Tue 9 Feb 10 - Thu 11 Feb 10 30 °C
As a self-proclaimed Islomaniac, it's kind of pathetic that it took me so long to visit my first tropical island. Sure, I visited many islands on my other trips; Great Britain, Isle of Skye, Manhattan, Roosevelt Island, even Alcatraz. Even on this trip we've been on a few moderately to densely populated islands; Ayutthaya, Ko Kret, Singapore. But there is something extraordinarily satisfying about walking along a deserted white sandy beach where the palm trees seem frozen blowing away from the coastline even when the winds are calm. It's very hard to describe in words.
When we first arrived here on Bintan we were greeted by many overly aggressive taxi drivers at the main port in Tanjung Pinang, the capital of the Riau Islands. Thankfully our little resort sent an English speaking gentlemen to greet us at the dock. He jumped ahead of the taxi drivers and asked “Stephanie? Yoshua?” Apparently, like in Spanish, the “J” is pronounced as a “Y,” which means I've been butchering the capital cities name this entire time. He continued, “just two people? I thought it'd be three. You have very long names.”
The ride to Shady Shack on the east coast cut through the heart of Bintan. It seems like most of the hour long ride was dealing with the traffic in Tanjung Pinang, but once we were free from the city we got to see the real, rural Bintan. There were tiny shacks dotted along the road, some hidden behind clusters of lush palm trees, others placed right up against the asphalt.
Then we hit the east coast and we began to get glimpses of the sparkling blue water and white sandy beaches. Eventually we made it to Shady Shack and got to meet the famous “Lobo” and his family. We were shown to our shack, which would be the first of three we would use during our stay. The accommodations there are basic, but that's why I chose it. Things were actually a bit nicer than I was expecting. There was electricity, though it only got turned on at night, and there was running water from a home-made water tower, though the pressure was very low. And the toilets? Well, in order to flush them you must pour buckets of water into them and then, well, something about water levels and I don't know. It's magic.
Josh and I had the forethought to purchase goggles at the ferry pier, so we hit the water soon after arriving. The water is rather murky due to the close proximity to Singapore, but that didn't stop us from getting to see coral and wild tropical fish in their natural habitat. We've promised ourselves to get dive certified before our next trip so that we can see more. We've had a taste of diving and now we are hungry for the real thing.
We had a delicious home cooked Indonesian meal of chicken, rice (lots and lots of rice), bok choi, an omelette, and some nutty cracker of some unidentifiable origin. It was all delicious. All of our meals during our stay were home cooked. It's hard to get more authentic than that.
At this point the sun was going down so we retired to our little shack. It was then we discovered that ours had a faulty electrical system. We made move #1 to the shack next door. Things went pleasantly for a while, but we had a rather rude awakening in the middle of the night. A rat decided it wanted to join us in bed and hopped right on top of me. In my panicked state I flung it off and my unfortunate aim placed the furry critter right on top of Josh's chest. He released a scream unlike anything I've ever heard before and flung it off the bed. The rat hit the floor with a thud, composed itself, and scurried away from our cacophony of screams.
At this point we seriously considered leaving Bintan early. The night watchman moved us to a third shack and we decided that if this shack worked out we'd stay, but if anything went wrong we were adding an extra day in Singapore. Thankfully, this shack was fine. No rats. No electrical problems. Just a very sound nights sleep. Though the rat frightened us at first and had the potential to ruin our stay here, we were eventually able to laugh it off and realize this is just another wacky travel story we'll be telling for many years. “Remember that time that rat decided to jumped on us in the middle of the night? Yeah, good times.”
I awoke early on Wednesday morning and snuck out of bed to take a look at the sunrise. There were clouds, but the sun lit them up in brilliant shades of pink, purple, and blue. Off in the distance I could see a small nearby island being pounded by rain, but our coast was eerily serene and altogether beautiful.
We spent Wednesday swimming and taking walks along the beach. We saw many interesting things such as hilariously large dead fish being washed in by the tide, coconuts strewn along the coastline, abandoned boats, and fisherman ropes leading to what we assumed were traps further out in the ocean. As the tide went out we got to see the coral uncovered and numerous palm trees laying on the shore slowly being swept out to sea. Despite copious amounts of sunblock we still got burned, but it was worth it.
I'm with Coco (nut).
We asked for a “small lunch,” and were given giant helpings of fried rice. The people of Bintan seem to eat huge portions of food, but they don't seem like a particularly overweight group of people. I wonder if they have naturally higher metabolisms or they just do more manual labor and burn off the food quicker. Our “small” dinner that evening was also rather large. I felt bad for leaving behind food, but we had no choice. The portions were massive. I must say the chicken was the best chicken I've ever eaten in my life. I'm not sure if it's genuinely the most delicious chicken ever, or, as Anthony Bourdain puts it, meals just taste better when you can bury your feet in the sand.
Though this night was rat and electrical problem free, a moderately turbulent storm did roll in in the middle of the night. The rain was pounding, but our thatched roof didn't leak. The wind blew, but the walls only barely creaked. The thunder roared, but we remained sleeping soundly in our bed. These shacks have clearly withstood worse storms, so we felt rather secure.
These buildings are handmade by Lobo and his friends, and I've got to give them points for their remarkably sturdy craftsmanship. They may look like they will blow down at the slightest gust of wind, but these things have been here for years through many storms far worse than what we endured. They are even building a new shack. A “deluxe” two storey shack far bigger than any of the others. I'd love to come back in a few years and see it completed.
This morning there were windsurfers in the distance; the first tourists besides ourself we've seen during our entire stay. There were also two fisherman boats, which at that point became just as much of the scenery as the crashing waves and swaying palm trees. The fishermen jet around in their little long boats regularly. The first time we saw them it was exciting and novel, but we soon came to realize that it's just every day living out here. If I had a boat I'd fully take advantage of those distant uninhabited islands. I'd fish, then camp out on one of those beaches and make a meal of my catch. But alas, we didn't have the time, money, or equipment to make that possible.
Despite the beauty of the place, Josh and I came to the realization that we are city people. It was good for us to get away from television, the Internet, and other distractions for a day, but we couldn't stay in a place like this forever. It may seem like a contradiction, being an Islomaniac and a city person, but I tend to be filled with contradictions anyway, so it's really nothing new. Maybe I'll end up somewhere like Singapore or Hong Kong, where both of my desires can be fulfilled simultaneously. Who knows where we'll end up? The future is pretty open at this point.