Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 12, 2013

Living in Paradise

Toshi DirectionSouthern Cross sailed into a postcard.   Gleaming white ARC boats dotted the swimming pool blue water.   Tongues of the crystalline water lapped against blonde sands overhung by the coconut fronds that the atoll was named for.   Direction Island itself was so perfect it didn’t even look real.  This was the place Darwin had formed his theory about how atolls formed.  The atoll’s atoll.

After the week-long passage first thing was first, we had to go to the island to check in.  We splashed the dinghy and headed for shore to go check in with customs.

The sandy-haired man standing outside of the large tent smiled and us warmly and i

ntroduced himself as the customs officer.  He and his wife were camping out on Direction island, an uninhabited island less than half a kilometer across, to check us all in.  With an easy-going joking manner this customs officer was unlike any customs official I had ever met.  No wonder with a posting like this.

Yeah, he agreed in his Australian drawl.  It was beautiful in Cocos, but island paradise got boring after a week or so.  He and his wife had liked it when he was stationed on Christmas Island a lot more.  There wasn’t a whole lot to do here.

Between the two inhabited islands, Home Island and West Island there was a combined population of about 600.  Home Island, a short dinghy ride away, had the majority of people but it was a chiefly Malaysian population.  The inhabitants were strict Muslim.  The customs officer told us.  Not only it was a dry island, but it would be good for women to wear long skirts or pants and cover their heads to respect the culture.

West Island, the “European” Island was a little further away from Direction.  It would be better to take the ferry there.  As far as things to do on Direction Island… snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, and eating coconuts.  Basically all the things would expect from paradise.

Coconuts

coconuts

More people get killed every year by falling coconuts than by sharks.  Nevertheless I fearlessly traipsed through the coconut tree forest.  Coconut husks littered the ground.  The ARC had been busy, for days the first arrivals had been cracking coconuts open and eating the tender flesh.  Some practically had it down to an art form.

Much to my disappointment this variety of coconut was meaty and not even the young ones were filled with water.  Instead the nuts were filled with a thick white flesh.  Tasty, but I still preferred the variety filled with coconut water.

Sleeping with the Sharks

Swimming against the waves out to the rip took a little effort, but luckily the tide was low.  At high tide it the current was much stronger, Daniel told me.   There had even been a rope to help people get out as the bottom dropped away the sea life grew more interesting.  Purple-mouthed giant clams sat, their scalloped shells a few centimeters open, coral bommies sheltered whole schools of multicolored fish.  Time moved differently in this fairyland under the waves.

We froze, scarcely daring to breathe as a 5’ shark swam past.   We were in his world.  A sea turtle gracefully winged his way past us, turning our fear into wonder.  The water sped us past the ocean’s treasures and before we knew it we were out of the rip and swimming for shore.

Did I want to go again? Daniel wanted to know.

Of course I wanted to go!

We swam our way back to the rip and once again we were gazing that ever-changing world beneath the waves.   Our previous pass must have been rush hour, with schools of fish, the shark, and the turtle.  Somehow in just 15 minutes everything had gone quiet.  Then we swam over a large bolder with a bit of an overhang.

6 sharks were all hanging out on the bottom.  Not nurse sharks… just sharks.  Like an insect mesmerized by a praying mantis, I was mesmerized.  What could these sharks be doing?  Was it naptime?  With a thrill of fear we tiptoed away, swimming as quietly and smoothly as possible so as not to wake our friends.

Hermit Crab Tempura

hermit crab tempuraThe ARC uses sailing as an excuse for parties.  The fleet would take over marinas and party on the different boats.  Legs helped give your liver recover a bit.  Cocos was a bit different, we were anchored rather than in a marina.  Without a pier to stumble along from one boat to the other, we took over the beach congregating around two picnic tables under a thatched

Night after night we gathered to drink dark and stormies (rum, ginger beer, with a twist of lime) and munch on the local coconuts.   The dinghy ride there insured not everyone could drink as much as they normally would.  Nevertheless, every Cocos beach party was an event to be remembered, or forgotten depending on how much alcohol was consumed.

Our last night at Cocos, Sato San, Toshi San, and Mauri San brought Umineko’s deep fryer to the beach.  With an array of meats and vegetables spread across the picnic table Toshi San started frying everything in sight making the most delicious tempura I have ever tasted.

Umineko was famed for their culinary prowess.  Sato San’s okonomiyaki, or Hiroshima Pizza, as he liked to call it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.   I had never had one before Darwin, when Sato San offered to make Hiroshima Pizza.  I was a little dubious, but to my surprise and delight master chef Sato produced crepe-like pancakes surrounding bean sprouts, fish, egg, and all sorts of delicious sauces, fish powder, and all variety of ingredients that came together to form something magical.

direction island Toshi 2At first I was a little disappointed we wouldn’t be having okonomiyaki on the beach.  I had been craving it ever since the first bite, but Toshi San more than made up for it.

A week of lying in hammocks on the beach, parties, swimming to and from our boats in the warm Indian Ocean, snorkeling, and temura.  I suppose it could get boring as the customs officer said, and a week really was probably long enough, but there is no question: Cocos (Keeling) is island paradise.

Photos by Urano Toshikazu

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