Bolilanga Island was reputed to have some good snorkelling, so we checked the cost of chartering a ‘speedboat’, basically a prahu (outrigger canoe) with an outboard motor. However, the asking price of an outrageous Rp.50/60,000 was too much for the Dutch couple and I. Enquiries amongst the teenagers on the quay, took us to Mr. Souaip (pron.’swipe’) who agreed to take us the next day for Rp.25,000. He wanted more to erect a tarpaulin for shelter.
The island we went to had a small sandy beach, was covered with ‘natural’ vegetation; the few coconuts we found had probably drifted in from elsewhere. All these islands, few with habitation, appeared to be of a type of limestone; the sea has carved caves in some areas, with mangroves on some beaches. Apart from outboard motors, a few motorbikes (and a TV or two), it is very peaceful here. When away from population centres, herons, parrots and crabs were our main company.
The following day, the Dutch couple having departed, Sam and I took a stroll of about 3km to a beach we’d been told about. There was a stone jetty, two large houses, one Dutch-style of wood, the other a newish single storey concrete construction. This faced a wooden building containing a generator.
Many children were taking an afternoon dip, and Sam joined them, spraying them through his snorkel tube. Meanwhile, I discussed with a couple of young men, an old lady with surprisingly good English and sundry others the possibility of chartering a prahu the next day so Sam and I could do some off shore exploration. The excursion ended with treats of superbly good mangoes and sweet tea.
We arrived back there the following morning around 10 and were given more sweet tea and some delicious coconut-coated fried bananas while Hari and his mate raked the coconut which was being dried in the sun prior to having its oil extracted.
The first prahu lacked outriggers ~ we nearly capsized it. The second proved stable and off we set. The splash of the oars and our occasional chatter were the only disturbances. A calm sea, blue sky and some close looks at sme very small islands, all but one capped with green. Two or three had clusters of houses built on stilts over the sea.
One had been totally denuded of vegetation. The settlementsat the foot had no shelter other than the roofs. They also had no fresh water. That they get from Kefatan, Hari’s village. “We don’t sell water, it’s free,” he told me as I took a swig from an overpriced plastic bottle of Aqua.
Our base had a small beach and some shelter at the foot of a tor. We all went swimming or snorkeling, leaving our lunch and other stuff scattered around. It was very pleasant. About half an hour later, Hari’s mate called Sam and I back to base – “There’s a monkey,” he cried.
The monkey had been named Ida. She lives all alone and presumably has few visitors because she was very curious and not very nervous in front of us. In our absence she had tried, but not liked, the kretek cigarettes I’d bought for the lads, torn my ex-army satchel, done some damage to Sam’s Swatch, drunk some suntan lotion and from a bottle of water.
She was very clean. I was able to find this out as while the others swam off, we searched each other’s body hair for nits and lay together holding hands. It was a very good day for nitpicking and picnicing.
Later, on the way back, we paid a visit to a family living on the deforested island. Their stilt house, with the sea below visible through the gaps in the floorboards and through the woven bamboo walls, contained a smart glass and wood cabinet which contained the household china, glasses and similar family treasures. We sipped sweet tea and munched on peanuts, muttering pleasantries under the gaze of the village as usual.
The paddle back was sufficiently leisurely to avoid a strained back. The Rp.15,000 (then c.£5) was, I felt, a generous but well-earned compensation for a calm, serene day. I told Hari that it had been a “hari baik sekali“. His father seemed pleased too, as he told me that the next time we visited the island, we were welcome to stay in his house for free.
We strolled back through the coconut groves, parrots flying to their roosts overhead, feeling well-contented. That there was egg and omlette, instead of fish, to go with the rice at Surya’s was a little bonus. And our warm cokes and beers were their own reward.