And so we fell into a comfortable routine of waking up and going to breakfast each morning for a beautiful selection of fresh, tropical fruits. There would also be an omelette station set up. After breakfast, we would head out on the boat for the two morning dives, venturing into the underwater world, to one colorful wall bursting with healthy corals after another. The state of the thriving reef was a happy sight. There were times when I would look for a bit of rock or dead coral to steady myself with a fingertip while taking a photo, and would be unsuccessful in finding anything safe to touch. The lack of spots not covered in healthy corals was wonderful. Between dives, the boat boys would give us towels and hot tea and coffee. They would also pass around cookies and fruit of some sort, sometimes bananas, sometimes papaya, sometimes mango, all of which they would jokingly try to tell us white people was mango. Every day they passed out “mango.” Every day we laughed and waited to see what the “mango” actually was, then joked that it was our favorite kind of mango.

Beautiful, colorful reefs of Bunaken National Park, Indonesia. 

Fletch swims amongst a cloud of pyramid butterflyfish. 

Colorful anthias light up the reef in Bunaken National Park, Indonesia. 

When the boat returned from diving, there would be just enough time for a hot shower (the resort had blissfully scalding hot showers) before lunch was served. Sometimes lunch was a buffet of fresh vegetables and curries and tofu and tempeh. Sometimes we were served family style. Either way, it was always a feast of delicious, fresh foods.

The afternoons were for relaxing, sometimes by the pool, sometimes in the room when our glowing white skin had reached its maximum sun exposure before bursting into flames. After five years in the tropics, and a killer tan, I had been very disappointed at just how quickly my skin had returned to a vampirish shade of pale upon spending a few months in America.

Dinner was served at 7, a feast similar to the food served at lunch. There were always about five different dishes available, and I don’t think we ever saw the same dish twice in the week we were there. The food was superb. We befriended one of the chefs, Jimmy, and he would always cook me up extra vegetarian food. If he saw us hanging around between meals, he would often roast fresh peanuts for us.

There were a couple days when we had the whole resort to ourselves, after the Japanese group left and before the Swiss-French group arrived.

One evening we tried a local spirit. Remember when we had made the trip into town for beer, and there had only been five beers available? It turns out there had only been three beers available, because two of the bottles turned out to not be beer at all, but were just in the same size and shape bottles. Stefan had discovered this first, and was now trying to offer Fletch $100 to drink it, after describing in great detail how foul the smell and taste had been. I went back to the room to find the bottle that wasn’t marked with the local beer’s name, Bintang. The odd bottle out boasted to be local from Manado.

I had read about a local “moonshine” to avoid, simply because the concoction often proved fatal with the adulteration of various chemicals. That spirit was called arak, and luckily, I didn't see the word arak written anywhere on the bottle. There really wan’t any other indication on the label as to what the contents of the bottle might be. That meant it was safe to try, right?

We popped the bottle open and took a whiff. It smelled like sour molasses. Fletch gagged and poured some into a glass. It poured like molasses as well. We passed the dark, syrupy liquid around a few times, no one wanting to touch the goop. Stefan said ours smelled better than his had. Tanja suggested to drink it slowly, sort of the opposite of the bandaid theory. Fletch finally took a swig and said it tasted way better than it smelled.

I was finally convinced to take a swig. The bitter taste of black licorice caught me by surprise and I flinched in disgust. Everyone laughed. My mind flashed back to a childhood memory of black licorice.

When my sister and I were little, our mom used to take us to this French Cheese Importers. In the front was a little French cafe and shop, with beautiful kitchen and household items imported from all over Europe. In the back was a giant walk-in freezer with every kind of cheese you could imagine from all over the world. The owner was an elegant, older lady who adored my sister and me, because we reminded her of her own daughter. Often she would tell us to pick out candies for ourselves, anything we wanted, her treat. One day we picked out these beautiful little tins with painted flowers on the lids. We had no idea what was inside, but the colors of the flowers were mesmerizing to two young girls. The owner may have even warned us that it was licorice, but our only reference for licorice was Twizzlers. When we got home, we opened the pretty little tins and found little black squares inside, about the size of Tic Tacs. That little black square was the most foul thing I ever remember tasting as a kid. There was no sweet to it at all, and the bitter taste lingered for hours, no matter how many times I brushed my teeth afterwards. Most people have bad, childhood, food memories of liver or brussel sprouts. Mine was black licorice.

The black syrupy drink tasted like the liquid form of that candy that most definitely wasn’t candy, all those years ago. It tasted like Jägermeister gone bad. Maybe it had gone bad, apparently the government was trying to shut down that liquor company. Fletch chugged the rest of the mug after confirming that Stefan would be buying beers the following night. His face contorted in disgust and looked about how I felt, but he chugged the moonshine syrup like a champ. Then he exhaled like a dragon breathing fire, or more like a cat coughing up a fur ball. We gave the rest of the bottle to Jimmy who explained that it was made from a type of palm leaf, fermented inside bamboo. I couldn’t even imagine how foul the poisonous arak must taste if the supposedly safer, local liquor tasted like that.

A couple days later, on barbecue night, a last minute booking of “12” locals arrived. All the staff were running around before their arrival, apologizing profusely for the noise that was about to ensue. The manager even brought us cookies as a peace offering. The “12” guests ended up being more like 50 and all of their kids. Something about large groups, and power in numbers makes people feel like they own the place. The previously quiet and serene resort suddenly turned into a zoo. People were everywhere. We fled the pool when the kids started screaming too loudly, retreating to our rooms. Unfortunately, we still had to go back down for dinner, and being a smaller resort, they liked to serve everyone at once.

Dinner was chaos. The little kids were screaming. The slightly older kids were wreaking havoc with the pool cues and table. We now understood why none of the cues had any tips. For some reason the restaurant was home to a fleet of xylophones, and one little girl was trying to recreate Für Elise one plunk at a time, causing Beethoven to roll over in his grave, while her friends hit the rest of the bars at random. Yes, xylophones, plural, at a dive resort. I’m not making that up.

After the kids finally abandoned the xylophones, Stefan decided to try his hand at one. 

The buffet line of freshly cooked dishes we had become accustomed to sampling, turned into a smorgasbord of kids eating directly out of the serving dishes. Parents were chasing the toddlers around with spoonfuls of rice, trying to get them to take a bite. The rest of the parents were too busy taking selfies to notice their kids. The area around the water dispenser was flooded with more water than was left inside the pitcher. The pool cues sounded like they were being used in a fencing match, but I was afraid to look. We shoveled food down as quickly as we could and ran for for the safety of our rooms.

All things considered, it could have been a lot worse. We could have been kept up by noise all night. The kids could have started a marching band with the xylophones and pan flutes. Oh yeah, there was a rack of bamboo thingamajigs on the bar counter that looked suspiciously like pan flutes, but why would a dive resort have pan flutes? Luckily, the rooms were pretty well insulated, and once I hit bed, I was out like a light.