Here we sit in lovely Gili Bodo, the prettiest part of Flores we've found so far. In the distance, thunder rumbles over the mountains of the mainland. The monkeys on the island are making the most of low tide to wander over the dried reef to collect their lunch. The girls have rowed off to shore and have set up camp on the beach. Erik and I had a lovely snorkel earlier; he has moved on to dabbing epoxy on Indy's broken sunglasses. And as I sit here, drying off in the sunshine, am I planning a walk through the hills for the afternoon? Am I pulling out the reef guides to identify the fish I saw this morning? Am I using the binoculars to watch a Phinisi boat sail by?
I am psyching myself up to do battle with the oven.
Once upon a time, back in a land of household appliances and other unicorns, I used to love taking clothes out of the dryer. For a few brief minutes my hands would be warm as I folded pants and towels. In the deepest winter, when our furnace couldn't overcome the lack of insulation in our 90-year-old house, I would press my frozen nose into a gently-steaming shirt and dream of summer days.
But not these summer days. This heat is less: "floaty dresses and open-toed shoes" and more: "if I could unzip my flesh and just sit around in my bones, I would." I should have a care label that instructs: "At high temperatures, store in a strong solution of gin and tonic. Replenish ice as necessary." These are the days that suggest the apocalypse is nigh. And what does nobody want to do while the Four Horsemen thunder across the sky? Stand in front of a hot stove stirring the chili, that's what.
Not that there isn't a bright side to life in the kitchen. I mean, really. It's already 40 C outside, so I'm going to be dripping with sweat anyway. Why not partner that with prepping a nice, hot curry? And since the breeze inevitably dies while I'm down there, my clothes and hair get saturated with the scent of whatever it is I'm making so I always smell delicious. As a bonus, the punishing heat means we won't suffer any inconvenience if our oven ever breaks down. I'll just wrap some chicken in foil, tuck a drumstick into each armpit and voila. Dinner in no time.
Even when Erik cooks things get grim. The waves of heat slowly roll from the galley, up the companionway and into the cockpit, where it takes a seat and refuses to leave.
At least we're all fans of raw vegetables around here. And we would never pass up the opportunity to devour a mango or seven. But my carnivores like their meat both frequently and in volume, and I'm pretty sure offering them an uncooked slab of beef isn't going to fly. I've tried to steer our diet towards colder foods, like pasta salad, but my creativity in that department is starting to ebb.
Soon we'll move on to Labuan Bajo, and while I'll miss the monkeys and the quiet, private reef, anchoring near a town will have one big advantage.
We came to Indonesia to snorkel and dive. Full stop. Because, as we all know, Winter Is Coming. Our time on Papillon is drawing to a close, and we need an overabundance of tropical reef memories to get us through the dark, icy, snowy blowy Canadian winter days that loom in the not-quite-distant-enough future. Call me an uncultured cretin, but the traditional village and temple trips can wait for another day. Put me in the aquarium.
Our lives aboard revolve around the water. Yes, yes, sailing, obviously that, but I mean physically being in the water, complete with fins and mask. From the outset, our sailing plan has revolved around: where are the good reefs? From Belize on south, we've been searching for more fish, more coral, more sealife, more, more, more more more more more. Poor visibility? Next anchorage. Unacceptably dangerous sea creatures? Not interested. But give us a clear reef on a sunny day, and you'll be hard pressed to pry us loose. That shines through when people ask us about our favourite experiences. Swimming side-by-side with marine iguanas and giant sea turtles in the Galapagos. Watching thick carpets of fish, stretching kilometers-long, through the passes of the Tuamotus. Snorkelling with a passel of boat kids past black-tipped reef sharks in Tonga. Even splashing in the iron-rich freshwater pools in Baie Prony. Our best memories come with a bathing suit as standard equipment.
Banda marked a turning point in our water life. Erik has been on his own as a diver for years now; I used to love it, but my Eustachian tubes are against me now, so I'm not much good as a dive buddy any longer. But Stylish has been angling to learn for ages now. When we found a good dive outfit in Banda (Bluemotion - highly recommended), and, even better, a teacher we really liked, we signed Stylish up for lessons. I won't say it didn't give me a pang of nerves; I remember when she hardly could bring herself to jump into the deep end of the pool. But that was before she grew a mermaid's tail. And let's face it: she's 12. She doesn't need me to act as a parental leg iron.
Inevitably, Stylish was a natural diver. She also turned out to be an incredibly lucky one. She climbed on the boat after her third dive - her third dive, mind you, in her entire life - and shouted: "Mom! I saw a hammerhead. It swam right at me! It was only 3m away!!"
And I was a good Mom. I didn't die of a heart attack as I imagined my child being rushed by a pelagic shark. Instead I gave her a double thumbs-up and said: "That's awesome!"
(Of course, weeks of diving excellent walls in an idyllic location (complete with volcano and nutmeg plantations) may have raised her expectations to unreasonable levels. I have a feeling Stylish is going to be chasing that Banda high for years; she has already insisted we return there on a future vacation.)
Stylish isn't the only one who has grown a tail. When we started aboard, I'd snorkel and tow 2-year-old Indy along in her big floaty life jacket while she chatted to me about shapes in the clouds. She was such a kicky, flailing noisemaker that I'm amazed I ever saw a fish. This morning, as the two of us did a drift snorkel along the drop-off, she floated effortlessly beside me. She pointed out a spotted eagle ray I would have missed, and hovered quietly over lionfish and sea snakes. Moreover, she acted as the trip's photographer. When I uploaded the photos later, I wasn't surprised to see that several shots were better than anything I've produced. Sometimes, to my delight, she forgot to be so grown-up and would snuggle under my arm for a hug. Then she'd swim on her own again, experiencing the underwater world in her own way.
Last night, while we ate lobster and brownies to celebrate passing the six year mark on our family adventure, we talked about the next marine park we'll hit, and what we might hope to see there. Right now, the girls are playing on their ratty boogie boards off the side of the boat. And I'm wondering if we can fit in just one more quick snorkel today.