‘We can only go to this island at high tide,’ our semi toothless captain explained to Jack in Indonesian. ‘Otherwise it’s too shallow to go by boat.’
As we drifted through the still, glassy waters of Belitung, he explained to us that the location of Belitung and its islands was such that the sea never reached a depth of more than twenty metres. Situated in the middle of South Sumatra and Kalimantan (Indonesian – owned Borneo) this smattering of islands was too close to other significant land masses for the seabed to be any deeper, and for the waters to ever produce any substantial waves, causing the water to be perfectly clear and still. Even during the storm the day before, despite it being profusely grey and misty, the sea was still levelly even, with only undercurrents rippling the surface.
Sailing over the twisted and tangled coral perfectly visible beneath us, we made our way to our first island destination. A tiny uninhabited island, this small stretch of white sand only a few metres long was almost completely enclosed by a cluster of jumbled granite rocks. Our captain pulled into the curved lagoon of the island and Jack and I were quick to jump off and feel the sand beneath our beach yearning feet.
With so many rocks amassed together in such a hodgepodge of an arrangement, the island was perfect for climbing and scrambling over; a veritable adventure playground, just for us. Even more enticing was the water in the small pools surrounding the rocks, which was deep enough for a cheeky jump and splash.
As most people who are confronted with a deserted beach would, we frolicked and swam to our giddy heart’s content, meaning we stayed a little longer than our captain had intended. With his toothless, but simultaneously warm smile, he meekly called us back to the boat. We climbed back in, Jack with his legs hanging over the edge of the boat, his feet ready to skim the waters along to our next island destination.
Sailing in a straight line directly from the shallow island, it only took around fifteen minutes to arrive at one of Belitung’s more notable landmarks, Pulau Lengkuas, also known as ‘the lighthouse island’. Tall and wise, against the blue skies the lighthouse was a standing column of beaming alabaster white. A crew of rainbow coloured boats encircled the shore line – other tourists had beaten us to it. Our captain suggested it would be better for a little dip and some snorkelling first while we waited for the other tourists to leave Lengkuas and give us some breathing space. Mr Captain had a certain spot in mind which the sea was clear and lively enough for some snorkelling. We sailed for a few more minutes and stopped in the middle of where the bright aqua sea blended into the darker blue depths. We could see shimmering flashes of colour swimming from the surface; schools upon schools of fish had decided to come and pay a visit to the area too. I looked a little closer, my eyes slowly focusing … and that was when I noticed a few small splodges of translucent purple eerily floating about.
I looked over to Jack, ‘What’s the word for jellyfish?’ I asked.
‘Ubur ubur,’ he replied. ‘Why?’
‘Ubur ubur ini?’ I said in my broken Indonesian to our captain.
He looked overboard and nodded. With the palm of his hand, our captain fearlessly scooped one of the purple splodges up from the sea and held it in his hand for us to see. The collocation of strange and beautiful had never been so apt; a squidgy blob of incredible purple, with thin alien-like tentacles curled up beneath it. He explained to Jack that they were harmless.
Being the true marine creature that he is, and being so surrounded by such animated water, Jack was bursting with excitement – and it wasn’t long before he jumped in to swim and explore. A herd of small stripy fish surrounded him, as did a couple of the mysterious purple jellyfish.
‘Did it sting you?’
Jack screwed up his face slightly. ‘Yeh, a bit.’
He climbed back on board. There was a small patch of skin on his chest that had swollen slightly, but there were two bigger lashes on his wrist that had swollen quite considerably. Trepidation entered my brain and made me a little nervous of having a dip with these purple aliens (with only my bikini as protection).
Our captain decided to sail a few metres in the opposite direction of the current, of which the jellyfish were floating in. Once we had found a clearer spot, we felt a little safer to enter the water, despite a few quite visibly floating a few metres away.
Goggles strapped on and snorkels firmly in mouths, we plunged into the blue water – and almost immediately, as we both drifted under the water, tens of multi-coloured fish were swimming only inches away from us. Jack opened up a small packet of bread crumbs and a motley crew of fish with varying shapes and colours swarmed around us to get to the floating bits of bread – swirling around us as if we were caught in our own little snow globe.
I watched them with utter fascination. They completely lacked any fear of us; these two big lugs that had just entered their home. A few were even strangely curious, extensively investigating Jack’s feet as if they suffered from a toe fetish.
The water around us teemed with vibrancy; orange, yellow, blue, stripes, dots – even a few Dory fish (or more accurately Royal Blue Tang) swirled around us. And in the open blue we could make out the longer, more pointed shapes of some houndfish aloofly swimming in the distance. It was truly a whole other world down there. A world which made me desperately wish I had invested in an underwater camera to capture it all.
Under the water I noticed that our fearless captain had delved into the water too. Darting around as if he himself were a fish, I could see he was chasing after something. I surfaced the water and noticed a few of the evil purple splodges hanging in the surrounding water. Like a true hero, our captain had entered the water to be our bodyguard from the jellyfish. Each one that he keenly noticed, he would carefully scoop up in his palm, raise it high above his head and like a starring quarterback, fling it hurtling through the air to splosh back in the water some metres away, safely away from us. Laughing to myself, I carried on watching him and imagined what the jellyfish must be thinking. These purple squidges shooting through the air, it would probably be the only time in their lives that they’d get to experience flying. Waheyyyy!
‘Aren’t they stinging you?’ Jack asked our captain in Indonesian.
‘Yes,’ he shrugged and smiled, ‘but I don’t feel it. You two have thin skin. I have thick skin.’ He patted his suntanned arms. ‘I am part of this sea everyday.’
And with that, he caught another glimmer of purple, picked it up in his hand and catapulted the confused jellyfish high high up, shooting through the air.
*Tune in next time for more Sumatran island hopping and lots and lots of starfish…
Go Go Go
Jellyfish: Don’t be too alarmed by the account above. These purple jellyfish do sting, but are not serious threats. The larger ones can cause a painful swelling that will calm down within a day, whereas the smaller ones will leave a sting that will feel sore for a couple of hours. (Running the affected area under cold water helps.) Or like us, you can ask one of your trusty sailors to act as watch-out for you.
Island Hopping: We hired the boat through our accommodation, Belitung Adventure. For the day, the boat hire cost us around 400,000 RP (approx. £20).
Leave me a message below if you’d like anymore information – or if you’ve had your own Sumatra experience too!