We sailed to the small island of Ketawai off Bangka with no pre-conceived ideas of what to expect. Every stop in this trip through Indonesia has been completely different but Ketawai was the jewel in the crown.
We arrived at about 9am to a cacophony of horns and sirens – all our friends who had already arrived cheering us in. We in turn did the same to arrivals after us – I think we knew this was a special place after that. Within about 30 minutes of our arrival a small boat arrived and told us that there was not cooking for the girls this week, they would be providing breakfast, lunch and dinner for us every day as they wanted the girls to have a week off! Sounding good so far…
We dinghied over to the island and saw that they have brought everything over from the mainland – kitchens, dining areas, stages – even a medical centre in case… There was a band in situ, pop up shop, and lots of small tents where the locals slept. Ketawai is another beautiful island in this archipelago of Riau and so Claire (Restless M) and Putra – one of the local guys and I took a walk around the island. It only takes about half an hour, but we took about three hours. This island has about 100 papaya trees on it, so we came back laden with papayas and other various odds and ends that we found. Putra is a vet, ornithologist, photographer, singer and overall great guy. He showed us local wild tomatoes, which plants were poisonous, pointed out the birdlife and took lots of photos of us.
We stayed and helped them cook lunch – well, we cut up all the vegetables and they cooked lunch. It was fun – none of us understanding each other but somehow communicating. They thought we were very bad in the kitchen because none of us managed to peel the potatoes with a knife properly and all left too much potato on the skins!
The next day we were taken over to Bangka and shown around. This was not the usual ‘tour’ of the town that we had got used to. They took us to the market first to do our provisioning and then took us 4-wheel driving. Awesome… we all had a blast. Sitting high up in this four-wheel drive, getting bogged so that we had to be hauled out by an digger, and watching the locals in competition come through the course. We were so muddy by the end of the day but it was such a different day.
We were taken to lunch at a house attached to the local kindergarten all cooked by the teachers. It was lovely to spend some time in a home rather than a restaurant and we all donated some money to the kindergarten which they said would go towards books. When it came to going back to Ketawai – they used the local police boat for transport – another ride in a police vehicle – only got to go in a helicopter now!
We spent a couple of days here just relaxing, swimming and eating. On the Saturday, many locals came over – a bit just a day trip to Rottnest, and set up their tarps and picnics. I asked Robbie if they did this most weekends and he told me that they had all come over to see us as they get no tourists here and they wanted our photos. He wasn’t wrong – we think we must have had about 100 photos taken and Claire & I even did an interview for the local TV station!
These hammocks were put up by young boys – who just climbed the trees and attached them. We were all standing underneath marvelling at how clever they were and agile at climbing until someone said “If they were our kids, we would be yelling at them to come down immediately before they break their necks” Perspective is a wonderful thing..That night we had the final dinner on Ketawai – full band with local dancing. We were all up there with them having a great time – this place has been incredible.
The next day we all came over to the island for a turtle release. It was something I had always wanted to do and I was not disappointed. We were given a small plastic bowl with two baby turtles, a section of the beach was cordoned off and at the same time we all released them. They scampered down the beach and found the water and were off – so quickly. Ketawai has started this program to encourage turtles to nest here so that they can monitor them and retain a healthy population for future generations. We were very touched that they invited us as visitors to do this – with all the local children watching. The hope is that the kids will appreciate this turtle conservation and in turn protect them in the future.
If I had ever imagined an island paradise – this was it. Uninhabited, clean, pretty and rustic. Ketawai – you have kept a piece of my heart.