Saturday, April 17, 2010

Untung Java island: The authentic backwater of Jakarta

Staying in Jakarta and being in a peaceful and serene atmosphere is always mutually exclusive. You just can't have both. Weekend trips to Bandung, Anyer or Sukabumi have become dull routine for those who want to find peace of mind.

Pulau Seribu, or the Thousand Islands, to the north of Jakarta has been perennially overlooked yet it is, in fact, the perfect getaway for Jakartans who want to get out of town without breaking the bank.

Untung Java Island will solve your problems in many ways. This is the kind of destination that is a far-cry from the sold-for-tourist spots like Pulau Putri, Pulau Bidadari and some other islands.

The island can easily be mistaken for any other island that dots the waters off North Jakarta. It is home to only a few dozens houses, a mosque and a school building.

Reaching the island is quite easy. It will take you an hour to get to the island from Jakarta on a ferry from Tanjung Pasir, a port roughly 30 minutes from Soekarno-Hatta airport. Ferries leave early in the morning between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and return at 2:30 p.m. A return trip to the island will cost you Rp 20,000.

For an island of its size, Untung Java Island seems to be under-populated. It only hosts 50 families who make their living from fishing, agriculture and trading. What is remarkable about this island is that in spite of its proximity to Jakarta, the water is quite clean.

As I step off the ferry, rows of warung greet me on either side of the port, reminding me of downtown Jakarta. The locals are amused to see an outsider visiting their island, which they hardly consider a tourist destination.

It is easy to find accomodation on the island for those who want to stay overnight. Rooms are easily available on the island. Almost every house has one or two rooms reserved for visitors. Prices range from Rp 100,000 to Rp 120,000. Don't expect the typical air-conditioned room that you will find in a five-star hotel. Consider yourself lucky if you can find a room with a fan. The rooms are clean though, as are the toilets. Western-style flush toilets are not available in every house.

After surrendering my backpack, I set out to go around the island on foot. It is also convenient to travel by ojek, the island's major roads are all paved. Despite this level of development, the island maintains a certain rustic charm. Significant parts of the island are covered by mangrove plantations and monitor lizards can easily be found roaming the island.

Some might find it quite disconcerting to trek alone on this island. The wooden plank that leads to the swamp at the island's interior can easily give you the goosebumps.

It took me about an hour to trek through the island to its northern tip. From there I could see neighboring Pulau Rambut, which is about 10 kilometers away.

Pulau Rambut is a paradise for birdwatchers. Migratory birds nest on the island, many of which are of great interest to local ornithologists. Travel to the island is restricted because of its conservation status.

But even without traveling to Pulau Rambut, staying at Untung Java Island can be quite rewarding.

On Saturday evenings, live music and open mikes are available for all. For those with kids, there is an accessible and fun playground to distract the little ones.

If you are hungry and want something easy, the rows of warung run by locals are about as simple as it gets. And eating directly from the stool is an authentic experience everyone should try once.

You could, on the other hand, join your host working to wash the dishes or cook dinner food. Fresh fish is always available for you to fry or boil while the host serves only the hottest sambal.

You should not worry about the price of the food. The absence of a regular menu also means that none of the food has a set price. My host did not seriously count how much I ate and I ended up paying less than I expected. The hospitality is palpable and, I think, the best thing about staying on Untung Java Island.

The island offers a different kind of tourism, something that has nothing to do with adventure or late night partying. It is a minor, effortless exploration of nature and an encounter with local people who are very friendly and accommodating, and will not hesitate from providing visitors with a home away from home.

Source : The Jakarta Post


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