Girls Gone Glamping: Deserted Island Adventures in Sumatra, Indonesia
Guest Writer: Rachel Trevarthen
One beautiful part about travel for me is how disconnection can lead to the most beautiful
reconnections. This is a lesson learnt from the adventures of two girlfriends and I through
the north of Sumatra, the largest island of Indonesia. Before going to Sumatra, I had
fantasies of dense jungles, wildly exotic people and places, rare animals, unknown territories
and rugged quests. After having been to Sumatra, I still hold these fantasies.
A strikingly memorable period on this trip was our time ‘glamping’ on our own, essentially
deserted, island. This was the tiny Aceh island of Pulau Rubiah, nestled amongst a marine
reserve in the north‐western bay of its big brother, Pulau Weh, at the northern most tip of
Sumatra. We had seen Rubiah across the bay from our humble bungalow each night whilst
staying in Iboih (Pulau Weh), but as the days passed we did not hear of anyone actually
going there to stay – which to us meant it held great appeal. We were seeking escape,
complete isolation from societal mayhem. Rubiah was our place.
After collecting supplies from the local shops, we chartered a small boat over to the island
laden with enough raw materials to get us by for several days. Upon arrival at the main
beach, we noticed only one little “Makan” or eating shack, where the caretaker’s family also
lived. This was also the only family living on the island, we soon discovered. The three of us
arriving on the island had doubled the population from three to six!
When the caretaker realised we weren’t about to stay in his bungalow he unfortunately
summoned us away (assumedly hoping for some business). So we went. As far as you can go
on an island 0.9km long by about 0.7km wide.
We crossed the island and were pleasantly surprised to find the perfect, flat camp spot
amongst some ruins, to set up our tents, make fire, and look out onto our own private
beach. Further, the ruins contained a freshwater well, complete with a bucket and rope! This
was fortunate considering we had dropped and broken one of our drinking containers and
so were down to one water container for both cooking and drinking. We were also quite
intrigued by the sign on our campsite “Makam”. We knew that “Makan” meant food, and
thought perhaps that it was an old restaurant space. It wasn’t until the caretaker’s son
visited us that night that we realised “Makam” meant “tomb” and we were actually camped
upon ancient graves…slightly (and wondrously) creepy.
The caretaker’s son proceeded to visit us each night on dusk, and in his limited English, told
us wonderful histories of this small island, how it was originally created by the Gods for Lady
Rubiah, as a place of refuge from her evil husband. It was also used as a place of quarantine
for Muslim pilgrims during the Hajj Pilgrimage season to Mecca, back when this journey was
only possible by sea.
Rubiah became home for a number of days; and what beautiful simple days they were.
Collecting wood, making fire, cooking, eating, swimming, intermittent visits from locals and
day‐trippers, talking, exploring the island and mostly relaxing.
We successfully disconnected from one aspect of life, electricity, phones, society, buildings
and amenities of any kind and reconnected with another kind – friendship, storytelling,
tranquility, nature, simplicity and love. Rubiah, every bit the gem.