Sounds like the start of a joke doesn’t it? An octopus, a ghost, and a muffin walk into a bar… I wish I knew the punch line, but sadly I’m a rubbish joke-teller. If you have any ideas, drop a comment.

I wish this story were as funny as a joke but it’s actually kind of sad. I wrote down these three individual stories at the end of our day in Lembeh, thinking they were all unrelated, only to realize that they were in fact completely related. You may find them sad. You may find it creepy that the same story happened three times in one day. So without any further ado…


The Coconut Octopus

I was having the time of my life in the muck, searching for critters so bizarre that even J. K. Rowling couldn’t dream them up. There was one dive though that was particularly mucky. Tanja and Stefan did not like the site at all. Granted, it was pure sandy bottom, and we didn’t find much, but the two things we did find were amongst the more memorable.

Fletch found what looked like a little arena; a pit in the sand, the size of a beach ball, made up of sponges. Inside this sponge arena were dozens of lionfish and boxing shrimp, including the blue variety. It looked like an underwater colosseum. Normally we don’t carry harassment sticks with us. We don’t like harassing anything. The sticks I am talking about are long metal rods used to point stuff out, and more often than not, to harass the critters. But in Lembeh, carrying them seemed to be the norm. The guides used them to comb through corals to look for anything that moved. They all carried extras, and so we asked if we might borrow one each. When in Rome… and whatnot.

Blue Boxer Shrimp (Stenopus tenuirostris)


I said that we don’t like harassing anything. I lied. We don’t like harassing anything except lionfish. I know that’s terrible, but Fletch and I have both spent way too much time in the Caribbean where they are invasive and completely decimating the reef. In the Caribbean, we were trained to spear every lionfish we came into contact with. And yet, having every diver out spearing every lionfish, still hasn’t been enough to slow them down from breeding like rabbits and eating 90% of the juvenile fish species that are supposed to be there. That’s the Caribbean though. In the Pacific Ocean, they are indigenous. In the Pacific, we aren't supposed to care about them.

Rare, yellow variation of the Shortfin Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus


Fletch didn’t do anything to hurt the lionfish. "Harass" is a bit strong of a word. But he did entertain us both for several minutes by using his harassment stick to corral them all back into the sponge arena as they tried to leave. Like slaves trying to escape the fighting pits. Sorry, I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones lately.

We moved on and I noticed that the sand was littered with numerous coconut shells, and so I started using my harassment stick to gingerly lift them up and take a peek underneath. I was hoping to find a species of octopus that carries around coconut shells as a makeshift home and shield. Sort of like a hermit crab with its shell. Check it out. I didn’t even know if this kind of octopus lived here though, and so after numerous empty coconuts, eventually lost interest in the search.

Towards the end of the dive, I looked up from whatever little critter I was zoned in on, to see the entire rest of the group all hovering around a single thing. That never happened. Usually we were all scattered about, each in our own little world. I finned over to see what the excitement was.

I approached and saw the dive guide tinkering with a glass bottle. It was missing its bottom. He was pushing an octopus out through the missing bottom with his harassment stick. By the time I arrived, he had set the bottle down and the octopus was retreating back inside, bringing a shell along with it to use as a little makeshift door. Its use of the shell as a tool gave it away as a coconut octopus, and I settled in excitedly to observe.

Coconut Octopus peeking out of her bottle. See the shell she uses as a door?  (Amphioctopus marginatus)


I took some photos. The little gal was peeping her eyes out of the crack between the shell and the bottle curiously. I love octopuses, and will sit there and watch them all day if given the chance. When Stefan and I were still watching her five minutes later, the guide took this as a cue to give us a better photo op and started trying to push the octopus out again with his harassment stick. (Do you see now why I call them harassment sticks?) He finally succeeded and the poor little octopus tumbled out, along with all of her eggs which she was desperately clinging to under her skirt. Hundreds of thousands of little white sacks were all bundled together under her skirt. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. The guide shouldn’t be harassing her just for the sake of a photo. Wildlife should never be harassed. But a mother protecting her offspring is a whole different level of taboo.

Coconut Octopus desperately trying to cling to all of her eggs. 


An octopus only lays all of her eggs once at the end of her lifetime. She spends her last few months of life dutifully taking care of them, tending to them constantly, protecting them from predators, and wafting fresh, oxygenated water over them. She does this whether they have been fertilized or not. When they finally hatch, she can leave this world in peace, starved and exhausted.

Coconut Octopus trying to get back into her bottle. 

The guide stood her bottle up so that the open bottom was now down in the sand, leaving her defenseless. Luckily, octopuses are smarter than that, and as soon as he had backed away, she had the bottle knocked over and was back inside with her eggs and her shell-door in no time at all. I got some lovely photos, but they came with a guilty conscious.

First you have to knock it over...

Then you have to squeeze back inside with all 100,000 eggs. 


I hope the little coconut octopus has better luck hiding her eggs from the next group of harassment sticks.


The Ghost

Later in the afternoon, I went up to the room to change into dry clothes. When I went back down to the poolside area, it was to overhear Kees telling a ghost story to the other three. I’m petrified of ghost stories, the ones people believe are real, and so walked around to the far side of the pool as slowly as I could to return the towels, hoping to miss the story. Unfortunately the area was too small to get out of earshot, and so I heard the whole thing.

The resort was built on a hillside in a little lagoon, not even two years ago. One of the older employees had lived in the neighboring village his whole life, and so knew everything about the area.

According to him, back in the day, there was a woman who was with child, but because of her husband’s religious beliefs, he didn’t want the child, and so he killed her. She was buried on the hillside where the resort is now. When the builders were excavating for the resort, they accidentally dug up her grave. The Indonesian people, being very superstitions, knew that they had done a terrible thing, and so trying to fix the situation, dug up all of her remains, and gave her a second, proper burial, over to the side of where the first bungalow is now.

Well, apparently her spirit hasn’t found her second grave yet, and so late at night she still wanders along the hillside and through the resort, searching for her grave. The Indonesians are terrified of her. They won’t go into that bungalow if they can help it. Oftentimes the late night kitchen staff will run away scared. When the dive staff from Manado come to visit, they refuse to sleep in that area.

Fletch, being from New Orleans, and well versed in voodoo-type beliefs, suggested burning sage over her grave to help her find it. Whether that helps or not, is yet to be seen, and a story for another day.


Muffin

The resort was home to two rescue dogs as I mentioned before, and two lovely little cats, Muffin and Lolly. Muffin was a sweetheart, liked to hunt big geckos, and would let us play with her. Sometimes she would even come sleep on our porch, and would always purr oh so loudly. She used the pool as her own personal watering hole, sometimes carefully propping herself over the edge, sometimes sitting in the trench to one side like she was seated at the bar.

We looked out the window to spy Muffin napping under our deck chair. 

Bartender! A saucer of milk please! 


A few days previously she had been asleep under the table in the dining room, and had just suddenly woken up and started meowing frantically in her raspy, smoker’s-voice meow. Never had I seen a cat awake like that and start crying, as if waking from a bad dream. Fletch went over to her and held her until she stopped meowing and fell asleep again in his lap. Then we heard her sad story.

The Dutch manager couple had taken her to the vet to try to get her fixed. We’ve often done the same in under-developed countries. Cats and dogs run around feral, and no one ever spays or neuters them, and so their numbers just multiply. It’s a kind thing to take an animal in to fix it here and there, and then return it to where you found it.

The vet informed them that they fixed animals via injection now (which we had never heard of and neither had they). Well the injection didn’t work, because Muffin still got pregnant after the fact. The couple took her back to the vet who gave her another injection. This one caused her to produce a litter of stillborn kittens, and so for that she was a very sad cat despite her sweetness. That was probably the bad dream she had been having before. Poor Muffin.

So there you have it, the octopus, the ghost, and the Muffin. I wrote down all three stories thinking I was just keeping notes for the day; thinking they had nothing to do with each other. I felt uneasy writing down the ghost story, wondering if doing so would provoke her. Then as I laid awake that night, I realized that all three stories followed the same, sad tale, about mothers either losing their young, or being lost in the process of caring for their young. I don't think the ghost was upset about having her story written down. Nothing out of the ordinary happened that night, aside from restlessness and bad dreams.