Category Archives: Travel

A Hop and a Skip Away: Jakarta Weekend Breaks

If, like me, you’re in your element when surrounded by fresh air and Mother Nature, but find yourself living in the crazy, concrete jungle that is Jakarta, you’ll most likely need to get away once in a while to keep your sanity. Here are my top weekend trips to places other than Bali, curated over my five-year stay in the Big Durian.

Best for unwinding – This trip is sure to unknot those tension lumps in your shoulders.

Pulau Macan (Tiger Island) is a 1 hour 40 minute speedboat ride from Ancol Harbour in North Jakarta and couldn’t be any more hassle-free. The boat leaves at 8.30am on Saturdays and you’ll be lounging about on hammocks and snorkelling with local ocean life just after 10am!

As soon as you step off the boat onto the jetty, you’ll feel the stresses of daily life disappear. Sleep in romantic driftwood cabins over the water sans walls or air conditioning, enjoying views of crystal-clear waters and breathtaking sunsets. You’ll find it hard to believe you’re only a few miles away from Jakarta!

The owners of the island have done it well – it’s eco rustic chic at its best. Rainwater is recycled, huts and furniture are made of driftwood, vegetables are grown on the island, and the only pieces of electrical equipment in your digs are a small fan and a small lamp. It’s back to basics here – but not shabby.

Get better acquainted with a good book, enjoy frolicking in the clear waters, have fun canoeing or playing beach volleyball with the kids, or grab a drink and hang out at the rustic bar while playing Jenga or cards with friends. This island will remind you of what life’s all about.

Prices include accommodation, transfers, food and non-alcoholic beverages for one night and two full days. The boat takes you back to reality on Sunday afternoon.

Bring your: swimsuit, a good book

Accessible by: speedboat from Ancol Harbour (1 hour 40 minutes)

Visit: www.pulaumacan.com

Island hopping off Belitung Island will take you to sights such as thisBest for familiesYour kids will love island-hopping and discovering the pristine beaches here.

Belitung Island is just under an hour’s flight away, yet feels like a world away. This island is sparsely populated and has excellent roads – also great if you’re a cyclist. There are only a few hotels on the island and I usually opt for the convenient Aston Belitung Hotel. From here, you can do day trips to Tanjung Tinggi beach – famous for its giant-sized boulders and white sand beaches – and go island-hopping to smaller islands nearby.

There is a turtle sanctuary on Kepayang Island and a 100-year-old lighthouse on Lengkuas Island, which is also home to a gorgeous little beach with shade from trees. Rent your own private fishing boat to get you to the other islands and pay Rp.400,000 for the day. Not recommended to go during high swells, especially with kids, so take heed of your concierge’s advice.

Restaurants on Belitung Island are few and far between, but a must visit is Timpo Duluk, a quaint eatery in town with antique decorations adorning the walls – including an old bicycle! Food is so cheap you’ll hardly believe the bill, but it’s delicious – not to mention spicy!

Bring your: swimsuit, camera, sun block

Accessible by: Plane – Sriwijaya Air or Citilink (50 minute flight)

Enjoy a romantic weekend at Aman Jiwo ResortBest for couplesThis weekend will seal the deal with that special someone, so don’t go unless you’re serious, or planning to get serious!

Most people have visited Borobudur Temple – it’s on the top of the first-to-visit attractions for any expat or visitor in Indonesia. What people generally overlook, however, are the enchanting Menoreh hills that surround this ancient temple, where one particular hotel is nestled…

The Amanjiwo resort overlooking the Borobudur Temple should be on every couple’s bucket list if looking to take the relationship to the next level, or to remind your loved one of how much they mean to you. There are no signs and they do not advertise, for this place speaks for itself.

The moment you arrive, management meet you personally and cater to your every whim. The hotel grounds are made of large slabs of stone and each villa provides extreme privacy, with private plunge pools or bale- bale to relax in. The swimming pool area is magnificent, worthy of royalty and the on-site bakery makes some of the crispiest croissants I’ve ever tasted!

Book a romantic dinner in your villa’s garden and let your lover’s sweet words whisper to you over the sounds of a sitar playing in the background – just don’t be shocked when you realize there is actually a musician sitting there playing it for you. After dinner, in your villa you’ll find a trail of petals leading to your outdoor sunken bathtub, filled with rose petals for you both to bathe in, and who knows what else. Ask the staff to arrange a picnic for you A romantic picnic organised by Aman Jiwo overlooking the Elo and Progo Rivers, Magelangoverlooking where the Elo (female) River meets the Progo (male) and be breath-taken by the view and the lengths the staff here go to please.

Bring your: Lover and KITAS (for special rates)

Accessible by: Plane to Jogjakarta – Garuda, Citilink, Air Asia, Lion Air (45 minutes), then an hour’s drive with Amanjiwo transportation.

Visit: www.amanresorts.com

The view from the summit of Mount KinabaluBest for adventure This long weekend getaway will work your calf muscles and your thirst for new heights.

Hiking may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but Mount Kinabalu on Malaysia’s Borneo is a peak that even weary hikers should conquer. A two and a half hour flight away, the entrance to this UNESCO World Heritage national park is the city of Kota Kinabalu. The hike is one day up and one day down, making a 4,090 metre climb seem like a dream.

What’s great about this hike is there is no rubbish – at all! Unlike many hikes in Indonesia, where rubbish is strewn all over the hiking paths, the guides take littering seriously on Mount Kinabalu. Their motto is ‘leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photographs’. The national park has everything covered: at every rest station there is a toilet and spring water to fill your drinking bottles up and there’s no need to camp, as there’s a lodge.

Starting your hike at 9am, you’ll reach the Laban Rata lodge by sunset and can enjoy dorm-style, bunk-bed accommodation and showers. The next morning, leave at 2.30am and hike three hours to the summit. You’ll need a decent level of physical fitness to make the peak, as there are sections where you will need to pull yourself up with ropes. After enjoying a breathtaking sunrise over the mountain peak – which will remind you of why you do it to yourself – hike two hours back to the lodge for breakfast, before another four-hour hike back down to the national park’s entrance. For serious thrill-seekers, the descent from the summit can also be done via ferrata, cliff-side rope climbing attached to steel cables.

What are you waiting for?

Bring your: waterproof trousers and waterproof poncho, hiking boots, thermals, fleece, fruit bars and energy gels, gloves with grip, camera

Accessible by: direct flights to Kota Kinabalu with Air Asia (2.5 hours), followed by a 2 hour drive to Kinabalu National Park. You will need a long weekend for this trip.

Visit: www.mountkinabalu.com

25 Years of Flawless Blues and Roots Music

What does one look for in a music festival? Of course, there are many different types depending on the kind of music you’re after, but usually we have our ears set to the sounds of great bands, uplifting vibes, excellent food and drink choices, a unique location with ample camping options and value for money. In Indonesia, we are getting more and more choices for live music, and although the scene is definitely improving, I still haven’t come across a music festival that has a real atmosphere. One festival in particular, located at the most easterly point of neighbouring Australia, has the potential to be a convenient yearly escape for blues and roots music lovers in Indonesia and I went there to check it out.

Blues and roots music is a wonderfully eclectic mix that covers many genres, having something for every music lover; blues music originating in the late 19th century from African-American communities in the ‘Deep South’, and roots music which identifies with a particular culture, including folk, Americana, reggae, bluegrass, country, traditional and world music. The Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival celebrated its 25th birthday this year, with over 100,000 in attendance, and big acts such as Dave Matthews Band, Buddy Guy, The Wailers, John Butler Trio, Jack Johnson, The Doobie Brothers and John Mayer were a few of the names on the lineup across six tents. There were also acts who were recently welcomed at the Java Jazz Festival, including Allen Stone, Erykah Badu, Joss Stone and India Arie.

Looking over Byron Bay
Looking over Byron Bay

Staying in Byron Bay, you have the option to spend your mornings going for a swim or a surf in crystal clear waters and a good break, followed by listening to amazing buskers as you wander through town admiring everyone’s fashion, enjoying delicious cuisine ranging from raw, vegan organic to pub grub, before hopping over to the festival when it opens its doors at noon, spending the rest of the day singing and dancing until midnight. If camping is your thing, the festival grounds have plenty of options, whether you’re in a tent or an RV, and busses to and from the festival run regularly. I’m told weather can sometimes be an issue and rains often accompany the festival, however I’ve been twice now and both times it has been sunny and warm throughout.The festivities in Byron Bay are held over a period of five days and always cross over the Easter weekend. Located at the Tygarah Tea Tree Farm, just a 20-minute bus ride from the idyllic beaches at Byron Bay, it’s a location difficult to top. Byron Bay in New South Wales was first settled by Europeans in 1770 when Captain James Cook found a safe anchorage and named Cape Byron after John Byron. Ironically, what was once a whaling town in the 50s is now an earth-loving hippy haven – a hub for surfers, music lovers and good vibrations – earning its hippy reputation when the Aquarius Festival was held in neighbouring Nimbin in 1973. The positivity of the host-town’s people was even noted by Dave Matthews, when he addressed his audience at his first performance, “I’ve been here for a week and it’s beautiful. The hospitality has been amazing!”

The festival was opened by Festival Director Peter Noble, who is a part-time resident of Bali, spending around three months a year in his home in Canggu. Peter gave some words of thanks before introducing the Arakwal People, the original habitants of the Byron Bay area. Peter is an advocate for preserving indigenous cultures, and he has another festival called Boomerang Festival, dedicated to indigenous music, which takes place in October, also at Tygarah.

Day one saw Buddy Guy headlining at Crossroads tent, and this 78-year-old blues guitar legend melted the audience with his smooth grooves and cheeky personality. As Jimi Hendrix said, “Heaven is lying at Buddy Guy’s feet while listening to him play the guitar.” As a reggae lover, I was thrilled the following day to witness Bob Marley’s remaining band members, The Wailers, play a 75-minute set of Marley classics, including Buffalo Soldier, Jammin’, Stir it Up and I Shot the Sheriff. The atmosphere was electric as the Rastafarian band’s fans danced the whole way through.

Dave Matthews Band
Dave Matthews Band

On the third day (Saturday), John Butler Trio packed out the main stage, engaging fans with his guitar solos and political talks. Proceeding him was the headline act, Dave Matthews Band all the way from the USA. Dave Matthews is known for his exceptional live rock performances, accompanied by brass instruments and comedic banter, and he wowed the audience for a staggering 150 minutes. At every show he brings on a special guest, and at this performance we were graced by the presence of Warren Haynes playing an electric guitar solo introduction to All Along the Watchtower. It was goosebumpingly enchanting.

Day four and five kept us entertained by positive vibration man (and adopted son of Byron Bay) Michael Franti, who brought in younger crowds and families, Elvis Costello and the Imposters, not to mention the blues legend Booker T. Jones. An older crowd enjoyed KC and the Sunshine Band on the final afternoon, playing dancing classic hits like Keep it Comin’ Love.

What I love most about this festival, however, is taking a walk to the smaller tents to discover acts I’d never heard of before. One such act I discovered kept the crowd jumping through their eclectic Latin, funk, hip-hop, jazz vibes; a seven-piece bank called Ozomatli from LA. Another new act to my ears were The Beards, an Australian comedy, folk-rock band made of hairy men singing about beards – they have four albums of beard-related songs!

The Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival is as much a music festival as it is a food festival, with tasty treats from all over the world – Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Hungarian, South American, Italian – not to mention bars and coffee shops, and is even complete with a Chai Tea cafe. A second VIP bar area was added this year and the VIP band can give you access to a bit of breathing space from the bustle of the festival, where you can relax on sofas, not to mention access queue-less, more spacious and nicer toilets. Shop stalls beautifully decorate the festival, selling anything from artistic fairy lights to alpaca ponchos. During the day, acrobats and buskers perform side shows, and once the sun goes down, a parade of giant lanterns turn the atmosphere magical.

Now if all that doesn’t sound amazing enough already, the icing on the cake is that everybody at the festival is down-to-earth, friendly and heart-warming, including the staff. Australians really do have a lovely temperament and this festival will make you fall in love with their laid back ways. Not one arrest was made at this year’s festival, but that doesn’t mean that everyone wasn’t having a good time!

The Bluesfest is up there with Glastonbury and the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and it’s not much more than a flight away. I can’t recommend this festival enough to anyone in Indonesia who loves real music and wishes to completely unwind and remember what it is to smile at strangers.

Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival
Easter Weekend
Early Bird tickets for 2015 now on sale
http://www.bluesfest.com.au
www.facebook.com/bluesfestbyronbay

Direct flights available from Jakarta and Denpasar to Brisbane or the Gold Coast, Australia, with Garuda Indonesia, Emirates, Qantas and Virgin Australia. From Brisbane or the Gold Coast, daily buses are available to Byron Bay.

Originally published in Indonesia Expat May 2014.

Bent in Paradise

If you’re a certified Scuba diver, you know this scene too well; floating around beside a beautiful underwater wall abundant with vibrant coral, getting up-close and personal with a timid pygmy seahorse, or holding on and feeling the force of a strong current blasting over your face as you watch sharks and schools of barracuda in a feeding frenzy in the open waters above you. The opposite of this scene, however, which most divers won’t experience in their lifetime, is the one I’m sitting in now: under 18 metres of atmospheric pressure in a hot, humid and claustrophobic hyperbaric chamber.

The dangers of diving in Indonesia are not heard about as much as the joys are. Naturally, we try to focus on the positives rather than get bogged down with the negatives, and why worry about getting the infamous ‘Bends’ until you’ve actually got it? Unfortunately, there are dangers to diving in Indonesia, which, if all dive outfits were to practice safe management and responsibility, could be significantly avoided.

I am told through the voice on the intercom inside the chamber to take a five-minute break from the oxygen mask. This is my third, and hopefully, final day inside and when resurfaced from this dry dive, total time spent will have been 12.5 hours under pressure in an attempt to alleviate the nitrogen bubbles which have built up in my body after a dive trip to East Kalimantan. Treatment at Jakarta Navy Hospital’s Hyperbaric Centre consists of an examination by one of the Navy doctors, followed by a certain number of hours in the chamber at the relevant pressure table for your condition, combined with pure oxygen treatment for the most part of your stay.

The most common misconception of decompression sickness is that it occurs when you resurface from a deep depth too quickly. The truth is that you can actually get this painful sickness coming up from a depth of only six metres. Divers put their lives into the hands of their equipment, however my dive computer did not enter a decompression dive alert, and many other divers who ‘got deco’ can vouch for me on this.

Giving the ‘OK’ sign from inside the hyperbaric chamber

Alejandro Septien has been diving for 20 years and has not once had any problems. He is now sitting beside me in the chamber for treatment of Type I DCI. “I don’t understand how this happened,” he tells me. “I always follow the rules!” Alejandro, a Mexican expat and new to Jakarta and Indonesia, was diving around the idyllic island of Bangka, and on this occasion had to rent all his gear from his local dive operator, including a dive computer. “I did all my safety stops, didn’t do any deep dives, and didn’t drink the night before, but a few hours after I had ascended, I started to feel a pain in my back. Initially I thought it was from the strain of carrying the scuba equipment, but after two days when the pain moved to my legs, I knew something was wrong.” In Alex’s case, the gauge of the rented equipment was off, causing him to do his safety stops deeper than planned.

Dr. Padma, the Chief Navy Dr. at the Hyperbaric Medical Centre in Benhil insists that at the first sign of decompression sickness, attention must be given immediately. “There are many factors which can lead towards decompression sickness, including not getting enough sleep, consuming alcohol or being physically tired,” she explains. “If you have any tingling sensations, pain in your body, visual disturbances, vertigo, fatigue, lethargy, or a feeling of confusion, come to our hospital for a consultation immediately.” The sooner you treat symptoms, the more chance you have of fully recovering. After treatment you are also told to rest, drink a minimum of three litres of water a day, not fly for at least 72 hours and, should you live on a high floor in an apartment, take the stairs or go up in the lift very gradually.

If you have insurance with Divers Alert Network (DAN) then your treatment will be fully covered, however for many, decompression sickness can cost thousands of dollars, and more importantly, your life. Rendra Herthiadhi, Banyu Biru Explorer founder and DAN Instructor, believes that a common misconception is that dives within a No Decompression Limit or within dive table range are 100% safe. “This is not the case,” he tells me. “Generally dives conducted within NDL should be safe, but DCS could still happen and hit an unlucky diver.” According to DAN statistics, five people’s lives were lost to diving in Indonesia in 2011, of which bodies were recovered, and at least 39 recreational divers were treated for DCS in Indonesia. “Whilst many of these were for mild cases of DCS, several were of a very serious nature, requiring urgent assistance,” Rendra adds.

In stunning East Kalimantan, our dive operator at Nabucco Island Resort were irresponsible by allowing maverick dive guides to continue to work, even when they were aware of their negligence; escorting tourists down to depths of 40 metres without mentioning this in the pre-dive brief and ascending carelessly without proper safety stops. Regrettably the owners of the dive resort were not willing to take any responsibility for their reckless guides. Although their dive outfit come across as reputable, the results were to the contrary. It is always best to do some reconnaissance work before you plan a dive trip and ask fellow divers for advice on trustworthy dive operators.

Of course we are all responsible for our own actions but naturally, when you are new to an area, you trust your local guide, putting your lives in their hands and following blindly. Adrienne Jo Salcau is a PADI certified Divemaster and guide, and one many have come to trust. “I never take divers past 30 metres unless they’re very, very experienced,” she tells me as we discuss my dives at Nabucco. “First thing is a check dive so I can assess their skills. I don’t bring unfamiliar or inexperienced divers right into current or deep dives. If I’m doing four dives in a day, 30m is the absolute max and should be done first, then each dive should be shallower and I always, always do a safety stop. Being a dive guide involves a lot of things, but the main priority is safety.”

Survivors of decompression sickness with the staff at the Hyperbaric Medical Centre, Jakarta

Diving is a wonderful sport and pastime, which brings us closer to the curious wonders of the underwater world and its inhabitants, but we cannot deny the dangers involved and must remember that we are merely guests in the ocean. Allow more time between dives, do fewer dives per trip (it’s not a race), always do safety stops and come up slowly, allow a minimum of 24 hours after your last dive before you fly, and ensure every dive guide provides a proper brief, which you stick to. Don’t allow yourself to become a statistic and may you never have to sit inside this hyperbaric chamber to save your life.

Rumah Sakit TNI AL Dr. Mintohardjo (Jakarta Royal Navy Hospital)
Jl. Bendungan Hilir No. 17, Jakarta.
021 5703081 Ext. 176/326
Direct line to Hyperbaric Medical Centre: 021 5732221

First published in Indonesia Expat, March 27, 2013

Also published in Diver’s Alert Network Deeper Magazine October 2013

So Sabah

There’s a long weekend coming up and you’re trying frantically to book a villa in Bali but it seems everywhere is fully booked. Belitung have no availabilities and you don’t fancy attempting to drive to Bandung or Pelabuhan Ratu for fear it will take you hours and hours to get there. So where are you going to go?

My answer to you is Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Direct flights from Jakarta to Kota Kinabalu (also known as K.K.) are available and are cheaper than flights to Bali. In two and a half hours you’re in another country and another world and you can enjoy a pedestrianized city with light traffic and fresh air. The attractions in K.K itself are limited to shopping, walking and eating, however it’s what’s just outside of the city that makes the journey to this side of Borneo all the worthwhile.

Descending from the summit of Mount Kinabalu to base camp
Descending from the summit of Mount Kinabalu to base camp

Our trip was somewhat adventurous, starting with a two-day hike up and down Mount Kinabalu, located in Kinabalu National Park, a two hour drive from K.K. Peaking at 4090.2 metres this is one of the easier mountains of this stature to conquer and a lot of effort has been put into this trail. Starting the ascent at 9am, we hiked through lush rainforest, admiring several miniature waterfalls during the way, and enjoying rest stations equipped with toilet and treated spring water.

The trail to Labuan Rata, the lodge where hikers rest overnight before ascending to the peak, is six kilometres up and we were four clicks in before the inevitable happened to slow us down – the tropical heavens opened and what a downpour it was. One thing every tour operator and website will tell you is to make sure to bring waterproofs and how right they all were. Waterproof trousers is the one thing you need most after a waterproof poncho.

Spotting Labuan Rata was a glorious moment, which meant shelter and rest. This lodge is made up of several unheated dorm-style rooms of various sizes, equipped with bunk beds and showers. Downstairs a large canteen area serves decent buffet meals for the famished trekker. After cleansing, adorning our thermals and eating as much as we could, our weary bodies tried to catch a few hours sleep before waking again at 1.30am for the final push to Low’s Peak to watch the sunrise.

Now this is where the hike gets hard. Leaving at 2.30 am after a light breakfast, head lamps light the way up steep rock-face and there are actually three segments where you have to pull yourself up rope – gloves with a grip come in very handy. It’s a three-hour climb to the bitter-cold finish where the waking sun welcomes you with open arms and the incredible view opens up to you (if it weren’t below freezing I would have stayed for much longer admiring it).

Two hours later and back at the lodge, a big breakfast was thoroughly enjoyed, followed by a short hour’s rest before a four-hour hike down the mountain the same way from which we came. In true rainforest fashion, the heavens opened up again halfway down, but we smiled and enjoyed it knowing that we were on our way back to a warm shower in a warm hotel room and that our feet could soon get some much-deserved rest.

The next day we organized a day trip to visit a small orangutan sanctuary where young rescued orphans were being rehabilitated. At 130 Ringgid each this was a lovely morning out and meant we were free to walk, yes again, around the city in the afternoon. There are many day trips available, which you can book via a tour operator or through your hotel. Orangutan sanctuary trips book up fast so make sure to reserve in advance during high seasons.

Diving at Sipadan
Diving at Sipadan

Next on our itinerary was diving at the renowned Sipadan Island, one of the word’s top ten dive destinations. Sipadan, in the Celebes Sea, is only half a km in length and 200 metres in width, and was once at the centre of a territorial dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia, with Malaysia being awarded the island by the International Court of Justice on the basis of “effective occupation” in 2002. Jacques Cousteau said, in his film Borneo: The Ghost of the Sea Turtle, “I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.”

Untouched it may have been, but nowadays many boats from neighbouring islands take you to Sipadan and120 divers daily are permitted to dive in its surrounding waters, with a permit fee of 40 Ringgid per person per day. We enjoyed three dives a day and were lucky to gain access to Sipadan for two whole days, enjoying an abundance of sharks – black tip and white tip – Hawkbill turtles, schools of barracuda, schools of jack fish, schools of bumphead parrotfish and an array of other species of fish and macro sea life, including a rare spotting of a Dragon Seamoth which was one of the sweetest creatures I’ve ever seen!

With such a profusion of divers, it is so important to dive responsibly in these waters to lessen the degrading the effect dive tourism has had on its once pristine reefs. We witnessed a diver carelessly diving along the bottom of the ocean, dragging his second regulator across the reef, breaking off bits of coral on his way. As much as we all tried to pull him up and tell him off in sign language, he carried on, which brings me to an important point; learn to dive properly before you attempt underwater photography.

 

Set Your Inner Hippie Free at Tiger Island

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.