I visited the Taman Wisata Batu Mentas on day two of my long weekend to Belitung. The visit was a unique way to experience the island’s natural habitat and taste locally prepared food. We also got to check-out some really unique houses constructed from water bottles. However, don’t set your expectatons too high if you plan to visit here. You may be disappointed.
Getting to the Village
We set off early in the morning and drove approximately one hour from Santika Hotel towards the centre of the island. Our driver promised us a unique Belitung village experience and a chance to explore the island’s beautiful nature. We arrived at a place called Taman Wisata Batu Mentas, which is not actually a village but a tourist site aimed at school groups. The place looked like a giant campsite. There were colourful tents dotted amidst the tall, leafy trees and plenty of children running around and squealing at the top of their lungs.
We waited in a shaded hall for our hiking guide. The Indonesian children were curious about us. They kept darting glances in our direction until working up enough courage to ask for a photo. I guess they don’t see foreign tourists in this part of the world too often!
Our hiking guide was a middle-aged man, although he looked about 100 years old. His skin was cooked like beef jerkey, darkened from years in the hot sun.
The first thing our hiking guide did was to shake each of our hands before pointing to his bare feet. They looked like claws, his toe nails were so long! He proudly declared that only the most seasoned hikers could traverse nature without any shoes. I was only wearing flip flops and felt a little worried if they would be supportive enough for the hike. I was not nearly as adept at navigating the Indonesian bush as he was! However, I needn’t have worried.
We headed down a somewhat paved path. The sun radiated strongly but the route was easy to walk. There was barely a stone or branch to negotiate with!
Within 45 minutes we came to the so-called waterfall, which was supposed to be the highlight of the day. Perhaps something got lost in translation, but the “waterfall” looked more like a dirty brown creek. It was quite the anti-climax!
Well, we had made it this far so we tried to make the best of our situation. We dipped our hot feet in the muddy waters and snoozed for 20 minutes under the trees, relishing the cool touch of the stones.
After our walk it was time for lunch. Our guide lit up a makeshift barbeque and grilled sea snails over hot embers. They looked like orange clams. Meanwhile, curried chicken, grilled fish, bananas, seasoned vegetables and bowls of chilli and sambal were laid out on the communal tables. What a feast!
The number of flies hovering over the fish was most magical. They were like a thick, black carpet that disappeared in a loud buzz whenever you waved your hand over the top! The spectacle actually put me off trying the fish, but I did sample a few of the grilled sea snails. They tasted… interestingly dirty. It was almost like they had been plucked out of the depths of the nearby, muddy banks and thrown on the grill before being cleaned. With each bite I heard granules of dirt crunching in my ears. I wouldn’t be adverse to trying this local delicacy again, but perhaps under more hygienic conditions.
It was just as well that lunch was not so appetising. We’d be having a cooking lesson followed by an early dinner later that day so we didn’t want to fill up too much.
The biggest drawcard to Taman Wisata Batu Mentas are the Tarsier monkeys. These bug-eyed creatures are nocturnal and so small, they are difficult to spot. Tarsiers are found in Indonesia and the Philippines. They face extinction because horrible humans are destroying their habitats. Belitung is one of the few islands where the Tarsier population continues to thrive, perhaps because tourism has not yet taken off here.
Our guide led us to a large cage in the middle of the village, which we quietly entered. A Tasier monkey was soundly asleep inside a tree house. We took turns genty stroking his fur. There used to be two Tarsiers here but unfortunately the male is very picky and keeps rejecting all the female partners put inside the case with him.
I felt sad for this poor little guy, living all alone in a cage and fondled frequently by tourists. But I was heartened by the fact that the cage was spacious and full of plants. The guides were actively promoting greater awareness for this species facing extinction.
Water Bottle Homes
When we had first entered the village, we had noticed a colourful house made of water bottles and cement. The guide explained that in Belitung, environmentalists were continually thinking of ways to recycle rubbish and reduce the carbon footprint. Many water bottles are thrown away on a daily basis. They can be used to create eco-friendly accommodation.
We were escorted to a far corner of the village, where they were constructing a new water bottle house. It consisted of one room and one bathroom. Electric lighting was not required because the transparency of the bottles allowed natural light to enter the room.
A large bottle was creatively used as a shower head in the bathroom. The guide explained that they were planning to create an entire series of villas in this fashion, which they would rent to tourists. How innovative!
We enjoyed spending a few hours in this interesting village but when it came time to leave, we were ready to head off for what was promised to be a very unique cooking lesson. For more information about my Belitung itinerary and other scenic sites, please visit my original Belitung blog posting.