The archipelago of 3000 islands south of Singapore has become one of my favourite places on the planet. I’ve visited them at least once a year for the past seven years.
Ferries from Singapore’s Harbourfront take about an hour to get to Batam, a booming, fast-growing and, for the most part, not particularly attractive Indonesian island.
Pancung boats at Sekupang Wharf, Batam.
At Batam’s Sekupang Wharf we board an open pancung boat, powered by massive outboard motors, to zip about 50 kilometres through the archipelago to Telunas. On the way, we pass dozens of kelongs, the traps local fishermen use to herd their catch into their nets.
Smaller Riau Island fishing boats are powered by sail, or by the fisherman standing on the stern, paddling with long double oars.
Little stilt villages cling to the shorelines. Once away from Batam, there are no cars, because there are no roads. Even motor bikes are rare.
Houses may look makeshift, but there are a few satellite dishes in evidence, even though electricity is only available for a few hours each evening.
Fishing boats at Pauh Island.
A few larger islands have rough walking tracks around or across them, but boats are definitely the major form of transport.
A pongpong fishing boat, named after the sound it makes as it chugs across the South China Sea.
A boat like this will take about ten days to build. This one is being fitted with a small motor, but some use whipper-snipper engines.
The village football field is just a patch of dust, but the local tournament is keenly contested.
Children also play games with rubber bands or stones.
Bocce for those without bocce balls. The idea is to toss your stone close to the centre of the circle.
The concentration required to select a good tossing rock is intense.
There is little tourism in the area, so visitors are always the objects of great curiosity.
Life is casual and informal, though Islam being the dominant religion, most older girls wear headscarves.
So do their teachers.
Riau villagers have dogs and cats as pets, but some choose more interesting companions.
It’s hard to believe it’s only a two hour boat ride from this…
…back to this.
The writer was the guest of Telunas Beach Resort.