Travel Notes

At this point the subject of Nyai Roro Kidul came under discussion. Nyai Roro Kidul is the legendary goddess of the southern ocean, firmly believed in by coastal dwellers and at least accepted by the majority of Javanese. Whatever her origins, which may well date back to the pre-Hindu period, the goddess is a vital force in traditional Javanese culture. So important is she, in fact, that since the founding of the Central Javanese kingdom of Mataram in the 16th century, every sultan of Yogyakarta and Surakarta has sought her protection and has been 'mystically' married to her. Her realm extends along the entire southern coast of Java and when it is time to pay tribute to her at the annual sea festivals, official religion has to give way to her demands. The main object of these festivals, or petik laut as they are called in south eastern Java, is to ask for safe passage on the fierce and turbulent ocean, as well as pray for a bountiful catch in the forthcoming year. Well known petik laut occur at Pancer Beach, Pesanggaran in June, as well as at Muncar and Blimbingsari beaches in August. Another festival connected with the sea takes place at Cacalan beach, close to the town of Banyuwangi, in October. Annual Hindu festivals also occur close to the sea. Celebration of Han Raya Siwa Lastri Nyepi (Mikiyis), Kuningan and Saraswati can be seen at Grajagan, Pulau Merah (Pesanggaran), Tambakrejo and Lampon Beach (Pesanggaran) respectively. Activities at these festivals typically include ritual bathing, placing of offerings (flowers, fruit, sometimes goats' heads) and a variety of traditional performances.
So much for Nyai Roro Kidul; by now we were approaching the shore and judging by the size of the waves breaking close by, none of us was prepared to dispute her existence. In fact, we were not to forget her during the following two days.

After being successfully guided through the surf by our experienced crew, we pulled up at high tide on a deserted beach, feeling far from the civilized world. The pure white sand bordered on impenetrable jungle for as far as the eye could see. Here, at Plengkung, the only accommodation for miles around were the simple, elevated jungle huts used by the small community of surfers, who take advantage of the season which lasts from April through to October. Storms generated far out in the Indian Ocean give rise to perfect, kilometre long waves that reach four metres in height; every surfer's dream.
Having settled into our hut, which was equipped to accommodate about 20 people, we spent the last hours of daylight exploring the beach and, as the tide receded, the exposed reef revealing rock pools filled with all manner of marine life. We weren't the only ones attracted and were soon joined by a flock of large sea birds, for which the reef was obviously a regular feeding ground. Following a spectacular sunset over the bay and distant mountains, we returned to the huts to rest.


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