Sep 8, 2007

CARP ISLAND, Palau – The Rock Islands' only dive resort serves sake in a milk carton festooned with monsters, a few shades more garish than Sendak's Wild Things. And loads of green tea and sashimi, plus a tofu crab with red-pepper legs, so I don't feel left out.

The first fat raindrops are a pleasure, as Bronwyn and I sip Asahi on the dark dock. But the typhoon huffs and puffs, till we're forced under cover, where the crew's playing Ping-Pong and chewing betel.

Palauns like a fresh areca nut, wrapped in betel leaf with lime powder. The effect is similar to "a shot of espresso," I'm assured (later research reveals it's a "mildly euphoric stimulant, which causes a hot sensation; heightened alertness and sweating").

I tuck the wad into my cheek: the lime bites back, right in the gills. I start chewing. And slobbering. And spitting scarlet. Our hosts – Anis and Tem – laugh. Rightly so. A first-time nutter has better comedy value than the ole' ciggie-behind-the-barn, I'm sure.

"Feel anything?"

"Sick of drooling in the bushes. Does that count?"

"Your ears are red."

"Glad something's happening."

Leaf and nut degrade into mulch, as my jaws churn. The buzz never fully arrives – or maybe I'm too over-stimulated from the storm and saltwater to notice. Scuba, though quite passive, wears a body out; maybe from the sheer willpower required to regress and breathe underwater again. T'aint natural.

Then again, neither is a tofu crab...

Strange times, these.

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