Travel Journal: Makassar, on the Island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia

Standing on the edge of an island half an hour from shore, digging my feet into the sand and wondering: is this home?

This island is, as far as we know, uninhabited, but the shell of a house promises future inhabitants. Cats inexplicably stalk the sand and meow for the food we forgot to bring. Six or seven years ago when we were first taken to the island, we named it narcissistically Brake Paradise Island, but its real name in Indonesian is Kodengareng Keke.

About an hour before, when I expressed my doubts as to the sanity of going with our particular boat-driver on this particular dock, my mom inquired if I had gone soft. Well, yes, I have. I’ve been in the United States for five years, where no credible dock would have rickety boards or small boys fishing on top of rocks and tires and sitting among mounds of trash. No man would accost you without preliminaries and haggle a price. I’ve gone incredibly soft, wishing as I did for neat white offices, online set prices and tickets purchased in advance, a blue-suited man who would outline the itinerary, and perhaps a gift shop? Incredibly, embarrassingly soft.

Still, a sense of adventure made me more excited than worried, and there’s freedom in setting your own itinerary. We’re not in America. Why should things be done in the American way? Soft but not hopeless, perhaps.

The beauty of the island and the journey there was breathtaking, the speedboat bucking and slapping against the water. We watched as flying fish skimmed over the surface of the ocean, blue and buoyant, fins flashing like translucent wings. The trash that clogs the water lessened as we went farther out.

When we reached the island, Joe and I made friends with an orange cat and named him Horatio. He followed me around for a little while before being disappointed that, although I loved petting and scratching him, really I was here to snorkel. Schools of transparent fish darted about in the water. A few of us ventured to the drop-off, where electric blue fish swam between rocks and ahead was only murky darkness. I swam a bit further out, feeling nothing but fascination at the shimmering movement I thought might have been the current.

Dad warned us that we shouldn’t touch the spiked black sea urchins, then got stung himself while trying to get a shell. We had a brief conference, airing questions of poison and lamenting that we can’t get a phone signal to google What do I do if I’ve been stung by a sea urchin? Our boat-driver assured us he would probably be fine.

We visited another island, one frequented by tourists, and found a huge clam, the biggest any of us had ever seen. No pearl, though. Even now, when I know how silly it is, I always look for a pearl. We handed the clam to a group of tourists so they could take pictures. The water here wasn’t quite as clear, but we still saw long, pencil-thin fish and what might have been an eel or a sea-snake.

After that, back to shore.

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