2 days in the 1,000 Islands

Universal truth: when you’re sent on a Monday or Friday work trip in Southeast Asia, you make a weekend out of it. Or maybe the rest of the population is not as extra as I am, but I’m going to continue living my life assuming we all do make a business trip a bleisure trip whenever we can. Moving on.

This work trip brought me to Jakarta, one of the world’s biggest and undeniably craziest cities, and Indonesia’s capital (but people on the ground call it ‘the world’s biggest village’ because the people are so nice). There’s not a lot to love about Jakarta, but I had recently heard from my friend Emma that there is a nice group of islands 90 minutes off the coast called the Thousand Islands. An unexplored island I had never heard of, so conveniently located? Enter: a two-hour Google search-and-book session.

The Thousand Islands are a string of 108 islands stretching 45 km (28 miles, got you Americans) north of Jakarta in the Java Sea. Of these, only 13 islands are fully developed and therefore ready for my extra-specialness (the rest of the islands are either uninhabited or used solely to support fishing villages).

Work was quite busy this week, so I took a late night flight out of Singapore, landing in Jakarta after 11 and almost closer to midnight because Garuda seems to operate on a late-always policy. I hopped in the closest taxi I could find and passed out almost immediately upon arriving at my hotel around 1AM (the man that checked me in was providing EVERY detail about the hotel and I had to politely usher him along so I could get that coveted room key and my head on a pillow.

Before I knew it, my 6:30AM wakeup call arrived. Where did those hours of sleep go? I didn’t have a ton of time to lament about my sleepiness though, because I needed to be at the ferry dock by 7:30. So it was a morning of get up, quick wash, pack, check out, and get into a taxi before 7:15AM. Once there, I was able to grab a coffee while we waited for some other passengers (whoever you are, thank you for your tardiness). The island I stayed on, Palau Macan (Tiger Island), has its own private charter boat, so it was filled only with the people staying on the island, and didn’t have to make any stops like many others do (if you’re considering this trip, I’d highly recommend Palau Macan—this is only the first reason!). We arrived at the island after 90 minutes, just as the morning clouds started to burn off. We were escorted in by our host Jessica and given some general direction: check-in time would be 1PM, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, jetskis, and other equipment were available for our use, etc. etc., and we were then greeted by the staff with some pretty epic welcome snacks and drinks in the main beach hut, including yummy ginger tea and fingers sandwiches. At this point you could literally tell me I’d have to sleep on a cardboard mat outside the kitchen and I’d still give the place five stars.

Palau Macan is made up of two islands: one for accommodation and food, and the other for beaching. It’s quite a nice setup, and since you need to kayak, swim or paddleboard to the pretty beach island, it feels secluded. Since goal numero uno on any beach holiday is for me to turn a darker shade of Irish-Ukrainian, I grabbed a kayak and headed over to the island. This is another one of those instances were only photos will suffice, and even they can barely do justice to the vibrance and spendlor that was the island. It was like a postcard—and so remote! As there was barely anyone there (hell, I hadn’t even heard of it myself prior to a few weekends ago), the island had a sense of being untouched, unlived and unspoiled. I relaxed there for a few hours, covering a few pages of a book I had brought, catching up with Mr. Ze, and taking in the panorama of crystal-clear blue surrounding me.

Around 2PM I started getting hungry, and headed back over to the main island to grab a “snack.” What I didn’t know is that Jessica and her team of angels had prepared for me a delicious vegetarian lunch: tofu with sambal, a fresh green salad, and an Indonesian dish that I can’t remember the name of but was baller in taste. I had mentioned to her in passing, figuring I could find something to eat with the regular lunch—so sweet she took this into consideration. The staff on Palau Macan is truly incredible. The lunch was super tasty too—I ate double the amount I needed. No regrets on that one.

Following lunch I wanted to work up a bit of a sweat as I’d been lying around like a lump on a log all day, so I decided to take out one of the stand-up paddleboards. Mom and I used to go quite a bit back in the days when I was freelancing, and I’ve always really loved it as a sport/activity. And, like riding a bike, I got back into the swing of it right away, channeling my best Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush throughout. I took the paddleboard out pretty far, which you can do on the island because the water surrounding it is mostly shallow and clear. I (my arms) needed a bit of a break, so I threw down the paddle, laid on the board and had myself a nice little meditation moment out there in the ocean. The breeze was so nice, the sound of the small waves was so close, it was the perfect moment to do nothing but simply be there. I couldn’t tell you how long I was out there, but it was about 5PM by the time I reached the island afterwards. I had a quick massage ($6 USD for one hour, can’t go wrong), and checked into my accommodation for the night (story, there were no more proper beach huts left by the time I booked because I live that #LastMinuteLlife, but they were able to put me up in a beach tent, which was a sort of “glamping,” nice tent with a thick mattress that opened right up to the ocean, just like the beach huts. I chose this over staying in a proper room on another island because I had heard the facility at Palau Macan was much nicer than other islands overall. Very happy I did. It was nice to chill out for a bit in there, waiting for the sunset. I grabbed a ginger tea (on free flow at the main beach hut, win) and sat down outside my tent for what was one of the most beautiful, colorful tropical sunsets I have seen in a very long time. Truly—the colors lit up the horizon. It was breathtaking, and actually a nice moment to take in alone. Work has been so crazy the last few weeks as they’ve been my first at this new job, so having a bit of rest and relaxation, and some solo time, was good for me. I sat there for a long time, until the sky became a full sheet of sparkling stars.

Dinner was to be served at 7PM, but I wanted to shower up and catch up with Mom and Dad for a while (I hadn’t spoken to Mom since she got back from her trip to Ukraine with Larissa!). Dinner was communal and I was really relishing in my ‘me’ time, so I chose to shower up and call home before heading over to dinner. The catchup with Mom and Dad was a good one (everyone is happy and healthy), and made me miss home a little bit. But as I was talking to them, I saw some people passing by on a flight letting lit-up lanterns off the boat and into the sky, creating a beautiful sight for me. This made me remember how lucky I was to be there.

Dinner was the same epicness from Jessica and her team—a full-on vegetarian platter with fresh greens, veggies, tofu, and other veggie-friendly sides. Seriously, it was SO much food. While the rest of the group ate on the dock above the water, I successfully achieved my goal of remaining a complete hermit, and ate in the main hut. It had nice, big rattan lights light up at night, so the setting was really pretty. Following my dinner I read a few more pages in my book, and then grabbed my computer. And did…guess what? Started blogging. I’m here now, in the main beach hut, typing LIVE. Will finish tomorrow once I know what’s to come. 🙂

Day two! I slept like the dead from 10PM through until 8AM, when it started to get hot in the tent. I unzipped the tent and was greeted with fresh air blowing off the sea. Not a bad way to wake up. After having some breakfast (coffee, eggs, tropical fruits like papaya and pineapple), I was meant to go on the group snorkel trip, but decided I want to hang back (successfully completing my mission of being a total hermit all weekend). Being social with lots of couples I didn’t know wasn’t really in the cards for me this morning, and I wanted to chill for a while and have another cup of coffee (or two….). After finishing my coffee back at the tent, where I saw a monitor lizard that was probably four feet long and one that was a little smaller, I decided to take the paddleboard out again. Yes, it was all about the water sports for me this weekend. It’s so rare I get to take a board out, so I was especially thankful for that. The current was much smoother this morning, and it was easy and free getting around. I was out there for probably an hour before boarding over to the beach island for a rest. I laid out in the sunshine for a while (another no-cloud-in the-sky kind of day), and went back to trade in my paddleboard for some snorkel gear (and another ginger tea, duh). I snorkeled out to one of the hanging docks in the middle of the sea and laid there for a while, taking in the sun (maybe a bit too much, as I can feel on my back right now).

The snorkel crew from the morning came back in about an hour later, and I knew from the morning briefing yesterday that meant lunch was ready. I secured a nice spot from in front of the water, rather than eating inside the main beach hut, for the final meal. For lunch today it was a nice green salad, tofu kebabs (made specially for me by the staff), green beans and curry soup. Yummmm.

After lunch it was time to call it a weekend. I noticed everyone was starting to assemble near the checkout area/departure boat, so I figured it would be the perfect time to steal a shower while it was available. Little did I know the boat for Jakarta left at 2PM, not 2:30PM as I thought, and I had calls of “Samantha? Samantha?” outside the shower about 20 minutes later. Whoops. Sorry, gang.

The boat ride was nothing eventful, but while we were cruising back to Jakarta I realized this weekend is my two-year anniversary of living in Southeast Asia, and a bit over one year of me having this blog up and running again (crazy how time flies!). Not a bad place to spend the anniversary weekend.

I’m finishing off this blog from my hotel room in Jakarta. A few hours of sleep and then hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work I go….

Some photos from the Thousand Islands: