It’s not easy to imagine a city without land – go ahead and try. Yet that’s exactly what we’ve stumbled across here in Bungin, a small fishing village on the north coast of Sumbawa. Instead of land, Bungin has just a coral reef that becomes fully submerged twice each day at high tide. 200 years ago, this was just a place where local fishermen dried their nets, but today it’s become the most densely populated place in Indonesia. The whole thing, by necessity, is built on stilts with elevated wooden platforms and raised concrete foot paths connecting each shack-like home to the others. For a man wanting to start a family, the village rules require him to first stack more coral on the outside of the reef as a foundation for his home… there’s simply no space left. Goats eat from garbage piles because vegetation is of course just a fantasy in a place like this.
One would think a landless village of shacks like Bungin, just one storm surge away from complete annihilation, would be a recipe for lifelong misery. But one would be very wrong. That’s been the biggest surprise of our tour through Bungin – the people, especially the kids, are perhaps the happiest we’ve ever seen anywhere. The city behaves as one big family, impossible to tell who’s related and who’s just friends, and perhaps it doesn’t much matter which way it is. Visitors like us are welcomed like honored guests – with the density of people in every direction, it’s impossible to reciprocate every smile and every greeting, no matter how hard we try. And all of this has forced us to think a bit about the places where we’ve lived, and why it is we don’t see relationships like these and such effortless happiness and friendliness anywhere in western countries. Once again we’re leaving with only new questions about life and not a single new answer. We never possibly could have imagined this cobbled together village of nearly-sinking shacks would leave us pondering such fundamental questions.
With all the excitement this morning, it’s easy to forget that we’re emerging from a few amazing days in one of the most scenic parts of Indonesia. As the pics hopefully show (because words cannot), the motorcycle ride from Labuan Aji to the Mata Jitu waterfalls on Pulau Moyo seemed more fictional than real, even though we were standing right there in front of it, and swimming right there in it. For some strange reason, the most amazing places we find still seem largely undiscovered by the tourist masses. This is one of those times where pressing the “Publish” button will probably happen only after a few seconds of hesitation.
We’ve just lifted the hook and are now continuing west towards Lombok, sadly nearing the end of this incredible string of “8th Parallel” islands, but approaching what most people say are the best destinations in Indonesia. We’ll be very impressed if that turns out to be true.