of sweet Wiwit, general manager).

When I come down at 2:45 and start my gear gathering, they are out on the gazebo waiting for a coconut drink that takes forever to arrive. No matter. We are soon in our two kayaks, paddling strongly over a distance of about a kilometer, riding gentle swells of around a meter or so. There are no whitecaps and so the swells hardly qualify as little more than entertainment…but conditions still require some concentration so that the kayak does not meet the swell sideways. I did not bring my camera but have all other valuables (plus the girls’) in my pack, so the last thing I want is to be dumped in the lagoon.

“Bird Island” provides shelter on the landward side to pull up the kayaks and get into the shallow water. It takes some navigation and care to find a spot where the coral is diverse and colorful. Once again, the shallows are clogged with the spiky antler coral that could so easily trap and then cut a person not paying attention. I find a deep spot just off the windward tip of the little island where my focused intentionality finally relaxes into wonder: big schools of fish flitting around the “brain” and “fungus” corals, plus there is one outgrowth of the delicate lacy variety, at a depth of perhaps 3 meters that is simply stunning to behold. The cobalt blue of the deeper ocean behind it serves as a fitting backdrop.

I want the women to see this spot, but only Lise is up for it and somehow navigates over the spiky perimeter while I hug the shoreline and we converge at the deep spot. After a leisurely tour, we see the sun is approaching the ridge of the western hills, which means it’s time to collect Anouk and head towards the beachside bbq that Wiwit has planned.

It’s a fine idea in principle but is compromised by the setting. 30 meters from shore, all a person in a kayak can see is strip of white sand beach over which towers coconut palms. Picturesque! However, the beach is (predictably) strewn with trash and various kinds of debris. It is also that time of day when I usually close up the bungalow against the evening stillness and onslaught of bugs. A blanket is laid out, various dishes opened up, and fish is in the process of being grilled over a coconut husk fire made in the hollow of a washed up tree trunk. By the time the fish is ready, we cannot see the food on our plates and so not much gets consumed, although each girl polishes off a large bottle of Bintang and get a little goofy as a result.

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Our trip back to Breve Azure is the highlight of the evening–done in reflected starlight on the barely moving surface of the lagoon. The gazebo’s light serves as our beacon and we whizz along, taking time to pause and simply listen mid-route. Once kayaks are back on the beach and gear collected, we head up the hill to the swimming pool to wash off salt and sand and repellent (for the little good it did) and get generally refreshed. They then get on their scooters and return to their homestay, while I ponder various ridiculous fantasies that are equally entertaining and preposterous.  I suppose I should be grateful  that I have sense enough to maneuver into the “wave” rather than let it upset me.

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