While snorkelling through these crystal waters is an enchanting experience, I’m starting to get the feeling that the reef doesn’t really like me much. I’ve been warned that there are stingrays and stonefish waiting to stab me, and there are countless black sea urchins waiting to impale me on 10cm spines. A little jellyfish shimmies past my mask and I’m convinced that, somewhere in its luminous blue innards, an evil heart harbours an ambition to give me an instant coronary. Now two cute little yellow and white reef fish seem to have developed piranha syndrome and are doing their best to maul my legs as they try to drive me away from some unseen clutch of eggs.
Twenty minutes later I’m back in the dive hut staunching the flow of blood from an evil razor-sharp little creature that dive guide Marzukin calls a triptip. He reassures me that out of 15,000 visitors only four have been seriously bitten… before adding that he knows much of the marine life of Java’s Pulau Seribu archipelago from painful personal experience.
“I’ve been stung by stingrays three times and by stonefish twice,” he tells me. “I’m more scared of doctors than I am of the animals though, so I usually just run around the island a few times until I drain the poisoned blood out!”
It sounds like a strenuous form of selftreatment, but it would take much less than a minute to run around the entire circumference of tiny Pulau Macan (Tiger Island). The unlucky Marzukin is probably the only person who’s ever run laps around what might be Java’s most sleepily restful little island escape.
Here at the far northern tip of the ‘Thousand Islands’ it is hard to believe that we’re still technically in Jakarta province. Just two hours after boarding a shiny white cruiser at Ancol Marina I’m doing an impersonation of Robinson Crusoe on the driftwood veranda of my spacious open-fronted chalet. Walls are almost non-existent and instead there are fluttering cotton curtains on our landward side…and, in the other direction, nothing but a dappled turquoise South China Seascape that seems to stretch all the way to Borneo.
Before it became a resort, the island was a weekend hideaway for a wealthy Jakarta family…
The couch is fashioned from a beautifully twisted tangle of driftwood that has been carved by the sea until it is as smooth and fluid as the waves themselves, and the en-suite bathroom is screened with weathered timber from collapsed piers and wrecked fishing boats. There’s no need for extravagances like hot water here, and the waste water runs off into specially designed filters. Clean water filters back into the sea and the remaining waste is used as compost on the island’s gardens. Before it became a resort, the island was a weekend hideaway for a wealthy Jakarta family, and the main lodge dining room and a big timber house (offering family accommodation) still remain. But, for the most part, you live an outdoor life on Tiger Island.
“The resort was designed to have minimum impact on the island’s ecosystem,” explains partner and resort manager Roderick des Tombe. “We do our utmost to recycle, reuse and replace wherever possible. More than simply preserving our own precious natural environment, we see our mission ultimately in creating a learning centre and a model for environmentally sound eco-resorts all over Indonesia.”
But, as Robinson Crusoe discovered so long ago, things are rarely easy when you’re trying to tame paradise. Like a modern-day pioneer, Indonesian-born ’Drigo, as he’s known to his friends, tried to set up small-scale farming in the centre of the land, but the carefully nurtured crops of papaya turned out to be inedible due to saltiness, and other crops refused to grow at all in the desiccated sandy soil. Only aloe vera flourished, almost to become a weed. A wise man once said that “Failure is the greatest teacher,” and the team at Pulau Macan are working hard not just to tame paradise but to actually improve on it.
’Drigo realised that all over Indonesia other resorts are struggling to solve similar problems, and he is setting up a cooperative network of environmentally sound eco-resorts that can strive to find mutually viable solutions to problems such as energy, pollution and community support. It’s important that the travelling public supports tourism initiatives that are making a concerted effort to improve their surroundings, and a database like this would also be a fantastic resource for tourists.
It’s an unfortunate necessity of the location here on the ‘outer banks’ of the archipelago that guests must arrive on a motorboat because, even in favourable conditions, sailing can take between six and eight hours. That initial carbon footprint is the price that must be paid these days, however, if you expect to outrun the flows out from Jakarta’s canals. From the moment that the guests set foot on the recycled boardwalk of Pulau Macan’s pier, every attempt is made so that their invasion of paradise is a beneficial one. The pier itself is shaded by the bank of solar panels that provides most of the resort’s electricity. Food, and even water, is sourced locally wherever possible, and staff are employed from the local community.
Tired out from my dramatic snorkelling excursion, I head back to the shelter of my chalet to sit drinking fresh coconut milk, up to my neck in warm water, on the bottom step of my veranda. A family of dolphins swim past, just 50m away, and a monitor lizard slithers into the water nearby. As darkness begins to fall, the neon flickers of luminous plankton start to shimmer on the reef – seemingly pre-empting Pulau Seribu’s diamond-studded night skies. By now a stripy angel fish is setting up home under the shelter of my legs and a tiny black fish seems to be intent on building a nest in my pocket. I imagine that if I sit here long enough, I’ll soon become a part of the reef itself.
Then a pair of those little yellow and white terrors – miniature Rottweilers of the reef – move in on me again, nipping and nibbling fearlessly until I start to retreat.
“Humans,” they seem to be saying, “need to earn their place in paradise.”
Source : Garuda Indonesia Colours Magazine