Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ibu Fatima

*Picture copyright by FF, taken in March 2010

Meet Ibu Fatima. She has been a masseuse in Ocean Queen Resort, Pelabuhan Ratu, West Java, Indonesia for more than twelve years. She's not an employee at the resort, but you can ask the resort for a massage session and ask for Ibu Fatima. You could have your massage inside your hotel room or at the mini bungalows by the beach. The beach would be preferable because the sound of the waves are very soothing and adds a special effect for your comfort.

Despite her skinny figure and bony fingers, she can loosen the tensest of muscles and straighten out your curled nerves. In my case, it was an afro because I never take massages. Even twice a year would be a record from me. The result: I squirmed and screamed most of the time. When I asked whether I was the loudest customer she ever massaged, she didn't replied. It's either that she's concentrating on her piece of work me or it was a silent, polite yes.

She uses her own handmade coconut oil which takes her 5 hours to make for just a small bottle because you burn it over firewood in order to separate it from the coconut milk. If you use gas it doesn't have the same effect and aroma unlike using firewood, that's why it takes so long. The coconut oil is a good moisturizer for your skin, and I do smell like coconut afterwards (d'uh). If you put me in a soup with vegetables I would be very savory for cannibals.

Anyways. She learned massage from her father, her father learned from his father, and basically it's traditional knowledge that has been given from generation to generation. Her daughter, was also a masseuse at the resort.

Although she is very skilled at what she does, I sense that faint smile and tiredness in her eyes. She mentioned that she wanted to get away and have some new opportunity, because for each massage she only charges IDR 40.000 (USD 4). It's not much. Especially if there are few tourists around, it's really, really, really not much. For the consumer it's good, but I gave her a bit more than that because I feel guilty about paying good service with mediocre compensation.

I asked whether she can market her coconut oil, but she tried and it didn't work because if you don't have the capital for making it as a mass product, you won't get much either.

In the end, I promised her that I will now take frequent massages. Once a month, at least. Not only that it'll be good for my muscles, but it's also an economic opportunity for those who need them, just like Ibu Fatima.


*Picture copyright by FF, taken in March 2010

A lone fishermen is trying his luck in solitude while a group of them are trying theirs on the boat in the background. Pelabuhan Ratu is a bay in western Java so you can enjoy the beach and see the mountains of Java at the same time from afar.

Mini Boats

*Picture copyright by FF, taken in March 2010

These mini version of the fishermen boats are handmade by the locals in Pelabuhan Ratu and are sold for IDR 25.000 (USD 3) each.

Ocean Queen Resort

* Picture copyright by FF, taken in Pelabuhan Ratu, March 2010

The Ocean Queen Resort in Pelabuhan Ratu, West Java, Indonesia could be an option for those of you in Jakarta looking to spend a weekend out of the city and have some fun at the beach. It's a 4 hour drive from the city, through the Jagorawi toll road, via Sukabumi and choose either the Cibadak or Citarik route. The road in Cibadak is a bit bigger but more crowded, while the Citarik route is filled with steep zig-zags but there are less cars and you can see the view of oil palm and rubber plantations on the road sides.

The resort is not directly located in the town area of Pelabuhan Ratu or near the Cimaja surfing spot, but it is more located in Cisolok, which is about 11 km from the town.

Their Javanese-type bungalows are nice and clean, and the 4-bedroom with AC with 2 bathrooms outside with hot showers per night costs about IDR 1.400.000 (USD 150) but you can easily squeeze 15 people in one bungalow because it is rather spacious so it's quite a bargain.

Since it is a private beach, there's not much people around. So if you're looking for some peace and quiet, this place is recommended. But if you're looking to strut your new bikini, have some eager eyes to drool on you (as if I'm drool-worthy) and expect some quick romance then better take the next plane to Bali.

*moment of silence*

Anyways. The undercurrent there was very strong and the waves break too close to the beach so it's not good for surfing at all. Body boarding might be plausible but it wouldn't be much fun either. I tried to body board without the board and yes, it was a bad idea. You can rent the board from the resort but yes, I'm a scrooge. The results: expect some sand burn on your stomach afterwards. Swimming is okay but personally I wont recommend it for children or for those of you who are not accustomed with strong waves. The resort has their own swimming pool so you can swim there as well.

*Picture copyright by FF, taken in March 2010

The seafood barbecue for dinner is recommended. They have someone to grill those shrimps and ikan kue outside of your bungalow, and its a set complete with white rice, soup, and cah kangkong. Bintang beers and wine are available, but better that you check beforehand. Afterwards they clean up for the dishes in your bungalow because each bungalow has a bungalow boy/girl that takes care of the cleaning there.

Would I go there again? Yes, but I would probably go there with more crowd and take some time to get around the area. I hear there's the Halimun National Park, a bat cave and a hot spring in Cisolok - so maybe next time.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Granite Rocks by the Beach

* Picture copyright by FF, taken in Belitung, April 2009

Belitung Island is a perfect getaway from Jakarta. Located in the south-eastern part of Sumatera, it's approximately one hour by plane, and you can choose either Sriwijaya, Batavia, or Linus Air - I've heard that Garuda have also recently opened a route to Tanjung Pandan (the name of the airport). The beaches are white and clean, with calm waters that are perfect for swimming. Don't expect to surf there because the waves are not good for surfing.

What struck me the most in Belitung is their granite rocks along the beach. I am not a geologist, thus I was very confused how the hell did those huge granite rocks end up along the shores of Belitung, such as in Tanjung Tinggi, and Pulau Lengkuas. I've asked the locals and they also can't give an answer how such huge rocks can end up in the middle of the sea. The locals did explain, however, that the reason why the beaches are so white because it's due to the crushed granites that have mixed with the sand and corals.

*Picture copyright by FF, taken in Belitung, April 2009.

Belitung is one of the poorer areas of Indonesia, although in the past their natural resources have made BHP Billiton one of the largest mining companies in the world to date. They acquired a tin concession in 1860 in Belitung, which was then a no-named island that is later named after the company, Billiton.

Today, Belitung still focuses on their natural resources: palm oil, some leftover tin mining (which are not always legal), and what I've heard, granite.

I sincerely hope Belitung Island's tourism sector will thrive. In terms of beaches it is superb and still pristine. In terms of culture, their mix of Malay and Chinese roots should be explored more if they do expect more tourists to come, if they ever want to compete with Bali in terms of cultural attractiveness.

*Picture copyright by FF, taken in Belitung, April 2009

Monday, March 01, 2010

TIMEasia Magazine's Best Local Beer

* Picture copyright by FF, taken in Vientiane, 10 February 2010

They weren't joking.

Cumbersome connecting flights

* Picture copyright by FF, taken in Ho Chi Minh City, 14 February 2010

Last Valentine's Day/Chinese New Year was a bit of a record for me: 4 countries in 12 hours (well, more or less). I had to travel to Manila from Vientiane for an office mission - I need to stop to Phnom Penh, then to Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon, as some people still say that), then finally a 3-hour flight to Manila. Cumbersome connecting flights, indeed.

I prefer to travel with trains rather than airplanes. I hate heights. I hate the takeoff and landing part, plus, airplanes cause more carbon emission than trains. Which reminds me, I might have to offset my carbon emissions due to my mileage. I must say, I reckon it's my number one environmental sin.

The ASEAN region unfortunately do not have a comprehensive railway system like Europe. I think there's the Singapore-Kunming railway link but I have no idea whether this is already well established or not. The thing is, even if there's a railway system in ASEAN, we still need to fly to Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines. So I guess cumbersome connecting flights such as these are unavoidable after all.