The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Beyond The Picket Fence

Columnist Sherryanne De La Boise


Ding dong ditch "em is alive and well in the scientific community. Announcing a pre-breakfast, tidal drift in boats going between the paradise islands of Raja Ampat; happily, off goes everyone, but the chosen few who have been alerted to linger behind. They will travel to another site, unhindered by the throngs. After about an hour drift, we are to be plied with vodka strewn hot chocolate and donuts, before the tide changes, and we drift back.

My future husband and I are in line. Counting noses, I realize that Vixen Vicki has angled herself to be in our boat. Some women have that internal radar that can locate an eligible bachelor. Even though I'm sporting an engagement ring, she has been sidling up to him. Grrrrr!

You know the purring type with that soft Southern accent who quotes Miss Minnie Pearl, "Just because you're on a diet don't mean you have to keep your head out of the refrigerator."

He cannot find his binoculars. Maybe because I just tucked them into my pants? We both have to give up our place in line to go back to our cabin. Oh no, I'm not giving him mine or offering to run back and retrieve his. Just to make certain her boat departs without us, I use the bathroom. Raja Ampat is so close to the equator that toilet water does not spiral. (in Illinois it rotates a different way than it does in the southern hemisphere).

Having been loaded into a different boat, I hear her bright voice calling to my future husband "have your driver come alongside, and we'll all float to the adult beverages in true party barge style."

Luckily, there is a birder on our craft. "Is that a Red bird-of-paradise?" I point into an inlet and off we go, in hot pursuit.

The driver cuts the engine, and we drift into the inlet. There is only a couple inches of clearance above the staghorn corals that crowd the clear water underneath us. We can see straight to the sandy floor, maybe 80 feet down. The staghorn is so dense that it reminds me of a forest of invasive buckthorn. Only the roots of the mangrove trees cascading in a tangle from the shore ends the underwater magnificence. I would need a machete to scuba here. I would need a machete to go ashore, yet there are giant open clams tied to the mangrove trees indicating that this is the territory of someone. Sometimes, there is a string that goes to the depth with evenly spaced oysters tied to it. That would be a pearl farm. I understand that if you have an oft-used old school 10 gallon toilet tank and an overhead grow lamp, you can have a pearl farm at home:

Imagine hostessing a black-tie event for The Nature Conservancy and announcing, as I twist my pearl necklace on my finger, that not only do I utilize my grey water in my garden, but my black water is first used to flush my pearl farm. Have another oyster hors d'oeuvre?

At the backside of the inlet is a small hut on stilts. Two angry Germans appear. Guess 12 of us in a black rubber boat have ruined their romantic remote retreat (They appear to be doing a honeymoon homestay). They wave fists and angrily shout, "Vy are u taking our picture? Be are GERMANS in paradise. Noot Birds of paradise."

Other than the clicks of cameras, we are in complete silence. No airplanes overhead. No rustle of leaves from wind, and no Vixen Vikki.

We drift back to the main channel. The tide is taking us alongside a very long, narrow (I'd hang over both gunnels) dug-out canoe filled with a family of six. Gas is three times the price here as anywhere else in Indonesia, so drifting is very popular.

The now-motoring party barge with the vodka chocolate hotel boat in tandem, passes us, as they head back. They shout how much fun we have missed. Our driver smiles and waves. We will drift about 15 minutes more until the tide shifts, which allows us to quietly drift back to our embarkation point in blissful silence.

And, it was a Red bird-of-paradise. Score one for the Economist!