4: Raja Ampat – Balance

Here in Raja Ampat, on a deserted island on the edge of the universe, it is as if time stands still. Here, cut off from the world, you find the space to be with yourself, the quiet to ask yourself the questions you let the noise of your life drown out, the courage to ask yourself what you really want in this one and precious life. Past, present and future seem to converge. You look up at the sky and you whisper softly, I want to go home – show me the way home. It is the last week of shooting before break, a little under a week off where the cast and crew scatter to their corners of the world to spend some time with friends and family. Breathe and rejuvenate.

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3am. Every night like clockwork. Wake up shivering under the single sheet. I have the thermal jacket I wore up the volcano with me in the bed this time, but there’s never enough to cover me. 

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It’s raining. Water torrents down on the roof – you can almost hear the millions of crystal droplets falling from the heavens in sheets, bearing down on this tiny island in the Indonesian archipelago, not quite in the Pacific Ocean not quite in the Indian Ocean.

Look up at the ceiling, white lace mosquito net floating over me in the darkness. Ghostly tendrils. Shadows on the wall. The air conditioner hums, why don’t I ever think to turn it off? Drift in and out of my thoughts. Times like these, I find myself thinking about the future. Where will I be 6 months from now? Where was I this time last year? 2013?

Don’t know how much time passes, but somewhere through it all, the rain stopped. Throw on a blue and white pinstripe shift dress, and step out into the moonlight, leaving the door unlocked behind me. The ground is still wet from the rain.

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Sit on the swing chair, and look into the mangroves, a flicker and a splash as a school of fish dart in the shallows. 

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Sharks cruise under the wharf, gliding in and out of the light. Crystal clear waters. Raja Ampat is one of the remaining snorkelling and diving paradises, where fish will swim up to you without fear, and clown fish hide within the folds of live anenome. Sit at the end of the pier and breathe in the fresh smell of rain. The smell of promise, and potential.

Early morning snorkel. Below the surface of the water, the ocean is teeming with fish. Vibrant. Alive. The warmth of the water envelopes you as the current draws you out into the open water. Like flying. The silver schools flicker and shimmer as the twist through the depths, the formation splitting as they swim around you. On the surface, dancing ripples trace their movements. Trumpet fish, lion fish, bright yellow, flickers of incandescent blue. Beyond beautiful. There is magic left in this world. Is this what freedom feels like?

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Kayak around to a secret beach. Is it secret though if we have the entire island to ourselves the first night? The sun sets as we paddle out on the open water. Race each other back to the pier, then sit on the deck eating avocado, lemon and cracked pepper sprinkles, waiting for dinner to be ready.

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Dinner and drinks with the cast and crew. They call us when it is served, almost like I’m twelve again, summoned to the table. The food has a home-cooked quality to it. The warmth of the light in the restaurant bleeding out into the darkness. Fresh fruit and Indonesian specialties. Bad jokes and innuendo.

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It didn’t start out this way. The first couple of days, in Waisai, was a physical test. Heat bearing down during the day, morning wanders to the grocery store, on the prowl for ice cream and soap. Every night retreating to my little bug-free haven. A line of ants drowned themselves in my water tank, and I discovered one night, covered in paint from a day of shooting, that running water was sporadic, and 11pm was not one of the times that it was available. Showering with water from the cooler, trying in vain to get the paint out of my hair that night is not an experience i’ll ever forget. The next day, ants invaded my bed, rendering my mosquito net useless.

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But then fresh fish, the freshest grouper I’d ever tasted. Grilled fresh on an open BBQ, embers glowing in the night. Teriyaki squid. Local kids carrying out their antics around us. We wave and the little girl giggles, hiding behind her hair. Stray kittens linger under the table, hoping for a sliver of food. We eat until we cannot eat any more. It becomes our dinner ritual. There are only two places in the area to eat.

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Snorkelling day trip. Water so clear you can see the fish over the edge of the boat. Egg tarts.

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Capitalizing on that LifeProof phone case. White sand, coral atolls. Palm trees rising from the ground. Locals wave as the boat docks and come up to us to take photos, kids mill around, boxed lunch on a rock overlooking the water. Fish, spinach, a single slice of watermelon. Everything tastes better with a view like that. Exploring the rocks and a sand ball is thrown. War is declared.

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In Raja Ampat, you take the good with the bad. As with life, the highs will take your breath away, and the lows, well you fight through those. Without those, you wouldn’t begin to know how to appreciate the highs. And without those, you would never know how strong you can be. Give and take. Bliss cannot exist in a vacuum, what do you have to compare it with? Courage cannot exist without fear. The future does not exist without the acknowledgement of a past. And ‘yes’ cannot happen without first having said ‘no’ to an alternative.

Balance. And when we get that balance right, in that lies happiness.

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Oh, and to this, I say: nice try.

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