Couchfish: Our own private island

Three days was not enough


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On the northwest corner of Indonesia’s Sumbawa, a peninsula juts into the Alas Strait like a stray chicken leg. Along the leg’s east side, a narrow road runs up to Pelabuhan Pota Tano. From here car ferries shuttle back and forward, night and day, to Lombok.

Weather allowing, the trip takes around an hour and a half. The trip is long enough to stretch your legs, gaze at Rinjani, and, as you near Sumbawa, ponder some new islands. There’s eight in total, curving around in a half crescent around the chicken leg.

Holidays with Dad are fun right? Photo: Stuart McDonald.

On my first trip to Sumbawa, Poto Tano was one of my last stops. At that stage I’d been on the island for about two weeks and was ready for a day off. Ok, to be honest I’d had a day off two days earlier exploring the amazing Moyo, but I felt like more island time.

A little to the west of the chicken leg there is a smaller wooden pier for local fishermen. There I rustled up a man with a boat and we spent the day snorkelling off three of the eight islands. We hit Paserang, Kenewa and the mangrove backside of another island.

Kenewa is good fun above the water as well. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

It was a fun day, and of the three I was particularly taken with Paserang. It had a half built bungalow joint on it, but nothing was happening. I asked the boatman if I could camp there. Why not? He asked. I took his number and started planning.

When the next school holidays hit, I bundled the kids into the car and we headed east. The car ferry took us from Bali to Lombok, and we drove across then overnighted at Pondok Siola in Labuan Pandan. I’ve written before about this spot—why keep driving when you can overnight at such a friendly place?

The view from Kenewa’s summit. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The next morning I messaged the boat dude and he was ready to go when we drove off the car ferry and onto Sumbawa. We stashed the car, piled the tents, a few Aqua gallons and all our kit into the boat and we were off. Thirty minutes later he dropped us at Paserang’s rickety pier, promised to return in three days, and was off.

We had our own private island.

This was for three days—not three months. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The first debate was should we use one of the half–built bungalows or camp by the beach. We took a look around, then, about two hundred metres to the west of the pier we found the perfect spot. A grassy spread under a shade tree right beside a 750 metre long white sand beach. The kids were not happy about lugging the gear, but we made it. In no time the two tents were set up side by side. One was for all our stuff and the other for the three of us.

It was lunch time by the time everything was squared away and we all felt we’d earned that first swim.

Gili Paserang. Today in bloody awful. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Paserang has a great house reef and we discovered we could walk back to the pier, jump in and nature would do the rest. The current would grab us and with no effort at all on our part, it would pull us all the way along the southern reef. At the end of it, we’d swim in, run back, jump back in, and repeat.

Three days of this. I tell you, it was hard.

The interior of the island has a small tabletop with an overgrown trail leading to the top. Once there, pavers led to viewpoints to both the east and west—perfect for both sunrise and sunset. We could see Rinjani to the west and to the east, some of the other islands.

Who needs a horizon pool? Photo: Stuart McDonald.

That first night we lit a bonfire then laid in the sand and counted the stars—or tried to anyway, as there were quite a few. No bright lights big cities nearby to dim the night sky.

We woke early, and the entire day saw not a soul other than each other. We cleaned a section of the beach, collecting plastic cups and noodle packets by the dozen. Later when we shipped back to the mainland, the boatman kept the rubbish to see what he could sell or re–use.

In the late afternoon, kids protesting, we hiked up what they were now calling “the mountain”. Another great sunset, another bonfire, another sky of stars.

Dancing genes clearly inherited from father. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

That second night though wasn’t to be as the first.

Around 3 am I woke to noise outside and lights flashing around. We’d seen nobody through the day, and so baffled, I opened the tent to see two small fishing boats pulling in.

“Pagi!” (morning!) I yelled, with a startled “pagi” echoing back.

At that stage I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or them. I do know though that they were the more surprised when they saw two bleary–eyed foreign kids crawl out. It turned out we camping at their regular spot.

We’re smiling because you just promised we never have to climb this again. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

In no time they were showing Will their catch and asking me what on earth we were doing there. They told us most campers hit Kenewa as it is more famous and closer to Poto Tano. Small talk done, they got to work stringing nets and doing fishing boat stuff. It seemed they were planning on staying put for a spell.

When we started to pack up, they dropped everything to help us cart it all back—not without jokes about some of our gear. Then it was an hour spent jumping off the pier till we saw our boat back to the mainland approaching.

We’ll be back! Photo: Stuart McDonald.

An hour later we were loading the car for the drive down the west coast. Kertasari, Maluk, YoYo’s and Tropicals beckoned—but that’s another story.

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