Travel and tourism have become so jaded these days that few places evoke the sense of calm, peace or romance we all seek from vacations. Pulau Seribu, or the Thousand Islands in the Java Sea off the coast of Jakarta, however are a pleasant departure from this state of affairs. A day in Pulau Kotok, one of the 110 islands that make up the Pulau Seribu chain, is all it took to remind me of a world where nirvana could still be a possibility.
A two-hour yacht ride away, Kotok is an island that should be part of a travel catalogue highlighting the ‘top 10 exotic destinations of the world’ or ‘top 50 remote and stunning destinations of the world’ – except that it is not. And that is very much the charm of it. It is one of the only 11 islands in the bunch that house a resort, so one can imagine how unexploited and ‘Survivor’-like it may seem! With a single wooden pier mystically leading us into the belly of the tropical island, the only thing that kept me from leaping into the clear blue water on the side was the inconvenient reminder that I was fully clothed and more importantly, that it wasn’t quite right to drown my companion’s Nikon D60 – which I was carrying at the time.
The Alam Kotok Resort, which manages the island, greeted us with palm-leaf head bands and a pineapple-citrus drink much to my school-girlish delight. Facilities are basic – there are no fancy gazebos, no uptight staff, no liveried doormen ushering you in, no swimming pools or lily-ponds with water spouts and faux bridges. So, if you are used to cushiony, spotless white beds, luxury toiletries or attendants in poshly done up restrooms it is unlikely that this place is for you. But on the other hand if frill-less, rustic and simple do the trick, then look no further.
Little ‘floating cabins’ jutting out into the water provide inviting personal spots to settle down in when you arrive. A dive shop located right next to where you set foot on the white sandy island, will rent out snorkelling gear if you are interested. If you are not interested, that’s fine too and you can choose to sit by the water in languid bliss, and watch others at it. It is still recommended that you take a peek from your dry perch into the water as you are bound to get a glimpse of some of the marine wonders that lie beneath. For first-time snorkelers, the dive shop also arranges for an escort (literally, because he will string you up with the other newbies and ‘escort’ you along the waterside).
Once you have snorkelled to your heart’s content and/or developed a healthy ruddy tan, you can set out to explore the island. Conveniently crafted pathways, lined generously with lush frond-like foliage, run across the island and you can traverse the entire area in less than an hour, give or take a few minutes. On an especially sultry day, a curious monitor lizard or two may give you company along the way.
The lazier ones amongst you (myself included) can opt to lounge by the azure lagoon on the farther side of the pier. Loungers and little tables made of driftwood serve as handy and very organic resting places for your sunglasses or your book. It was only a matter of time before the white sand between my toes, the little schools of fish flitting around in the shallow water and the soft swish-swash of the mangrove leaves wove themselves into the ultimate idyllic experience.
Lunch, as are other meals, is served at the floating restaurant on the island and is a non-fussy affair with a simple vegetable dish, fish curry and rice. Soup and salad are available for the light eaters. A Bintang, readily available in the makeshift ‘bar’ will serve to mellow you down further, if that’s even possible. At this point, you’d be convinced that there is nothing like a fresh, well-balanced meal, the taste of cold beer and lilting sounds of the sea, to set things right and reinforce your belief in the goodness of life.
It takes Rp.850,000 and a sleepy boat ride at 8am (boats depart from Ancol pier) to reach Kotok and you have until 3pm before the boat brings you back to Jakarta. Spending the night there will of course cost some more.
The allure of Kotok lies in its sparseness. The amenities are so Spartan, that nothing distracts from the raw beauty of the island – you can almost hear nature speaking to you. The best part of course is that you leave the island knowing you’ll be back soon because it’s barely a couple of hours away from Jakarta.
Here’s to discovering more gem-like places like Kotok, where less equals so much more!
Province: DKI Jakarta
How to get there: Speed boats depart from Ancol Pier early in the morning. Several tour operators provide one-day tour packages. Book in advance for overnight stay especially during weekends.
What to do: Sunbathing, snorkelling, exploring.
What to bring: Sunglasses, sunscreen, swimwear, snorkelling gear (if you don’t want to rent them out on the island), a mat to lie down on, snacks or nibbles and a good book to keep you company.