Nusa Kambangan- or Island of Flowers

Close up crab patterns- with their hiding holes
Tiny crabs made these intricate patterns in the sand overnight

First, the fisherman had to take the motor out of a nearby shack and put it on the boat.

Austin finally had a few days off before starting working on the 2nd of two units he is helping with here in Cilacap. I have been wanting to go to the island since we got here, and we finally got the chance! It was one of the coolest experiences we’ve had since starting traveling- so magical! The island is just right across the river from Cilacap, and its name is Kambangan Island, nusa=island in Indonesian. It has four maximum security prisons on it, reached only by ferry across the river. People held there include terrorists, drug dealers, and politicians in prison for corruption. Sounds like a fun group. The prisons are accessible from the east side of the island- closer to Cilacap, and the tourist attractions are along the southern border and the western border. The hotel had advertised a tour of the island, but when we asked about it they said to just go get on a boat down by the old Dutch fort. So we did.

Waiting to get on the boat
We asked the hotel car driver for help getting a boat. The hotel said to be prepared to pay 300,000 rupiah each for everything that day. Well, instead, the boat ride was 50,000 rupiah (less than $6) for a round trip. Given, we only went across the river to the beginning of a tour landing spot. After agreeing on a price, the hotel guy said we should call the fisherman when we wanted to come back to Cilacap. Cell phone numbers were exchanged, and Austin made sure they were not going to extort him for millions of rupiah to get him off the prison island. That would be a good scam, though, to desert us on the island if we don’t give them more money. Anyway…

Our boat to the island
In the boat

The boat ride itself was fairly uneventful. Of course there were no life jackets, and I was concerned about Landon staying inside the boat, but he did just fine. He sat there with the wind blowing through his hair and was smiling from ear to ear. There were big cargo ships and tankers in the harbor and off the coast of the island so Landon liked seeing those more up close. We passed an old rusty lighthouse…

The other shot I have of the boat “meet up” was of the other fisherman’s
butt, so this one will do just fine. 
And turned toward a very trashy, dirty looking tiny stretch of beach. The boat operator spoke zero English, so we were concerned he was just going to leave us there at that bad beach all day. Our fears were unfounded, however, as we realize he was just meeting up with another fisherman to pick up some long, silvery fish. The boat was also filled with white stuff that I thought looked like styrofoam at first glance, but now that I’ve been to the island I think it was big chunks of coral that they were taking to sell somewhere. 
Big boat!
After that, we turned toward a slightly more promising looking beach. I had not read anything online about tours, or anything really, so we just thought we would go check it out, maybe hike around a bit, and call it a day. This island holds that last bits of rainforest in Java that have not yet been deforested. As we got closer and closer, it started looking  more and more wild. 
Bananas around the huts

Finally we landed at a tiny beach with a few bamboo huts. Several young guys greeted us, and one pointed to himself and said, “Guide”. We said, “How much?” No response. I make universal money sign and say, “Rupiah”. He says something in Indonesian. Austin makes sign for write it down. We go to the ticket booth. There was nothing in the internet in English about this process, that there were tours at all, and how much they should cost, etc. At the ticket booth, Austin sees the guy start writing 3000… and immediately says, “two hundred thousand”. No response. He finishes writing 30,000 rupiah (a little over $2). Finally, 50,000 rupiah is reached as a consensus for getting into the area, as well as the private guide.

Crossing over a rainforest river!

Our guide was pretty good. He knew no English, but did point out things along the way, most notably monkeys! We arrived at the island a little after 9, so we were the first group there and so had the pleasure of disturbing the monkeys and watching them jump from tree to tree and watch us through the branches. When we found out we were going to Indonesia, I had mentioned to Landon that we were going to Indonesia for dad’s work, and maybe we could see some monkeys (I knew there were monkeys on Bali). So ever since then, he has had this idea that there are monkeys at daddy’s work. He was so elated to finally get to watch monkeys. We were pretty stoked to see them in their natural environment (something I have never done before) and not in a place where they were so used to foreigners and tourists that they steal our stuff. We kept our respective distances and watched in awe.

Tall tree

There is a lizard in this picture
It is the beginning of rainy season here in Cilacap. It rains every day- sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. All of the rain made the path muddy and the greenery so vibrant! The trees had insane root systems and some trees were very straight and tall! I can see why Java was deforested (for houses and boats and stuff) but it is sad that more of the natural flora was not preserved. The vegetation was also very thick, which was a little scary because it was hard to see what was in there. Most of the time the rustling around was monkeys, but I also read that there are panthers that live in the forest. Landon stayed on daddy’s shoulders most of the time.
All of a sudden, we came upon this giant gate. Guide said, “Portugal.” So, we decided it was a Portugese fort, the guide said built in the 1600s. This wasn’t some dinky structure built into a hill like the Dutch fort, this was a serious structure! The gate had several rooms off of it to house the guards, I’m assuming, as well as slits in the door. The most fantastic thing was that this tree with beautiful roots was growing out of the side of the gate. 
roots on the gate
Gate 2
Top part of wall
After this gate, we walked through it to this huge wall and multi-story drop off. Plants were covering the entire thing, leaving only the spaces where windows are situated. I think it was a natural hillside, but it seemed that they built this wall as well to support the 2 or 3 story structure inside. It was impressive that it is still standing and looks so good considering how long it has been deserted. 
Bottom part of wall
Hole in the ground
We climbed up a rise to the top of the hill. There was a hole going down all three stories. I thought it was a well at first, but I think it might have been a hole going straight down into the dungeons. From there, we descended into the top floor of the fort. We could tell that it used to be a two-story main room. There was trash scattered in corners, and passageways leading to dead ends. I adventured around a little bit, but it was really dark and the snake exhibit from Taman Mini was still fresh in my mind. Fortunately, we did not see any snakes. 
Window from the top of the hill

2nd story of the first big room we came to

When we go to old places, I try to figure out what kind of activities were done in each room. It was difficult to do that here because there were no placards and our guide did not speak enough English to help us out. What we could figure out is that the first room we came into was originally 2 stories and was at the top of the fort. The walls were made of brick and even had columns and arches. This was not hastily scrapped together, but was a good fort!

Austin and Landon checking out the room

Once we were done appreciating the top floor, the guide took us down a set of stairs. Good thing he brought a flashlight, and that he’s not a killer! It was pitch dark and we could only see from the small light of his flashlight. Once we got down to the next level, there were windows to let in a little light in some of the rooms. These were the windows that we viewed from the outside when we came up to the fort. It was very muddy in there, and there were even bats in one of the big, tall rooms. I think it might have been a banquet hall or something. It had a special sign next to the door, but it was in Indonesian. 

The entrance to the fort
Our guide led us down another set of steps to the 3rd floor. Austin had me go first this time- we were both wary looking out for snakes, bugs, bats, vermin, you know, all the stuff of nightmares. I used the flash on the camera to light my way a little better. We saw the room that the hole in the hill went down to, and then another room on that level had yet another hole that led down to another level of dungeons, I’m guessing. Reading back just now about walking around in the pitch dark, I am amazed that Landon stayed as calm as he did. Austin held him for the most part, and I don’t remember him making a fuss about any of it. What a trooper! I do remember him talking a lot about a rhino, and how a rhino was “in there” meaning down the stairs, or in the window, etc. We assured him there were no rhinos and he was happy after that.  I was busy trying to take pictures, which doesn’t turn out so well when it is pitch dark.

Hole to the dungeons

For the final part of the adventure, we walked through the room that had bats flying all over around inside it, through a series of tunnels, and ended up back in broad daylight, now at the bottom of the fort. What a relief! It was a really cool experience to tour such an old fort in such an exciting and unstructured way. I wish the tourism was a bit more built up so that an English speaking guide could tell us more, but even when I looked online for information in English, a Portuguese fort was mentioned, but no details were given.

View out the window
 We passed an old cannon just lying there on the ground. I wonder if it has been sitting here all these years, or if they dug it up from somewhere, or if it was mounted somewhere and fell off. Yet another thing we could not really ask our guide. Oh well. 
Next we went down a steep hill leading to a beautiful white sand beach. There were a few bamboo huts, including a snack bar/restaurant, and a few people living there including a cute little boy that looked to be around four. Like all young boys and girls here, he was a little scared of Landon and didn’t quite know what to make of him. Even when we invited him to play with Landon’s sand toys, he didn’t take us up on it. His parents wanted a picture of Landon and the boy, but he would not pose for the picture, and Landon was having trouble cooperating too. They ended up bonding over kicking around a soccer ball by the end, so that was good. I’m not sure how many other little kids this island boy gets to interact with. 

Landon loves the beach!

Big coral chunk

Stuffing a hollow coconut full of sticks- every little boy’s dream
It was clear what made the white sand on this beach- tons and tons of coral! There were big chunks, little chunks, and tiny chunks. Mixed in, there were some lava rocks as well. I’m sure the diving/snorkeling off the island is fantastic, but I’m not sure if many people do that here. I could have sat there all day looking through all the unique shapes of coral as well as multi-colored shells of all different varieties. Austin and I took turns watching Landon and shell hunting along the beach. In all, six other people came to the beach while we were there, but they just took pictures and left. That is not how to enjoy a beach! Come on! Unfortunately, there were rocks along the shore and so it was not safe for bodysurfing. Also, the beach was curved in such a way that it was protected from bigger waves and only smaller waves came in. None were rideable.

Bamboo house

At some point, it started raining nice, warm rain. The ocean water was warm, the beach water was warm, and the air temperature was warm so Landon and I just kept playing. Austin took refuge under a tarp and snapped some pictures of Landon and I playing in the rain. We were making a sandcastle and I spent much of my time chasing after sand toys that Landon left too close to the water…

At the other end of the beach from the huts, there was a rainforest waterfall falling directly into the sand. It was more of a trickle than a full-fledged waterfall, but it was still beautiful. Because of the storm clouds and shadows from dense foliage, it was hard to capture a picture that did it justice. 
Playing in the rain
Waterfall onto beach
View of the beach from the waterfall

After the rain stopped, a man and his two teenage daughters came up to the beach. I’m not sure where they came from, they just popped over the hill. As soon as they saw us, they started asking for pictures. So they took pictures with Landon, and pictures with me. The dad was in charge of taking the pictures, but every time the phone would turn off from disuse he did not know how to get back to the camera phone, so it took awhile to take all the pictures they wanted. It was fun. The two girls were definitely under 5 feet tall. Sometimes I feel like a giant here!

Austin taking a picture of the girls taking a picture with me…
After we had done our fill of beaching, Landon played soccer and then we took this family photo
Bridge detail

On our way back to the place where the boat would pick us up, Austin was having a hard time getting traction with his worn out Crocs that he had decided to wear. It was muddy and uphill to the top of the fort hill. Our guide took Landon and walked with him for about half the distance back to the dock before we realized he was missing a shoe. The guide and I retraced steps for a long time before the guide finally found it. Hooray! Crisis averted! I ran back and got the camera to take pictures of the fort with our non-zoom lens. We have used both our lenses more the past few days than we ever have, with zooming in on the island and the monkeys.

During the time that Landon and Austin were waiting on the trail, they watched for monkeys. They did not see any, but Austin asked Landon if he thought there was anything else in the tree. Landon said, “definitely lions in the trees.” OK


After the whole shoe ordeal, the guide seemed to be losing patience with us/ knew there were other customers coming to be guided, so he picked up the pace. Austin was gingerly stepping in parts to avoid slipping on the mud with Landon atop his shoulders. I was somewhere in the middle trying to keep the guide in sight in case we came upon a snake or a panther or something, and making sure Austin and Landon were doing fine.  Naturally, being the designated photographer, I took pictures of both parties in front and behind me.

Our guide, who nicely offered to carry our sand toy/water bag

The roots! and the colors!

Finally, we were back at the little dock/beach. There were a few dogs with puppies there. Landon fortunately did not want to touch them, but he was interesting in watching a little local girl carry them around by their tails. He kept saying, “Mommy, girl pulling puppy tails!” Austin called for our boat to come pick us up. Landon busied himself by throwing chunks of coral into the port where the boats go. We tried to tell him to stop, but he was very determined and ended up serving a time out right there on the island, and then getting distracted with throwing rocks into the water on the beach side where there aren’t any boats. Two boats with people in them came before our boat. Every time a boat came in, we would gather our things and go down to the beach, and the people greeting the boats would shake their heads and signal “no.”

Throwing rocks… what he does best!
Back on the boat
On the boat!

Going back to Cilacap, Landon and Austin were facing backwards and about halfway through, Landon said that his tummy was not feeling good. Austin turned him around and that seemed to help him feel better. I’m sure he was getting a little sea sick because the waves were a little bigger than when we went across earlier in the morning. Storm clouds were gathering in the background and a few hours after we came home it poured!

Daddy helping Landon not be sick

There are not words to describe how awesome this adventure to the island was. It surpassed all my expectations, and made me aware of how beautiful and diverse God’s creations are all over the world. Looking back on it, I’m a little surprised that we decided to do this with a toddler, but everything went really well and he enjoyed it immensely. Sometimes being adventurous takes some courage!


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