This post is long overdue, but I did not want to make two for the same place! A five day passage through armadas of Indonesian squid fishermen, oil fields, and some slight sickness amongst members of our three person crew has seen us anchored happily on the northwestern coast of beautiful Pulau Belitung.
A large island off the eastern coast of Sumatra and more than 500 miles northwest of Bali, Belitung is easily one of our favorite places so far. The anchorage is calm and relatively uncrowded, and bordered by long beaches of white sugar sand. The water at times is calm and clear enough to see the bottom perfectly even in twenty or more feet of depth. Small islands bursting with greenery and tropical foliage extend out into the water not far from the main island, and local tour boats putter around daily taking groups of tourists to the nearby lighthouse and many excellent snorkelling locations.
Gigantic formations of striking white granite extend out of the water everywhere and mark the coastline from a long ways off. The prehistoric-looking boulders shelter some of the best coral reefs that we have encountereed in addition to creating a landscape (or seascape?) that compares to nothing I have ever seen. The warm waters are also home to dolphins, gigantic and crazy-looking jellyfish, and a thriving population of hawksbill sea turtles. Morning paddleboard trips across glassy calm, clear water can provide sometimes more than a dozen turtle sightings, some of which will swim right underneath or surface right next to you.
Our time here has been relaxed and easy to enjoy. We arrived in time for a gala dinner provided by the local community to welcome the rally to Belitung. This featured an amazing show of local dancing backed by a band playing drums, violins, and large ornate guitars among other instruments. Dinner was a selection of local delights, from Mie Belitung (a local variant of the omnipresent Mie Goreng that incorporates shrimp and shrimp stock) to Bakso soup (filled with unique meatball/dumplings made from beef and tapioca flour). The next morning we had the pleasure of being shown how to make some of the food we had eaten the night before and were fortunate to taste some of Indonesia’s fine coffees grown and roasted on Sumatra and Sulawesi.
We also had a fantastic trip to the lighthouse with friends Exit Strategy, Por Dos, and Taka’oa. Though the lighthouse itself was impressive, built in the late 1800s by the Dutch, we could unfortunately not go higher than the third floor. This was easily offset though by the beautiful setting and subsequent trips to nearby little islands to snorkel, swim, and marvel at the granite monoliths that make this place so unique. The rest of our time has been spent enjoying quiet morning coffees in the scenic bay before watching the daily thunderclouds roll over the island bringing magnificent rains, as intense as they are fleeting, that help to keep the temperature bearable and beautiful. These in turn give way to marvelous sunsets, the scattering rainclouds turning the sky into a canvas which the setting sun paints in staggering reds and golds, oranges and pinks. One of our evenings saw us watching one of these from our dingy, floating along with friends, freshly baked bread, wine and cheese while turtles surfaced and appeared all around us in the fading evening light of the granite-ringed anchorage.
The wildlife here is amazing as well. Belitung is one of few places in the world (all in Southeast Asia) that the tiny and adorable Tarsius Monkeys call home, as well as deer the size of rabbits. At some times during the day looking up from our boat there can be dozens of great, soaring Frigate Birds or sometimes a White-Bellied Sea Eagle, and tiny bats squeak and wheel overhead at night ashore. One of the islands that ring the bay where we are anchored hosts a turtle conservation facility, where you can go and see hundreds of little baby hawksbill turtles swimming about excitedly in the sheltered pools where they live until they are older and larger. After they reach about three months of age they are released into the ocean with much less threat of predators than when they are newborn from their eggs.
Belitung has been a peaceful, amazing anchorage for us, and though it came late in the trip it sits high on the list of our favorite places in Indonesia. Our time in this country is drawing to a close as we have officially checked out of Indonesia from Belitung and we have only a handful more stops before we cross the straits towards Singapore and the Malaysian Peninsula.