Published: Garuda Inflight Magazine, July 2010
Visitors are allowed to swim with the sharks, which are of a small type. However, Wisma staff pointed out that menstruating women are not allowed to swim with them.
There was no sound of crickets serenading me to sleep at night. There were no sounds of vendors passing by and there was no sound of television. There were just the sounds of a motorboat in the distance, the waves crashing onto the wooden deck behind my room, and the diesel electricity generator chugging all night long.
I was not on a boat or in a fishing village but in Wisma Apung on the waters of Karimun Jawa, Central Java.
After taking a public bus for 13 hours from Jakarta to Jepara, I still had to continue my journey by sea.
The crossing from Jepara took around 6 hours. The long journey gave me an opportunity to walk around the ferry. I saw a few foreign tourists there, evidence that Karimun Jawa has become an internationally recognised travel destination.
While crossing the Jepara waters we had to face big waves. The relatively big ferry pitched and rolled violently.
Wisma Apung is located in the sea, so I had to continue the journey by car to a small quay and then took a motorboat which all took about an hour.
The simple wooden building in the open sea, not far from the quay, has breeding centres for turtles and sharks. Visitors are allowed to swim with the sharks, which are of a small type. However, Wisma staff pointed out that menstruating women are not allowed to swim with them.
The inn, which is managed by Bu Joko, a native of Karimun Jawa, has fairly comfortable rooms. Some of them have air conditioning and some don’t, but even without one the place is cool enough especially when it’s windy outside.
Wisma Apung’s conspicuous difference is its location, which is out to sea. Apart from that, it is actually built on a coral cliff. So visitors may enjoy both the sea view and the beauty of coral reefs around the Wisma. The clear water, the view of the hilly Karimun Jawa Islands, and fishing boats passing by kept me company as I spent my evening in that place.
It was also possible for me to go snorkeling right in front of my room although I was told to be careful as there were a lot of sea urchins sticking to the corals.
It is said that sea urchins will become limp if you take them out of water. It proved to be true when I put one on the palm of my hand. Just before noon, the sea water level rises so that it almost reaches the floor of the Wisma. It goes down at the end of the day when the sun sets. During the night, the sea level goes down as far as 50 cm from the floor of the Wisma.
Some of the attractions of the Islands of Karimun Jawa are the opportunities for diving and snorkeling. A motorboat was ready to pick me up at 8.00 am. The first island I visited was Cemara Island, about 40 minutes from Wisma Apung. The rather boisterous waves rocked the boat up and down continuously.
The boat couldn’t get all the way to the island because the water was too shallow. I had to get off the boat about 500 metres from the shore and swim there. The water was clear and warm, the seabed was sandy with a lot of seaweed growing there.
I continued my journey to Tanjung Gelam, a piece of land that is connected to the Island of Karimun Jawa. There was practically nobody there. On my left I could see a resort with neatly planted coconut trees.
“It is private property. We have to pay to be there,” the boatman said.
I did some snorkeling in the waters around the reef. The view here was dominated by seaweed, but on my right, in between the rocks, the view was a bit different. Here, there was coral with seaweed only here and there.
After playing in the water, snorkeling and hanging around on the beach to my heart’s content, I had a seafood lunch again.
After lunch, I continued my journey to Menjangan Kecil Island, about 30 minutes away. Like at Cemara Island, the boat couldn’t get to the shore. Getting off around 1,000 metres from the shoreline, again I got to enjoy the warm waters and the view of seaweed. The underwater view here turned out to be better than that of the previous islands. The combination of various coral reefs and shoals of tropical fish passing by made the snorkeling here even more enjoyable. The coral reefs here were more varied and some were more colourful. Very beautiful, although I had to be careful about the sea urchins in between the reefs.
Before returning to Wisma Apung, I dropped in at the kerapu fish breeding centre. Because of the high tide, I wasn’t able to visit the nearby shark breeding centre. Perhaps the high water level in their breeding pool makes it easier for the sharks to escape into the open sea.
On my way back, instead of the ferry I took a small motorboat to Jepara. The soft swish of the sea breeze and the wide blue sky made for good travel companions.