Indonesian Rantau

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  • Chapter 8: Siau- "Of Fire and Brimstone; Christmas on a Volcanic Island

     

    By John Michael Gorrindo

    Indonesian Rantau

    Chapter 8:  Siau- “Of Fire and Brimstone; Christmas on a Volcanic Island

    Because the earth rotates upon it axis around a molten core of conductive magma, a magnetic field gives rise from both the north and south poles, blanketing the earth and providing a protective shield without which the sun’s radiation would kill all living things.  Of all the universe’s primary forces, magnetism to me has always been the most difficult to understand, but also the most attractive.  Attractive, for instance, because of how it works in a compass.  Magnetic north will always draw the needle north, however untrue, and no matter how dense the forest trees wherein you may be lost, you can find your way out with a compass that needs no other power source aside from the magnetic ether.

    Some inexorable line of magnetic force had drawn me along its length, providing me with my own magnetic north  which delivered me from the dark forest in which I had become lost, floundering for years.  After returning home to America from my first month long trip to Indonesia, I resumed my post as a private middle school teacher.  Things went horribly wrong within a couple of months thereafter.  Both my love and work lives fell into tatters on cue, and I found myself in the hospital for a week with a horrible armpit abscess whose culprit bacteria was so rare as to baffle my exceedingly intelligent doctor.  “Where did you get this thing?” he asked incredulously. 

    The scientific method and pathology has its rightful place in the scheme of things, but I felt deep down my severe illness was simply a case of a broken heart.  And a broken career. 

    Both my children would be graduating from college at the end of the school year, and I would no longer need to be tethered and yoked to a grindstone of financial responsibility once they were out on there own.  My body and soul sensed this upcoming inflection in my life’s curve, and they struggled to keep afloat for that interim, dragging me every day through my paces at work and then after school through hours of private tutoring.  Weekends demanded more work as a tutor, and after nearly twenty years of sixty and seventy hour work weeks, my level of exhaustion was complete.  This way of life was killing me and I had to put an end to it.

    Looking for a way out, I knew I first had to clear the decks.  My thinking was so convoluted and muddled I really didn’t know exactly where to turn, so I began to realize I simply needed to extricate myself and find asylum somewhere outside the United States.  I knew that returning to Indonesia would be the plan, but I needed to hone in on the proper resonant line of magnetism that would draw me to the right place in the archipelago.

    Maybe this all sounds like a linear process, but it was anything but.  I lived alone during that last school year in a small rented maid’s quarter attached to a huge house situated on a remote hilltop in the coastal hills north of San Francisco.  With plenty of time to think, my mind cast its net over the entire Indonesian archipelago, and began to sift through endless books and internet searches seeing what I might dredge up out of the depths.  I had no idea what such a fishing expedition would capture in its net and I cast it into every sea of the world’s greatest archipelago.  Somewhere along the line I switched over to pole fishing, and the reel was a spool of magnetized line that hooked a single, big fish; so powerful that it eventually dragged me half way around the globe into the Celebes Sea.

    After a few months of search, I had finally found a magnetic line whose length I felt confident to travel.  My research had inadvertently led me to understand an outer island group would probably best suit as a place to settle down for a few months and meditate on the prospects of a new life I so desperately needed to create. 

    I was not enamored with Indonesia’s center of political and cultural power, Java.  It stood to reason if I could find a far removed location, a more peaceful living arrangement could likely be found.  Eventually, I drew a bead on the Sangihe-Talaud island groups, which together formed what in Indonesia is known as a daerah perbatasan, or boundary region.  the one hundred twenty-five islands lie north of Sulawesi, and are close to the Philippines.  Predominantly Christian, it struck me that Sangihe-Talaud was probably as removed from Jakarta’s sphere of influence as I was likely to find in the republic.  Religious persuasion was not a litmus test I imposed on this process.  Certainly I am no practicing Christian, but any part of Indonesia that had both been able to establish a religion outside of the Indonesian mainstream and possess a remote location most likely meant it had stability and a spirit of independence; maybe even its own special identity.

    This was all speculation, and given there was not much information available on Sangihe-Talaud, I had the hunch it might just be my kind of place.  I other words, people had left the place alone.  Few tourists ever traveled there.  Its only linkage to the rest of the archipelago was vis-à-vis Manado, hours away by ship.  Though the Philippines were close by, the only real influence they had was through a small amount of illegal trade with the islands which provided the islanders access to cheap consumer goods.  Maybe there were paradise isles awaiting to be found there, and maybe not.  That part of the equation really didn’t matter much.  I was looking for a neutral locale; a peaceful place where a man could live simply and simply live.

    My first few months in Indonesia had been spent scrambling up a long learning curve, seeking out the proper path that would allow me to stay for a prolonged period in the country.  Finally settling on volunteer teaching as that path, I had at least temporarily solved both my visa problem and need to find a viable connection to Indonesian culture.  Removing myself to live like a hermit wasn’t part of the plan.  Yes, I wanted some peace and solitude, but also a chance to forge communal links in a culture wholly apart from anything I had known in America.  I wanted to start from scratch and put into living practice the idea of how to share in a communal life, something I had never known.

    Fortunately, I followed up on the magnetic line my research and instincts had so patiently sought.  Once in Indonesia, I made certain to take the time to visit Sangihe-Talaud before settling in Bira to initiate my term there as volunteer teacher.  Bira had provided a foot hold as a foreigner in Indonesia, but later on I knew I would want to take another step forward.

    After visiting Tanah Toraja, my sights were becoming clearer.  I was beginning to creep on all fours along the road of detoxification and soul revival.  I returned to Makassar and then caught a flight to Manado.  Located in the most northerly part of Sulawesi, I could sense that Manado and the greater region of North Sulawesi in general had a spirit of independence, however Indonesian.  It seemed my research might have served me well.

    I boarded a ship in Manado’s harbor and sailed to Tahuna, the regency capital of the Sangihe island group.  To say the ship had been “christened” the K.M. Terra Sancta is no misnomer.  Before departure, a solemn voice came over the ship’s loud speakers, and asked all the passengers to pause and pray.  The prayer was directed to Jesus, not Allah.  A safe passage is what the prayer asked of the lord, and the multitude of passengers all paused in silence, bowing their heads as the voice of prayer resounded along the decks and gangways of the Terra Sancta.  I now found myself on a floating island of Christians, and a world away from Muslim South Sulawesi.  The ship was a minority report of its own.  Christians made up only ten percent of Indonesia’s population, and its real stronghold was in Northern Sulawesi.  Other regions had their pockets of Christianity, such as Central Sualwesi, the city of Ambon in the Malukus, the Batak area of North Sumatra, and the island of Flores, but North Sulawesi was free of the religious strife between Muslims and Christians that plagued many of these other regions. 

    North Sulawesi was relatively well-educated and prosperous.  Its independence was partially rooted in its ability to stand on its own feet economically.  I actually saw people reading newspapers in the streets of Manado.  The region had a long history of interaction with foreigners that on the whole had served to strengthen its regional identity rather than coerce it into adopting foreign ways, and succumb to outside control of its economy and politics.  Yes, Christianity was a foreign import, and certainly central to North Sulawesi culture.  But Christianity had been incorporated into a greater cultural context that had not been overthrown in the process.  Just as France and Italy are overwhelmingly Catholic, the two countries are vastly independent of each other in almost every other way.  North Sulawesi had a similar fee of essential uniqueness.

    I had chosen to travel by ship on possibly the busiest travel day of the calendar year.  It was the middle of July, and schools had let out for vacation.  The last break children and their families had enjoyed had been all the way back in late December.  Most Indonesians have little time or money to travel and visit loved ones.  those loved ones are often far removed, living on distant islands in the archipelago.  This was the beginning of the two week summer break, and the ship had been overbooked by its ticketing agents. 

    Terra Sancta was the largest vessel of the passenger fleet that regularly commuted between Manado and the ports of  Sangihe-Talaud.  It had two lower decks filled with two-tiered rows of bunks and a top deck of small cabins outfitted with a single set of bunks rooming only two passengers each.  I had purchased a ticket for a lower deck bunk, but once on board, it was clear no bunk spots were to be had.  All the decks teemed with people, and my ticket didn’t even have a bunk number indicated.  I would just have to find a place to sit along of the decks’ outside passages.

    Making my way up to the top deck, I stationed myself to stand against the railing, feeling a bit rattled. It was 5:30 PM and just getting on board safely had been an initiate’s hazing ritual.  I was toting a large backpack, and negotiating my way along the wooden gangplank from the dock onto the ship had been a dangerous proposition.  It was only three planks wide, and a constant stream of people were making their way both on and off the boat, many carrying huge bundles and boxes hoisted on top their shoulders and head.  I had to bend over slightly to avoid the hoisted baggage and lean to the side to allow cross traffic by.  Crowds pushed aggressively from behind and the gangplank shuddered and bounced under all the weight.  One false move and you’d find yourself in the polluted waters of Manado’s harbor, wedged between the boat and cement docks.  The ship’s portal required me to squat, all the while people pushing from in front, behind, and to the side.

     I thought I was free and clear at that point, but it turned out this was not the Terra Sancta.  Several boats were docked along side each other in the harbor, and I would have to walk across two more connecting gangplanks, passing from one ship to the next until reaching the Terra Sancta.  Those gangplanks were even narrower, and to slip off would have been even more potentially lethal as you could knock your head on the ships metal sides on the way down to the water and be stranded in the drink wedged between two towering vessels.  Ti the degree I was made nervous by all this, the Indonesians surrounding me were absolutely unfazed.  Boat travel was no sporting life for them, whereas I was as green a neophyte as there could be. 

    The heat and humidity were overwhelming.  People everywhere were shouting, laughing, eating, drinking, and throwing empty food and drink containers over the side into the waters below.  Scores of vendors streamed by, hawking their wares.  “Nasi putih, nasi kuning, ayam Kentucky, aqua-aqua!” They bellowed, trying to be heard above the din of socializing along the narrow, railed passages running along the upper deck.  One vendor carried a long, drooping chain of medicinal tree root sections strung like a necklace round his neck, and a saw in one hand.  If someone purchased some of the herbal obat (medicine), he would slip off the chain of roots and cut off a chunk from one of the bead-like links.  the resulting slivers of root could then be used to brew a medicinal tea that supposedly had the curative powers to treat a whole host of maladies.

    It was close to eight o’clock by the time the ship departed, and the passageway I had chosen as a niche was packed body-to-body.  People trying to make their way along the gangway to the stairs leading to the lower decks and the ship’s only water closets were forced to either sep on top of you or climb along the ship’s side rails as if its structure was a long expanse of monkey bars.   A baby being held by its mother who stood above me as I was sitting down atop my backpack, my back propped up against the walls of a top deck cabin wall, urinated all over me.  The queue to the bathroom stretched its way from the top deck down two more levels and cross-ship to the stern.  For a ship that could comfortably accommodate seven hundred passengers, there was easily four times that number on board.  An accident at sea would have been a major catastrophe.

    The Terra Sancta  north across Laut Sulawesi, formerly known as the Celebes Sea.  The waters were placid, a waxing gibbous moon brilliant illuminated the black night far above in the heavens, and the skies were crystal clear.  It was a majestic sight, even given the horrendous accommodations.  After midnight we passed by the volcanic island of Siau, its giant volcano’s peak spewing clouds of gases which poured out of a hole in the cloud cover which shrouded the summit of this, Sangihe-Talaud’s most active and dangerous volcano.  The star cover was awe inspiring, the Milky Way brushed a white swath across the sky, and Pleiades was to be seen on the ascendant at the horizon where the sea met the sky.  Schools of flying fish kept pace with the Terra Sancta, alternating between soaring leaps out of the water followed by dives back under the surface along a path in line with the ship‘s.

    Next to me sat a most grievous angel, a fourteen year old girl whose eyes were filled with an unfathomable combination of tragic awareness and sadness.  She lived in Tahuna, and was traveling back from Manado after staying with her grandmother, who was seriously ill.  Her family back in Tahuna didn’t love her, she told me.  In fact her biological parents had sold her to this family group in Tahuna.  “Ibu dijual saya,” she kept repeating to me, over and over.  “My mother sold me, my mother sold me.”  Her eyes bore into me, unblinkingly.  It was all I could do to hold back tears.  That pair of eyes were portals through which I could see the suffering of all the world’s unfortunate, misbegotten souls.  In over a half-century of treading this mortal coil I had never met a sentient being whose eyes seemed to carry within the world’s sum effect of man’s inhumanity to man. 

    She never stopped reminding me of the defining moment of her life, “My mother sold me,” and looking straight into my eyes, insisted on my understanding the depth of her own tragedy.  I finally looked away and out to sea.  yes, the world is a ship of fools, some of them horribly cruel.  I could only wonder at what this ship’s passage would hold in store for the grievous angel once she arrived back in Tahuna.

    The girl remained next to my side the rest of the night.  I was carrying a beautifully woven, thick cotton sarong I had just purchased in Tanah Toraja from a ninety year old woman as she worked in her shop, strapped into the beautiful harness loom she had used to weave with for most of her life.  I placed the wrap around the girl’s shoulders.  she leaned forward, placed he head on her knees, and fell asleep.  For me, sleep never came.  I stared out to sea and watched as tiny islands slipped by slowly in the blackness.  The moon had set, and the only lights on the waters were those of distant light houses announcing the presence of an island or the glow of lamps fixed to the masts of  small fishing vessels out on their all night runs.

    Around 4:30 AM Sangihe Island came into sight.  It featured its own active volcano, Gunung Awu, but it was much less imposing than Siau’s Gunung Karangetang.  The Sangihe-Talaud islands were volcanic in origin, and spice islands as well.  The two largest islands of the Sangihe group- Sangihe and Siau- produced large quantities of cengke and pala (cloves and nutmegs).  We pulled into Tahuna’s port a little after 5:00 AM, and I waited thirty minutes for the thousands on board to disembark as I had no intention of sandwiching myself in the crowds disemboweling from the ship’s lower decks. 

    The young girl awoke next to me, returned my sarong after carefully folding it, and then staring at me one last time, and in parting simply said, “I must go.”  She darted off and slipped into the masses of departing passengers. 

    Once off the boat, I met a man who told me he could show me to a local hotel.  Most Indonesians would have flagged a microlet (public transport van), but he simply started to walking, and I had a hard time keeping up with him as we strode out of the harbor complex, crossed a bridge spanning the confluence of a river and Tahuna’s bay, and on to the streets of Tidore, the Moslem section of Tahuna.  Twenty minuets later we finally reached Hotel Bintang Utara (Northern Star Hotel).  It was a most welcome sight, and once inside, I offered my friendly escort some money, which he flatly refused with a huge smile and tipping his head to me, said, “It is my honor and duty to have helped you.”  If his generosity was any indication, Tahuna would hold some welcome surprises for me.  I had rarely been treated so magnanimously and with such genuine warmth during my time in Indonesia.

    The next day, while taking a leisurely, sight-seeing walk up the street from the hotel, I passed through a lovely residential neighborhood lined with quaint, little homes made festive with flowers in the their front yards.  Flowers were not all that common a sight in the front yards of Indonesian homes- if they had front yards at all.  I was in a buoyant mood, and in passing a group of people gathered, talking on the side of the street, one of
    them suddenly noticed me and called out.  The man’s name was Iver, and originally a native son of Siau, he had moved to Tahuna having been hired to teach at the local vocational high school.  He was an unusual fellow, bespectacled and thin as a reed.  It was immediately apparent he was highly educated and ambitious as well.  He taught both German and tourism classes at the high school, and  which only a stone ’s throw from my hotel was.  Speaking good English as well, he quickly offered me his educational credentials, which had included language studies abroad in Germany courtesy of the Goethe Institute.  His manner and educational background set him apart from most of the Indonesians I had met.  He became quite animated upon finding out I was a volunteer teacher in Indonesia, and insisted that I visit his school the next day and meet his principal.

    “Oh, you must come here later to teach in Tahuna at our school!” he exclaimed.  “We really need a native speaker like you to help teach English.  The students here never have such an opportunity!”

    I smiled, and nodded knowingly.  “Well, maybe it’s just possible.  Once I finish in Bira, maybe I can move up here and teach.  Just make me an offer I can’t refuse.”  Delighted, he immediately called his principal by hand phone, and made arrangements for a 9:00 AM meeting the next morning.

    After Dodo and Riswan, Iver became the final lynch pin in a triumvirate of men whose acquaintance had most significantly influenced the outcome of my life on this Indonesian

    rantau. 

    The next morning, I met Pak Hulman Pasaribu, Iver’s charismatically energetic Kepala Sekolah who was a Batak originally from beautiful Lake Toba in North Sumatra.  Hulman practically begged me on hands and knees to come teach in his school.  His enthusiasm and the value he placed on my potential contributions took me by great surprise.  In Tanah Beru and Bira, it had been more a process akin to oral surgery without anesthetics in comparison.  And corruption monies had been a necessary part of the bargain.  No such unethical impediments stood in my way in Hulman’s school, only a red carpet placed at my feet in welcome,  Of course I must accept; it was simply impossible to pass up such an opportunity. 

    But I cautioned Hulman and Iver that they would have to be patient and that I most likely couldn’t return until December or January, some five or six months future time.  All was agreed, and Hulman took Iver and I out for a celebratory lunch of grilled fish, rice, and vegetables.  As I would later learn upon return to Tahuna in December, celebration was a way of life in this small island capital.

    After a long and winding road that led me through the trials and tribulations of teaching in Bira, I finally returned to Tahuma to secure a new sponsorship letter, and then on to Singapore for a second time to renew my visa.  Finally I returned to Tahuna and in December of 2005, started my new teaching post at Sekolah SMK I.

    But Christmas break was looming near, and the July-December semester was coming to an end.  There wasn’t much for me to do initially.  Also, Jakarta’s “Mentri Pengajaran Nasional“(Education Minister of Indonesia) was coming to my new school to make an important policy speech that would be nationally televised.  This had thrown class schedules into disarray as the entire school had been mobilized to prepare for the minister’s arrival.  This included cleaning the entire school, a lot of touch-up painting, and rehearsals by scores of students who would be performing local dances and songs in a welcoming processional organized to greet the minister upon his arrival to the school.

    I adjusted my tack, and turned my focus towards documenting the event and preparations leading to it.  My digital camera proved an invaluable tool as I could document this unusual event while donating the photos and videos I took to the school.

    Once the event was done, in a matter of days the school began gearing up for the highpoint of the year- Christmas.  Specifically, another round of preparation went into the Acara Natal, the big Christmas program that would also mark the last day of the school semester.  A three week break was to follow.  The culture of both Sekolah SMK I and Tahuna was revealing itself to be obsessed with ritual and celebration, rivaling Bali for their devotion.  Again, the difference between this corner of North Sulawesi and South Sulawesi couldn’t be more pronounced.  In South Sulawesi, life was something to be endured.  In Tahuna, life was seen as cause for celebration.

    Christmas was the greatest cause for happiness and celebration on Sangihe Island.  I had never witnessed such devout passion for the Christmas season- anywhere; anytime.  And this wasn’t a style of Christmas centered around exchanging gifts.  The focus was squarely on the birth of Christ.  I knew anywhere I’d be spending Christmas something extraordinary would happen.

    My sense of  prediction was becoming keener by the day in Indonesia.  Iver soon invited me to spend several days with his wife’s family on Siau island in the village of Sawang, hometown to both of them.  I was elated and thankful to have the rare opportunity to be immersed in the life of a small island village by the sea whose culture had been untouched by tourism.  Of course, I would meet scores of extended family of  both Iver and his wife, Mikiana.  I’d be sure to also visit the great lavas beds which covered the upper reaches of Siau’s smoking volcano, Gunung Karangetang, which had spilled down in long fingers towards the village below. 

    First I would have to endure the trials of travel by ship from Tahuna to Siau.  The passenger route was plied by the Valentin, a much smaller vessel than the K.M Terra Sancta.  Eflin, a civics teacher at SMK I had enlisted me to chaperone for her seventeen year old daughter, Nofi, who was taking the Valentin alone to Siau to spend the holidays with he grandmother in Dame, a village placed high up on the flanks of Karangetang.  Lava fields were only a couple of kilometers from the village, and there were few places to live in all of Indonesia more dangerous.  The lava flows from the 1974 eruption had stopped just short of engulfing Dame.

    As it turned out, I found being on board the  Valentin to be a more immediate danger.  Held captive below deck with Nofi, the majority of our journey was perfunctory enough.  As I laid on the top tier of my bunk, finding it futile to sleep as the ship’s engine chattered away.  Again, all the Indonesians around me were completely at home, sleeping peacefully, sometimes in family groups stretched out across several lower tier bunks with spacious blankets thrown over everyone.  The lower deck I was  on housed a couple hundred beds, grouped together in sets of three double tiered bunks.

    Once we approached Ulu, Siau’s port town, the fun began.  The Valentin reduced speed, and passengers on the lower deck started to stir, slip off their bunks, and prepare for departure.  At first imperceptible, the enclosed deck began to fill with carbon monoxide, laced with the sickly sweet odor of residual diesel.  The ship’s exhaust system didn’t efficiently carry away the lethal gases when the ship geared down to make port.  I stood at the head of my bunk, waiting with everyone else for the Valentin to dock when I began to experience the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning.  My eyesight diminished and my sense of hearing began to fail.  A faint, almost subliminal ringing crept into my ears.  Vertigo seized my brain and undulated through my body fluids in waves.  Suddenly I was seized with the need to “buang air besar.”  I was going down rapidly, and feared I would pass out and shit my pants in the same instant.  Somehow I managed calmly to say to Nofi, “Permisi,” asking her to move aside so I could begin to grope my way to the water closets located in on the deck below the stern, which were next to the engine cage.

    Picking my way through bags, boxes, and mothers changing their babies’ diapers, I ducked into an open water closet after descending a steep metal stairway whose narrow stair treads led me down to the lowest deck.  The air is no better down here as I am now next to the wire meshed cage surrounding the engine.  Wedging myself into the small toilet stall, I jam my booted feet up against one wall while pressing the length of my back up along the wall opposing, slide down into a half-squat, and pull down my shorts so as to be slung, stretched between my ankles.  Hopefully I am properly positioned over the squat toilet beneath me.  Now fully wedged in and propped up, I begin to purge myself, hoping I don’t faint in the process.  The engine is geared law and rumbling violently, shaking the stall walls.  The air still wreaks of diesel fumes.

    Passengers are jiggling the water closet door trying to gain entrance.  It was survival time.  Apparently there was enough fresh air wafting in from the stern to revive me, and my strength and balance started to return.  I exit the water closet and walk to the stern’s railing in order to draw a few breaths, and then return to my deck.  By this time the Valentin had docked and passengers, loaded down with bags, boxes, bundles, and small children crowded the ship’s narrow passages en rout to the gangplank.

    Fully dazed, I stutter-stepped towards the ship’s bow and am met at the top of the gangplank by Iver.  We descend to the dock and I am immediately assaulted by solicitous yelps and whistles by black helmeted men in their black jackets, sitting astride their motor bikes, hoping I will hire then to provide transport.  It is 1:00 AM, and the dock’s poor lighting renders the human scene surreal.  Yet another “black rider” joins up with Iver and me as we stroll towards the streets of Ulu, home to Siau’s port.  I wonder who the bloke is.  I catch a few whiffs of alcohol wafting off him, and he is holding his mouth clenched uptight.  Soon Iver informs me this is his brother-in-law, Bun, and he would be giving me a lift by motorbike to Sawang, about eight kilometers south along the coastal road.  Once there I would be dropped off at the home of Iver’s in-laws, where I had been invited to stay for the duration of my visit to Siau.

    I stared at Iver and asked, “Is this Bun a safe driver?”  My peripheral vision had yet to return. 

    Iver reassured me, “Oh, Mr. John, do not worry, he will transport you safely!”

    Iver convoyed with us on his own motorbike, nor giving me a ride himself because he feared he couldn’t negotiate the steep, twisting hair pin turns along the road with someone my size on the back of his own bike.  There was no choice it seemed by to ride with Bun.  Fortunately, he was an extraordinarily safe and considerate driver, slowing judiciously before pools of water, rough patches, and occasional speed bump along the way to Sawang.  Tropical vegetation lined both sides of the mostly paved, two lane road until reaching Sawang village, giving way to mostly cement houses built right astride the highway.  Meanwhile, the weight of my backpack tore at my spine as I held onto Bun’s shoulder’s when ascending the steep, uphill stretches.

    Once deposited on the front porch of Iver’s in-laws, I am welcomed by Arens, Iver’s father-in-law, as well as Iver’s wife, Mikiana, and her sister.  The sisters were both in their brief night clothes.  Mikiana busied herself bringing us coffee and tall jars of kue-kue (cookies).  It was past 1:30 AM, and I was humbled by such a reception as 10:00 PM finds most Indonesians in bed asleep.  We all stayed up until 3:00 AM, and then I was shown a bedroom which I later realized Arens and his wife had given up for me.  There was no doubt now that I was an honored guest.

    I awoke just a few hours later, besieged by a carbon monoxide headache compounded by lack of sleep.  Voyage on the Valentin had been my sixth sea passage across the Celebes Sea, and I was invariably exhausted the day after such voyages, but I was more so than usual this time.  It was December 24th; Christmas Eve.  There were a lot of things going in the village in preparation for Hari Natal (Christmas day).  Most Christmas day activities centered around church services and parties being held in several private residences following.  Sawang was a village of six hundred, and there were six large churches in town.  Iver let it be known I was a guitarist, and the local cakeleli orkes quickly drafted me into their musical ranks asking me to come rehearse later with them after dinner.  Again, the rehearsal was in preparation for Christmas church service which was to be held starting at 9:00 AM the next day.  Someone delivered a guitar to the house so I could tune it up and practice before rehearsal.

    I had to gear-up swiftly in order to jump into Sawang’s Christmas train which was roaring straight ahead.    Iver was behind the scenes, lining up several social calls I was to make in his company in the days ahead, most of them angotta keluarga (family members).  There was no time to dwell on headaches and exhaustion.  Mikiana’s parents’ house stood on a rise directly above the ocean, and I followed a narrow path running between several houses that twisted its way down the hillside to the sea.  A swim in the salty brine might be what the doctor ordered.  I carefully make my way to the water’s edge through a dense clump of trees and across a narrow field of black boulders. 

    My view now unobstructed, I look up and am met with the ominously majestic sight of mighty Gunung Karangetang, fifteen kilometers dead ahead as the crow flies to the north.  It is a text book volcano in shape; a perfect inverted cone several hundred feet more than a mile high rising steeply out of the Celebes Sea.  Appearing as if a God of some sort had poured an excess of fudge topping atop its peak; dark, chocolate-like rivulets ran down the fluted valleys and depression along its flanks towards the sea.  These were the great lava fields composed of craggy, black ancilite boulders- who knows how many meters deep and wide.  But once they had been flows of red-hot brimstone that scorched thousands of acres of virgin rainforest and coconut palm plantations in a path of fiery destruction; the heat so great that tropical forest fires were sparked as well.  A plume of hot gases escaped through two crater vents at its peak, and never ceased its smoking.

    The Blair bothers had appropriately entitled their five part film on Indonesia “The Ring of Fire,” as the archipelago is dotted by some four hundred fifty volcanoes, one hundred thirty-five of which are active.  Amongst the active, a handful erupt with great geologic frequency.  Karangetang occupies that latter category.  Later talking with Arens, Mikiana’s father, he tells me he has lived in Siau all his life, and at the age of sixty-four, had witnessed eight eruptions of Karangetang. 

    Siau’s census reports reflected the severity of some of these recent eruptions.  In 1930, the island’s population was 33, 262.  By 1971,  it had grown to 46,200.  Due to the great eruption in 1974, the population dropped to 39,405 in the 1980 census.  Again, another destructive blast in 1992 sent Siauans fleeing the island.  By 2000, the census count had dipped to 36,741.  On an island that produced huge quantities of the second-highest quality nutmeg crop cultivated anywhere in the world, one would think a growing population would be the result.  But Karangetang had driven many off the island; most moving to Sangihe island north; or Manado’s urban center on Sulawesi proper to the south.

    I stood knee deep in the warm tropical waters, staring up at Karangetang.  It was the first smoking volcano I had ever seen from ground level.  I had flown over Java’s Merapi, considered Indonesia’s most dangerous volcano; and Bromo, too, en route from Yogyakarta to Denpasar, but these smoking monsters were so massive that it was very difficult to appreciate them from the ground without driving for hours through the mountains in order to make an approach.  Even then, their peaks were so tall that often clouds shrouded their peaks.  Karangetang was geographically situated so as to afford great views from the beach.  It was geometrically perfect in height, girth, and shape and reared high above the surrounding terrain.  This rendered all its features accessible to the unaided human eye.

    If taking a swim in the calm waters of a tropical sea with full view of a majestic, smoking volcano as accompanying scenery didn’t rid me of exhaustion, then I should have been written-off. run off the island, and deported immediately.  I lulled amorphous in the tropical waters, floating on my back and drinking in the view.

    The afternoon was wearing on, and I needed to rejoin Mikiana’s family for dinner.  Crowds of locals strolled the streets in front of the house, predominantly young and many of them children.  Within a couple of days, I gathered a population boom was at hand.  Scores of children and babies were to be seen everywhere in a village of only six hundred.  Maybe Siau’s population was on the rebound after all!

    After dinner, night fell quickly after sunset as sunsets near the equator at sea leave little lingering light.  I was rousted by my host Arens to grab my guitar, and he escorted me down a narrow path near his house to a rehearsal space whereupon I was introduced to small group of assembling musicians, their ranks growing as others filtered in after me.  Within a few minutes there were more than a dozen of us, all men save one female who was albino with a face full of freckles and red hair.  A few of us had guitars, and the rest held a cakaleli, a homemade instrument whose sound, size, and four strings put it in the ukulele family.  Last to appear was the bass player. 

    We were to rehearse on a covered porch which ran along the side of a cement building.  We could peer into the building through several windows and inside were wooden cabinets wherein the musicians stored their stringed instruments.  The bass player entered the room and hauled out his monstrous instrument, whose resonance chamber was a cubical wooden box, maybe thirty inches on edge.  From the midpoint of one top edge had been fixed a neck over four feet in length, and strung down its length from a top peg to a bridge tacked below into the lower section of the box’s face was one long, thick bass string made of animal gut.

    After introductions all around, we first set to playing, not really rehearsing.  On song followed another, some of them American popular standards, others traditional island songs sung in the local language, and the rest traditional western Christmas carols.  There was no discernable leader to the group, and this was most refreshing.  After one song ended, everyone would linger. allowing for the next song to percolate up through whichever throat it chose to.  It was the music who was in command, not the musicians.  Everything was played in the key of C, and the only four chords we played all night were C, F, G, and D minor.  The bass player hammered away at his one string with an eighteen inch stick, sul legno style.

    Once the music was flowing unimpeded through the group’s collective fingers and voices, I was ceremoniously requested to be the featured vocalist for the two Christmas carols the “orkes” had been asked to chose and sing at tomorrow’s Christmas morning church service.  Enthusiastically, they unanimously agreed one should be the upbeat “Jingle Bells,” and the other the solemn “O Holy Night” (Malam Kudus).  They had honored me with this role, probably because the lyrics were in English, and I was a native speaker.  “Jingle Bell’s” eight bar introduction with its rapid fire flurry of syllables was impossible for any of then to sing in English, and I was amazed at how much they loved the song!

    We then started to truly rehearse.  A few renditions later, the bass player produced a 600 milliliter plastic bottle containing a clear liquid and a small drinking glass.  He set it atop his bass’ cubical sound cabinet.  “Mau minum?  Ada cap tikus,” he said to me.

    “Cap tikus” (chap teekoos) was the cheapest and most readily available alcohol on the island.  Popular throughout Sangihe-Talaud and Manado as well, it was a distilled liquor made from the fruit of the arens palm.  Interestingly, the arens fruit was used to produce either one of two products- cap tikus, or gula merah.  Gula merah, or red sugar, was the most delicious sweetener I had ever tasted aside from honey.  To eat it raw was an unforgettable taste sensation.  Cap tikus varied in quality depending on the skill and care of its distiller.  It’s strength varied as well, but it may have been forty proof.  Of greatest interest to me was the liquor’s name, which meant “Mark of the Mouse.”

    I readily accepted a glassful, and everyone looked on in delight as I downed the “Mark of the Mouse.”  The surest signs of being in Christian Indonesia were two; one- the great number of churches, fond one to every street corner (whether they be Baptist, Protestant, “Kharismatik,” or “Pantecosta”) and two- the prevalent use of alcohol.  There may have been some women who drank in private, but alcohol consumption was the province of men, whether in a social or family setting.  Over my six day stay in Siau, I observed alcohol to be a social problem on the island.  Of greatest concern were the many instances of drunk driving I personally witnessed.  Driving while drunk was generally tolerated, and in Siau’s undesirable little port town and capital, Ulu, is was socially acceptable.

     The “pemuda” (unattached young men) of the island were a hard drinking crew, and were often inebriated by early afternoon.  The toleration of driving while drunk reminded me of American attitudes and behaviors fifty years past, which was in keeping with other Indonesian social norms such as littering.  Repeatedly, my observations on Indonesian social conditions and behavior bore out this fifty year lag.  Whether it was the taboo on sex before marriage, driving without seat belts, driving under the influence, or dumping garbage anywhere one chose, I could see parallels between America’s post-World War II years and current day Indonesia.  But the analysis stops there as I have little sense of Indonesia following some “path of progress which will change any of these norms.

    I had tasted cap tikus a couple times previous, and the best I had ever had was offered me by a crewman on ship while sailing from Manado to Tahuna my second time out.  Having personally distilled it, he had added a measure of boiled red sugar syrup for sweetener, and it was most delicious.  Sawang’s cap tikus was strictly for belting down.  The reason for drinking it was for the effect, not the taste.

    Well into our rehearsal, the rain started to come down torrentially, signaling the beginning of a wrap, and soon everyone filtered out in ones or twos, seemingly at random.

    Exhausted, I walked back up the hillside and out onto the street in the rain.  Christmas lights and decorations adorned the roadside homes.  Lights were on inside everyone’s home, front doors thrown open, and plastic Christmas trees proudly standing on tables  festooned and ablaze with Mylar, ornamental bulbs and strings of lights. 

    One thing no one ever worried about here in Siau, as well as Tahuna, was thievery.  You could leave your door not only unlocked, but wide open all day, and never worry about being violated or robbed.  If you left something behind at the store, government office, or church, it would find its way back to you.  Everyone went out of their way to tell me, “Don’t worry, it’s safe here,” even though I never asked for such reassurance.  That the population was respectful of both person and property was a great source of community pride, and the Sangihe-Siau islanders were quick to trumpet their honesty and generally gentle approach to human relations.

    Belying this self-respect, which I could only see as giving these islanders high grades for practicing the golden rule of Christianity (do unto others.....), was the distinction they drew between themselves and a good deal of the rest of Indonesia.  And this would pointedly reference Muslim Indonesia if the conversational line was pursued.  Indonesian Muslims rarely spoke of religion in my presence, having no real need to it seemed.  As a Caucasian westerner, they assumed me to be Christian, and as such there didn’t seem to be much to consider or discuss.  So few Christians lived in Muslim-dominated regions of Indonesia that their existence was an abstraction for the most part.  Outside of large cities, Muslims generally didn’t have to interact with Christians.  They were the vast majority, and outside of politicized Islamic groups and organizations, the everyday Muslim didn’t express being bothered by religious differences. 

    It was only in regions such as Ambon in the Malukus and the Poso-Tentana areas of Central Sulawesi where religious violence between Christians and Moslems had boiled over.  In each case of these cited cases, the proportions were approximately 50-50, Christian-Muslim, and though the histories of each region had effected causality of religious strife, the parity of numbers seemed to make manifest the deep-seated dislike and revulsion each religious population held for the other.  Both Ambon and Central Sulawesi are strictly provincial, and socially conservative.  This contributed to the tensions as well.

    In the Sangihe-Talaud islands, Indonesia’s normal numbers of 90% Muslim- 10% Christian were reversed.  Muslims in Tahuna on Sangihe Island, for example, were segregated into two areas in the small city, the largest of which was a lower income area called Tidore, which occupied either side of one long street starting at a point after the bridge leading from the harbor and running for a two kilometer stretch along the bay’s shoreline.  The Muslim community was not especially well-off, as evidenced by the shoddy condition of the district’s main Mosque.

     I had a feeling for Tidore, having visited Iver’s family house which was situated in Tidore’s heart.  It was a choice of residential location he clearly regretted.  Though he got along well with his Muslim neighbors, Iver’s attitude towards the Islamic religion itself was unashamedly negative.  As a well-educated Indonesian who had traveled and studied in Europe, his intolerance seemed a most negative indicator as concerned the general level of tolerance held across Sangihe-Talaud regencies. His views were consistent with other Christians I had met in Tahuna.  Iver was as provincial as the next villager in these northern islands, regardless of his “worldliness.”

    It seemed that if the religious minority numbered in the region of 10%, there was relative calm in the streets, even though majority and minority disliked each other.  In the name of economics and “unificasi,” Suharto had accommodated Islamic organizations by using transmigrasi policy to shift populations of Moslems out of overpopulated islands such as Java and Madura into Christian enclaves such as Ambon in part as an “unofficial attempt” to weaken the few Christian cultural bases extant in the greater archipelago.  Christian Indonesians had legitimate cause to feel besieged.  Such transmigrasi had not yet occurred in Sangihe-Talaud, so a prevalent peace surrounded this boundary region.  Sangihe-Talaud seemed an intact Christian outpost; one of the very few in the Indonesian republic.

    In comparative analysis, it was race that was the issue in America, not religion.  In Indonesia, it was mainly the opposite.  However, central government policies of transmigration had caused some racial problems in Indonesia as well, most notably in Kalimantan and Papua, where ethnic groups from Java and Madura had been transplanted into regions whose indigenous population was of very different ethnicity.  In Kalimantan, the local Dyak tribes were so enraged by a large influx of Madurans who had been handed over the indigenous Dyak’s ancestral lands that bloody massacres of the Madurans soon followed.  This took place in the 1990’s.  Riswan had first described the slaughters to me in most disturbing terms back in Bira. 

    “The Dyaks knew the Madurans by their scent,” he explained.  “And the smell of a Maduran was no different to a Dyak as that of a wild pig.   A Dayak would also not see a human being when they saw a Maduran, but only a wild pig as well.  The Dyaks would simply hack to death with machetes the Madurans they ran across and say they had killed some wild pigs.  The literally did not recognize the forms of Madurans as being that of a human’s.”  Later I would learn that graphic videos of Maduran being butchered had been widely circulated throughout Indonesia.

    Aside from a few egregious examples, however horrifying, social violence in the republic had been primarily religion-based, and occurred mainly where Muslim and Christian populations were contending.  What the future holds for non-Muslims is currently unclear, especially given the constant pressures put on the government by Muslim special interests to make Indonesia a Muslim state in the mold of Iran or Saudi Arabia.  The Indonesian brand of Islam is not acceptable to the Arabic orthodoxies, such as Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi, the monarchy’s ruling sect.  The waves of Muslims who first swept into Northern Sumatra in the eighth century and gradually converted Java over the next several hundred years never managed to forge the Indonesian Malay’s into “true” Muslims, as the Indonesians tended to hold on to their indigenous culture and posit it in a larger Muslim framework, rather than substitute Islam for their former ways wholesale.

    The process of conversion in Indonesia is essentially on-going, and the current war of terror as motivated and practiced in Indonesia is just one more agency in that twelve hundred year old struggle.  The international community is closely watching this dynamic which is often seen as characterizing Indonesia’s most dangerous internal threat, or proposing it in efforts to help Indonesia maintain its status as a secular government.  That Indonesia remains a nationalistic, secular republic is considered of paramount importance by the west in the global war on terror.

    Historically, a saving grace for Indonesian Christians, as also shared by the Chinese Indonesian population, is that they have been of importance to the central government in Jakarta.  Their education, technical expertise, and economic contribution are sorely needed by a republic that is besieged by poverty which many inside the government consider to be the single greatest threat to the long-term survivability of the young republic.  Christians still represent disproportionately high numbers in the elites of government, military, business, and technical communities.  They occupy a vital role in maintaining the country’s infrastructure as well as plans for future development.

    But in sheltered, little Siau, none of these internal conflicts appeared to either effect daily life nor concern the devoutly Christian islanders.  It was now Christmas morning, and the biggest day of the year.  In the house I was staying, everyone was taking turns after breakfast pressing their clothes on a sole ironing board located next to the family television set, which seemed to be turned on twenty-four hours a day. 

    Even Iver was to be seen pressing his black slacks and white, long-sleeved shirt.  My clothes were thanklessly shabby, especially my one pair of long pants whose coffee stains I hadn’t been abler to remove through hand washing.  The only clean shirt I had on hand was red, short-sleeved, and Hawaiian print in style, not really appropriate attire for a Christian village church service on Christmas morning. 

    No one seemed to take any notice.  They cut some slack for me as I was the odd-man out and honored foreign guest.  Once everyone in the family was dressed, they went to retrieve their personal bibles stored in their bedrooms.  Each bible was enclosed in a zipper leather case.  Indonesian churches don’t supply bibles, just as Indonesian schools don’t supply text books, and every good Christian had to have their own bible.  Most likely the bible was the only book most of Sawang’s villagers owned or read.

    En masse, Iver’s  wife and children, me, and my host family left the house and walked out onto the street, joining scores of other Sawang villagers who were headed for the same church, some fifty meters down the road.  Most of the passersby looked sharp and pretty.  The women cradled their bibles to their breasts and the men often carried theirs with visible emotion.

     It was then that Iver turned to me and said, “You know, the Church pastor told me yesterday that you are the first foreigner to now visit the church in its one hundred fifty year history.”  It was a stunning revelation, even if the number of years had been exaggerated.  But in keeping with the sentimentality of the Sangihe island culture, to think that no foreign presence had interjected itself into the village church in anybody’s living memory seemed the more poignant way to look at it.

    Climbing a couple sets of stairs off the street, we crossed the double door transom into the church.  Once inside, Iver led me up two levels to the altar and the musician’s pews and chairs situated stage left.  This was where the cakaleli orkes was be seated.  Iver and I sat in the front pew, directly looking up at the altar, as both of us were to be the featured vocalists for the orkes.  With guitar in hand and digital camera strapped across my shoulder, I took my seat and looked out at the two to three hundred parishioners already seated below us.  There were no children mixed in with the adult group, rather they were grouped in a second story balcony supervised by maybe five adults, amongst then Iver’s wife, Mikiana.

    Directly below the elevated stage and altar area was a table set in white linen upon which was placed a large metal vessel filled with holy water as baptisms were planned as part of the Christmas service.  Next to the table was a tall, and resplendently ornamented Christmas tree made even more prominent as it et up on a table as well.

    This was to be my auspicious “baptism” into Christian ritual as practiced in Indonesia.  As it was Christmas and Indonesians are ceremonial-loving, I figured the service would be long and complex.  Most striking is to reflect in retrospect after having attended several Christian services of various kinds in these northern islands since.  The truth is, nearly equal importance is conferred upon each observance, whether it be a birthday or Christmas service.  Similar to a Mozart or Haydn rondo, new sections or themes are introduced in alternation with the original or previously stated themes.  Group prayers give way to group hymns followed by a sermon.  Everyone rises to stand once again for prayer, then remains standing for another group hymn.  After sitting, a featured vocalist sings solo accompanied by electronic keyboard.  Another sermon ensues, longer than the first, followed by a performance by the Church choir.  Again, the pastor asks everyone to rise and pray.  There are often lengthy preludes and postludes as well, delivered by a church functionary who might be thought of as master of ceremonies.

    As centuries have passed, the length and complexity of Christian services in the western world have for the most part been scaled down as the competing demands of modern life have pressured the church to shorten them.  Not so the Indonesian variety!  The Christmas day observance in Siau was three hours running and did include some special additions, in the baptism of a half-dozen babies. 

    The Kabupaten’s Bupati- a kind of mix between head county commissioner and state governor as found in America- also appointed a proxy to deliver a lengthy message to the parish.  To mix the political with the religious is characteristic of Indonesia as well, whether the ritual expression is Christian or animist.  The political, religious, and often economic interests of the group gathered are many times served simultaneously as these various aspects of life are so intertwined.

    It was a personal pleasure to perform and sing for the villagers who had so warmly received me.  I could at least participate and commune with the good people of Sawang, my religious non-alignment not withstanding.  Of course I was asked several times during my stay in Siau as to my denomination to which I simply replied “Protestant,” as my mother had taken me to Lutheran and Methodist churches when I was young.  It would have served no good end to answer most truthfully that I didn’t adhere to organized religion. 

    Even if I had possessed fluency in the Indonesian language, an honest reply would have caused great confusion. In other contexts and in conversation with select Indonesians I would try to explain how many Americans consider themselves Christian but don’t attend church services.  That was difficult enough. To delve into the idiosyncrasies of my own spirituality  which was more philosophical was out of the question. 

    In a country where Catholicism is both legally and philosophically considered as completely distinct from Protestantism as would be Hinduism, one can begin to imagine the mine fields a westerner wanders into when trying to discuss any conventional religious issue, let alone the unorthodox.  An entirely different frame of reference is at work and must be carefully considered.  It seemed much more important for me to try and understand them than the converse.  None of this was about me, and therein resided the beauty and freedom of it all.

    A highlight of the service was the performance of two instrumentals by a local musik bamboo troupe.  The islanders of Sangihe-Talaud were quite taken by the military brass bands the Dutch colonialists brought with them to the islands in the 19th and 20th centuries, and set about building their own trumpets, euphoniums, and sousaphones- but out of bamboo, not metal. 

    The craftsmanship involved is remarkable, especially as seen in the steam-bent shaping of bamboo to replicate flared bells and lengths of double backed brass tubing.  The only real deviation in functional design is the use of sound holes to vary pitch rather than valves.  Otherwise, the overall design and dimensions of standard brass instruments were copied more or less faithfully.  Unfortunately, the church’s interior space was cubical and uniformly tile surfaced, so the acoustics were like that of a high school gymnasium, and the group sound of bamboo instruments didn’t come across well.  Since, I have heard several more musik bamboo groups, and they are much better enjoyed out of doors.

    Following the service, the church pastor invited me to attend a celebratory luncheon at his home which was nearby and situated on the hillside across the street from where I was staying.  Fifty people or more were in attendance, and the spread of food so lavish I took photographs of the long table covered in dishes set upon clean white linen.  The prepared dishes were standard fare for the northern islands.  Cooked white rice or rice wrapped and steamed in banana leaves are staples, to which you add meant, vegetables, and a vegetable noodle soup.  Fish is generally grilled whole and set on large platters, often smothered in sambal; a fresh, chunky-style, tomato-based chili sauce.  Meat is almost invariably cut into small, bite-size chunks, and so thoroughly saturated with a heavy combination of strong spices it is difficult to differentiate the taste.  Pork and beef are commonly served, as well as dog.

    Special mention must be made of North Sulawesi’s penchant for Er-Whe, or dog meat.  Considering the people of the North Sulawesi’s Minahasa highlands are fond of kelelewar goreng (fried bat), and tikus bakar (grilled forest rat), dog doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.  The simple fact is that the dog you see running around a North Sulawesan house one day becomes food on the table the next.  However abhorrent this may all sound to a westerner, it was the subject of great humor for me and my Indonesian hosts on many occasions.

    In all fairness, some Indonesians treat their dogs as “pets,” but will eat then anyway.  The status of the “family dog” has risen to that of parity with children in many western households.  I can at least attest to as much in the case of California’s culture.  I explained to many Indonesians that in America, the dog was anggota keluarga- a member of the family; and that to kill a dog violated cruelty to animal laws that would likely land one in the slammer.  This invariably caused great laughter and some cause for disbelief amongst my Indonesian friends and acquaintances.  Iver smartly quipped, “Bunuh anjing di Amerika, langsung termasuk lapas; di Indonesia, langsung termasuk perut.” (Kill a dog in America, and you go straight to jail; in Indonesia, the dog goes straight into the stomach)

    The Indonesian concept of the “family pet” is elusive and difficult for me as a westerner to wrap my mind around.  Dogs in particular are treated poorly as a whole, especially in Muslim Indonesia.  To be called a “cur” or “dog” is a time-honored invective in the world of Islam.  It might be considered an ultimate insult.  As is the case, they are not kept as family pets nor allowed in the house.  Dogs in Muslim Indonesia are invariably stray, and live off of a garbage- a free-floating commodity throughout Indonesia!  They are tolerated, though not necessarily abused; just neglected.  Most are unhealthy, gaunt, and often suffer horribly from mange or scabies.

    Christian Indonesians will keep dogs around the house, and sometimes even allow then the run of the place.  Their general appearance is much healthier than noted above, as most are well-fed and sport healthy coats.  Dogs are generally not petted, though, and are certainly adverse to being reached for and touched.  But I have rarely heard of dogs biting people in Indonesia.  Outside of Jakarta, one rarely can identify a dog with pedigree, and spaying is almost non-existent.  It is the law of nature and the jungle that determines the blood of a dog and whether it will survive.  It’s more or less life on the mean streets for most Indonesian dogs, with mortality rates for puppies as high as dog-life expectancy is relatively short.  Hence, there is no over-population.

    But Christian Indonesians do refer at times to their dogs as “pets,” and don’t necessarily eat them as they would the chickens in the yard out back.  One time I inadvertently offended a high school student when joking while teaching, referring in jest to how dogs are treated poorly in Indonesia.  “I love my dog!” she shot back, her eyes aflame with outrage and hurt.  That incident taught me a stern lesson not to over-generalize.

    But there isn’t the anthropomorphization  and emotional investment place on the dog or cat in Indonesia as found in the west.  Certainly the physical closeness as expressed in hugs and strokes are rarely seen, though I have seen a few affectionate pats on the rear end here and there.  In summary, I can only say the word “pet” is translatable into Bahasa Indonesia, but the concept is of a different order.

    I never did taste dog, neither at the Christmas luncheon nor any other occasion.  I certainly was encouraged to, though, as my Indonesian hosts would exclaim how fabulous dog meat truly tasted.  “Enact- enact!” they would assure me- “Very delicious!”

    After dining on a sumptuous meal at the Christmas luncheon, I moved on to the desserts.  Traditional favorites served that day included a bunt-molded chocolate gelatin served with a sweetened coconut milk sauce and a lapis or layered cake, made with rice, coconut milk, nuts, and sugar.  There were also bananas and a fruit drink which is again, a sweetened coconut milk mixed with gelatinized fruit cubes and pieces of nangka.  Nangka is known as “jack fruit” in the west, and its yellow meat is quite sweet and oily.  It has a little of the tartness of pineapple, but the similarities end there. It grows to preposterous proportions on trees, some individual fruits weighing in at sixty pounds and their size dwarfing that of any super-sized watermelon.  Their rough textured hide is off-yellow and covered in small dimples that have tiny brown, nippled tips.  You simply have to see one to appreciate!

    Dairy products are conspicuously missing from the meal table, and is one reason I surmise why most Indonesians are thin.  Butter, cow’s milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are almost non-existent in the Indonesian diet.  A survey of Indonesian diets will reveal that percentage-wise, rice is the staple for every meal, period.  I was served fish and rice almost every meal while staying in my hosts’ house in Sawang.  To eat fish and rice for breakfast I found extremely difficult over the first six months I was in Indonesia.  An optional choice for breakfast was often a serving of fried bananas, or “pisang goreng.” 

    Whole bananas are longitudinally sliced, dipped in a batter, deep fried in coconut oil, and served with hot chili sauce.  Chili sauce eaten at breakfast is common.

    Aside from the heavy dependence on coconut oil, I have found the Indonesian diet a healthy on.  Moreover, it can train the body to subsist on food types and food proportions that are a welcome change from the west’s heavy reliance on meat and dairy.  Frequently, western visitors will find they return home having lost a substantial amount of weight.

    After finishing my gelatin desserts, I met a local businessman who helped me arrange for hiring transport in order to tour Siau two days hence.  It would be my return gift to Iver and Mikiana’s families for their kindness as I would bring along as many people as I could.  While negotiating the price, I was also ogled by a local widow sitting nearby who made a point of announcing to everyone present what a hot item I was, and how she would love to follow me back to America.  In particular, she was fond of my nose, pointing to her own in gesture to help convey her approval.  She actually did follow me for a distance down the road upon my departure, running her hand suggestively down her backside every time I looked back.  Finally she stopped, staring after me as I continued on my way back to my hosts’ house.

    Later, I heard she was asking a lot of questions concerning who I was, and in addition, whether it would be difficult for her as an Indonesian to marry an American.  Upon meeting an Indonesian, a foreigner will nine times out of ten be asked if they are married
    within the first three minutes of conversation.  If single or divorced, there is only a slightly lesser chance that what will follow is, “Oh, you should be looking to marry an Indonesian.”  Whether it’s primarily an attraction that is physical, economically-motivated, or both, the unadorned truth is an eligible western male can get hooked-up with lightening speed in Indonesia as well as most other countries in Southeast Asia.  I don’t think that is news to most people, but I can personally attest to the reality.

    It is almost universal in Indonesia that the parents or guardians of a couple seeking marriage must agree to the proposed union.  If agreement isn’t forthcoming, couples can and will elope.  Elopement is considered a quasi-acceptable option if only due to precedence, but it’s an extreme measure that can make for live-long difficulties.  In Muslim Indonesia, the man presents a dowry to his future in-laws, and in the case of Riswan, it included a cow and water buffalo.  Riswan was married at the age of thirty, and only did so as per his dying father’s wish that his son marry before his death.  Riswan had more than one opportunity to marry western tourists who stayed at his hotel, but in the end, he premeditatedly chose to seek out a “good local girl from the kampung.”  City girls were out of the question, according to Riswan, because they were “materialistic.”  “Material girls” was the actual term he used.  Country girls were untainted, pure, and hard workers.  This, according to Riswan.......

    I’m not sure what to make of romantic love in Indonesia, though if popular song lyrics are any indication, it’s no different from the west.  But love, sex, and dating are not hot topics of conversation in mixed company, and are often taboo.  Dating in the western sense of the word is foreign to most of Indonesia; especially in the kampung.  Religion and tradition as well as the oppressive economic conditions don’t allow for “testing the waters,” or “playing the field.”  To say marriages are arranged is not true on average, but social norms arrange that marriage comes about according to strict guidelines, and the luxury of dating is generally not an option. 

    Popular western culture and its norm surrounding courtship has made some in roads, but its statistical relevance will only be found in cosmopolitan areas such as Jakarta or select parts of Bali where western influence has been growing steadily since the late 1920’s.  Indonesians will readily admit that to marry a woman or man is to marry their family, and certainly a huge proportion of newlyweds live with one set of parents until they can afford to purchase their own house.  Marriage is an extended family contract, not a simple agreement between two people independently in love.

    In no way was there a family observance of Christmas at the house of my hosts.  The festive luncheons after church abruptly marked the end of the holiday season for the household it seemed.  This gave Iver the opportunity to play social host, taking me to meet his parents, aunt, and grandmother.  As Iver was a teacher, so were his parents who both were now collecting a civil servant’s pension.  All civil servants can start collecting pensions at either fifty-five, or in the case of Indonesian teachers, age sixty.

    Iver’s mother was gentle and loving, and a mother of nine children, all of whom save one had left the island to work and live in other parts of Indonesia.  His father, now seventy-four, was suffering from hypertensi (high blood pressure) and spent his entire day it appeared, sitting on his front porch with a depressed scowl on his face.  Later that evening, Iver and I returned for a wonderful meal prepared by his mother.  It had been one of the best I’d enjoyed in Indonesia.  After dinner, as was customary at all meals during the holiday season throughout the northern islands, huge cap-sealed jars of cookies were brought out from the cupboard for everyone’s enjoyment.  The family dinner included several other of Iver’s relatives I had yet to meet. 

    A church service commemorating the Last Supper was scheduled for the next morning, again at 9:00 AM.  I accompany Iver and settle in for a two and one-half hour ceremony.  In the middle of the church had been set two tables, one short and one long, in the form of a “T.”  Covered in white linens, place settings had been set for nine- not twelve- disciples.  Each place setting consisted of a plate with a piece of leavened white bread neatly cut into four cubes and two small glasses of sweet wine, all covered over with a large, white linen napkin. 

    I was asked to be one of the nine disciples, and Sarlota, the woman who had set her sights on my person the day before, made sure to hustle-in and sit opposite me at the disciple’s table.  She was as pious as a church mouse, and apparently one of the parish’s most active members.  The pastor of the church presided over the breaking of bread and drinking of wine, but communion for the parish not seated as one of the nine were not offered any sacraments.  The Last Supper communion was masterfully led by the pastor, who had been preaching for twenty-four years.  Everything he said rang resonant with the scripture it seemed; he delivered straight from the book.

    Later that night, the same pastor stumbled downstairs into the open air dining area of my hosts’ house coinciding with the end of our dinner, and was feeling no pain after having imbibed a liberal dose of “The Mark of the Mouse.”  He was paying an unsolicited visit- certainly not uncommon to these islands- and proceeded to solicit me for a generous cash donation to his parish.  Iver profusely apologized for the pastor’s condition and nerve, but I had to see it as a man-of-the-cloth at work, though he certainly had been drinking on the job!  Soon after, a loud argument between three or four drunk young men erupted nearby on the street above us, and we all ascended the stairs of the hillside home up to the street  to see what the problem was.  The pastor walked out onto the dark street to try and settle the dispute, only to find his nephew was both most at fault and the drunkest of the bickering group!

    The next day, my hired vehicle arrived around 1 PM, and a horde of Iver’s and Mikiana’s families crowed around, excited at the day’s planned island tour.  The vehicle was in the style of Siau’s primary form of public transport, a sort of truck with snub-nosed cab separate from a rear flat bed, fitted with passenger benches, protective side bars, and covered by a metal roof.  A gratuitously large bass-subwoofer sound cabinet was set in between the two benches, and secured into the back of the driver’s cab, while above it and fixed into the upper portion of the cab’s rear panel was a long rectangular array of tweeter and midrange speakers. 

    This rolling sound machine was Siau’s popular form of microlet, and carried enough RMS punch to be heard along the entire length of Siau’s 22.5 kilometers.  Having paid the steep rental price, I pointedly told the driver I would make only one request- no music on the trip, please.  The love affair between the island’s microlet drivers and their vehicles’ sound systems were a public nuisance for the island’s older residents, who simply tolerated the rolling thunder that shook their houses every few minutes on their endless round trips along the coastal route.  Noise abatement laws were simply non-existent on the island.

    Twenty-one of us piled into the rear passenger space, and four more family members followed on two motor bikes.  Over the next several hours we visited several natural sites, first heading north to East Siau’s port capital, Ulu, and then turning east, climbing a grade up to the great lava fields of Bebali.  The volume of lava at the site was revealed by a kind of cross-sectional view of the flow, as road crews had blasted away and cut a wedge across the bed’s width in order to carve a road through from the east side of the island to the west. 

    Standing atop the blasted bed rubble down field and looking up towards the lava’s source at Karangetang’s peak, a twenty-five meter tall wall of black ancilite crag rose about the roadway, resting upon how many more meters of lava I couldn’t tell.  The field at roadside was nearly one hundred meters across, and most impressive was the sight as the eye followed the long, black river of lava rock from the road up the steep flanks of the volcano as it cut a path through the surrounding tropical lushness of green vegetation.  These black fields were the result of the 1974 eruption which also added one hundred meters to the height of Karangetang.

    Moving on to the west coast we stopped at the beachside hot springs in Lehi, a most beautiful coastline location, but the hot baths were horribly maintained and filled with garbage.  Of most interest was looking west some ten kilometers out to sea and gazing upon Pulau Makalehi which from all accounts was a most beautiful island with long, white sand beaches and a large interior lake which filled a depression surrounded by a ring of mountainous hills.  The tiny island was rarely visited by tourists and is, as are most smaller islands in the Sangihe-Talaud groups, free of motor vehicles.  A paradise isle seemed within arm’s length, but I hadn’t the time to visit.

    Now traveling south along the western coast, we passed through West Siau’s capital Ondong, which was a small port, and followed the steep coastline to Loghaeng, stopping at Djohan’s family house by the sea.  Djohan was a most gentle man who was an exceptional English teacher I worked with back in Tahuna at the vocational high school.  All twenty-four of us descended upon his parent’s home unannounced, and as another  group of fifteen happened to be on their way out after their own visitation, we settled into the large living room, taking their place as the next rotation of guests.  To call upon a friend without notice was the cultural norm in these northern islands, and if you brought twenty-plus people along with you, well, the more the merrier!

    Djohan had seemed to inherit his sweet disposition from his father, whose beaming, large-toothed smile lit up the room as he welcomed us in.  After coca-cola and cookies- the Christmas holiday staples- we took a tour, visiting the large church standing nearby and a family gravesite built next to it.  Dogs slept atop the cement crypts which were covered in gleaming tile.  Four tall, polished gray headstones stood neatly placed inscribed with a prominent symbol of the cross surrounded by names and dates of birth and death.  A cement roof protected the gravesite, supported by cement pillars at each corner. 

    Walking down a few stairs led to a small, flat clearing with a beautiful view of the sea which ominously churned away and battered up against a small, rocky cove.  It was now the rainy season, and the seas were active and dangerous.  The setting was remarkably similar to spots along California’s Big Sur, especially so the colors and surface action of the turbulent ocean just offshore. 

    We met several of Djohan’s relatives and other local villagers there, socializing as they sat on a picnic table.  I took out my binoculars and trained them on the extremely steep hillside which rose sharply skyward from the other side of the coastal road some fifty meters up from the seashore.  Countless coconut palms as well as nutmeg trees were mixed in with natural rainforest, all so densely clustered that no one tree of any sort could be neatly singled out amidst a carpet of green so vivid that it seemed iridescent even with overcast skies.  Equatorial sun, tropical rains, and volcanic soil had conspired to produce lush mountainside vegetation, and many of the local villagers made a living climbing up the steep hillsides every day, tending their plots of cash crops, mainly coconut and nutmeg. 

    Several children surrounded me, fascinated by my binoculars, which I gladly lent to be passed around between both the youngsters and older people lounging at the picnic table.  It appeared the youngsters had never had the opportunity to experience the miraculous effects of field glasses, not knowing which end to peer through, and gasping once they established a clear, telescopic view.  “Adu!  Adu!,” they cried in ecstasy at their new powers of vision; “Oh my God!  Oh my God!”

    About an hour later our traveling troupe motored on to Siau’s southern coast which was sparsely populated and lined with kilometers of thick mangrove swamps, the first I had seen in Indonesia.  The road swept around the island’s southern tip up to high ground providing spectacular views of the ocean and several islands, just a couple of kilometers offshore.  This ocean area supposedly offered great diving spots that were served mainly by “live aboard” diving cruisers.  We stopped atop a large hill overlooking the sea, and descended a long, marrow, muddy trail which wended its way through thick vegetation down to Tanganga beach, touted as Siau’s premier pantai pasir putih (white, sandy beach).  The beach was officially dubbed an obyek wisata, and I was the only one to enter the sea for a swim save one small boy who was part of our group. 

    My travels through Indonesia had led me to observe how few Indonesians really took to swimming in the ocean for recreation.  Many Indonesians I had met told me they were afraid of the sea and had never learned to swim.  For a nation made up of 17,000 islands and harboring some of the most beautiful offshore coral reefs in the world, it was difficult for me to fathom the lack of interest, especially amongst the adults.  Maybe the embarrassment of maritime riches were so great they had all taken it for granted.

    Onshore the narrow swath of coarse white sand gave way to a large flat area of tall, green vegetation, many of the plants of the flowering variety.  Returning from my swim, I noticed some delicate white flowers clustered amongst the long green leaves of one tall plant.  A lacey filigree of beautiful complexity embroidered the edges of each petal and I quickly grabbed my camera.  My instincts told me this was most likely an endemic flower, as I had never seen anything resembling.  Endemic species of plants and especially birds had drawn attention to Siau as well as other islands in the Sangihe-Talaud groups.  In fact, the most detailed internet web sites I had researched on islands such as Sangihe, Siau, and Karakelang were those of ornithological studies compiled by bird watching societies based in England.  Bird lovers had constituted the earliest eco-tourists to have explored these boundary region islands.

    Darkness was quickly descending, and it was tine to return to Sawang.  We traveled along a poorly maintained, one lane road that cut its path through mainly uncultivated primary rainforest.  There were few coconut palms and banana trees to be seen, and rainforest hardwoods lined the route.  Huge spreads of low-lying tropical plants were clustered along the roadside, some drooping with the weight of giant, heart-shaped leaves large enough to wrap around your body and cover you from neck to ankle.

    The constant up-and-down and snake-like path the road was forced to follow along the hilly contours of rainforest terrain soon took casualties, as a couple children and one adult became car sick, some managing to vomit overboard but one did so all over the microlet’s flat bed.  The continual gearing-up followed by downshifts necessary also produced the same effects in the flat bed I had experienced below deck while entering Ulu’s port on the ship Valentin.

    Exhaust began to fill the passenger space, and though I attempted to peek my head out through the side ports to breathe in fresh air, I was largely restricted from doing so from the fear of having my had torn open by the tree branches overgrowing onto the roadway and swiping at the sides of our vehicle.

    By the time we returned home to Sawang, I had been gassed once again, and my head throbbed while a gastro-intestinal bug started to make its presence known, multiplying in my intestines.  My hosts’ reception had been most gracious, but their lack of hygiene, especially surrounding the kitchen and eating areas had posed some microbial challenges for me. 

    Most egregious was the upstairs bathroom, which was located directly above the downstairs, outdoor dining space, located in a cement breeze way just outside of the kitchen.  The bathroom’s drainage pipe, and carried away all waste water, simply ran wild, pointing straight down from above, and spilling into a narrow drainage ditch which had been dug out and lined with stones, taking the effluvia downhill towards the sea.  The exposed sewage route also happened to run directly along one end of the dining area’s cement pad on its downward slope. This was standard procedure, I imagined, and there was so much rain on Siau that run-off simply washed everything clean, usually on a daily basis.  Because of this, the smell of standing sewage wasn’t noticeable.  It took me a couple of days before I even noticed the drainage trench!

    With only a couple of days remaining in my visit, I was beginning to suffer from these and other factors.  Many animals had the run of the kitchen area as well.  Meat dishes stood out in open-air storage, preserved by their heavy spicing, as the family had no refrigerator.  Cold food storage was still a rarity in Sawang households.  It suddenly became clear as to one reason why the spice island bom of the seventeenth century had been such an historic economic event.  Europeans had discovered that the nutmegs, cloves, and peppers that grew so abundantly on certain Indonesian islands had tremendous preservative properties, and could be sold in Europe not only to flavor foods, but to keep them from putrefying- especially meats.

    Meal after meal, select, left-over plates of heavily spiced pork was trotted out, and soon enough, there was no way I could eat the rapidly aging food I was being served.  Even the freshly grilled fish was hard to keep down, and I was beginning to find mealtime with my hosts a trail, as to refuse food could be taken to be a little insulting.

    I managed to physically survive three more days on Siau.  My host, Arens, took me out early one morning on his six meter long outrigger, a deep but narrow and rudderless fishing boat which was powered by oaring and kept stable and upright by the two long pieces of bamboo runners which ran along either side, connected to the boat by long wooden arms arching out a few feet. 

    The waters were glassy-calm as six of us rowed out into deeper waters.  Arens dropped a trolling rope overboard the end of which had tied to it a long wooden stick with a rock weight taped on.  Once sinking to the bottom, it was used to snag another line resting on the ocean bottom to which was attached a large stone on one end and a bamboo fish trap on the other.  This was a hit or miss kind of operation and Arens directed his oarsmen to select spots on the water where he apparently remembered to be the exact locations directly over which the fish traps had been deposited, some days back thrown overboard and sinking out of sight to depths of maybe fifty meters.  Initially, I had no idea how this trolling process worked until after the second trap had been hoisted up on deck by Arens’ son, Christianson, a short and powerfully built man whose tremendous black muscles visibly swelled and twisted like flexible, braided steel under his bare skin with every mighty yank he gave the line at whose end dangled a huge bamboo fish trap.

    Finally, all four of Arens’ bamboo traps, each a meter long and shaped like giant wine casks, lie on their sides spanned across the top of the fishing boat.  There had been high hopes for a good haul, but two baskets were empty and the other two produced a catch of only twelve fish.  But exotic fish they were, most of them brilliantly orange and red.  Arens directed the crew to row across the water parallel to the shore, now about a kilometer distant.  About fifteen minutes later he had located a new site for the bamboo traps, and Arens confidently assured me this would be a much better location. 

    As we glided across the still waters off Sawang, we passed through shallows where the coral was easily visible through the clean, clear waters below us.  Unfortunately, much of the reef had been destroyed long ago by dynamite fishing.  Straight ahead to the north Karangetang loomed over us.

    Each trap, both weighted down by the large stone secured to its attached line as well as small stones slipped in between the basket’s long slats of split bamboo, were thrown overboard one by one in nearby locations in the water, the attached braided rope linear whizzing across the tops of the boats wooden sides, as fed from the neatly formed spools of rope, resting on the bottom of the boats trough.

    We rowed back into shore, and beached the craft.  Half of us pushing from behind while the other half pulled from in front, we forced the small fishing vessel along a pathway of long palm fronds which had been laid across the path and spaced every couple of meters.  Without these guides we would have simply grouped to a halt, driving the boat deep into the sand.

    One of the crew, who happened to be Aren’s son-in-law, took on the task of stringing up the dozen fish which sloshed about free-floating in some water in the bottom of the boat’s hull.  Threading a line through each fishes’ mouth and out one gill was a delicate operation fraught with potential risk as half the catch was poisonous.  These were the most exotic-looking fish, having arrays of spines fanning out from around their gills and fins, each tipped with a poison that could induce heart arrest and could be fatal. 

    Yes, these were to be eater for lunch soon, and grilling apparently neutralized the poison I was told.  The son-in-law carefully went about stringing one after another of the splendidly spinney but poisonous fish, which gleaned iridescent orange in the late morning sun.  He seemed to be an old hand at it all, and showed no precaution as he went about the business wearing no protective gloves.

    The next day Iver took me to Dame, the village precariously placed on the lower reaches of Karangetang volcano, and family home to Eflin, whose daughter I had chaperoned over from Sangihe to Siau aboard the gas chamber otherwise known as the good ship Valentin.

    Dame was in actuality two villages, Dame Tinggi set higher up on the volcano’s slopes and Dame Bawah down closer to the sea.  A long, straight road traveling steeply uphill connected the two villages, and as we luckily found local transport to take us up the steep stretch, we passed from coast side up through rain forest, much of it virgin.  The trees we passed along the way were to be later justly appreciated as we had to walk back downhill to the coast road to flag a microlet back to Ulu upon departure.    One hundred foot hardwoods towered all around, some covered with intricately patterned, small-leafed vines.  I was also astounded by some of the species of mango tree we saw there, two of which were also one-hundred feed in height.  that mangoes could grow so tall and provide such a large canopy flabbergasted me.

    Once up top, the microlet dropped us off near a church, and we ascended the rest of the way up cement walkways leading to the upper reaches of Dame Tinggi.  Iver had never visited Eflin’s family house, and we needed direction which was given us by a young man from the village.  We approached the house, and were welcomed by Nofi, Eflin’s daughter, as well as Nofi’s  Soon, one of the men present offered to guide Iver and I further up beyond the village boundaries on to higher slopes to where a great lava field could be found.  Next to the house was the family crypt, holding just one body, that of Eflin’s father, who had just died in July 2005.  We all paid our respects soon after arriving. 

    Before setting out, Iver directed my attention to a small tree just across from the house and at the trail head to the lava fields.  It was called kayu manis, or sweet wood.  Again, I stood amazed as this was a cinnamon tree.  We peeled away some of the cinnamon bark, putting the strips to our noses, lips, and then sucking on them.  The scent and taste of cinnamon bark freshly peeled off the tree was not only a highlight of my trip to Siau, but ranked near the top of all my sensory experiences during my long months in Indonesia.

    Rain set in, and it was a soggy forty-five minute uphill sludge through rain forest and along the ridge tops of verdant, grassy knolls.  We finally reached the lava fields, very near to the end of the long finder of jumbled crag that had once poured as hot lava down Karangetang’s slope and had now hardened and broken up into nearly impassable boulder field.  I managed only three photographs un the hard driving rain.  Thousands of acres of coconut palms had been destroyed by this lava field, which again was just one of many lava runs resulting from the great eruption of 1974.

    It was one thing to ruminate on the economic loss the villagers of Dame Tinggi had suffered, as a result of the 1974 blast, but quite another to reflect on how lucky the village was that it wasn’t incinerated as the flow had come up short of its upper reaches by only two kilometers.  There was no living doubt that Dame Tinggi was home to a population of bold or foolish gamblers, depending on how one looked at it.  The area had drawn in farmers who had cultivated mainly coconut palms far uphill beyond the inhabited sections of Dame Tinggi.  Spared clusters of palms could be seen growing along side the giant lava field, kilometers above us.  The rain was becoming torrential, and we doubled back, following a different path downhill to our point of origin.  I slipped and fell twice, and was covered with volcanic mud by the time we returned to the family home.  There was a large well behind the house, and Iver poured buckets of water on me in the rain in order to help wash me off, but was too earnest in his efforts as he hadn’t allowed me to first empty my pockets nor take off my hiking boots.  The boots filled with water, and I stood in a downpour, finding myself half-thanking and half-cursing Iver for his frantic desire to wash me clean of the mud-smeared all along the length and width of my back and buttocks.

    Drenched for the rest of the afternoon with the rains still coming on strong, we were invited into Eflin’s mother’s dark, smoky kitchen, its walls blackened by years of wood fires depositing its soot throughout the kitchen.  As in most Indonesian houses I had visited whose kitchens burned wood for cooking, there was no real ventilation system built into the kitchen’s walls.  The smoke just swirled about, eventually passing out of doorways or small windows if they happened to be nearby.  Otherwise, it just wafted until clearing out hours later.  Residents of such homes seemed impervious to breathing in the stuff.

    After a quick meal, I made a comment on how beautiful was the white dog playing in the kitchen, teasing the several chickens who hopped about the tables and cement hearth where blackened pots and pans sat atop a grill suspended over the wood fire pit. 
    Given my growing experience, I should have predicted the reply. 

    “Oh yes,,” one of the men seated at the table said, “We’ll be killing and eating him day after tomorrow.  It’s too bad you can’t be here to enjoy the meal with us.” 

    I stopped short, and felt a fool for having said anything at all about the dog.  I also stopped and gruesomely wondered if its blood would be the iridescent red I saw flowing from the veins of a freshly slaughtered chicken’s throat in the backyard next to the trail leading back to Dame Tinggi.  I had never seen such a super-charged red blood sample, and could only figure the local volcanic soil put minerals into the environment that found their way into the blood streams of animals and made their blood electric red.

    This was my last outing in Siau’s wilds, and I had learned why many had told me climbing Karangetang was a multi-day trek that only a professional guide could help one accomplish.  Between lava fields, steep ravines, and otherwise tortured contours of heavily forested terrain, any serious attempt at climbing the mile high volcano that had sprung so steeply out of the Celebes Sea was a major undertaking, and dangerous.

    The next afternoon, I wearily boarded the Margareth II, the newly christened ship that had just been added to the growing fleet that made travel between Manado and all the northern islands of the Celebes Sea possible.  Overwhelmed with the natural and cultural sights, sounds, smells, and gastro-intestinal micro-organisms I had freshly experienced over the past six days, I was bound for yet another remote location, the rainforest reserves of Tangkoko, and sixty kilometers outside of Manado.  Arriving in Manado, I checked into Hotel Celebes, which overlooked the harbor and the Celebes Sea to the north from whence I had just traveled.  I laid on the bed in my hotel room and stared at the ceiling.  It was deja-vu all over again

    “My God,” I muttered, and then self-inquired, “Aren’t you getting just a little too long in the tooth to be doing all of this?”