Derawan, Indonesia

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Derawan, Indonesia

Turtle Head Poking Out…From the Sand

Remembering July 2011

Sometimes we have to endure a bit of discomfort to find our paradise. This simple statement couldn’t have been truer about finding one of ours. We had done the research and weighed the amount of irritations that might arise. Still…with the small, primitive island of Derawan sounding more and more like a must-see, we threw all caution to the wind. Spending two Beach on Derawan, Indonesiafull days packed into a Kijang while navigating washed out, insanely bumpy roads sounded much simpler than it turned out to be. I’m not saying I thought having my knees pressed into my chest while sitting in a 3rd road seat in the back of an SUV would be like popping bubbly and partying in a private limo with Lil Jon, but rarely had I looked forward to stretching my long legs so much in my life during every stop throughout our journey. If I had been a gymnast when I was younger, I dare not think about where my head would have been buried with my knees dangerously close to the ceiling in response to the lack of leg room.

Even so, nothing could take away from the moment we finally arrived by speed boat on the primitive island of Derawan, located close to the eastern coast of Kalimantan. The pristine, aqua blue water surrounding us completely washed away any discomforts from our previous days of travel. It didn’t take long to secure a simple room to rent for our time inhabiting an island lacking any form of internet communication. In less than 20 steps, we could hop off the edge of a well-worn pier into water home to fish I’d only seen in exotic fish stores back in the states. Lionfish, clownfish and schools of barracuda highlighted our time spent in the water, though I must confess, the idea of an intimate encounter with the random jellyfish floating on the surface would be as welcome as my first Brazilian wax job. HELL no! As incredible as the underwater sights had been, the locals inhabiting this small island provided an experience unparalleled.

We could scarcely walk down the sandy paths leading around the island without finding enthusiastic children sprinting in our direction, seeking nothing more than a smile and a friendly wave.   Practicing our horrendous Indonesian with our young counterparts seemed more entertaining at times than the sight of our light skin and blue eyes. I sometimes wondered what I had actually said after listening to outbursts of uncontrollable laughter exploded from groups of kids doubling over and holding their stomachs at my expense. An untimely fart during a moment in silence at a sporting event may not have drawn more attention than my blonde haired, light blue eyed girlfrieNasi Goreng, Local food on Derawan Island, Indonesiand, leading to a seemingly exponential amount of experiences with locals far too curious to ignore her apparently unfamiliar appearance.

However, each moment our hunger began stealing our attention from our time spent floating on the surface of the aquatic wonderland around us, or embarrassing ourselves with the little kids, we found ourselves once again walking the sandy path in search of a local’s home decorated with a hand written sign in front of their home informing travelers their personal dining room doubled as a restaurant. On multiple occasions we sat at a practical table and ate our dinner while the women’s husbands and children sprawled on the floor of the living room next to our table. If ever we had been fortunate enough to sample Momma’s home cooking outside of a homestay, we had found the opportunity in its purest form. Such a simple interaction imbedded fond memories still impacting our lives to this very day.

As if the underwater life and incredible local interactions weren’t enough, spending our time at night to observe a sea turtle conservation program further enhanced our love for an island posing as a small spec on our travel map. After enjoying yet another dinner in the living room of a local family seizing the financial opportunity of tourists visiting their home, we ventured by the light of our headlamps to the end of the island, meeting a government employee charged with the survival of the turtles. Joined by various other foreigners (many with children in tow), we watched intently as the man scoured the sand, prodding with a metal rod to find hatching nests.

The whole of our group rushNewly hatched turtles on Derawan Island, Indonesiaed to where the man was inspected upon informing us he had found what he had been searching for. Rarely had I found myself giddy as a school girl at the newest terrible boy band concert, but it was justly deserved. He began pawing at the sand, unearthing a small hole from which tiny black head began to emerge. The “aww” sound from his surrounding crowd was impossible to ignore as baby turtles struggled to push their way onto the surface of the sand. We began collecting each newborn and placing them in a large cardboard box, taking the time to document our finding with photos of proof for our loved ones back home. After enough time had been spent corralling the newly discovered life around us, he lead us to the ocean’s edge, shining a light from his flashlight into the water in front of us.

It was explained to us that when the moon wasn’t present (as it was a cloudy evening), the light served as the moon’s guide to freedom. Carefully we placed each innocent adolescent into the water, allowing them to swim frantically towards the light in the water. Never before had we experienced such a heartwarming release, leaving us with a loving satisfaction we wouldn’t soon forget.


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