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The Island of Manado This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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At 6 a.m., the sun has reached its peak, rising high above the steep mountains, greeting the locals. The distant crows of the ayam kampung (village chicken) keep the sun company as locals arise from their beds, ready to start the day. Children of all ages crowd the wide paved roads. They’re half asleep but already sweating through their red and white plaid uniforms. They walk miles in the blistering heat carrying their books to school.

Walking the streets of Manado, Indonesia, everything and everyone has its place. This small island off the coast of Indonesia gives a different vibe compared to the hustle and bustle of the city. Freshly cut bougainvillea flowers painted in crimson red and vibrant shades of pink are positioned by shrines of Jesus Christ along busy sidewalks. Vendors boil soup and slice and fry meat, their carts lined neatly by the side of the road. It’s a perfect picture, as they are flamboyantly painted in neon yellows, greens and blues, desperate to catch the attention of possible customers. Store owners restock shelves and fill empty Coke bottles with fresh coconut oil. By the ports, the fishermen return with their nets full. The choking stench of saltwater and fish guts is overwhelming, but the sight of the sun hitting the boats, called pajeko, is a photographer’s dream. Only an early riser can catch the true beauty and serenity of Manado.

There are many amazing views to capture. The island of Manado is inhabited by 500,000 people; surprisingly, 75 percent are Christian. Beautiful paintings of saints hang on the walls of many houses. Along the road, flowering bushes surround small shrines of Mother Mary and Jesus Christ. Villages in north Sulawesi are crowded with countless churches, Protestantism being the most predominant. Unlike in Jakarta, there are few mosques here. Instead, church bells ring three times a day, signifying the start of services.

Without the dietary limitations of Islam, locals eat almost anything. As the rain pounds on the tin roofs of roadside restaurants, smells of chicken and fish fill the air. Plastic tables partnered with rickety wooden chairs cover a cement floor. Satay ayam and kangkung (sour water spinach) pile on our plates as we indulge in a traditional Manadonese meal. Rico, a local tour guide, presents us with a dish of whole chilies, vegetables, and garlic swirling around in a thick brown sauce, and, oh yeah, dog meat. Yes, dog. Here in Manado anything on four legs can be considered a delicacy, including cats, bush-rats, and dogs. Locals’ taste in food can seem strange to outsiders like me, but it is part of the experience.

In Tangkoko Nature Reserve Park, 60 kilometers from Manado, a symphony of creatures lurking beneath the surface and high in the trees accompany us through the damp forest. Powerful roots of towering trees slither through the forest floor, while bright yellow baby hornbills perch on a lofty branch. Their cries intensify until their mother returns with food.

As the sun sinks beyond the mountains, the moon rises to greet the star-filled sky. Small furry creatures lodged between thin branches are wide awake. The tarsier’s huge eyes observe the unwanted strangers. These nocturnal beauties don’t dare move and instead remain frozen until you leave. The forest at night is frightening: the moon hits the canopy, but below is pure darkness. The cries of birds, buzzing of insects, and howling of monkeys all add to the amazing experience.

The boat crashes against the tangled mangroves. An island isolated from Manado, Bunaken, stands alone in the deep waters. Entering it, you must balance on your toes so as not to tumble onto the sharp roots of maturing mangroves that shoot from the murky water. Diving into the deep water, we spread our arms and let the water take us. Beneath the surface is a silent world. The rhythm of our breathing keeps us company as we explore hidden treasures. Fish bolt from anemone to anemone, puffer-fish float freely, and yes, I found Nemo. Sea snakes shoot out from the ocean floor in vibrant stripes of yellow and black. They slither through the thick blue, breaking the surface. Corals branch in all directions, showing off their exotic colors. Beneath my feet floats a grand turtle. Its shell is double the width of my torso. Endemic to Manado’s reefs, the Crown of Thorns starfish lives up to its name, with venomous thorns covering its body. These territorial creatures destroy corals, turning them a pale white color. Seeing this world from the crystal surface won’t satisfy. To discover the hidden miracles, one must delve deep.

The fact that the Manadonese lead simple lives with only the necessities, and big smiles, is something we can learn from. The cultural differences can be overwhelming to outsiders, but to locals, it’s just another day in Manado.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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