Welcome to Gebang
When I first found out that I would be moving to Cirebon I went straight to map to see where on this diverse island I would be living. When I found it realized I was living right on the ocean and I extremely excited. But every time I told someone where I would be living they told me that Cirebon was hot, flat and relatively ugly. I didn’t want to believe them because everything I had seen of Indonesia seemed to be beautiful. But to some extent they were right. Gebang doesn’t have sandy shores and it is pretty flat. So I went back to my map and I found Karimun Jawa.
On a map it looks like a little island to the north east of Cirebon. I thought that being in a port city there would definitely be a ferry to this island! Again, I was wrong, but before I found that out I researched this island and fell in love with it before I even had a chance to get there.
If you Google the name you see tons of beautiful photos but its hard to find actual information on the island. The more I dug, the more I found and the more I needed to get to this island. Karimun Jawa is actually a small chain of 27 Islands. The main Island is named Karumun and has a population of 10,000. Some of the other islands are populated as well but most are uninhabited and can be walked around in less than an hour.
After 5 months at site I finally had a chance to go with a few friends before our In Service Training, also known as IST. Because the Peace Corps office is located in Surabaya all the members of the Barat Pack had to travel across the island to get to training. When we found this out I immediately called Brie but before I could say anything, she said, “I’ve already called the ferry, we leave Thursday!”
Jetty in Gebang
After classes finished the adventure began. We board a bus to Semerang, Central Java with our friend Marguax where we intended on meeting up with our friends Alex and T (Terrence) and then boarding the ferry to the islands. Simple right.
About 30 minutes into our 8-hour bus ride Brie received a text that due to large swells and bad weather the ferry was cancelled. The even worse news was that it would not run again until Saturday. We were devastated for all of 10 minutes. This would not keep us from the island, we were determined to find a different way.
Marguax and I began searching the web and Brie was scanning her Lonely Plant guide to find a different mode of transportation. With in an hour we had found a port in Jepara (2 hours east of Semerang) that had a ferry leaving the next afternoon. This ferry would get us to the island by sunset and buy us almost 3 full days on the island. However we still didn’t have tickets or reservations, but details right…
When we arrived in Semerang we met up with T and Alex and boarded a bus at 5am headed further east to Jepara. This was, at that time, THE WORST BUS RIDE OF MY LIFE. It was jam-packed and 100 degrees. The phrase jam-packed does not give you a correct description of what this was bus was like. There were literally people standing on other people, it was painful. When we arrived in Jepara we were so relieved just to get off the bus that it restored our faith, we were getting to this island.
We raced to the ticket window to see if we could purchase tickets for a ferry that day. But when we arrived we were faced with the unfortunate news that the ferry would not be running due to the swells.
Sunset in Jepara
This news was debilitating. We had just driven all night, we had not eaten a real meal in over 12 hours and we just road on the bus from hell (again what we thought at that time). This depressing feeling lasted a little bit longer than last time but again we were determined. So after eating and taking a quick dip in the ocean we all walked down to the customer service window to see about the next day.
When we got there we met another group of travelers who were also looking to find away to the island. We were told that the next days ferry would be leaving on time but it was full. It was sad day in Jepara. We had come this far and it seemed like the trip was slipping through our fingers. Back at our hostel all five of us sat down, eat some mie goreng and discuss our options.
We were all little upset and decided maybe we should consider a plan B. we still had a full weekend before IST and we were in a very culturally rich part of the Island. So again we pulled out our books and iphones and started to search. As we discussed possible plans all I could think was that just 2 short hours north of where I was, was were I wanted so badly to be!
When the final plan was concocted, a trip to Solo, I passed. I decided that I was going to try my luck getting a ticket in the morning or go back to Semerang for the Saturday Ferry. Margaux chose to come with me, Brie and Alex were off to Solo in the morning and T was going to head to Surabaya a few days early. Even though we had been together a short while it was sad to see our group breaking up.
Our Trusted Ship!
The sun started to set so we sat by the ocean. We all were heavy hearted because we had faith we would make it. We made it this far and now it just over. But just then our friends from the ticket window came over and asked what our plans were. After hearing what we had to say they told us that they spoke with a few fishermen and they were making a cargo run in the morning and they had space for 5 more people.
Without hesitation and in unison we all said, “We’re in!”
At five in the morning we boarded a small fishing boat that full of every kind of Indonesian snack you can think of, tons of eggs, fruit, different kinds of drinks and even two goats. There were also 10 other people crammed into this tiny boat, the European travelers and their Indonesian guide, two other Indonesian travelers and some people who lived on Karimun. The boat set off for what was supposed to be a 6-hour journey but again nothing could be that easy.
The Cargo on board the ship
We were about two hours into the trip and no land was in sight. I was having a great time chatting up my new friend Nizer, the Indonesian guide, when I decided I needed to stretch. I shut my eyes and reached as far back as I could and then I realized my hands were in the water! Shocked, I opened my eyes just in time to see the whole boat leaning with me and along with the boat all its contents were sliding towards me! I quickly pulled myself back into the boat and then the wave passed and we rocked in a similar pattern the opposite direction.
This happened for the next four hours. I was terrified. I thought for sure our boat would flip and that we would be too far from land to swim, I thought we would have to wait and hope someone would find us. The fishermen didn’t seem phased they actually seemed amused. They told us this was nothing that they have been through worse and at night. This calmed me a little but the fear in the eyes of the people who actually lived on the island kept brining me back to the fact that I almost fell out of the boat and that the high speed ferries weren’t running for a reason.
Me, Nizer and T hanging out on the boat
About six hours into the trip the waves calmed down and you could begin to make out the island of Karimun Jawa. It was still far off but I knew if it came down to it I could make it to one of the smaller islands off the coast! But there was no need, with in about an hour we pulled into the small port of Karimun and made it to solid ground.
The Island was more beautiful than I Imagined! The water was so clear you could see straight down to the sand below!
The main town was about four streets wide and all came together at a small town center known in Indonesian as an Alun-Alun. We found a Guest home for about 4 dollars a night (per person) and eat every meal in the town center. At night the Alun-Alun become a food market with stalls that serve all the Indonesian favorites but the best was the Ikan Bakar – grilled fish. You could pick from a verity of fish and then it was cut and grilled right in front of you.
Grilling the Fish
In the morning we rented a boat hired a guide and spent the day snorkeling and exploring uninhabited islands. These islands looked as if they jumped right off a windows desktop – it was unreal. I felt like Jack sparrow being marooned on his own private island but the difference was I wanted to stay. On one island we were able to walked all the way around and the only footprint we saw were our own.
The snorkeling was amazing! The Coral and the fish were so colorful and they were everywhere. It was honestly leaps and bounds over the snorkeling I did in Bali. Both Brie and Alex who have traveled extensively through South East Asia agree that these are most beautiful beaches and Islands they have ever seen.
We ended our trip watching the sunset over the main island from a sand bar in the middle of the Java Sea. It was the perfect ending to an extremely crazy adventure. Would I do it again, definitely! Would I take the high-speed ferry, definitely!
This island is still flying below most tourist radar but it wont for long. They are currently building the island up by building a larger port and a bigger landing strip. They seem to be committed to keeping it clean and free from big chains but that can only last for so long. Soo0o plan your trips now because I would love to go back!
Below is a photo gallery and a video I made just to show you how awesome this Island actually is – I hope you enjoy it!
Oh yeah that bus ride to hell and back … Ill get to that later.
Gaux-Gaux power ranger
I want the Gold!
The King fish – AKA Matt Fish
Sunset for Days!
Standing on my head
Alex looking cool
Our Guide Jell
Which fish would you like?
Dinner on the Alun Alun
T and I enjoying the ride
Sunday Morning Coffee
Yes, this is real