Sunday, August 31, 2008

August 30, 2008 - Nusa Lembongan, Bali, Indonesia

We left Gili Air bright and early for the 42 mile run to Nusa Lembongan, a small island off the east coast of Bali. Leaving Gili Air, we wound our way through a huge fleet of local fishing boats. There were literally hundreds of little (approximately 15 foot long) fishing boats, with narrow hulls and two skinny outriggers. These little trimarans were powered by large, colorful sails, which were made out of a patchwork of materials. At some point on our passage from Gili Air, which sits two miles off the coast of Lombok, to Nusa Lembongan, which lies 12 miles from Bali, we crossed the Wallace Line. Please bear with me as I wander off on a tangent here, but Wallace is one of the great unsung heroes of scientific discovery, so indulge me as give him a few props.

Charles Darwin is widely considered the father of evolutionary theory. But frankly, without plagiarizing Wallace, Darwin might never have really understood how evolution worked. Wallace, a geographer working in the East Indies, was a zealous collector of plant, insect, bird and animal specimens. He spent a lot of time ruminating about how so many varieties of species could evolve in one region. Then one night, while suffering from an attack of malaria, bathed in fever sweat, he suddenly understood how new species were created: "there suddenly flashed upon me the idea of the survival of the fittest--that the individuals removed . . . must be, on the whole, inferior to those that survived." Wallace immediately dashed off letters to the boys at the botany club back in jolly old England, telling them what he had come up with. One of Wallace's letters fell into Darwin's hands, who later acknowledged that Wallace's ideas struck him as "a bolt from the blue," and provided him with the impetus to finish writing his seminal tome, On the Origin of Species, in which Wallace's ideas of "survival of the fittest" and "struggle for existence" are sited as the keys to evolutionary theory. Eventually, some of the boys in the botany club persuaded Darwin to share the credit with Wallace. Darwin grudgingly agreed, but he continued to claim that he had the same idea as Wallace, a few days before he read Wallace's letter, but failed to write it down. Likely story.

Back to the East Indies . . . During Wallace's studies of the flora and fauna of this region, Wallace noted that there seemed to be a line of demarcation, beginning at the mouth of the 15 mile wide strait between Bali and Lombok, stretching north east through the Strait of Macassar, with Borneo on one side of the line and Sulawesi on the other side. On the east (Lombok) side of the line, Wallace found flora and fauna similar to those of Australia, such as possums and platypuses. On the west side of the line Australian plants and animals ceased to appear, and the islands were instead populated with Asian species, such as monkeys and wild cats. Wallace noted that "the contrast is nowhere so abruptly exhibited as on passing from the island of Bali to that of Lombock, where the two regions are in closest proximity. . . . The strait here is 15 miles wide, so that we may pass in two hours from one great division of the earth to another, differing as essentially in their animal life as Europe does from America." Neat stuff.

Nusa Lembongan is a daytrip destination from Bali. From 10:30 to 3:30, the bay is full of people enjoying watersports. We spent the early afternoon passing around a pair of binoculars to watch the antics, while Mata'irea got knocked around by the wake of passing speedboats. There were speedboats towing big yellow inflated bananas, with four people riding on each of them. The banana ride didn't seem complete unless the passengers got dumped in the water at least once. There were speedboats towing parasailors, weaving in and out of the anchored boats. I kept expecting one of the parachute passengers to get skewered on a mast of one of the anchored sailboats, just like those popular Indonesian dishes, chicken and beef sate. But the most mesmerizing ride of all was a red raft, on which two passengers were tied down. The speedboat towing it would get up enough speed to get the raft airborne, like a magic carpet. The speedboat had to navigate through the fleet of anchored boats, while keeping the raft facing into the wind, otherwise it could get caught by a cross breeze and start cartwheeling across the surface of the water. Similar rafts were outlawed in the States a few years ago after they were involved in fatal accidents. We didn't want to watch, but we couldn't tear our eyes away.

Having Suzy on board has been so good for us. Not only does she come up with new dishes to make out of the ship's stores, but she sees familiar (to us) sights through new eyes. It is such a pleasure to watch her experience the sheer joy of a daysail, of spotting her first frigate bird, seeing the unfamiliar constellations of the southern hemisphere sparkling in the night sky, or phosphorescence twinkling in the water. Her excitement reminds us how lucky we are to be able to live a life surrounded by such things and to appreciate them.

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