Bitung. 10 days later; still no diesel. We’re not making any headway in leaving port and the ships aren’t either. The storm’s still raging off the coast of Sulawesi. Since we’re landlocked anyway, we make the most of our shore time and take a bus to Manado, the city Alfred Russell Wallace calls one of the most beautiful in The Malay Archipelago. In his book, he describes beautiful gardens and villas, clean streets, orchards, plantations and the picturesque volcano. Well, the volcano is still there, but not much is left of the city’s former splendour – or I must have overlooked it….
One page further on, Wallace describes the people in the area surrounding Manado, who until recently – we’re talking 1859 here – must have still been savages. Each tribe had its chief, each village its own language and each settlement lived in constant strife and war with the next village or the one next to that one. They were headhunters and cannibals, and when a chieftain died, they’d hunt down two enemies and adorn his grave with their heads. If no enemies were available, they’d decapitate slaves to honour the tradition in full.
There are presumably no headhunters or cannibals left on Sulawesi now. But the hunting instinct remains.
Sunday afternoon and I’m strolling down Manado’s main drag. One shopping mall after another. Single-storey, multi-storey, five-storey. . . malls as far as the eye can see. Thousands of shoppers lugging heavy plastic bags filled with everything under the sun. No wonder heads of government from the West travel with businessmen and economic experts to China and other emerging countries in Asia to sell their worthwhile and not so worthwhile products. This is where the real markets are! And people round here don’t generally inquire how and in what conditions the merchandise was produced or what effects it might have on man and the environment. The main thing is: lots of people buying lots of stuff.
At the entrance to one of the malls I get to talking with a woman holding two giant plastic bags of paper nappies in her hands. They’re for her granddaughter, she explains. She lives on a neighbouring island and is glad to be able to bring her sister these disposable nappies now. I can already see the used nappies floating away in the sea….