Two Years in Review

It’s just over two years ago that our madcap idea of living on a remote island in Raja Ampat started to take shape. During that time we’ve literally shed blood, sweat, and tears to get where we are now, but I think we’re finally at the stage where we’re really starting to enjoy this magical and spectacular location.

It’s been a crazy and unbelievably busy two years, not just getting Toucan’s Retreat up and running but also dealing with the sale of our beloved Toucan (yes, we still miss her) and several medical issues, including a melanoma for Bruce, a knee replacement for me, and more recently, a cracked rib for Bruce. And then, of course, almost one year ago there was the devastating fire that destroyed our kitchen, workshop, all our equipment, and almost destroyed our dream – were it not for the generosity of so many wonderful people who got us back on our feet again.

Our dreams went up in smoke – only to be revived by so many generous people

So, has it been worth it? Absolutely.  We’re so privileged to be able to live in what many people describe as “The Last Paradise”. The abundance of life here is extraordinary, both above and below the water.  To be able to walk out of our front door and find turtles, sharks, cuttlefish, manta rays and a myriad of beautiful fish and corals is simply stunning. We’re diving and snorkelling most days, and starting to get to grips with our new underwater camera equipment. There’s lots to learn, but that’s half the fun!

photography @ Bruce Jameson
photography @ Di Fitzgerald
photography@ Bruce Jameson
photography @ Di Fitzgerald
photography @ Di Fitzgerald

Unfortunately our diving has come to a bit of a halt since Bruce slipped getting in the boat and cracked a rib (or two?) just before Christmas – being immobile is not his forte, but he’s had to learn to rest and move slowly so that’s not such a bad thing.  Luckily we have a reasonably well-stocked first aid kit so the strong painkillers have come in handy. And it’s not a bad location for some R & R…..

So what we have learnt from living on an island for much of the past two years?

If I do say so myself, I’ve learnt to make pretty decent sourdough bread from scratch.

We now recognise the calls of many of the local birds, including the sea eagles, hornbills, pigeons, willie wagtails, and our favourite, Elvis the palm cockatoo.  He’s gradually getting bolder and more used to us, and we often have conversations while he’s down on the beach searching for beach almonds.

Strut your stuff Elvis!

We’ve learnt the basics of Bahasa Indonesia, but we’ve still got a long way to go before we’re fluent.  It’s a work in progress…

Obviously, our time on the boat has taught us to be resilient and mostly self-sufficient, and we’ve become pretty good at transferring those skills to the island in terms of solving problems and McGuyvering things that break. It’s a long way to the nearest shops…

We’ve learnt that tourists – and especially German tourists (apologies to anyone I offend) – are pains in the arse who mostly have no respect for private property.  We didn’t expect to be chasing people off our property as much as we have, despite having signs up.  Coming this week – bigger and better signage!

I’ve learnt that trying to grow herbs and vegetables on a tropical sandy island is incredibly challenging, and my efforts are pretty pathetic to date.  Usually when you think of pests in the garden, you think of slugs and snails and caterpillars. Here, it’s grasshoppers and crabs, and they’re hungry little buggers that’ll strip a plant in a matter of hours or chew it off at the stem.  I’m using garlic and soapy spray and building mesh enclosures, but I’m not sure I’m winning this particular battle.

Attack of the grasshoppers!
These crabs are only little, but voracious
My precious tomato plant in its temporary insect screen enclosure – I have my doubts about whether there’ll be a tomato harvest
The basil, chillies and coriander seem to do better growing on the wall.

We’ve learnt (painfully) which soft corals sting the most when you accidentally brush up against them.

Looks like a Kiwi silver fern and brings you to your knees like an All-Black. Damn, they sting!

We’ve learnt that even though we have a Telecommunications tower only 14 NM away and all the fancy equipment to draw the signal in, it’s not worth much if the guy operating the generator at the other end sells the benzene (petrol) to make a quick buck. Bring on Starlink to Indonesia!

We’ve also learnt that the cheap Chinese hose clamps that are the only option to buy here teach you the importance of double clamping everything after a clamp corrodes and you lose 1000 litres of water from your preciously made desalinator water supply…

We’ve also discovered that the Saleo family have the power to decide who comes into the bay to dive with the mantas.  A few months ago it was getting out of hand – up to five or six phinisi liveaboards would be in the bay at any given time, sometimes up to 50 divers in the water, many of whom were behaving very badly by chasing and touching the mantas.  So Niko finally put his foot down, and declared that the manta site was closed until further notice.  We were very doubtful that the big boats would comply but amazingly they have, and we now have a beautifully peaceful bay once again. Let’s hope it lasts, for our sakes and the mantas.

In the busy times, there were a ridiculous number of phinisis in the bay, all trying to dive with the mantas

We’re learning (slowly) to chill out and take time to relax after a very busy and at times stressful two years. It’s another work in progress…

Above all, we’ve learnt to enjoy the beauty of simple things – the sunsets and sunrises, a baby shark swimming in the shallows, the glitter of a school of tiny fish leaping across the water, the majestic glide of the mantas, or a sea eagle fishing in the morning. To witness creation in all its glorious multicoloured variety is incredibly special and makes us feel humble and oh so grateful to be able to experience this wonderland.

Peace on earth
the newest addition to the front yard
and always – the majestic mantas

Before I wax too lyrical, here’s a link to a video that our son, Rob, took when he and Teneile visited in November, showing Toucan’s Retreat two years on, in its finished and upgraded state.  

Finally, we’ve been reminded what wonderful friends and family we’re blessed to have, and our only regret is not being able to see you all more often.  Happy 2024 everyone – may it be a year filled with peace, joy, and all the good things in life.

8 Replies to “Two Years in Review”

  1. Your story reads like a travel blog but it’s where you live! And all that splendour right on your doorstep. I understand how the cruising set you up for being able to live on a remote island, needing to be organised and adaptable. I’m finding that with the transition from boating to caravaning, the ability to be self sufficient so we don’t need to go into town and it’s a great feeling to escape suburbia as you two really have! May 2024 be a wonderful year. Xx

    1. Thanks Rosemary, wow you two are also taking on new adventures – good on you! It’s definitely a great feeling to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life and when we have to visit Sorong for provisioning we can’t wait to get back to the island! xx

  2. Hi guys. Lovely to have all your news. What an adventure. I can imagine just a few tourists are an intrusion on your lives in such tranquility. Life goes on here with plenty of fun in the sun and rain! We are both well apart from the odd ache and pain brought on by old age. What started off me moving to non Al drinks is spreading fast so careful when you come back. I feel quite guilty. Even Chris Lennie is trying it out and Deb is a convert! Looking forward to seeing you when you visit our shores again
    Brook and Adrienne

    1. Thanks Brook. So glad you two are fighting fit and enjoying life. great news about the non-al movement back home, we certainly don’t miss our wine here!

  3. Wow! Di, so much respect for your resilience! Many hanks for this report , really enjoyed reading it! All the best for 2024 and hopefully Bruce’s ribs will mend soon so you can go diving again! Love, Hanneke ( Nelly Rose) now on Good Enough Rose 🌹

  4. Well done you two . You deserve every minute of peace and calm in that beautiful place you have worked so hard to achieve . 🙏🙏xxxx

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