The name "Thousand Islands" is given to a number of small archipelagoes in the world. One of them is located right off the coast of western Java, a straight column of islands stretching from Jakarta into the Sea of Java. Most of these islands are no larger than a soccer stadiums, and therefore ideal for hosting either a small secluded resort complex or amusement center. Tour boats leave the Batawa Harbor daily, taking visitors to the island of their choice. Weekenders often head out on Saturday morning and return Sunday afternoon, and plenty of options are available for day trippers as well.
We were among the day trippers when we visited one of the smaller resorts, Putri Island (meaning "Princess Island") located at the far end of the archipelago. Putri Island was one of the smaller ones, containing a single resort that consumed the full island. But it seemed attractive enough because it provided us a chance to see most of the island chain and there were several things to do once we got there. Good thing, too, because it was a really, really hot day in August when we went.
The journey out was admittedly a rough one, taking about two hours in seas that were unusually rough for early morning. We also were a little off course, much further to the east than we should have gone. The good news was that it gave us a better opportunity to survey the fishing vessels and platforms. The second photographs shows a example of one of the larger platforms we encountered. As you can see, these were made of logs and netting. Most of them were erected high off the water level, appearing like they stood on stilts. Others, like this one, were lower, almost into the water.
Most of the fishing boats were of the traditional variety -- made of wood, painted with elaborate and colorful decorations. They were small, ranging from ten years to twenty-five yards long. The workers were many, typically filling the deck that had a very small side railing. Everything was done through manual labor. The men threw the nets into the sea, pulled them in by hand, then sifted through the catch by hand. A couple of these steamed directed in front of us, but I was on the wrong side of the boat to take a good picture of them.
The boat finally returned to course, and we snaked through a narrow path among the islands to reach Putri. Almost instantly, the water changed from the murky gray and brown of the Java Sea to clear blue. Most of the islands we passed had nice resorts set up on them, while others were clearly private and dominated by a single manor. I saw a couple of the "classic" variety -- simple sandbars with only a few coconut trees. The underwater reefs were visible as we neared Putri, where the water was shallow enough for some quality snorkeling.
The resort consisted of seventy bungalows arranged in a full circle around the island. The reception area, restaurant, and surf shop were near the dock, all enhanced with the presence of huge aquariums -- especially the shark-filled aquarium that consumed one entire wall of the restaurant.
The activities available to us included an underwater aquarium, a glass-bottom boat, and a komodo dragon cage. The underwater aquarium was a long plastic tube sunk underwater inside an artificial reef. The sides of the tube had wooden poles and planks where anemone and coral could attach and grow, affording a place for schools of fish to feed and swim around. Most of the fish were small, including a couple varieties of shark.
We next did the glass-bottom boat. This was really fun, as for about forty-five minutes we were given a great close-up tour of the coral reefs around the island. The third photograph was taken through the window, which really dulled the colors of the reef. In reality, there were a lot more reds and yellows and purples, and we saw several varieties of fish.
The interior of the island was a Komodo dragon forest, which we sought out after lunch. We were surprised to learn that the Komodos, roughly six feet long lizards, roamed the island quite freely. The specimen in the fourth photograph was a pretty big Komodo that was walking casually down the path we were on. A resort worker was only a short distance, and he told us that the Komodos frequent the inner paths, but never wander out to the bungalows nor bother the humans. This seemed consistent with our observations of the trails left in the sand by the Komodos' tails that went all over the place but clearly stayed within some unknown boundary.
I took the fourth photograph as the Komodo was standing over a small patch of spilled ice cream. He was tasting the ice cream with his tongue, one small slither at a time. The photograph was not taken as close as it appears (I enlarged and cropped it) -- visitors who see a Komodo should keep his/her distance, as they can whip their tails around when frightened. They move very slowly and methodically, but will react with lightening speed when they are threatened.
After finding about a half-dozen of these lizards in the center of the island, the heat from the sun became unbearable, so we retired to a shady spot nearly the resort's swimming pool. The combination of blue water, the island scenery, and a cold glass of water put us in the proper relaxed mood to enjoy our little temporary tropical island paradise and put the cares of the world aside... until we had to rush to catch out boat for the shore!
Some of the islands nearer to shore are full-blown party spots, popular with the younger crowd. Other islands cater to the expatriate crowd, while still others call to the locals seeking a refuge from work. With about a thousand islands in the archipelago so conveniently located, it seemed that there was one just right for anybody.
Trip taken 23 August 2003 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin