Bunaken Island: Partying with the Natives

Bunaken Island is world-famous for SCUBA diving, and can be found towards the top of many “best of” lists.  Excited to use our new Open Water Certificates and train for Advanced Certification, we boated across from Manado for five days of our vacation.  Our hotel owner explained that this is a new harbor, hoping to improve the tourism here.  Unfortunately, they forgot to provide a way to get on and off of boats, leaving guests to invade the boats of others in an attempt to get to their own.  Thankfully, this is considered acceptable.

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We were excited to ride a bigger boat this time after almost tipping over on our last vacation.  Until we realized that the tiny boat on the right was ours.

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There gas tank was … innovative, to say the least.

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Upon our arrival, we realized that we had entered a relatively uninhabited island. Three small villages housed 4,000 natives, and there were maybe four centers that offer bungalows and diving instruction.  Other than that, we were alone on the island.

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We went exploring our first afternoon, talking about the location as a perfect scene for a real-life Lord of the Flies or a horror film.

Before we even arrived at the edge of the first small village, we could hear it.  Pop music was blasting, the bass turned all the way up.  As we walked down the path, we saw two children driving a motorbike toward one of the huts, most of which had mud and stone walls topped with tin roofs.

We headed over to a few women sitting out front, inquiring as to whether they would allow us to rent their bikes for the afternoon.  They responded in the affirmative, leading us back into the heart of the village (village is a generous term, referring to about five or six huts).

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As we headed back, they excitedly told us “Party! Party!”  It was clear that we would be their boasted guests of honor.  Reaching our destination, we saw about seven or eight men sitting in a circle.  Some drank, some danced in the middle, and all smoked.  Behind them was an enormous pile of speakers, all blasting out the music that one would find in a club.

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They quickly pulled up chairs for us, and offered us cokes and other mystery drinks (judging from the hosts’ demeanor, the latter were highly alcoholic).  Mind you, this is around noon.  As I made my way across the circle, one man started trying to dance with me.  They kept this up throughout the shouted dealings for the motorbikes and until we headed back down the path.

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In the end, we had two motorbikes to drive and one that I could ride on, complete with a (tiny) 13-year-old driver.  We drove across the island in about 15 minutes, looked at the church and the village, and then headed back.  There is one “road” that we rode on, or alongside at times.  The island is absolutely gorgeous, and I enjoyed both the dense forest and beautiful beaches.  The whole island is considered a national park, and has the views to earn the title.  We ended up stopping to check out another dive center, and my chauffeur headed on his way.

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This left us with one too many passengers, so I waited at Two Fish while the others headed back to our bungalows.  While I awaited my friend’s return trip to evacuate me, I made friends with two native of Bunaken, Frans and Jon.

We spoke in very broken English and Bahasa over my shared snack of dried mango.  They taught me words, I taught them words, and we actually had a quite enjoyable time conversing.  I was amazed at how much we could communicate with our limited language!  I was also touched by the fact that they sat and talked with me, having offered me a seat as well, for a good half an hour while I waited for my friends.  Struggling to converse across a language barrier can be hard work, and I know from experience that it is often easier to simply avoid the situation!

I have loved having the opportunity to meet many different kinds of people with such varied backgrounds throughout my living and traveling in Indonesia.  While we all have something or another in common, each person has their own new perspective on life, which makes it all the richer.

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