Pulau Derawan – 2nd time round!

Derawan Island 2nd time round Title Pic

Before I ventured on the ‘July Journey – Indonesia 2013’, for months I had been dreaming about going back to Pulau Derawan, a small island off Kalimantan that I had visited in 2011 and had absolutely adored! Unfortunately it wasn’t the paradise that I had met the first time round.

So, after some days in Yogya {although I could have stayed there much longer!}, I decided it was time to move on and begin the next adventure…it was time for some chilled out island life in Kalimantan so I booked airline tickets from Yogya to Balikpapan, Balikpapan to Berau and organised a car and speedboat. From Berau I travelled by car to Tanjung Batu and from Tanjung Batu I travelled by speedboat to Pulau Derawan {the same journey as I had taken the first time I visited the island}. Although it was long and tiring…it seemed the best route to take.

I should have known by the signs {the bad luck!} all around me that going back to Derawan wasn’t the best decision…although maybe it was all just meant to be…

The bad luck started when arriving at Berau airport {a brand spanking new, big airport…I was shocked at the development that had occurred since I was last there and all the big billboard posters advertising the Derawan Archipelago & Derawan Festival!}… I waited and waited at the luggage carousel until there were no more bags coming out…WT?! My worst fear was happening …my bags were not on my flight…they were lost! {And can I just add that I have been travelling overseas since I was 14 years old and I have NEVER EVER lost my bags!} Unbelievable! *I won’t go further into the scenario that occurred at the airport as it is long and it isn’t pretty! Hehehe..

We took off on the two hour car journey from Berau airport to Tanjung Batu with no luggage, just small day backpacks! The driver had his young son with him, he was about three or four years old. He spent most of the journey eating lollies and throwing the wrappers out the car window! Even after his father told him once that he shouldn’t do that, he continued to throw the wrappers out the window! 🙁

Back to the journey…

Upon starting the speedboat journey from Tanjung Batu to Pulau Derawan, it was already dark {I had expected that!} but I could see lightning in the black skies out to sea and the water was choppy! When the speedboat driver handed me a life jacket…I then started to panic…never have I been handed a life jacket in Indonesia! The waves were so big that I ended up totally soaked…I actually started thinking maybe it’s lucky the luggage was lost, would more weight in the boat be an advantage or not?! I was holding on for dear life…and suddenly relieved when I saw faint lights in the distance ahead! Derawan was not far away! *Huge sigh of relief!

My legs were wobbly when I eventually stood on the jetty at Reza’s Homestay but I was so happy to check into my old bungalow that I had stayed at last time… Felt like home…I just felt lost with out my luggage! Although I do remember thinking to myself that I am safe and I have all my valuables with me i.e. passport, money, credit cards {not that they were any use to me on the island!} and a sarong! *Yes, a sarong is valuable on an island when you have no other clothes except what’s on your back! 

A turbulent start to my journey to Derawan…and it wasn’t the last bit of turbulence! That island was rumbling with thunder and the stormy skies were a constant in more ways than one for the entire time I was there! *I will explain this as I go on…if you can bare to endure this very long post…

I had three beautiful, peaceful days on the island, there were not many tourists around at all (not many locals either as it was Ramadan most locals were inside and not out and about) and I spent my days on the beach. The beach that I had spent every day at last time I visited…it was still secluded…it was solitude…and I loved this spot!

After those first three quiet days, the onslaught of tourists began, speedboat after speedboat full of young European tourists! It became so busy on the island that tourists were scrambling to get accommodation! My island solitude had been destroyed!

One of the first changes that I noticed on Derawan was the selling of Bintang beer! This was not allowed back in 2011 when I had first visited the island and I remember having a conversation with a local at the time about their strong beliefs in not allowing the open sale of alcohol on the island as they didn’t want their youth dappling with alcohol. I respected their beliefs and their stance on the issue as I had seen the damage that alcohol and drugs have had on the local youth of Gili Trawangan over the years!

But, now it appeared that greedy locals were selling Bintang beer as they knew that they could make good money from tourists that wanted to buy beer! I was a little shocked {especially as it was the holy month of Ramadan too!} and I was also a little disappointed that they could let go of their beliefs and values so quickly! I began to question whether the locals of Derawan had become money hungry?!

The answer to my question was confirmed when I realised after a few days of being there and talking with other tourists that were staying at Reza’s Homestay, that Pak Jon the owner, was not being consistent with his prices for the bungalows. One couple was paying Rp250.000 for one of the newer bungalows at the end of the jetty {these bungalows were being built when I was last on Derawan} and Pak Jon had quoted me Rp300.000 for an older bungalow, the bungalow that I had stayed in last time that had no renovations done to it whatsoever! {In 2011 the bungalow rate was Rp200.000} Disappointment again…as since 2011 when I had written my first blog post on Derawan, I had hence given Pak Jon {and the car and speedboat drivers} quite some business… I had recommended their services and prices and had passed on contact details so that travellers from all over the world could reach Pulau Derawan with ease and no complications. I had raved that they were good, honest people with fair prices…win-win for tourists and the locals. And now…I was being ripped off!

This was not the worst of it, as bungalows on stilts and rooms on the island became scarce due to the flood of tourists, Pak Jon then started charging tourists Rp200.000 for small, dark and dingy rooms on the island, with no windows…let alone a view! An absolute rip off! {Especially as Derawan Dive, just next door, had kept their bungalows to a reseaonable price.} I watched Pak Jon kick out tourists from some bungalows… Leaving them stranded with no room for the night… Due to the fact that he was accepting other tourists who were staying longer! I wasn’t thrown out of my bungalow as I had told him that I wanted to stay at least 2 weeks, maybe two and a half! And this was exactly why I was definitely not paying him Rp300.000 per night…I would pay him Rp250.000 {that’s still more than I paid last time!}…there was no way I was going to be even more ripped off this time!

There were many changes on the island….and some of these changes are jeopardising the livelihood of the endangered Green Sea Turtles that surround Derawan and this is what really upset me.

I had not been informed or invited by Pak Jon to any of the turtle laying, hatching and/or releasing of the baby turtles…this had been one of the things that I had loved during my last visit to Derawan and I had really wanted to experience these special moments all over again. One evening, I had heard from another tourist that there would be a releasing of the baby turtles later that night at 9.30pm. I decided that I would go…I was warned off going by another Australian tourist who had gone down to the beach a couple of nights earlier to see the turtles laying their eggs. He told me this story of his experience…

As the turtle came up to shore and dug her hole to lay her eggs, there were a huge group of tourists surrounding her, all taking photos with flashes and they were talking really loudly as well. It got so out of control, to the point that a young child actually got in the hole and was touching the turtle…and posing for a photo! The Australian tourist was so angry with the events and could see that no one else, including Pak Jon, was going to say anything to this child, so he took it upon himself to tell the child to get out of the hole as he shouldn’t be disturbing the turtle whilst she is laying eggs! When he told me this story, all I could think was that if this was occurring then the turtles won’t want to lay their eggs on Derawan beach anymore, the turtles will be forced to move on and find another beach to lay their eggs, a more peaceful beach where they won’t be disturbed. And yet this is one of the biggest hatching areas for the endangered Green Sea Turtles, thus even more reason to protect the area and the turtles!

A sad story, however after dinner, I decided to still head down to the far end of the island to see the baby turtles being released to sea as I also wanted to see what was going on down there. I walked down to where the turtle eggs were buried…I became confused as I saw a huge group of people right down near the water’s edge…that couldn’t be the releasing of the baby turtles, it was way before 9.30…I remember thinking that the large group of people were probably a group of locals having a picnic/dinner on the beach…..BUT alas I was wrong…I was to find out that this was a large group of tourists who had come to see the baby turtles being released into the ocean. It was nothing but horrific…baby turtles scrambling to try and get out of this small bucket…how long had the baby turtles been kept in this bucket? And not only that…a massive group of tourists all crowded and pushing to get close to the bucket so that they could pick up one of the baby turtles and thrust their camera flash into the baby turtles’ face just so that they could have a photo of the baby turtle! I overheard a local Banjarmasin woman, who was holidaying on Derawan with her Swiss husband and children, say to Pak Jon that he should tell the tourists to stop handling the baby turtles. Pak Jon laughed off her comment of concern and just looked totally embarrassed…I’m sure he knew that this was all wrong but he did nothing about it, he just stood there!

Derawan 2nd time turtles in bucket Pic

All I could think was…were the baby turtles blinded by the flash lights? Were they absolutely terrified of this bright light going off in their faces and some big human hand grappling at them?! I was so horrified by what I was seeing that I had to walk away…I didn’t want to see anymore of this cruel circus! I was terrified to see what spectacle would unfold when they eventually did release the turtles into the ocean!

As I walked back to my bungalow I felt like crying…the turtles were not being cared for or respected and I feared for their future.

I continued to spend my days going for walks around the island and hanging at the beach, however even this started to become a disappointing experience as every day when I went down to the beach, I would see so much rubbish on the sand and in the ocean that I would spend my time picking up rubbish…at least one or two plastic bags full of rubbish every day! {And there was still loads there!} There were also small pockets of land that were used as rubbish dumps and as you walk around the island, you’ll see piles and piles of rubbish all stacked up. I realise this is not all local consumption, but also tourists are to blame and the more and more tourists that come to the island then of course they bring with them more and more ‘Pop Mie’ and Aqua {water} bottles! Where is the system of refilling your 1.5 bottle of Aqua from a big water dispenser? I have seen this on other islands like the Togean Islands and thought it a wonderful idea! Great for the environment and also cheaper for tourists to refill a bottle than buy a new one because refilling is of course cheaper!

I realise that a lot of rubbish ends up on the beaches of small islands from all the fishing boats and other vessels that may drop their rubbish out at sea, not thinking about the consequences of where that rubbish ends up! But I also know that some of this rubbish on Derawan comes from locals on the island! I know this because I would often see young locals dropping their snack packets on the ground. If all the local children on the island, went down to the beach for one hour a day and picked up rubbish then perhaps then they could be rewarded with a snack {and put the wrapper in the bin…not on the ground again!} or even better how about a natural snack such as; a coconut, a mango, a simple solution to a terrible environmental issue.

On what I think was my last day on Derawan, I saw that someone had put out banana leaves, I hung out on the jetty to see the turtles come to feed on the banana leaves as I realised that I hadn’t got any good photos of the turtles on this visit to the island and this was one of my aims. This was no fault on my behalf and in no way from not wanting to get some great shots…it was due to the fact that for my whole stay on the island, I had actually only seen banana leaves put out once for the turtles, by Jon’s wife, and the leaves had all been eaten up when I saw them. {My last visit to Derawan, Pak Jon and his wife had been extremely diligent in feeding the turtles twice daily every single day without fail and I know this because it was directly outside my bungalow, and I absolutely loved watching the turtles!}

So, I didn’t want to miss what would be my last opportunity to get some shots of these beautiful creatures. Alas, this one last attempt was not going to eventuate either because some tourists were in the water right in front of the banana leaves and they were laughing and yelling…of course the turtles were not going to come anywhere near the banana leaves! I could also see a couple of turtles swimming out to sea and even those poor defenceless turtles were being chased away by a group of tourists that were in the water snorkelling and chasing the turtles. It really was a sad state of affairs and the whole situation just made me angry! It is not hard to create a poster educating tourists about the Do’s & Don’ts in regards to respect and safety of the turtles – both in and out of the ocean {for those tourists that have no common sense!} And yet again, I felt disappointment in Pak Jon, as the WWF Rep/Ranger on Pulau Derawan, who continually scouted his WWF badge bag, but showed no initiative or leadership on caring for the environment or the turtles!

I decided to cut my stay short on Pulau Derawan, I had seen enough to know that I never wanted to return…what was once a beautiful, peaceful island full of local traditions and amazing sealife in particular the turtles, had turned into a fest of selfish locals and backpackers who cared more about themselves and their own needs than the environment around them!

On the speedboat journey upon leaving the island…the last thing I saw and remember was a dead turtle floating in the middle of the ocean. Pak Jon didn’t say a word, let alone blink an eyelid and I was heart broken.

{I have written to WWF Indonesia and the Turtle Foundation to inform them of the lack of care and responsibility, and the cruel events that are occuring to the endangered Green Sea Turtles on and around Pulau Derawan.}

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