The Jakarta Post | Tue, 07/29/2008 4:29 PM |
Lying off the coast of
A trip to Java – short, simple, unthreatening – seemed in the offing. Tickets (air for
“But you can go to Java anytime,” a friend chided me. “Try something different.”
It’s hard to step out of one’s comfort zone, to try something new, including when it comes to a hurriedly planned trip. The tried and true, without any unexpected hassles (or exciting surprises) is just easier to deal with. This time though, everything seemed to be pulling me to a small island with a funny name.
“I’ve heard it is beautiful there,” I said.
“It’s beautiful indeed,” she replied.
I was being nudged in
The flight to Pangkalpinang was a go, but everything
coming back was fully booked. There was, however, a bookable round-trip flight
The descent to
Later, after talking with locals and driving eastward
across the island, I learned the craters are pools of water, the legacy of the
tin mining operations on the island. For tin built
Reminders of the island’s mining heyday are all around.
Tanjungpandan is a small, clean town, with wide, well-paved streets and a
seafront that bustles with families on the weekend. Most activities are
centered around the old harbor and its market, and near the traffic light at
the independence monument and the statue of
Outside the town, on the drive along smooth asphalted
roads to Tanjung Tinggi and to western
At the Tanjungpandan museum, occupying an old Chinese mansion on Jl. Melati, intricate models show the process of excavating tin over the ages and the huge dredgers that once crowded the harbor. One of them, dating back to the 1920s but no longer operational, can still be found a short walk from the main harbor.
Mining jobs drew
the migrants whose descendants remain on the island today, creating a uniquely
diverse population of almost 140,000 people, according to the 2005 census. Once
part of the Sriwijaya kingdom, the islands of
The Chinese population flourished and formed
cooperatives, making up about 40 percent of the population in the 1920s,
according to Periplus’ Sumatra Adventure guidebook. Although the Depression
prompted many of them to return to
Even today, despite reform and the repealing of
anti-Chinese regulations of the 1960s, it’s still unusual to find open displays
of Chinese culture except during the Lunar New Year or other holidays. In
A few minutes’ drive from the temple, the pleasant, thriving community of Manggar is renowned for its coffee shops, where ethnic Chinese men drink and talk at all hours.
Here, being Chinese Indonesian and showing it does not
seem to be reason for suspicion or questions about your place in the community.
Tellingly, many Chinese Indonesians fled to
All Together Now
Other groups continue to come today for work. The flight from Jakarta to Tanjungpandan was filled with locals returning home bearing gifts of donuts and other foods of the big city, and workers – identifiable by their “everyman” uniform of work boots, jeans and jacket, and a preference to stick together – from Java employed in the tin mines and, increasingly, the vast palm oil plantations on the island.
There also is a small Bugis fishing community near
Tanjung Kelayang, Balinese transmigrants and, of course, people from
“Most people in
He acknowledges that outsiders may see it as strange that a “non-native” is running the museum devoted to preserving the island’s heritage, but its ethnic diversity is found within the neatly kept institution’s walls. There are Javanese kris, Dutch ceramics and many examples of Chinese culture, from traditional attire to porcelains and furniture, in the museum’s collection.
The blending of cultures, combined with
We welcome others, he says. He points to the Balinese transmigrant community, and their success in their new home. “Most of them have cars now, the good models,” he adds, without a trace of resentment.
As I say goodbye, he tells me, “When people help you here, it’s not because they want to show off. It’s because they want to do it.”
Smile and They Will Come
Twelve years ago, Periplus predicted that rapid changes were taking place on the northern shore, with several resorts in the works. It did not happen the way it was supposed to. The desolate facade of a luxury hotel at Tanjung Kelayang is overgrown with weeds; work stopped in mid-construction when the owner, reportedly a member of a prominent political family, became caught up in other matters.
Another resort is situated a few kilometers up the
road, near a secluded stretch of beach. Its published rates are equivalent to
those of its ilk in
A big new hotel is being built across from the independence monument in Tanjungpandan, with a disco and fitness center among its amenities. Another wing is being added on Pondok Impian, currently the town’s best hotel, located at the beachfront.
Then there is Laskar Pelangi, which is being shot
around the island, with the cast and crew making Gantung, author Hirata’s
hometown, their base. The Miles Production film, starring Tora Sudiro and Cut
Mini, has excited locals and there is anticipation about what lies ahead when
The Belitung Pos runs daily front-page stories about the shoot, including profiles of several local children hired for major roles. But the readers’ SMS forum also included a message complaining that the production was a lost opportunity for the local tourism authority to promote the island.
The woman in charge of bringing
In February 2008, the tourism office, which had been part of the transportation department, was given individual status and moved to new premises on Jl. Sudirman.
It’s a commitment to developing tourism potential, Ida says.
The office has placed advertorials in Jakarta-based
magazines, and plans to invite select media for the
She thanks me for my interest in
“I always tell people that a smile is so important in hosting visitors. And it’s one of our greatest assets here. It is what we have to offer.”
During my entire five-day trip, I see a handful of tourists, all around the
Tanjung Tinggi area of the island. On my last day, as we stop to buy the area’s famous terasi (fermented shrimp paste) in town, I meet a Malaysian, Michael, who runs a 14,000-hectare oil palm plantation.
“I tell my boss all the time that we chose the right place to invest,” he says. “It’s peaceful here, the people are kind and don’t make any problems. I couldn’t wish for a better place to work.”
The question I am asked wherever I go is how I like the island. It seems a bit self-conscious at first, but the questioners beam with pride when I tell them how much I like the simple pleasures.
At check-in for my return flight to
Linas Air and Sriwijaya fly from
With convenient cash-and-credit schemes allowing easy purchase of motorbikes, public transportation now runs on an infrequent schedule in Tanjungpandan. Most places of interest can be reached on foot from major hotels and there are ojek (motorcycle taxis). However, for trips outside of town, including to the beaches of Tanjung Tinggi and Tanjung Kelayang, the best option is to hire a car and driver. Daily rates vary from Rp 200,000 to Rp 350,000, not including gas, for trips to the east and south. Cika Travel, run by Saldoto (tel. 0719-21578), is helpful, and local hotels also have the names of drivers. We also were able to hire a motorcycle on Jl. Patimura for a trip to Tanjung Tinggi for Rp 50,000 for the day. Ask friendly Bono at the Internet kiosk Buana Net at Jl. Patimura 7, up the street from Pondok Impian hotel.
Places to Stay
For postcard-perfect panoramas, Lor-In Resort’s
location at Tanjung Tinggi fits the bill. Unfortunately, its facilities need
some serious attention; paying almost Rp 800,000 a night for a cottage is not
worth it unless you have money to burn. Try instead Hotel Pondok Impian
(everybody knows it as “PI”) on Jl. Patimura in town (tel. 0719-22076). It
offers friendly service very much in the tradition of regional hotels and clean
rooms (Rp 350,000 per night). Another
good option is Hotel Martani, once the town’s top accommodation, located in an
attractive old home near
City Sights and Beyond
Pasar Bawah (lower market) is home to an interesting Chinese temple, built in 1868. Leave a donation. Ask for directions to the old dredger a few streets away. At night, there are fruit and food stalls along the street.
Great beaches are to be found at Tanjung Kelayang and Tanjung
Tinggi, about 30 kilometers from town. Tanjung Kelayang, with its view of
Pulau Burung (
Also of interest in eastern
I didn’t make it down south, but Membalong is said to be home to some of the island’s best beaches, especially at Batu Baginde.
For more information, visit the tourism office at Jl. Sudirman 35. They have a tourism guidebook; ask for Mr. Susanto.
Naturally, seafood is everywhere in Tanjungpandan. Pandan Laut, next door to PI, has an extensive menu of Indonesian, Chinese and pasta dishes (spaghetti and its own version of macaroni and cheese). Try the local specialty of Gangan, fish head cooked with turmeric and pineapple in a spicy sauce. There also is ikan ayam-ayam, a firm-fleshed fish which tastes like, well, chicken. Very friendly and accommodating staff. In the city center, Happy Bakery (Jl. Veteran) does a roaring trade in donuts, buns and bread. Across the street, next to Barata, is Oila, a small cafe serving meatballs and snacks.
Fish crackers, macaroon cookies, abon (dessicated fish) and shrimp paste are favorite souvenirs. The shops opposite the Puncak store have crackers and cookies. Also try Toko Sriwijaya across the street; owner A. Kim also sells shrimp paste.