Um Island, Raja Ampat

Um Island sits right across the the Malaumkarta village in Makbon, a short distance away from Sorong in West Papua. Makbon is an inland lagoon, located north of the Bird Head Peninsula. Um Island is known as the habitat for bats and seagulls. Bats on this island look for food during daylight, while seagulls fly out at night. Quite the opposite of what we are familiar with.

Um Island is a unique getaway if you are staying for a couple of days in Sorong, gateway to Raja Ampat. The town of Sorong was once a bustling town for oil companies, but most have left since oil supply here has depleted.  Therefore, the town is more cosmopolitan compared to other towns in Papua.

To be on Um Island is most relaxing if you have the whole day to drift into an environment filled with living creatures, above and below the glittering sea. Within a couple of hours you will find new friends among the Moi tribe, find new sensations swimming close to a sea cow (or dugong), dive by an underwater World War II wreck, or be plain exhilarated to catch your own lobster.

Now that you have decided to travel from Sorong to Um Island, why not ask the locals to show you around the island and tell you about the sasi system. The natives look for fish with traditional bait and spear. Sometimes their goggles are so simple, that they make your 5-year old Speedo look very shiny. It is always interesting to swim with them and learn how they master their fishing skills.

If you bring an English speaking guide, go into the forest, and learn the flora and fauna. Watch the circling bats above, as they look for ripe fruits, soaring out from the caves. Snorkeling here is also refreshing since the water is constantly warm in any season. As the island is near the equator, a hot day is best spent in the sea, or under the shade. The breeze is a blessing, filling you with serenity.

In Malaumkarta Village, get to know the Moi Tribe who are the original inhabitants of the area. They still preserve their traditions until today. Looking primitive yet their indigenous knowledge and skills about diving will cause you to redefine your concept about life.

Equipped with diving gear, underwater camera and your own photographic skills, visit the home of the large lobsters and gracious turtles. Your most amazing dive will be to meet a dugong, which is highly possible around Um Island. This area forms part of the Asia-Pacific Coral Triangle, which is extremely rich in ocean bio-diversity. Walking around Um, you may even feel as if you are the first person to have discovered the island.

Access:

To get to Um Island it is best to start from Sorong. You may want to learn a tad about the town of Sorong. From Sorong, you have several alternatives. Angkot or locally called bemo or taxi is convenient for a daytrip to Um Island. The distance to Malaumkarta Village at Makbon is around 40 kilometers, taking between 2 to 3 hours’ drive. The normal price is IDR 15,000 one way. Make sure you book the angkot for your return journey to Sorong if you do not plan to stay overnight.

From Makbon, hire a longboat for IDR 300,000 to cross the sea to get to the island. From  the boat, you can see Um Island covered with lush beautiful trees. This is a small island, which you can circumnavigate within only 15 minutes. Though small, yet it is rich in the number of species living here peacefully. Ask the longboat owner to wait if you wish to return the same day.

Please note that prices can change without prior notice.

It will take only around 15 minutes to walk along the beach that encircles the island, where you will find that you are probably the only person or couple there. If sandals are too much to wear, get rid of them and feel the fine pristine sand between your toes.

As you stop over in Malaumkarta Village, you realize that you would have missed many interesting aspects if you chose to go around on a motorized vehicle. Ask around and sit with the warmhearted natives, who are eager to practice their English. Although not too good at the language, they do make excellent buddies to share your smiles and laughter with under the shady coconut palm trees. An experience that you don’t come across too often at home.

Suggestion:

When you rent a longboat, please choose one with balancing wings so as to reduce the possibility of losing its balance when hit by waves.

Source: Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Republic Indonesia

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