The International Steam Pages

Steamy Java Sugar Mill Tour 2010, a Tale of Two Beaches

This series of pages from July and August 2010 records our travels from China to Malaysia and on to Java, Indonesia where we were hosting the 'Steamy Java Tour 2010'. Click here for the main Winds of Change index page.

With the tourists safely packed off from Situbondo, Yuehong and I, accompanied by old friend Peter Nettleship, set off for the south coast of Java. Getting to Jember on the regular bus was easy enough albeit slow, but finding a taxi for the second half of the journey took a while. Finally, just before the sun dipped behind the hill we alighted at Watu Ulo. It's been in the guide books for many a year, but it's a bit too far off the beaten track for almost all those who might read about it. Basically it seems to be the remains of a volcanic crater which has long since become inundated and an inlet of the sea. The north side is a scrubby beach, the south side is open to the sea and at the east end is a small village of the same name. However, at the west end is a headland which has been given the name Papuma - 'Pasir Puteh dan Mas' or 'White and Gold Sands' as the two beaches on either side of it are very different creatures. The area is something between a nature reserve and a public park, it's extremely popular at weekends, but during the week it is used mainly by courting couples on motorbikes looking for romantic seclusion during the day and few people stay over, as we did, in the small and somewhat ramshackle rooms. If you have read my account of my dealings with the lazy incompetents at Perhutani trying to fix a charter train at Cepu, it will come as no surprise to hear that they 'run' this place too.

It's definitely a question of location, location, location... The run down rooms are horribly overpriced for their condition, but the bed is comfortable, the air conditioning works and a cold shower is perfectly acceptable. At night you can even hear the termites munching the door frames. This picture may just convince the doubters; in short, it's the perfect place to unwind for a few days at the end of an intensive steam tour of Java.

This end of the bay is home to a fleet of small fishing boats which go out each evening and take pot luck. 

Although it's officially forbidden you can just about take a dip in the sea here, but the rocky beach on the other side of the headland faces a sea which stretches south all the way to Antarctica. Bathing would be reckless in the extreme. Spectacular sunsets are rare as the mist gathers on the hills most afternoons giving it a somber and threatening atmosphere. 

The eating facilities are quite modest although the local cats seem more than satisfied. These days at lunch time, groups come out from Jember and business is brisk compared to our first visit six years ago.

The menu is limited to the pick of what comes in off the fishing boats and the only choice is to grill it over charcoal. This was dinner on the first night (of three), that's a serving for one of us on the plate, not all three!

We skipped breakfast and were going to skip lunch too until we saw the contents of the cold box. It was, quite simply, the largest prawn I have ever seen, weighing in at around 600g. Yuehong and I had it all to ourselves as Peter had foolishly eaten half a chicken for breakfast. 

After which dinner came as a bit of an anti-climax...

On the second morning when most of the exhaustion of running the tour had passed, we went out at dawn. The fishing seemed to be poor, not all the boats had gone out and those that had were yet to return. Perhaps as a result, one boat was just setting out. The ladies who buy the fish, probably from the families of the fishermen, waited patiently for the boats to return as the sun rose. 

With the sun well up, we retired for our essential morning coffee, already a troop of black monkeys was playing in the palms behind. These, like their counterparts in Penang, are much shyer than the dreadful macaques who scavenge the litter here. Later one jumped more or less at the right time, but an awful of images got scrubbed off the card to get just this one and even this is heavily cropped.

The macaques on the other hand were all too easy to photograph. I try not to shout at Yuehong in public, but when she suggested eating a mango in front of the alpha male, I had to make an exception.

Part way up the hill above the beach runs an abandoned and in parts overgrown sealed road with some nice views out. When I went for a walk here, I saw a solitary jungle chicken; these used to be a common sight, but they have either nearly all been eaten or driven away by the extra visitors.

One rather bizarre addition to a corner of the main beach is a Chinese temple - mainly (and avowedly) Buddhist but with strong Taoist leanings. Auspiciously we were the 500th name in the visitors book. Not surprisingly it took a lot of persuading of Perhutani through the Religious Affairs Department to get permission for it. No doubt given time, it will fade and fit better into its surroundings:

Next morning we both posed for our traditional pictures here:

With batteries almost fully charged it was time to head for Solo from where we would return to Penang via Kuala Lumpur. We knew our sea freight was waiting for us, but the big question was whether the decorator would have completed the work on our 'new' flat...

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson