Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Charm of an Isolated Island - Since Dutch colonial times, Nusakambangan has long been known as a high security. Despite this negative image, most parts of this island have potential to be developed as tourist destinations. If you can imagine a quiet and peaceful place, away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, take a journey to Nusakambangan Island off the southern part of Central Java. It will bring you face to face with what you imagined, an island getaway well worth a visit.
You no longer need any special permits to visit this formerly isolated island. That is, unless you want to go to some restricted areas where jails are still in use, such as Limusbuntu, Besi, Batu, Kembang Kuning and Permisan in the west and Karangtengah, Gliger, Nirbaya and Karanganyar in the east. Now some of the jails inherited from the Dutch and built between 1908 and 1912 are no longer in use and the total number of prisoners has dropped slightly.
Nusakambangan has been recognized for many years as "the Prison Island" as in the Dutch era it was used to isolate prisoners serving long-term sentences. The island, covering about 210 square kilometers, can be reached from Jakarta in about one hour by a plane that lands at Cilacap's airport, Tunggul Wulung. Overland travel is an alternative but takes more or less 10 hours. Crossing to the island from Cilacap's Wijaya Pura harbor using a small motorboat, usually called compreng by locals, takes ranges from minutes to hours depending on which part of Nusakambangan you want to reach.
With its thousands of islands, many of Indonesia's small ones still offer hidden potential for development into tourist spots. However, out of the 17,508 islands that make up the nation, perhaps only 3,000 have developed in any way. The attention that has mostly been given to the big islands has meant the development of small ones has been bypassed, leaving their inhabitants struggling to make ends meet.
The people of Nusakambangan, for instance, were formerly fishermen. However, in the last few years, erosion has silted up the river mouth near the island, causing them to catch far less. So now, they have moved into the agricultural sector, planting various types of crops such as rice, corn, and vegetables. This may be adequate for their daily needs but the local government there is now thinking of developing another of the island's potentials: the tourism sector.
Indeed the island has many beautiful panoramas. Just go to Pantai Permisan (Permisan beach) with its beautiful white and gray sands near the Permisan jail lighthouse, Ranca Babakan on the west coast of the island, Pantai Pasir Putih (White Sands beach), and several caves such as Goa Ratu, (Queen's cave). All this is without mentioning the richness of its tropical forest, its mangrove forest or its unique fauna, as well as the historic buildings inherited from the Dutch. In a hilly area called Candi that faces Besi jail, for instance, there is an old Dutch era ruined building from where visitors can view much of the island's natural beauty. All this beauty remains tucked away with a minimum of infrastructure and in the midst of an all-embracing natural environment. There is no touch of modernization in the facilities offered would-be tourists on the island. This is also perhaps because most of the island has been used as a conservation area.
In the island's eastern part there is a conservation area, the Cagar Alam Nusakambangan Timur (East Nusakambangan Nature Reserve). It contains a bay with the beautiful Karangbandung beach, while immediately inland there is an old fortress facing the sea. In past ages it was used by Portugal, the Netherlands and finally Japan. From it they could clearly observe the movements of shipping into and out of Cilacap's natural harbor. In Karangbolong, another conservation area, there are many protected species of birds such as Kuntul Karang (sacred egret Egretta Sacra), Bangau Hitam (black egret, Ciconia Episcopus), Bangau Tongtong (Leptoptilos Javanicus) and Elang Laut (sea eagle or Halistur Sp.). Many years ago lots of coins and blocks of black tin were also found near Karangbolong's beach, but now such finds are rare. For many years, the Karangbolong area has also been famous for another natural resource, its swallows' nests. Besides the conservation areas of Nusakambangan Timur and Karangbolong there are two others : Cagar Alam Nusakambangan Barat (West Nusakambangan Nature Reserve) and Cagar Alam Wijaya Kusuma (Wijaya Kusuma Nature Reserve).
The struggle of Central Java's local government to develop Nusakambangan as a tourist destination will not succeed in a day or two. In the past, the central government strongly disagreed with the idea of turning Nusakambangan from an island of prisoners closed to the public into one open for tourism. After visiting the island in October 1988, a government team of four ministers, Minister of the Environment Emil Salim, Minister of Forestry Hasjrul Harahap, Minister of General Affairs Radinal Mochtar and Minister of Justice Ismail Saleh recommended it should remain a closed area. The government was afraid the tropical forests, and the various types of rare animals on the island might all be destroyed by irresponsible vandalism.
However, that team's recommendation did not lead the Central Java provincial government to give up on attempting to turn the island into a tourist destination. They continue to intensively lobby the central government until in 1995 the then Minister of Justice, Oetoyo Oesman, gave approval to open up the island to limited tourism. Since then, slowly but surely the hidden beauty of Nusakambangan can be enjoyed by tourists.
Tourism the Future Hope
Klaces or Kampung Laut, a village on Nusakambangan Island, contains a community of around 1,500 people living on about four hectares of land. The village is relatively developed, although the lives of its people are still simple. It is now in process of becoming a new kelurahan (subdistrict). Formerly, these people also earned their living from fishing, but the silting up of the estuary of the Segara Anakan has led to poor catches so they have moved into farming. Some of them, though, are depending on their fishponds. Their new farming activities will continue to meet these people's daily needs into the future through the production of commodities such as coconuts, bananas, sugar cane and rice.
Although that is enough just to meet their needs, it is not enough for them to enjoy a better lifestyle. Hence they are strongly supportive of the provincial government's plan to turn their village into a tourist destination. At present, many tourists coming from Pangandaran just pass by their village, but don't stop to see what Klaces has to offer. Pangandaran itself has enjoyed the benefits of an influx of around 45,000 tourists a year, mostly from overseas. Now, Klaces' officials will start to promote the attractions of their village. "We want to develop Kampung Laut by publicizing the many tourist destinations here," confirmed Yuliaman Sutrisno, secretary of the Kampung Laut sub district.
For that purpose, a special team has been set up to promote the plan and to prepare the village people themselves to cope with visitors. "We have no funds whatsoever to develop any infrastructure, so we really need the help of future investors," Sutrisno said. The locals have given some media exposure to Maria Cave, a shrine where, they claim, the Dutch often prayed in the past. The cave has stalactites and stalagmites with one said to resemble the shape of Maria, the mother of Jesus. Believing in the effectiveness of religious drawing power in tourism, the people of Kampung Laut are not only targeting Catholic or Christians. They also have a cave called Mas Sigitsela, usually visited by Moslems, and yet another located above an area called Selo Landak, usually visited by Buddhists. All of these are still in their original state, yet to be developed as tourist sites. So, the locals are now hoping outsiders will be ready to invest in them.
Perhaps their big hopes for tourism development are also motivated by the evidence of the success of an annual event conducted in nearby Segara Anakan river every Moslem New Year, 1 Muharram. People from the Solo Sultanate go out to sea their offerings of flowers and foods from the Segara Anakan. Their intention is to express thanks to God and to ask for His blessings for a safe and prosperous life. Thousands of people take part in the annual ritual, coming not only from other villages but also from other countries such as Japan and the European ones. At the commemoration, people from all levels of society, and levels of income and economic situations gather at the same place at the same time to celebrate this auspicious day for blessings, one they usually call 'ngalap berkah'. And the day gives its own blessings to locals who reap significant extra income from it. IRENE KOESOETJAHJO

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