I woke up and looked in the mirror. It was as if overnight a lifetimes worth of lines and bags under my eyes vanished. For the first time in a long time I felt well rested and ready for the day.
I had an agenda for the day and wasted no time flagging down a bus /mini van and said Mele Island. The man smiled and waved me in. The next half hour we traveled slowly through the windy streets of the town. A bustling scene where large knots of locals wandered in and throughout the streets on their daily errands, slinking between cars stuck in the gridlock and into narrow alleyways often with their kids in tow.
The road to the off shore island went through some of the worst parts of town. Past shanties made of corrugated tin and decrepit cinder blocks. But eventually it broke through to the countryside which was beautiful and lush. As we picked up pace, free of traffic, we glided past rows of exotic trees with various fruit I've never seen before growing from them. Dozens of different fruit I'd never seen actually. and im a landscaper. Im supposed to know about random plants. But this was all new to me.
We pulled off onto a dirt road and as we stopped on the corner i watched as several young boys climbed high up into one of the unidentified fruit trees and plucked fruit. Tossing them down below to waiting buddies. One child had made it at least 8 metres into the canopy of the tree all while wearing thongs on his feet and just a pair of shorts. Impressed by their athleticism I smiled and waved. Two of the boys on the ground cradling bundles of fruit in their arms smiled back.
Finally I had made it to the beach where the ferry would shuttle me across the bay to my destination for the day. A small round island surrounded by thick reefs. I hoisted my snorkling kit over my shoulders and made for the pier. I could see in the distance a tinny or small aluminum boat motoring its way towards me.
As I waited a local asked if I could spare him a few bucks if he climbed one of the coconut trees for me, and grabbed me a fresh coconut. I thought about it for a moment. The ferry would be a few more minutes so i agreed. The man shimmied up a ten metre tree with a machete clenched between his teeth and proceeded to chop off a coconut for me. After scooting down and a little out of breath he cut off the end and handed it to me to drink. The fresh coconut was good and I gulped down its juices. I felt the man deserved his hard earned cash and doubled what he wanted. Smiling profusely he thanked me and wandered off down the beach.
The trip across the shallow bay went by quickly. In fact as I looked over I noticed it was low tide. Low enough for me to be able to walk across a nearby shoal to the island. I noted that and figured id use it to go back later. My plan was to snorkle back along the sandbar following schools of fish back to the beige sandy beach.
Once on the island I had no problem finding just the area of reef id like to explore and quickly waded into the warm tropical water. Put on my kit and swam off towards a dingy I knew signified where the reef dropped off into the deep waters of the bay.
The reef was as advertised and far better than anything I had seen in hawaii or elsewhere. I spent the next few hours lazily swimming through a maze of coral and diving down through deep underwater canyons noting the purple and yellow hues of the various corals, the royal blue giant starfish and two foot long sea cucumbers. Shoals of fish flittered around me. I spotted many fish I could identify. Trigger fish of various forms, bright yellow tang, morish idol, angel fish, rainbow hued parrot fish, red rock fish, and many clown fish as they nestled against their anenome homes. But there were far more fish I had never seen before and couldn't identify that were equally as spectacular. The most beautiful parts of the reef however were where it suddenly dropped of into 20 metres depth or more. There the water took on a deep electric blue with shafts of sunlight raining down to the unseen depths below. Large table and fan corals clung to the sides of the rocks as they descended beyond site underneath me. Off to the side fish half as big as me swam keeping a cautious eye on the strange interloper to their domain.
Diving sure worked up an appetite and so I decided to take the ferry back to the mainland. I was too tired to entertain my original plan of swimming back alongside that sandbar.
The bus driver agreed to give me a ride back into town and the central market places where I'd find food and hopefully a beer or two. But first he told me he had to pick his kids up from school. That sounded just fine to me. Soon we were rolling down a dirt road lined with small farms heading to his family village and towards the school. I listened as the driver lamented that in a week would be school holidays and his kids would soon be home bored for weeks driving him crazy as they ran around the house stircrazy. I nodded in sympathy having gone through that my self many times with our son. You can go anywhere in the world but kids are kids and parents everywhere have the same experiences. I noticed in lieu of speed bumps the village had rolled large boulders into the road that required one to slow down to a crawl to negotiate around. When asked he explained it was to prevent speeders from endangering the children near the school.
When we approached the school I was expecting the driver to stop the mini van at the gates. It was a rustic but busy school and all the kids were milling about either playing with their friends or waiting for their parents. All of them wearing yellow and blue school uniforms. Instead the driver opened up the gate and drove all the way across to the class rooms to pick his kids up. As he got out to find and collect his kids i too got out and stretched. Kids swarmed around me to say hello and practice their english. I watched an Australian couple arrive and donate school supplies. Senior students were learning about agriculture and taking care of the school vegetable farm next to one of the cement bungalows. Carrying large buckets of brown water that smelled like it had been infused with manure or some sort of natural fertilizer. But before I could take much in the man came back and I helped him get his kids into the back of the van. And then we were off back towards the city and the markets.
The city markets were a spectacle. Never before had I seen that much produce in one place let alone the assortment of fruit and vegetables. Roots the size of your leg on one table. Fruit that resembled two foot long mango cucumber hybrids on another. Something spikey and sweet smelling next to a bowl full of odd nuts you'll never find in a modern supermarket sat on the next table over. If it existed as a fruit or vegetable it could be found here.
Ladies sat on the ground underneath their stalls awaiting customers, smiling hopefully as you passed by. Many of the exotic fruit that I could not identify on the journey were there for purchase sitting on the endless rows of tables. The folks attending their stalls happy to answer any questions. I spent a half hour going from table to table asking "whats that?" By the end I counted over 15 types of banana alone.
Of course being a landscaper with a passion for tropical flowers I gazed in awe at the flower market and the hundreds of bundles of bright red, yellow and orange heliconia. Torch ginger and alpina. Even glossy red anthurium. It's my dream to one day host a collection of heliconia and frangipani in my own back yard.
I did indeed find my beer and a large plate of steak. All was delicious. And sated, I caught a ride up the hill to my hotel where I floated around in the pool again.
After dinner I accepted an invitation to drink some kava with the locals. We ended up at a shack in a families front yard. Rustic would be an understatement. But everybody was friendly and the kava cheap. Many complain about the taste of kava. It wasn't so bad to me. Most folks quit after a cup or two. I ended up doing five. Kava is a subtle substance. You dont catch a buzz or high but instead just feel relaxed. I spent the rest of the evening messaging my fiance and telling my son to continue being a good boy and to treat mum right.
I retired to my room and settled into bed with the patio window open to let in the cool night breeze. The scents of burning woods used to cook pigs in peoples back yards drifted through my room like a light sandlewood smell and eased me into a deep sleep.
As promised my daily upload of flowers I found pretty while out n about.
Lotus flowers and seed pods
Zingiber officinale. (ginger)
All photos taken by Steemydave