My pod

The azure waters of unspoilt Kiluan Bay provide an idyllic setting for dolphin-spotting

Lydia Tomkiw
January 21, 2013
My pod

The azure waters of unspoilt Kiluan Bay provide an idyllic setting for dolphin-spotting

By Lydia Tomkiw
Khoiric Anwar holds out his calloused, weathered hand. “Kiluan,” he says, which means to ask or request in the local language, Bahasa Lampung. Khoiric smiles as he traces the palm of his hand with his finger, explaining that Kiluan Bay, on the island of Sumatra, forms the shape of a person’s palm. The name reflects the area’s beckoning nature, like a hand urging people to come.

Photo by Lydia Tomkiw
Photo by Lydia Tomkiw

At 4:30am the roosters begin their chorus on Pulau Kelapa, an island in Kiluan Bay, as Khoiric readies his traditional wooden boat called a jukung. “We will see dolphins today,” he says.
Khoiric, whose family runs bungalow accommodation on Pulau Kelapa, is determined to ensure that Kiluan maintains its natural charms. Large signs declare that dynamite fishing is strictly prohibited. This ensures that the area’s most precious assets, the pods of dolphins, are protected. “I like showing tourists around and want to make sure this is open for all people,” Khoiric says as he drops the motor into the water, sending the four-person boat out towards the open sea. The sun begins to rise and the waves gently rock the narrow, pink-and-green boat.
To describe Kiluan Bay as off the beaten path is accurate. Cars and motorbikes must traverse rough dirt roads – and frequently get stuck in the mud – to reach this area on the tip of southern Sumatra. From Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia on the island of Java, the journey by car can take over 15 hours.
“It’s a difficult journey, but after people arrive their mood changes,” says tour guide Innay of For Zibral Travel, who started bringing groups here a little over a year ago. In spite of the tiring trip, Innay keeps Kiluan Bay on her tour itinerary because she loves the beach and the surrounding natural landscape. The area remains largely untouched, with no souvenir shops or hordes of visitors. Instead, white sand beaches and palm trees heavy with coconuts greet travellers who make the difficult journey.
Kiluan is geared towards those willing to take the rough with the smooth. Accommodation remains basic on Pulau Kelapa (Coconut Island), with bungalows featuring bare mattresses on the ground and squat toilets. While visitors have the option of pitching a tent on the beach for $6, when it comes to food there is no choice but to eat like locals, with the menu consisting of rice, vegetables and fried fish.
Back on our small boat, the shout of “lumba-lumba” pierces the air. It’s the Indonesian word for ‘dolphin’ and its sound echoes their rise and fall as they glide gracefully through the cobalt ocean. Less than a metre from the head of the boat, two dolphins emerge from the sea, before quickly disappearing again. Suddenly, the boat is surrounded by these majestic ocean dwellers, while a little further away a pod of six jumps through the air. Squeals, laughs and the click of camera shutters fill the air. One of those laughs belongs to Khoiric, satisfied that he has kept his promise.
Nearly two hours later, the white beaches of Pulau Kelapa beckon once more. Khoiric hands over a snorkel set and leads the way into the water. Bright blue starfish cling to rocks while orange and black striped fish swim by.
Later in the afternoon, a 14-year-old fisherman shimmies up a palm tree and grabs some coconuts. He pulls out his machete, cracks one open and hands it over with a smile. As the sun begins to set, the sky takes on bright hues of yellow, orange and pink. The 15-hour journey, as well as dislodging a car from its mud bath, was worth every second of this.
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