The sun was at its highest when my father and I reached the isolated beach. A small woman sat alone on a piece of driftwood, perfecting the mid-day Indonesian art of doing absolutely nothing. She looked as though she had been sitting there her entire life, staring out at the ocean and the volcanoes beyond Bunaken Island.
“Selamat sore, Abigail,” my father said, waving. The woman nodded.
Behind her was the most primitive house I had seen ever seen: Its roof made of thatched palm leaves, its sides of sagging palm bark, the old shack looked as though a castaway had desperately thrown it together, plopping it down amid a tangle of rainforest.
“Is Silas in the ocean?” my dad asked.
The woman nodded again, her eyes smiling this time. I guessed she was Silas’ wife.
Hours ago, we had woken early to go snorkeling, rolling out of our hostel beds and stepping into the soft-lit morning. We had sat with the other travelers in the open-air eating area, picking at our rice and fried eggs.
I felt like I should talk to them. I felt like I should have stayed up late with the flirty Swedish girl, getting drunk and swooning over the tall, blond German as he played guitar. But I was uncomfortable with it all. These young travelers—ambling out into the morning, tan and careless in sarongs—felt more foreign to me than my father’s Indonesian wife.
“After snorkeling, we’ll visit Silas on the other side of the island,” my dad said, putting down his fork.
Three hours later, we ended up here in a small fishing boat a few miles away from the hostel, watching Silas continually emerge from the water and go back down again. Finally, he stood up, dripping in a black shirt.
“I got one!” he yelled. A mess of tentacles dangled from the hook in his hand.
Silas had been out spear-fishing for octopus when my father stumbled on this beach a few years back, and every visit since, this was where my father found him—in the water, searching for these coveted creatures that went for a high price.
He had a penchant for talking like few Indonesians I’d met. While his wife sat beside him, he told us how few octopus were hiding in the coral these days. He talked of his Sunday walks through the rain forest to attend church in the nearby village, about his daughter who had left them to live there. Water, he said, came rushing in their house every time it rained.
My father asked if he ever considered moving into the village.
“I’ve spent my entire life here,” he said plainly, shaking his head. “My father built this house.” Chickens circled around his feet.
I thought of the young travelers back at the hostel, the girls laughing in the hammocks, the boys lining up empty beers. I had come to the other side of the island, but it felt like the other side of the world.
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Does this piece resonate with you? Have you had experiences like this? I’d love to hear about them!