As the setting for Indonesian author Andrea Hirata’s 2005 semi-autobiographical debut novel “Laskar Pelangi,” or “The Rainbow Troops,” Belitung saw its fortunes change from a sleepy island better known as an outpost of the tin trade into Indonesia’s next big tourist destination.
The novel, which is Indonesia’s most successful ever with over 5 million copies sold, spawned a highly acclaimed movie of the same name in 2008 as well as a musical, and started a tourist boom that, according to author Andrea, saw the number of visitors rise 1,800%.
But while “Laskar Pelangi” and its movie adaptation might loom large on the average sightseer’s to do list in Belitung, it is by no means the only thing that the island has to offer.
Belitung, located east of the southern tip of Sumatra island, is strongly influenced by its maritime heritage, unsurprising given its endless views of the sea and ubiquitous beaches. While white sands and clear green blue waters are found throughout Indonesia, Belitung’s beaches are more distinct due to their granite boulder formations, a feature that is best seen on Tanjung Tinggi.
“Tanjung Tinggi has one of the best views on Belitung. Here, the views of the sea and the sky over the horizon is endless,” said University of Indonesia lecturer Esti Wandari, a frequent visitor to the island. “It’s not only beautiful, it’s almost spiritual to see and feel.”
Treesnowati Atmosudirdjo, a first timer to Belitung, agreed.
“I like Tanjung Tinggi because of its peaceful atmosphere. I also like the granite rock formations because they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” she said. “The rocks seem perfectly aligned and symmetrical, even the narrow gaps that lead out to the water. Aside from their sizes, their shapes are also unique.”
Some of the granite juts out of the sea on seemingly fragile bases, while others, such as the aptly named Garuda Rock, takes on the shape of an eagle. The beach is also known as one of the locales used for the “Laskar Pelangi” film.
Further offshore more surprises await. At Lengkuas island, a 30-minute boat ride from Tanjung Tinggi, one can take in sights such as a sea turtle hatchery, where the animals are kept from the moment they’re hatched until they’re old enough to be transferred to another facility pending release into the wild.
The surf at the Tanjung Kelayang beach is also welcoming enough to be explored, as one can swim on its blue green waters to the corals offshore.
“I like Lengkuas island because of its lighthouse, which reflects its history as the gateway to Belitung and its rich natural resources, of which tin stands out the most,” National University lecturer Meizar Abdulllah said.
He added that like many great trips, the pleasure lies in the journey, namely a few minutes boat ride away to Pasir (sand) island.
The patch of white sand beaten constantly by the blue sea beckoned to travelers keen to swim the clear waters or bask on the sand.
“The snorkeling around Pasir island is great, because we can see a variety of marine life there, not least among them the starfish,” he added.
Adhyani Noer Indrati, a recent graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London agreed.
“I like Sand Island because of its tranquil atmosphere. It also gives you the sensation of having your own island,” she said.
The sea’s influence on Belitung is as literal as it is figurative, as reflected by its signature food Mie Belitung. The dish, which consists of noodles served in a shrimp broth, might initially be unimpressive due to its relatively small portions. But the noodles, garnished with shrimp, cucumbers and belinjo nut crackers, have more to offer than its appearance.
The broth, whose sweet, succulent, full flavor is reminiscent of seafood dishes like bouillabaise and bisque de homard, goes just as well with the well textured noodles as it does by itself.
“Perhaps the best place to savor Mie Belitung is Mie Atep or Mie Artis. They’ve been in the business for awhile, so they know how to make it better than most places I’ve been to,” said Esti, who has been a frequent visitor of Belitung over the past decade. – The Jakarta Globe