With the dawn appeared the boat – a tiny white bark ready to skip us a mile across the channel to yawning Kaledupa: Twenty minutes of sunshine and crystal sea, sunscreen and smiles, a farewell video etched on a hard drive, a glimpse at a landscape seated in the subconscious of Paradise.
The boatman grinned under a colorful baseball cap. Nothing like Charon, I decided.
But still—how would I ever recognize him?
Skim us, smiling Charon, across a placid channel. Drive the wide wakes to stern, plush the tiny droplets of salt from the skipping bow.
Now slow and weave the fisheries close to shore. Lives wriggle in their nets. Wave with brilliant cap; greetings return with smiles and steady hands.
Fishers, these men, waiting with bait for heaven’s time. Gills and scales of the life sacrificed. We must live. Charon readies to land.
Now aground, the ojeks appear— ancient bikes straddled by grizzled men, motors chugging, red teeth smiling against the palms and piers. Bellies are portly; hands practiced on the throttled; eyes accustomed to the sun’s aggression.
Twenty miles hence lies the target, the port of embarkation.
We are missiles of bliss, cruising through poverty and glory, rock hills robed impossible green, scraggling green, blue-bordered green of forever Kaledupa. We may be in heaven, and commemorate all with selfie-sticks and tiny cameras. Poor Bapaks don’t know whether to smile or keep driving.
Jewelry landscapes huddle over brick and bamboo homes; chickens scratch in the dust. Kids naïve or wise enough to know no poverty smile and wave us past. Big brothers in ties traipse to school; big sisters in skirts and hair ribbons hug their books and gossip along.
Island lives in no hurry squat on the roadside and chat, or buy groceries one meal at a time, or glance up from their morning contemplation of leaves and grass and sky to see us, Others with bright backpacks engraving their home into memory—digital and real.
This is the trail of the Wallacea wanderer, the beachmonger pilgrim tripping off from Hoga to Tomia, needing to sever Kaledupa by bike to land a boat to further land. Shaggy homes atop stilts. Bamboo walls lean. Roofs leak. Plastic sacks lie caught in the grass. Instant-noodle wrappers. Cassava leaves. Wrinkles and apathy hide minds with much time for thought, and little new to ponder.
Too soon we arrive.
Three hundred meters of concrete causeway splinter the vast blue mirror of the sky—a garish spike of cement stretching horizon-ward, still failing to sound depths sufficient for the ferry. At least not in low tide.
Here comes another Charon – gaunt and grunting, pointing, hauling a shiny motorcycle in his weathered canoe (no metaphor here). Men step into muck, heft the cycle skyward to the pier, and replace the thing with scuba tanks and air compressors and us.
Low tide means too shallow for engines. I roll up pants and step into wet and grind Charon’s bark toward the eternal horizon.
Step past cautious step I power my own crossing over. Careful of the lurking urchins. Old man overseeing my course. Smoking, of course.
Deeper in, the Wizened grunts me within his skiff, and aims for the waiting craft chugging diesel fumes to the maiden sky. There, above the churning blue of the Banda sea, we transfer body and soul through the window. The faith-laden step from canoe to the deep water boat. Duck your head. Don’t slip or you’re Lost. And let’s book it to Tomia, next paradise over.
Not so fast. I reach back out the window, offer a pair of green bills to him who made this crossing happen. This Charon.