Saturday, February 13, 2010

That's neat, that's neat, that's neat, that's neat, I really love your tiger feet.

Last weekend I was ready for a couple of days out of town. A few weeks in the big smoke can really take their toll on the psychic defenses, not to mention making the old liver squeak like a rat stuck in a trap, and so I took up an offer to head out once more to the tropical paradise of Jakarta's Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands).

I usually like to take my chances on the Rp.15,000 public boat from Muara Angke, however this time I was afforded the privilege of sharing a super fast yacht/speed boat out to Pulau Macan (Tiger Island) from the very posh Ancol Marina, as part of an all-inclusive and very reasonably priced weekend deal.

If you're an island novice or otherwise disinclined to slum it with the Kretek chomping Bapaks on the public boat, then I'd highly recommend the Macan trip, which is proving tremendously popular with expatriates (have a look here).

The fast boat takes a mere hour and a half to steam through the mud, silt and 100 million toilet flushings that coat Jakarta Bay and on into the crystal blue waters of the islands, considerably faster than the chugging public hulk. This speed can come at a price however. If the sea is in any way choppy or rough then the boat bangs and smacks over the waves like an ojeg speeding across the lunar surface, pummeling your backside into tenderloin in the process.

Foolishly, I had necked a few cans of Bintang prior to weighing anchor (a medicinal early morning pick me up you understand). After about an hour, I made a beeline for the head (as I believe the smallest room is called in nautical parlance). Alas I got inside just as we hit a rough spot of water with predictably hilarious consequences. I reemerged from the little sailor's room with a sprained knee and damp trousers and sat down in a huff. I should stress here though that I was the only one of 14 passengers who manage to both injure and wet himself simultaneously on the way to Macan, so perhaps I only have myself to blame.

After landing at the Macan jetty I felt a touch peculiar (so what's new, I hear you cry) and went for a bit of a lie down on a sun bed. After a rousing from my siesta I found Macan to be just as picturesque and lovely as the other islands in the chain that I've visited. The tiny atoll was covered in trees and fringed with coral and an eco-friendly resort boasting solar power, recycled rainwater and a coral rehabilitation programme has been set up there. Some top snorkelling is available, or alternatively you can sit on your fat arse all weekend drinking gin and tonic whilst your Jakarta stress meter drops out of the red zone.

I thought that I'd go for a swim before hitting the sauce though and paddled over to the nearest neighbouring island, around 200 meters away. After wading through the shallows and trying not to spear my feet on any of the sea anemones that liberally dotted the coastline, I flopped onto the sand like a beached whale, the only person on the tiny island. I think I was the only person there at any rate. It took me a mere five minutes to circumnavigate the tree-covered sandbar and I didn't come across any warungs or ojeg drivers crouching amid the tropical foliage.

Birds were squawking in the trees however and mud skippers hopped across the sand hunting fish as the sun beat down, burning my back to a crisp and ensuring that showering would be painful for the next week. It was easier to imagine that I was 5000, rather than 50 kilometers or so away from a filthy sprawling metropolis.

Perhaps, when global warming causes Jakarta to be swamped, then the city itself will become an extension of the Thousand Islands. People will be able to kayak or swim between higher bits of terra firma or between partially submerged skyscrapers, as fish and coral colonize the swamped roads, traffic islands and abandoned cars and bajajs of the ex-capital. If you don't want to purchase an apartment too many floors up because of the earthquake threat then think again, you could be sitting on an eco-tourism goldmine.

After some drinks, a soothing massage, more drinks and a blissful night’s sleep undisturbed by revving motorcycle engines and calls to prayer, it was time to re-board the turbo powered speed cruiser for the 90 minute blast back to the effluent filled beauty of Jakarta Bay and the joys of Bluebird taxis. Thankfully, this time, the seas were calm and thus there was no repeat of my uncomfortably damp first leg of the journey. There was only a moraine of plastic bags to traverse about half an hour from Jakarta that seemed to demarcate the boundary between the blue waters of the further islands and the mulligatawny soup that bathes the capital's coast. Drown it all I say, wash the city into the sea, let's start again and do it properly this time.