Our most meaningful trip this year was to Blue Mountain Kelong, at a small island off Batam called Pulau Jemara (or Cemara).
As mentioned on its website, Blue Mountain Kelong was founded by Lincoln and Daisy Ong in 2002, “to spread dreams of a better future for inhabitants of the beautiful Jemara island. The founders had envisioned it to serve as a platform to propagate self-sustaining change and empowerment, for the benefit of the locals. And for urbanites to find refuge from the strain and stress of modern city life, so that they may rediscover relationships with their loved ones and draw close to nature.” (paraphrased)
With a team of youths from our church, we set off to experience life on the kelong resort, and to spend some time with school kids from a nearby village.
We set off bright and early, and the kids had packed most of their own clothes and belongings into their own backpacks. Getting there entails taking a ferry from Harbourfront to Batam, then a 20 minute car/van ride to another jetty, and then a 15 minute speedboat ride to the kelong.
I had prepared activity books for the kids, which kept them occupied in the ferry.
This was the second jetty in Batam, which was very much a ‘domestic terminal’, mainly used by locals instead of tourists.
The speedboat was fantastic and a very pleasant ride, since the waters there were very calm. Before long, we reached Blue Mountain Kelong!
Arriving at the Kelong
This was our room. Four beds in total for the four of us. The furnishing is very simple but comfortable enough. Although there was no air-conditioning, there was a ceiling fan, and it was very cool and breezy in the evenings. We slept well!
Each room has an en-suite toilet and shower area which is very basic – there is a shower with water-heater at the end of the row of rooms, which we tried for the kids on the first day. For the remaining days, they were ok with showering without hot water, since it was pretty refreshing to take a cool shower at around 5pm in the afternoon. So many firsts for the kids!
Here they are, saying hi to the youth who were located in dorm rooms with bunk beds.
Initially, we were apprehensive if the kids would be able to get used to the no-frills nature of the resort, but within minutes of arriving it was clear that they loved it!
As you can see from the photos above and below, the kelong was recently fitted with railings, which makes it extra safe for little children. K&B’s favourite feature of the resort were the hammocks hanging at various points around the kelong.
Which they also loved playing with as a swing. Lots of swing time every day……
But the trip was also about visiting a nearby village and bringing some cheer and fun to the school children there. The youths had prepared to do a craft and introduce Frisbee to them. Here we are, trying to finalise the craft……
At the village
On two mornings, we took at 10 minute wooden boat ride to a nearby village.
The village comprises about 30 households who make their livelihood through fishing. We visited the school and spent some time interacting with the kids.
On the first day, we introduced the game of Frisbee to them. None of them had played with one before. So we practiced throwing techniques, and then played “monkey” in small groups. Eventually, the older girls and boys learnt how to play Ultimate.
On the second day, we did a paper windmill craft with them, and then played some more Frisbee. K & B were quite hesitant to join in, but they did eventually kick a ball around with this little boy.
Some of the older boys got very good at throwing techniques such as the “hammer” – they learn fast! We awarded a Frisbee each to a boy and girl who seemed to enjoy the game the most, and left the rest to the teachers for use during PE time.
I also brought some simple English books for the kids’ school library.
Although we spoke very little Bahasa, and they spoke very little English, we managed to communicate a little, and just had fun interacting. The huge smiles on the children’s faces as they played “monkey” with the Frisbee warmed our hearts too.
I think it was sobering for the girls to realize that all the kids there aged 6-12 attended a school that comprised just three classrooms.
It hit me once again that life can be so very, very different if one was born on an island just an hour or so away from Singapore.
The youth who were with us also did various community improvement projects for the kelong, waterproofing the planks and weeding some plots of land.
I felt very inspired by the youth. Though they are fun-loving city kids, they worked hard and showed how much of a heart they had for the village school children. They stepped out of their comfort zones to talk to them, play with them, and try to build relationships with them. Two of the youth had been here more than once, and over the past 8 years, there have been more than 15 teams who have come to help with work projects at the village, such as building a water pipe.
Here they are, 8 of them.
Our family was not involved in any hard labour, but did a few nature walks. We were shown 12 fruit trees, and vegetables like Kang Kong and spinach (that made it to our meal tables) on the farm land.
After a day there, we became very conscious of the ebb and flow of the tides. This is the kelong at low tide.
What we spotted at low tide.
A zillion tiny crabs scuttling away as we approached. They would run, run, run, and when we were simply too near, they’d all disappear into holes in the ground. It was quite mesmerising to see hundreds if not thousands of these crabs scrambling in all directions.
We found a red crab under a rock and brought it back to the kelong. Later, we released it back into the sea.
The rest of the time was spent fishing. The girls acquired a great love for it! B caught 13 tiny fish and K caught 4. We threw them back into the sea and most of them had a second lease of life…… some of the others caught edible fish that was really yummy!
Watching others fish is relaxing and fun too!
Sometimes, K enjoyed just sitting at the jetty and journalling whilst enjoying the sea breeze.
Since we were at a kelong after all, there was an abundance of seafood. And Blue Mountain resort has a wonderful cook! Every meal was delicious. One night, after we raised the main net at the front jetty, we hauled up a squid! And so there was fresh squid sashimi – wonderfully sweet and chewy!
The staff at the kelong were friendly and helpful. Assistant Manager Sulaiman (on the right) came with us to the village on both days and helped a lot in translation. On the left is another staff (who was also our boatman) caught so many edible fish in one sitting! That’s what I call a real fisherman.
On the last morning, we also spent an hour or so at another nearby white sand beach, that had a ‘well’ supplied by a fresh spring.
Overall, the best aspect of the trip for me was being so close to nature.
When it was not too cloudy, the sky burst out in God’s magnificent masterpieces.
And the first moonrise that I’d ever seen in my life just added to the wonder of it all.
Indeed as we sang:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
It was a wonderful trip! We’ll be back again!
Blue Mountain Kelong, Pulau Jemara
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