We met Ryan and Nini because their family home at the foot of Gunung Api, the volcano island across from Bandaneira, was near our mooring site in the harbor. Siobhan and I paddled over in the kayak as part of an afternoon of exploration, and to introduce ourselves. We expected to be anchored by their house for a few days and wondered if they might be as curious about us as we were about them.
The house across the water
On our return visit, we snacked on “bamboo rice” on their porch. It’s a sticky rice cooked with coconut milk in rolled banana leaf logs to look a bit like a section of bamboo. Slightly smoky from the wood stove, slightly sweet from the rice and coconut, I find them addictive. Every time we see her after this, another bag of them ends up in mind hand.
We ended up having dinner twice at their home. Delicious bakso, a noodle and vegetable soup with fish balls. You dress it up to taste with vinegar, sambal (chili sauce), and kecap manis- the sweet Indonesian soy sauce. Another day, we’re treated to whole grilled fish.
One morning, they take us walking in the hillside behind their house to show us their spice trees. Their extended families live in about a dozen homes dotted at the foot of the volcano. As we walk by, relative lean out to smile and wave or come out to join us.
Planted years ago- they can only speculate- these trees provide both food and income. They show us each one, and we collect windfall fruit as we go. Nini shows me how to choose the best ones to pick up. Ryan’s mother tears around collecting twice as many as any of us manage to gather.
This whole adventure is to share what they know about something they know we are curious about, and they patiently answer all our questions.
We leave with tiny saplings of nutmeg, kenari, coffee, tamarind, and cinnamon. Dug during our walk on the hillside, then carefully packed in the rich black earth and set into a bucket to transport back to Totem, I think they hope we’ll be able to keep these with us until they get home to the US. I’m just hoping to keep them alive long enough to replant in someone else’s care. But it’s the gesture that matters: they’re giving a piece of their history, our history, to take along our journey.