The cold metal of the rusty steps against my bare feet caused me to tip toe all the way up the steep staircase. All nineteen levels of them. Despite the cool, white curving walls around me, it was hot and stuffy inside the lighthouse – and we had planned to climb right to the very top.
The lighthouse on Pulau Lengkuas is, alongside the pure granite boulders, one of Belitung’s most well-known features. Despite still being brightly white, the slight smudge of rust down one side reveals its true age. Over 120 years old, it was actually made in England and shipped across over to Indonesia. At one time in its life during Dutch rule, it was used as a prison containing considerable numbers of Indonesian captives. Over the years, the lighthouse and its island have shed away the remnants of its troubled past, with perhaps the lighthouse’s bare interior as the only eerie vestige of what happened there. It now radiates a much happier, idyllic vibe. Planted centrally on the tiny island, the lighthouse stands serenely and exudes mystery. A kind of mystery that tempts passers-by enough to climb up its numerous steps to discover its secrets at the top. Passers-by like Jack and I – who were in no way prepared for what ‘numerous’ really was.
Exchanging smiles and nods with other tourists who were also carefully navigating their way up and down the precarious staircase, we marched steadily to the top, every now and again stopping on one of the cylindrical levels to gaze out at the view.
Heat and dizziness all of a sudden permeated my skin and brain. We were at the eighteenth level; only one more to go – we were so ridiculously close. ‘I need to sit down, Jack.’
Jack peered up to the floor above us; a bride and groom along with a photography crew were having their pictures taken up at the top. ‘It’s ok, we’ll wait. Someone’s just got married.’
Being so close to the top, the room on the floor we were now on was much narrower than it was nearer the base. We lay on the cold metal floor and I embraced the cool breeze that drifted in from a tiny open window. We waved to other tourists who had made the eighteen-level trek and imparted to them the delightful news that they had only one more to go. We were however, too proud to tell them we hadn’t gone up there yet.
After about ten minutes, my body calmed down and the dizziness faded away. In the space at the top of the staircase, we saw a high heeled shoe appear, followed by the frothy, lacy material of a white wedding dress. Followed by her groom and photographers, the bride bundled up her skirt in her arms and with the utmost caution, slowly made her way down the tricky staircase. I didn’t envy her – I had found it difficult doing it barefoot, never mind doing the whole nineteen levels in stilettos. They eventually made their way down to the next level, and now it was our turn – it was time to go up.
The top floor of the lighthouse had an extra floor around the edge of the walls so you could see out its tall glass windows. We walked through a small door out onto the balcony. Through the glare of the sun, we were completely encompassed by the blue wide ocean. Being a dizzying 60 metres up, the view was truly spectacular – postcard perfection. It was clear to see where the sea was shallow and where it became deep as out in the distance, it was a rich, royal blue – and closer to the island the water was a bright turquoise. Some of the turquoise stretched out and streaked along like a long road that lead out to the darker depths of the ocean; a stark but beautiful contrast. This was the kind of secret worth climbing for – it was the kind of sea I had only seen when googling images of Bora Bora and Papua, and now I was seeing it for real with my own eyes.
Walking around the balcony (and gripping onto the railing) we moved to get a complete 360 degree view. Looking down at the island, people were now but mere moving specks, and the boats only blocks of colour. There was the beach at the front of the island, but Jack and I noticed another smaller beach concealed by some granite rocks at the back of the island. Everyone was at the front beach, but not a soul was at this little secluded one. Pointing at it, I whispered to Jack, ‘We have to go to there. ’
After some more photo snapping and a whole lot more wonder-gazing, we decided to make the long descent down back to the base of the lighthouse. Fortunately, as always it’s much easier climbing down than climbing up something, it was only minutes before we were back down. Now on solid land and itching to wash off the heat of the lighthouse, we had only one mission in mind; find that beach.
We walked to the back of the island, traipsing through long grass and following a narrow path that someone before us must have tread on their way to the beach. Only five minutes from the front, this beach was smaller, but completely deserted. Framed by some slouching palm trees and a mish-mash of granite rocks, this stretch of beach was all ours. Well, ours until someone in the lighthouse noticed there was another beach on the island. Knowing that time was precious and that it wouldn’t be long before we were joined by other curious tourists, we stripped off to our swimming gear, ran across the sand and made the mad dash to the cool blue sea.
*Tune in next time, for more island hopping and lots and lots of starfish.
Go Go Go!
The lighthouse: It costs around 10,000RP to enter the lighthouse and climb up. For some reason they ask you to remove your shoes before going in, but if you’re a little afraid of the rust, hold your shoes in your hands and just climb a flight before putting them back on. Take lots of water with you, it gets pretty hot inside the lighthouse!