An Udderly Wonderful Weekend on Bangka Island

Don’t worry, I can spell, and spoiler alert, the weekend was very mooving.

It was a short but oh-so-sweet time filled with coconuts, deserted beaches and trying new local dishes that subsequently had me falling into a food coma (Note to self: do not eat a dessert whose main ingredients are condensed milk, margarine, sugar, chocolate and cheese). And yes, cows were also involved, but in a let’s-have-fun-and-hangout kind of way, not in the I’m-about-to-eat-you sort of way, just to be clear.

Basically all sorts of general merriment was had on Bangka Belitung Island. Admittedly, there was very little merriment at the end, but everything up until then was swell! While trying to leave we were kindly reminded that we were, in fact, still in Indonesia where time is an extremely vague concept and essentially just a relative term. So there we were, hour three creeping upon us as we waited for our flight at a tiny two-plane runway airport to please, please, please get us to Jakarta.

By the time our plane decided to make its grand appearance, the flight I scheduled from Jakarta to Bali had already left without me on board. Mildly frustrating? Yes, but I can think of worse things than missing a $50 flight to another beautiful island.

Such is life and so it goes.

But back to the amazing weekend on a tiny Indonesian island of fun. Bangka is a small patch of paradise just east of Sumatra where honking is rarely heard and the beaches are not overrun with people or garbage (a refreshing rarity, I assure you). We spent one day exploring a beach that was a little farther away, at the northern tip of the island, because we heard it was nice and just had a good feeling about it and shout out to good feelings because it was pretty much perfection. It was worth every minute and penny, or perhaps more appropriately every “rupiah,” to get there.

We arrived to a nearly vacant beach save for a few locals lazily hanging out under their huts ready to sell drinks but mostly just doing what Indonesians do best: napping. There were a few boats to take visitors to nearby islands for a small fee but we decided to stay on the mainland. We walked past the huts, climbed over some boulders and suddenly found ourselves in untouched paradise with not a person in sight. It had cost us nothing and was practically effortless to get to, so why was nobody else there? I mean, we’re not complaining, we legitimately had the whole strip of beach to ourselves! We found a nice spot and spent the better part of an afternoon happily swimming in the clear water and lazily floating under the sun with only the sound of the waves ebbing and flowing to keep us company. Ahh, sweet bliss.


The next day we went on an adventure to Bangka Botanical Garden. Now I’m not the first person to get real jazzed at the words “botanical” or “garden” and it’s borderline questionable when used in the same sentence as the word “adventure,” but hear me out. A few months ago we visited Bogor City in West Java and the one of the top activities on TripAdvisor’s list of Things To Do was a garden. Skeptical, but intrigued, we decided to check out the hype and were pleasantly surprised to have had the best time there. Who knew botanical gardens could be so fun? Clearly not us, that’s who. So with a newly acquired faith in all things botanic, we decided to give the gardens in Bangka’s Pangkalpinang a go. I’ll admit that it wasn’t quite as exciting as the one in Bogor City, but it did turn out to be an equally entertaining experience.

We started our adventure by hopping off an angkot (a sort of bus taxi) and standing on the side of the road planning our next move to get to the gardens. Maybe a taxi? Does another angkot go there? Should we have taken the last one farther? We need to be at the airport soon, do we even have time for this!? Then, out of nowhere a woman on a motorbike stops next to us and in decent English asks, “are you lost?”

Why hello there ma’am, you have quite impeccable timing.

Are we lost? Well, yes and no. We know we’re at Point A and also where Point B is, it’s just the pesky details in between the two we are stuck on. “Do you want to take my bike?” she asked. I told her how it was a kind offer but we had our backpacks and couldn’t fit all of us on a bike if we tried (although I should know by now to never underestimate the power of a motorcycle or the determination of the Asian driving it). “No, no,” she answered, “I have another bike at home down the road, if you can drive it we can pick it up and I can show you the way to the gardens.”

Wait, what?



Did she just offer her bike to us? To drive? We’d been acquainted only for an impressive minute and a handful of seconds… I’m sure my confusion was painted plainly on my face because she quickly said, “it’s no problem, I’m not busy today. I take you to the gardens,  no problem!”

So there we were, vacillating between wanting to get there quickly and questioning this completely random, but not entirely unwelcome, offer. We looked at each other deciding what to do; on the one hand it was about as convenient as it gets, but on the other hand it was a little strange and probably a bad idea that had great potential to not end well. So naturally we shrugged our shoulders and said, “alright, why not!?”

A full three minutes had passed since meeting each other and I was speeding away on the back of a random Indonesia lady’s bike and off to some house that I hoped actually existed. A few minutes later we arrived at her home only for her to realize the extra bike wasn’t actually there. Well, this is awkward. In a semi-frantic state she told me a slew of phrases including, but not limited to, “it’s okay,” “sit down,” “meet my mother,” “there’s a cat,” “want a drink?,” “I’ll be back!” I was mildly worried and thinking we made a gave mistake but I didn’t want to be rude and thought I’d give her a few minutes to figure it all out, so I hung out with her mom as she sat on the floor cutting string beans and pet a cute tabby kitten. I could think of worse places to find myself.

A kitten cuddle or two later, and voila, a second bike magically appears! A young girl had also joined the party and the two of them sat on one bike and I got on the other. We waved goodbye to her professional string bean cutting mom and took off. Another five minutes and after getting stuck behind a parade (because it’s Indonesia and nothing normal ever happens) we made it back to Point A! We scooped up the fourth member of our motorcycle gang, threw my bag on board and sped off following April, our Indonesian garden savior whose name we decided was probably worth knowing at this point.

With our new friend, April

 

When we finally arrived she was sweet to offer us space, but seeing as we haven’t exactly earned our stripes as botanical garden aficionados yet, we asked if she wanted to show us around. Also because we had no idea what we were doing and really only had one goal: locate mysterious cows. Now I’ve never been the type to get excited over farm cattle but it sounded like such a funny sight to see in the middle of a tropical Indonesian island that it just got me all giddy. And a giddy time it was!

Oh, hey there

 

Don’t worry, there were more than just cows at the gardens. We also spotted a squirrel! But seriously, there were horses, little ponds, an adorable puppy and of course gardens (but I firmly stand beside the fact that the cows were the highlight). The gardens are also a nice escape from the city to experience a little quiet (an Indonesian rarity) and on our way out we even got some strawberry milk straight from the udder! Well, straight-ish.




After that we followed April and her painfully shy 12 year old counterpart to the exit. We expected her to drop us back to where we originally met but I noticed we weren’t going the same route back. With blind faith I kept following her and 10 minutes later she stopped right outside the airport. Well, that was a pleasant surprise! We thanked her profusely, offered (and failed) to give her money for gas and exchanged contact information. I then tossed the keys to the 12 year old because of course they basically start driving at age 5, and off they went on the two bikes.

… And off we went to sit idly for three hours waiting on a stupid plane.

But what a day! It’s amazing what can happen when you are open to people and possibilities. It doesn’t always workout (as in my Independence Day celebration mishap..), but other times you meet awesome people and enjoy incredible experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have had. Not only did we save money with transportation, which was the least of our worries, but we were able to see the gardens in a way that was much better than our original plan, which basically bore no resemblance to a “plan” considering such a thing did not exist. Plus, the place is massive and we would’ve never seen those majestic cows without the motorbike. Most importantly, we were privy to the udder kindness of a stranger (see what I did there…) who spotted us on the side of the road like two lost puppies and in the process we enjoyed a fun day with a new friend. Now we know who to call when we want to visit the island again, and trust me, we definitely plan to.

Bangka Belitung Island, you are one gem of a place.

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Sloth enthusiast, Nutella extremist, and all around sassy human with a deep love for hoppy beer and discovering the world's many gems. Currently gallivanting the globe while drinking more coffee than necessary.

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