Pulau Cubadak, West Sumatra

I am sitting in the airport in Jakarta feeling slightly dazed after a very brief yet enjoyable trip to Sumatra. The last 4 days of our time on Sumatra was spent on Cubadak Island and the time passed so quickly that it now feels slightly unreal and like it was just a dream!
Cubadak Island is between the west coast of Sumatra and the Mentawai Islands and is 1 degree south of the equator. It is just one of the many tiny islands in that region and they all looked idyllic and all would be the perfect spot to be shipwrecked. The island of Cubadak (‘cubadak’ means jackfruit in the local Padang language) apparently doesn’t have any jackfruit trees but instead is almost totally covered in dense jungle except for the eastern side of the island where the resort is built. The resort consists of an open air dining area which also houses the reception desk, a library, the kitchen and what is possibly staff quarters, there are 13 bungalows on the shore facing the beach, a suite built over the water with it’s own jetty and finally a structure for relaxing also over the water with steps down onto the reef for snorkeling. 20130907-100142.jpgThis is the view along the beach from our bungalow at one end of the resort towards the other end. The views everywhere were beautiful and even when it was pouring with rain, which is did quite a bit, it was still absolutely beautiful.

This is the information about Pulau Cubadak from their website:20130907-101133.jpg
Doesn’t it sound amazing! When we were being driven out to the island, we were looking forward to the ‘peacefulness and tranquility’ and there to greet us as we got off the boat was a chainsaw in action!! A tree next to the dining area was being chopped down but thankfully they stopped it during lunch! Then the next day we had to put up with a speedboat revving around for what seemed like hours teaching one of the young girls how to water ski!! Quite amusing really.

The island is run by 2 couples, one an Italian/French couple who have been in Indonesia for over 20 years and the other a younger French couple who have been working in Indonesia for 6 years. Our check in was done by the older French wife and it was brief and incredibly off hand compared with the welcome I witnessed a young couple from Jakarta receive from the younger French woman. In fact I was very disappointed overall with the hospitality shown to us and it seemed that both couples are well and truly ready to move on.
We arrived in time for lunch, so after quickly looking around our cottage, we headed over to the dining room where we were served deep fried cauliflower, boiled rice, grated carrot with dressing, baked fish and sambal. It was such a shock being served western food. It seemed so bizarre and I felt like I was back in colonial times especially with all the Indonesian staff waiting on us. Straight after lunch i explained my dietary restrictions (no dairy & meat) which sent them into a panic, so i followed her into the kitchen to explain that i just wanted indonesian food but my wishes were totally ignored and i was made to feel totally uncomfortable. In retrospect, i think that my preference for Indonesian food both upset her and perplexed her because they are incredibly proud of the western meals they create and serve their clientele. The daily rate for the resort wasn’t cheap and included all meals, and there were no other food options on the island, so for many reasons, i wanted to make sure i could eat what i was served. The indonesian dishes i was served were delicious and i may be biased, but were much tastier than the European food that was served. One day i asked for mie (noodles) and couldn’t believe my ears when they said there were none on the island! I still can’t believe that they served so much western food when the kitchen staff are all locals.

Other than the food and the lukewarm hospitality shown by the staff ( both Indonesian & Western) our stay was amazing. The setting was so beautiful and regardless of the weather, sitting on our verandah looking out across the straight to Sumatra was always breath taking. In front of our bungalow, were numerous holes and whenever we sat still for a while, crabs as big as my hand appeared. We could talk without sending them scuttling back into their burrows, but as soon as we moved, the vibrations sent them scurrying back to their burrows.20130909-114218.jpgOne afternoon i watched one of the crabs using his huge pincer to pluck grass stalks and put them in his mouth! The crabs were a beautiful yellowy red colour and one of the other guests told us that she watched a wild monkey catch one of the crabs and then run off into the jungle with it. The next day we found crab remains on the grass which we guessed to be a result of that encounter.
Other animals we saw included wild pigs. On my first morning I woke early to the sound of munching and when I peeked through the open window, 2 creatures were happily munching the long grass growing out the back of our bungalow. They looked like tapir and I was so excited to see wild tapir but when I asked about it the following morning at breakfast I was disappointed to discover they were just wild jungle pigs! We also got a fright one day returning to our bungalow when we suddenly came across a large pig foraging but I think he got more of a fright than we did as he just bolted blindly back into the jungle.
We had a troop of monkeys go past in the treetops behind our bungalow in our last day and we were thrilled that a couple of them sat a while with a very young one where we could watch them relaxing and grooming each other.
Another animal that often visited the hibiscus growing in front of our verandah was a beautiful red bird. 20130909-161451.jpgIt was such a gorgeous colour and if we kept still, happily flitted from flower to flower nearby.
We also saw a crab with a light bulb for a shell. 20130909-162030.jpgThe broken part of the bulb was sharp and he was fortunately not to spear himself as he crawled along.
Here is a gorgeous butterfly that flew past while i was sitting in the dining room. It’s top wings were black and the bottom wings were an iridescent blue. 20130909-162548.jpg
On the same day, I was shown a pit viper which was enjoying the heat from the solar panels.20130909-162946.jpgit wasn’t very happy to be photographed and i was torn between getting close enough to get a good photo and respecting the fact that it was an extremely venomous snake! The latter won easily and i backed off once his head started swaying!
Another morning we were sitting on our deck and upon hearing a strange whirring noise, we investigated and discovered a great billed heron sitting in a coconut tree.20130909-163749.jpgThe only other animal we saw and then it was little more a glimpse, was a hornbill. One of the other guests got a fantastic photo of both the adult and the young hornbill showing its colourful and weirdly shaped beak clearly however we just happened to look up as it was flying off into the trees and all we were the white wings.

From the 4 days we spent on the island, there were several memorable highlights. On our second day, a picnic outing was organised to a nearby island – Pulau Pagang. We couldn’t believe our luck because apparently they are only organised if the conditions are right so we really fluked it by getting there the day before! All we had to take was our bathers, a towel, our snorkeling gear, sunscreen & a book! The staff packed everything else including a delicious picnic, tea/coffee & fruit. The boat ride out to the island passed by many other gorgeous looking islands covered in thick jungle with white sandy beaches around the edges. With the sun shining on the water, it was like something out of a tourist brochure; clear aquamarine seas and white sandy beaches complete with coconut trees!

We weren’t the only group to visit Pagang island for the day and there were also very basic bungalows available for overnight accommodation too which looked like they were being used by several backpackers. Everyone in our group immediately grabbed their snorkeling gear and dashed into the water. The water wasn’t totally clear and the closer we swam towards where the waves were hitting the reef, the water became cloudier and cloudier. However the variety of fish life there was impressive, I just wish I could identlify more than just the needle fish, clown fish, parrot fish and angel fish! The colours and shapes of the fish included every colour and even the school of chocolate brown fish were attractive! The water level over the coral wasn’t that deep so if I kept still and floated above the fish, they would forget I was there and swam right beneath me where if I wanted to, I could touch them! While we were out snorkeling, the weather changed and it began to rain lightly. The rain water drops were so cold compared to the temperature of the lovely warm sea water. After lunch, we walked along the beach briefly while a decision was made about whether we stayed or leave. We found some beautiful shells and I wished I had Chris Reedy with me to help identify them! The most interesting of the shells were these:20130908-195449.jpg
We were told they are sea anenome skeletons. Do you agree?
Other shells we found were:20130908-195732.jpg
On our return, they still hadn’t made a decision so I headed off again, this time in the other direction and found a quiet deserted cove behind the point. The sand was so soft and the shells there were even better so it felt like I was one of only a few people to explore that beach. I also found an enormous hermit crab which I had fun filming. While I was filming the sky suddenly darkened so I headed back immediately to discover everything packed up and people heading back to the boat. On the boat ride back it rained lightly all the way and then rained off and on for the rest of our time on Pulau Cubadak. It was a fantastic day and the fact that it rained didn’t make any difference. Possibly because it began while we were snorkeling so we were already saturated! The day started off quite hot and humid and finished off beautifully cool.

On our 3rd day, Trees & I decided to take one of the canoes and paddle around the island to explore another area recommended by other guests for snorkeling. 20130908-200449.jpg
We took advantage of a break in the rain and thankfully the water was calm although the tide was right out. The boat was made from fiberglass so it was very light and very easy to canoe. We headed off hugging the coast, stopping off at various beaches along the way to explore. Trees found a beautiful shell at our first beach.20130908-180209.jpg
We tried anchoring the canoe off the coast so we could snorkel but the water was too shallow and there appeared to be nothing much to looking at other than some really unusual plants and some tiny yellow fish, so we headed ashore and explored again. I headed in one direction while Trees headed in another and as the sun came out, the colours of the water against the sand were so beautiful. I found several waterfalls and enjoyed a brief shower under one to cool off! The water was so cold compared with the sea water. The jungle grew right up to the sand and at times the huge boulders on the edge of the sand were covered with huge roots from the enormous trees growing right up to the edge. It was as if the 2 different environments, the jungle and the beach, were incompatible and so there was no overlap! Where one finished, the other started.20130909-193822.jpg
It was so lovely just strolling along the beach. At the larger of the waterfalls, I noticed a path through the jungle edge that followed the coast which was fortunate because it became impossible to walk along the beach. I followed it right to the end where I found a huge purple hermit crab stuck in some roots. I rescued it and then set it on the path in the sun so that I could film it walking as it was so beautiful. 20130909-194147.jpg
When I left it to head back, it promptly walked off the path and fell back into the roots from where I rescued it originally! We headed back to the resort about midday so that we could do some more snorkeling before lunch but the water was so murky after all the rain, the snorkeling plan was abandoned.

On our second to last day, we decided to explore the track we had heard about that led up to the top of the island from where the view of the island was apparently outstanding. We began the walk about 4pm, each carrying a water bottle and our cameras. The track felt like a dry river bed as it was full of rocks and huge roots and it also had a thin rope along the edge most of the way as a marker showing the way. The path had been cut out of the forest and at times was hard to see where it went, so the rope helped us many times in staying on the path. The climb was quite arduous as the track was very steep in parts. At one point we could hear a small waterfall but unfortunately it was too dangerous to get to. I was so hot and sweaty from the steep climb that the idea of splashing my face to cool down was very attractive, however to get to the water would have involved climbing down a bank lined with fallen logs and vines so instead I listened to my common sense and just longly listened to the sound of cool water flowing as we walked past. Just as well I did because shortly afterwards it began to rain lightly! The cool rain was so lovely and while I welcomed it, Trees didn’t for several reasons; the main ones being that her camera isn’t water proof and also because she didn’t want to be negotiating a steep slippery path in the rain.

20130910-072305.jpgSo she decided to head back while I continued on. 20130909-200054.jpg
The rain lightly fell as I passed by a sheer rock face. I followed it around the back to where the last stretch of path was before starting the last acsent. This part of the track was very steep and almost entirely smooth dirt with very few roots and at the top there were more ferns than trees. The path narrowed with the ferns growing on either side obviously faster than the number of feet that passed by to keep them under control! I pushed through the ferns and suddenly came across the view over the resort. It was so beautiful and I could see all the way across the straight clearly to Sumatra. I noticed that the path continued, so I pushed through the ferns even further and found another vantage spot from where I could see the bungalows and the beach beyond them. 20130909-111857.jpgI had just taken this photo of the amazing view when suddenly the clouds came in and totally covered everything and then the heavens opened and it just poured. If the rain had held off for 5 more minutes, I could have reached the final vantage spot which was a rock from which looked out over what was probably an amazing view however with the wind and rain, it seemed too foolish to be climbing out on rocks so high up the mountain alone. So instead I did a ‘Julie Andrews’ and stood there with my arms outstretched and with my face turned upwards savouring the cool rain on my face after all that climbing. Unfortunately I could only stand there briefly as the light was fading fast and I knew I needed to start my descent to be able to return to the bottom before the light totally disappeared. At first the track was still passable and I didn’t have any difficulty climbing down however the amount of rain didn’t ease at all and after a while when I grabbed the small tree trunks along the edge of the track to stop me sliding down the slippery slopes, I was surprised at the amount of water pouring down the trunk. 20130909-105333.jpgAs I got further and further down the track, it became less like a track and more like a river bed. At times the track was difficult to follow because of the fading light and the gushing water. Consequently I was really grateful for the rope along the path because the track was now largely unrecogniseable as that it was ankle deep in water! At times the track would be intersected with a fast flowing stream flowing down from the top of the mountain and when I finally reached the huge flat wall of rock, there was an enormous amount of water pouring over it like a waterfall. 20130909-110013.jpgUnfortunately it was getting so dark in the jungle that the photos of my descent are very dark! This is unfortunate because it was so beautiful. The further I climbed, the deeper the water on the track became and eventually the only way I could work out where to put my feet was to look for where the leaves were caught on the huge roots. It was a real adventure climbing down and as confusing and treacherous as it was, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge however the following day I had very sore muscles both in my arms from the paddling and in my legs from the climb up the mountain!

It was so scenic on the island. Here are some extra photos I took for you to enjoy!20130910-062513.jpglooking up the beach from one end of the resort to the other at night.
20130910-062845.jpgthe rian coming on Pulau Pagang
20130909-201649.jpgPulau Pagang when we first arrived

20130910-072204.jpgthese boats go out every night catching ikan teri, which are small fish the size of sardines. The bright lights all along the sides of the boat cabin simulate the moon which brings huge schools of fish to the surface and each night catches average 150kg.
20130910-064244.jpgthe rain clouds just starting to come in.

20130910-071839.jpglater afternoon as the lights are just coming on.


4 thoughts on “Pulau Cubadak, West Sumatra

  1. I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be just
    what I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content for you?
    I wouldn’t mind writing a post or elaborating on a few of the subjects
    you write concerning here. Again, awesome blog!

    • Thanks for your very kind comments! I have been back ‘home” for a few months now, and am now planning and saving madly my next trip!
      Have you travelled through Indonesia? I am really interested in exploring the idea of having guest authors. Have you guest authored on other blogs? What subjects did you have in mind?

  2. i am an Indonesian, and from West Sumatera, and i just very amuse for everything you wrote about Indonesia, especially West Sumatera.
    One day, when i got married, i’ll go to Cubadak Island, wish me.
    and keep writing about Indonesia, we are so thank full for that XD

    • Terima kasih banyak atas komen ini! Kapan Pernikaan Nova? Kalau tidak salah, pulau Cubadak tidak lagi disewa orang Prancis dan sekarang disewa orang Indonesia dan kalau begitu, pasti makanannya jauh lebih enak!!

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