We arrived in north Sulawesi, Indonesia, two hours late, in the dark, and in the pouring rain. Frenetic, lawless traffic shot past our rain-soaked windshield on the half-hour ride to downtown Manado - renegade scooters zipped into and out of our feeble headlight gleam. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we realized we were at that worst point in travel - in an unfamiliar city, in an unfamiliar country, at midnight, sweaty, tired, and starving hungry. All came together, though, and we spotted a seemingly impromptu open-air midnight restaurant from our hotel window. We mimed our way through ordering delicious barbecued mackerel, garlicky water-spinach and fiery dabu-dabu; consumed with gusto, to the great delight of our fellow diners/onlookers. On our way back to the hotel, we were swarmed by friendly locals, asking for cellphone photos with us (this became a regular part of our whole stay in Sulawesi). Despite some initial trepidation, this new phase of our six months of nothing to write about was starting strong.
Our first stop was Palau Bunaken and Two Fish Dive Centre, where we'd booked diving instruction. For years, Oliver's secret shame has been that, as a fisheries biologist, he'd never learned to dive; this, finally, was the remedy. This also signalled the start of a kind of holiday neither of us had experienced before - resort life seemed like part of other peoples' lives, and we were curious to see how we'd fit into it. More than once, we asked ourselves who we'd become (feeling not a little like suburban retirees with matching jogging suits and sun visors).
Learning to dive, as it turns out, was more work than we'd expected, both mentally and physically. Our first dives were a flailing mess of remembering all the checks and skills we'd learned in the pool, while simultaneously avoiding rising, sinking, crunching into coral, or drifting helplessly off into the blue. While the underwater life on Bunaken's coral walls was breathtakingly diverse, it wasn't until we had a few dives under our belts that we could truly start appreciating it.
The easy life at Two Fish suited us remarkably well after our vagabonding in Chile (time to order those jogging suits, maybe). With a comfortable cabin, handy pool deck and three meals a day, we settled right into being looked after - a far cry from 40km days on dusty trail and pasta again for dinner. After a week of soft living, we surprised ourselves by finding it difficult to leave.