A 26-hour arduous journey from Padang to Kalianda, followed by a boat trip to Pulau Sebesi, and then another boat to Pulau Krakatau, only to arrive at the wrong island!
Apologies for the poor, quality scanned 35mm film photos. Negatives and prints are in tragic, condition from decades of less than optimal storage.
The long and winding road – Padang to Kalianda
The journey is supposed to take 20 hours. Setting out early this morning, we’re the only 2 passengers with 2 drivers, in the comfortable minibus.
Learn later that we have 2 drivers on this trip so they can keep each other awake. Taking turns to drive, neither sleep at all during the journey.
The spectacular scenery on equally horrendous roads doesn’t recede, until the cover of night envelops day. With night comes the turning up of Indonesian Gamelan music, blaring in our ears. The purpose is to keep both drivers awake – both hail from Java.
A deluge of potholes covers the mostly dirt road, provide no respite from the bone-jarring ride. At one point, I almost fall off the seat as the minibus bounces suddenly in then out of a deep hole.
Uncomfortable hours pass by at a snail’s pace. Dozing off momentarily, wake up to another jolt and discover that we’re now on a one-lane road. With so many potholes, the minibus is forced to a crawling pace. Disorientated, imagine that we’re no longer driving on the highway but some seedy, pokey side-street, about to be kidnapped for a handsome ransom.
Only 6 hours late, finally, we arrive in the tiny seaside town of Kalianda after enduring 26-hours of tiring minibus pain. Time to rest before a little quick exploring, as we’re not staying in Kalianda long.
Not many tourists venture here, and in 1998, we’re the only foreigners in this small town. For me, this is inviting and a good thing. I don’t travel to another country to meet my own countrymen. Still happy to explore Sumatra and escape any backlash of last month’s racial riots, which left 1,000 people dead, we decide to head for smaller islands.
Discovering a fantastic sate shop that makes fresh, delicious sate, indulge until walking is no longer an option. Eventually, book an expensive boat tour to Krakatau (Krakatoa in English) at the Beregen Hotel.
Kalianda to Pulau Sebesi
This morning, a small boat takes us to Pulau Sebesi. A tiny island only around 1.5-hours from mainland Sumatra’s Kalianda.
It’s great to be off the treacherous Indonesian roads and back on the water. Everything travels by water. Even a goat and its kid remain tied to the boat’s bow, both relieved when landing.
Spending the night in a rustic timber pole hut adorned with a rusty corrugated iron roof, on Pulau Sebesi, we also meet our guide. Akib Yakub is ex-army and an interpreter for the Japanese, in the 1950s.
Let’s hope that his memory holds some fascinating yarns to share, on the next boat trip to Krakatau.
A quick trip around Pulau Sebesi
Wandering around Sebesi, we attract inquisitive, stares. Don’t believe this tiny, barely inhabited island sees many foreigners. As you can imagine, a stunning sea view unfolds in front of every hut – a paradise.
Many children, goats, and chickens roam freely around the island.
A slower pace than on Siberut Island, Sebesi also seems to be a lot cleaner. Rubbish is burnt on the island. Unlike Siberut, where most everything tossed into the sea or out of the window. Although, Sebesi’s shoreline is still lined with faded plastic water bottles, washed up from somewhere…
Dried broken coral blends with sand on the island’s white beach, occasionally making it difficult to traverse – although a welcome relief from busy and bustling Padang.
Travelling in Sumatra for a month now, learn the pungent, scent of drying cloves is never too far away. It’s not uncommon to see scores of blankets coated in cloves at the front of houses, huts, or tossed over bushes, left to dry in the hot sun. Sebesi isn’t different. Blankets of cloves are strewn on the ground in front of huts, left to dry in the sun’s heat.
Pulau Sebesi to Krakatau
The sea laps gently on Sebesi’s sandy shore only a stone’s throw from our simple hut, without power. Can’t expect power on a tiny island or the luxury of mainland Sumatra.
Introduced to a half-hearted canoe with tiny bamboo floats on both sides, at this morning’s early 7-am start – including, two boatmen that don’t speak English. Akib our guide is missing in action. I’m quite annoyed as we paid for an English-speaking guide on today’s long trip.
Going out to sea in this, I ask? The risks you take when travelling…
Two white plastic chairs are placed inside the canoe for our seating – odd but think nothing more of the chairs. Until, half an hour into the trip, the canoe starts leaking. The two outboards driving the canoe continue to play up, coughing profusely. We live full-time on a boat we built in Australia, so this is concerning.
The boatmen take it in turns to bail or sit perched precariously on the timber canoe’s gunwale.
Dubious if we’ll get out of the bay let alone last the 2-hour trip to Krakatau, finally arrive at Anak Krakatau – child of Krakatau. This is not where we’re supposed to be on this tour we’re at the wrong island.
The boatmen won’t take us a little further to Krakatau as planned and paid for – they’re superstitious and scared. Although they don’t speak English, they’re faces and, erratic, waving arms speak volumes. Settling for Anak Krakatau, this island doesn’t disappoint – it’s incredibly, beautiful and wild.
Dropping us off at the island while pointing to a narrow black path, both quickly head offshore again and wait for our return. Neither dare to step foot on Anak Krakatau.
Most of you have probably heard of Krakatau. The violent volcano that erupted in 1883, leaving the sky black for five days? There are 4 islands, which comprise the volcanic group here in the Sunda Strait, between the Sumatra and Java islands.
Spurts of steam hiss wildly high up into the air, from the deep black 250-metre elevated volcano, confirming its presence. The incredibly soft black sand creates a dramatic backdrop against the island’s scarce, lush-green tropical vegetation.
Decide to climb up the slippery hill for a better view. The soft sand is quickly replaced with a rougher pumice-like black stone that’s so porous that when you take a pee, it evaporates instantaneously.
The higher we climb, the sparser the vegetation becomes fading away, revealing only blackness – nothing grows so close to the extremely hot caldera. The stunning intense vistas are mind-blowing! Sad to leave this magical moment, we descend…
Anak Krakatau to Sebesi
Back at the decrepit canoe, we head back out to sea longingly watching Anak Krakatau fade until just its commanding outline stains the deepening horizon. The canoe continues to leak.
Around an hour into the trip, the boatmen stuff their t-shirts into the canoe’s timber planks to abate the water flow, while constantly bailing the canoe.
The scorching sun blares down while the boatmen contend with the spluttering motors, probably praying for our safe arrival after the 2-hour trip to Sebesi.
On arriving, we discover that our faithful guide left on the ferry for Kalianda – what a rort. The worst part is that we missed the ferry – another isn’t due until tomorrow. We must continue in this unsafe boat for another 3 hours to Kalianda.
After some crackers and plain rice – the only food these poor villagers on Sebesi have – reluctantly, we set out in the problematic canoe once more.
Angry at this dangerous situation, a leaking canoe, dodgy motors, no guide or life jackets, and towards the end of the day with the blistering sun beating down, the other outboard dies. Can the day get any worse?
Averaging 2 to 3 knots in the shipping channel, a massive container ship whizzes past. In such a small and insignificant boat, not sure whether anyone can see us – disconcerting.
Arriving in Kalianda
Almost kissed the ground with relief on landing back in Kalianda.
After 5 hot stifling hours from Anak Krakatau, smelling of diesel fumes, very sunburnt, starving, thirsty, and exhausted, we take a taxi to the hotel.
Travelling only 500 metres the taxi breaks down – unbelievable!
One great thing about Indonesia is that there’s always a taxi on standby. A second taxi finally takes us to the hotel for a welcomed shower, before heading to the favourite sate shop.
Jakarta is in our sight for tomorrow. Hope that the ferry is in better condition…