Hidden Paradise of Indonesia: Stranded in Tello Island

It was so warm and humid. I was sitting on the deck, watching ship crews preparing everything to ensure there was nothing to be missed before continuing our trips to Hibala. My journey to Batu Islands required me and Phiyan to visit four islands separately. We made Tello Island as our first leg and base considering the facts that it’s the capital of sub district and more developed compared to three other islands.

We were lucky. UN WFP ship  also needed to deliver  some food items  to Hibala. Otherwise, by using small fishermen boat, Phiyan and I should be ready to sail through Indian Ocean for five hours journey to get us to Hibala. Phiyan and I were not the only passengers, instead, there were some locals joining us to Hibala. The kindhearted captain let them to join us after stranded for a week due to big storms.

In the middle of the day, we arrived in the island. Phiyan and I went out of the ship as soon as possible to go to designated schools for some meetings with the principles to discuss about our program. Roy, one of WFP staff bringing his motor bike with him, allowed us to use his motor bike during the day while he was busy with his beneficiaries. His kindness saved me and Phiyan from the consequence to have a long walk to reach the school.

There was no asphalt road in the island. What we passed was small soil road that I was sure opened by villagers allowing them to walk easily while they were not using their boat to travel from one place to another. There were high bushes on the left and the right side. We passed small river, sustained bridge (I forced Phiyan to let me off from the bike while passing the bridge) and finally at the end of the road, we found one of the most beautiful beaches that we’ve not expected to see. Again, I wondered with Phiyan’s navigating skill. It was his first time coming to the island, but he looked like living in Hibala for his whole life. We had no time to enjoy the beach in order to finish all assignments in one day.

Hibala, Batu Islands

Hibala, Batu Islands

A beach in Hibala

A beach in Hibala

I was in Hibala, on UN WFP's ship

I was in Hibala, on UN WFP’s ship

There was no hotel or motel or guest house in the island. However, the head of village offered us to stay at his place which we couldn’t accept since kindhearted captain already asked us to stay at his ship for that night. I was so grateful, especially after knowing that our ship was the only place having the lights during the night. I couldn’t stop thanking to the kindhearted  captain when at the end of the day, he brought us back to Tello, left us there and sailed back to Banda Aceh.

“I got a boat. A really good boat. 5 ton boat” Phiyan declared with big grinned on his face. I had no idea what he talked about, but pretty sure it must be something related to our trips to Pini Island. We were so busy in the last two days to find any fishermen that were willing to take us to Pini. It was not an easy task. Nobody wanted to take us for safety reason.

“I must postpone my trip to the island due to bad weather recently,” Paolo said, Brazilian surfer that I met in Tello . “If you guys lucky, perhaps you might be able to find fisherman that are ready to take the risk to get you there in one or two days,”

Yes, we were lucky. We got the boat. It was not a big one nor small. It could carry the load as much as 5 tons, the reason why Phiyan kept calling that boat as ‘five ton boat’.

“It’s not an iron boat,” I complained after knowing how much we had to pay for taking us to the islands”

“That is the best boat that I could find,” Phiyan said. “We will go with this boat,” It means  end of discussion.

It took us three hours to get the island. Again, some villagers asked us politely to let them joining us to the island.

Coming to Pini made Hibala looked like developed island. Unlike Tello and Hibala that have port in the island, the port in Pini was located in the middle of the sea, where our boat stopped and the other very small boat waited for us to bring all passengers to the island. When I could find small road in Hibala, in Pini, there was no road at ALL. All houses were situated in one coastal line. Most of houses were stage house built by using wooden materials. The main livelihood in the island was coming from the sea where men working as fishermen for most of their lives.  In one corner, I found dried salty fishes placed on the top of wooden tables that were ready to be sold to another places.

Pini Island

Pini Island

Port of Pini Island, located in the middle of the sea

Port of Pini Island, located in the middle of the sea

Pini Island

Pini Island

Dried saltyt fishes in Pini Island

Dried salty fishes in Pini Island

I was in Pini Island

I was in Pini Island

I was heading to Pini's port in the middle of the sea

I was heading to Pini’s port in the middle of the sea

Our last stop was Tana Bala Island. The fishermen who took us to Pini agreed to continue his service to take us to the biggest island where airport is located. He also kept saying that we would never find a better fisherman than him who’s willing to sail to untouchable places that could have 5 meter heights of wave in a normal day.

Like Pini Island, the port in Tana Bala was also in the middle of the sea. Disaster begun when I jumped from our boat to the small one. I could not remember how. But as far as I could remember, I lost my balance and fell down to the sea. I suddenly forgot how to swim, I didn’t wear my life jacket properly and I was panicked as a hell. I tried to reach anything, but I couldn’t due to strong current that was trying to sink me down. When I thought that it was the time, I felt somebody grab my head (lately, I found that some of my hairs were revoked), pull my collar shirt, and finally, I could grab the edge of the boat and got myself on the boat.

Tana Bala Island

Tana Bala Island

Phiyan couldn’t speak at all on our way back to Tello. I thought he was more shocked than I was and  kept saying, “I  couldn’t imagine.  I couldn’t imagine how if something bad happened”. He looked so pale and couldn’t smile for the whole day.  When we arrived in Tello, we’re informed that there will be no boat to Teluk Dalam until uncertain time, and the only airlines was still not operated yet. We’re stranded in the island for five days. Seeing from the bright side, after almost lost my life to do those assignments, I could have additional holiday before coming back to Gunungsitoli.

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