Sabtu, 01 November 2008
Belitung: A Sumatra Neverland
Kuntarini Rahsilawati , Contributor , Belitung, Sumatra | Sun, 06/08/2008 10:06 AM | Travel
We touched down in Belitung with a thud, followed by cheers.
I looked out the window of the plane, it was raining really hard. It didn't seem like the right time to be in Belitung.
Bangka Belitung is a province in southern Sumatra that comprises two main islands separated by a five-hour ferry ride, and a number of smaller islands.
We were waiting for friends to arrive from Bangka. They'd booked their tickets to Belitung through a travel agent in Jakarta who'd apparently thought Belitung and Bangka were the same place.
So, when they'd arrived in Bangka the night before and confidently asked for directions to our hotel, the locals told them there was no hotel called that in Bangka. My friends showed them the scrap of paper with the hotel's address on it, and the locals answered in unison, "Oh, it says here that the hotel is in Belitung, Pak -- this is Bangka! It's a five-hour ferry ride to Belitung." Oh yeah? Very good.
Andrea and Belitung
We'd developed a sudden craving for gangan or fish-head casserole, a Tanjung Tinggi speciality, and by the time our friends arrived we were starving. There's a word in Belitung, kempungan, which is used to describe the bad luck that follows indulging in a "guilty" pleasure. But still we went in search of gangan
Tanjung Tinggi is a popular place for swimming, relaxing or simply admiring its white sand beach, turquoise water and granite rock formations.
We quickly found a restaurant, watching kids dive into a granite pool while we waited for our food. When it finally arrived, it was a sight to behold. The casserole, it's sauce a perfect blend of curry paste and pineapple, was big enough for the seven of us -- with leftovers assured.
After lunch, my friends and I scattered like soldiers fighting for the control of strategic spots from which to take photos.
I kept thinking of the book Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors), which is about the children of poor fishermen in Belitung, who played, joked and encouraged one another in their studies. I was keen to travel on to East Belitung, where the book is set. Instead of taking pictures I returned to the restaurant. A friend asked, "Do you want to meet Andrea Hirata?" Andrea is the book's author.
"Sure," I said. "There he is now, said my friend, "strolling along the beach". Without thinking twice I rushed over to greet Andrea. He is well-known in Jakarta and yet seemed liked a "nobody" in Belitung.
Andrea asked me to climb across the otherworldly rock formations with him. We sat high up, overlooking the open sea. It was clear from Laksar Pelangi that Andrea really loves Belitung, his hometown. I could imagine the part in the book when he gazed at the rooftop of his sweetheart's house from Selumar hill in East Belitung. I even fancied I could see the dragons of the South China Sea wrestling from afar.
Ah, gangan, Tanjung Tinggi and Andrea in one day -- welcome to Belitung!
The next day, the golden morning sun filtered through the canopies of leaves and branches along the road to the Tanjung Layar coast. It was the perfect day to sail to Lengkuas Island, or so we thought.
No sooner had we arrived in Tanjung Layar than a chilly wind whipped up and the sun all but disappeared. Boats were tossed about like toys. A fisherman approached us. "Are you sure you still want to sail to Lengkuas Island?", he said, making his reluctance clear. A fisherman I'd met earlier told me that from May to August the sea around Belitung is calm and flat like a mirror, but in December, few fishermen have the courage to go out to sea.
"Just give it a try, Pak," my friend said.
We decided to try our luck, and away we sailed. The small islands scattered in the vicinity seemed within reach, but I knew they were not that close. Halfway to our destination, the water surface was choppier. Our small boat was tossed up and down like an amusement park ride and I regretted our snap decision to sail to Lengkuas.
There was no turning back, the only way was forward. Our boat was a lone warrior on the sea. There was nothing to do but to hold onto the bench. There was not even a rubber ring, let alone life jackets.
So, for more than an hour, we held tightly to the bench, prayed and kept our eyes on the waves that threatened to swallow up our boat.
As we drew closer to Lengkuas, the sea was calmer. The sun reflected off the whitewashed lighthouse that stood out against the island's green forest. It was a relief to know that we were close to dry land.
The only problem was the water was too shallow for the boat to get any closer. We'd have to wade through waist-deep water. Fortunately, the kindhearted fisherman placed a chair below the deck so we didn't have to jump right in.
Lengkuas Island is surrounded by granite boulders that have a surface pattern of horizontal lines. So straight are they that they look like they were drawn with a ruler.
The lighthouse engineer, Komaruddin, approached us, smiling broadly. He lives there with his family. They receive food supplies only once in three months and are completely reliant on tank water.
If there is no more water in the tank, Komaruddin must call his superior in Jakarta and ask for a container of water to be delivered to the island.
No wonder the sign in the toilet says "Use water wisely".
The white lighthouse was built in 1882 and still functions as an active aide to navigation for ships going to Tanjung Pandan Port or entering the Gaspar Straits, which separate Bangka and Belitung islands. Komarudin is assisted by two men who keep watch at night.
It is rather eerie inside the lighthouse. One room, which has bars over the windows, used to be a cell. From every window there is a magnificent view of the sea. On the way back down the lighthouse stairs, I was struck by the glow of the afternoon sun through the old, broken windows. It was a privilege to have spent the afternoon on this beautiful island.