Don’t know what I mean by this title? That’s okay, neither do I. And there were a lot of happenings this week that I didn’t *quite* understand, but definitely appreciate. One of the great joys of travel is the element of surprise – and Uncle Chang surprised us with a live band every night, bottles of rum all around, and arguably the best dive sites on the planet.
The best surprise of all, though, was when the band cranked out their rendition of my home state’s unofficial but widely recognized anthem, “Country Roads.” They sure know how to make a girl feel at home! Other highlights of our stay with Uncle Chang include:
-Diving visibility of over 40 meters. My first dive was not ideal, as my equipment was throwing seawater down my throat with each breath, but once I got rid of the leaking regulator it was smooth sailing. One of our Sipadan dives was crystal clear, absolutely unbeatable in my book. Swimming along a rainbow of coral, we turned a corner to see the sunshine streaming in from behind an underwater cliff; easily, this was the most breathtaking image I’ve ever seen. It was, in a word, otherworldly.
-Michael has become a world-class critter spotter! In the 20+ dives we’ve had in the last several weeks, he has trained his eyes to find even the most well-camouflaged marine animal or plant. He’s identified tiny sea horses, hidden scorpion fish, and spindly lion fish. Diving with him is great, all I have to do is swim and remember to breathe.
-We were visited by what our guidebook described as Uncle Chang’s “charming family of rats.” Although the place was clean enough, our rations were just too tempting for the resident vermin. They chewed into our peanuts, may or may not have eaten half a slice of wheat bread, and gnawed a chunk out of a mango. I will admit I was more than a little unnerved when one of them ran across my chest in the middle of the night. But hey, I didn’t say all these surprises were good! And who can blame them for stealing our food in the middle of the night … If I think I’m tired of rice, just imagine how they feel!
-Did I mention they handed out free rum every night the band played? Shouldn’t they know better than to drink and dive?
-We found out that Uncle Chang does more than his share to keep the island’s kids out of trouble. The band is a collection of locals he’s taken under his wing. They have no formal training and play entirely by ear, but these kids blew me away. The girl singer knocked out Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, and gave Taylor Swift a run for her money. Uncle Chang also sponsors a basketball team, who happen to be the champions (and yes, the band played Queen in their honor), all in the name of keeping kids occupied and off drugs. He employs a slew of locals and handed out cash bonuses for them each time the band played. He is something of a local legend, from what I can tell. Once I understood what Uncle Chang was all about, I felt pretty good that we are supporting his empire.