Most people don’t get over-excited when you mention the Thousand Islands (Pulau Seribu), myself included, however one of these one hundred or so islands (I know, the ‘thousand’ in the name is very misleading) has captured my hippie heart and soul and is now my favourite weekend break within two hours of the Big Durian. Pulau Macan aka Tiger Island (another misleading name as there are no tigers in sight, I assure you) is a tiny island paradise where not a care in the world exists.
Our trip to the island of the tigers began with a speedboat ride, which left Marina Ancol at 8am on Saturday morning. As we pulled out of the harbour, we held our noses for the first five minutes as the boat waded through North Jakarta’s polluted murky waters. After that we were off, and the waters quickly turned sky blue as we marvelled at the many tiny islands we passed, some with small mansions on land, wondering how the other half lived.
From afar, Pulau Macan looks like a small hedge in the middle of the ocean, and as we got closer, it turns out it looks like a very big hedge in the middle of the ocean. The first thing you see as the speedboat pulls into the pier is the row of solar panels, and as a self-confessed eco-warrior, the moment we set foot ashore I was home. Guests were lounging in hammocks, books in hand, chilling out on the driftwood bar overlooking the clear baby-blue ocean, enveloped in giant sofas in the open-air living area with smooth grooves flowing (one positive criticism would be that the playlist needs to be longer and not on constant repeat – only so many times can I hear Eric Clapton’s ‘Cocaine’ over the space of a weekend).
Myself and mystery date decided to go on a rekkie of the island, which lasted about five minutes as the island is only about a hectare in size, discovered a cockerel, some hens, two very happy lounging island cats, and our beautiful hut (I say hut because that’s what it is – not a wall in sight). You really feel at one with nature here. We spent the rest of the morning snorkelling around the islands, kung-fu fighting off some very aggressive little fish who just love to nip you behind your ankles, as well as dodging some very prickly sea urchins! Besides these two ‘deadly predators’ (don’t forget the tigers), the snorkelling around Tiger Island is very pleasant – good visibility, various different corals and thousands of fish.
That afternoon I met the island’s Swiss/Dutch/Indo GM, Marc Zwyer, at the island’s bar and he told me how Pulau Macan is very proud of its sustainability projects. Three years ago, under new management, the island was transformed into an eco-resort and the aim is for guests to be inspired. “The speed boat may not be eco-friendly, but the first thing you’ll notice on our island are the solar panels and the energy generated from these are stored in a big red box which provides electricity, albeit limited, for guests to be able to have a small lamp on in their huts, as well as a fan,” Mark tells me. To be honest the constant cooling breeze that blew through the island was fan enough, but apparently August, which is when we were there, is the best time to visit as the breeze never stops.
“Water is imported to the island on boats and as we don’t get much rain here we use rainwater to hydrate the organic garden which grows chillies, ginseng, cassava and aloe vera,” he continues. “This whole bar you’re sitting at is made of driftwood that our guys go hunting for in the ocean as are most of our huts. We teach local fishermen to make furniture out of driftwood to sell in the hope that this knowledge will be passed on to their children and hopefully end the fishing in these waters.” As it turns out, overfishing is a real problem here and fishermen still use cyanide spray to fish – over our stay I caught sight of at least three fishing boats hovering around the neighbouring islands. The island also has a coral nursery where guests can help with planting new coral.
On the island, guests are encouraged to use water and electricity sparingly, which are lessons we should all use in our day-to-day lives back in civilisation’. The island promotes healthy eating and wellbeing and meals are very healthy, served buffet-style according to the number of guests staying so as to avoid waste (they have a strict 40 guest max policy), and is predominately vegetarian with the additional meat dish to satisfy the carnivores. Pulau Macan can be chartered along with its small neighbouring island for team building exercises like ‘survivor’ where teams have to construct, cook and survive with only natural resources, and the occasional hidden mie goreng packet.
Geologically speaking there is no threat of tsunamis in these waters and Mark assured me there are no pirates, unless you wanted to throw a pirate themed party of course. We stayed an extra night because one night simply wasn’t enough, and our time was spent taking little traditional boat trips to the neighbouring islands to snorkel with the fish, practicing yoga to the sunrise, cozying up to beautiful sunsets, sleeping at 9pm, and just generally feeling like we were thousands of miles away from anywhere, so when the time came to leave the island, we felt more relaxed than we’d ever been.
If you’re a hippie at heart, love to chill out in hammocks and walk around half naked, and can handle the sound of silence, this is the place for you. Book way in advance as the island is almost always fully booked on the weekends.
First published in Indonesia Expat, 30 November 2011.