Deserted island camping in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia

Travel helps us to understand that disconnection can lead to the most beautiful reconnection. This is a lesson learnt from the adventures of two girlfriends and I through the north of Sumatra, Indonesia’s largest island.

Before going to Sumatra, I had fantasies of dense jungles, wildly exotic people and places, rare animals, unknown territories and rugged quests. After having visited, these fantasies turned into reality.


A strikingly memorable period on this trip was our time camping on an 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 camping there – 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 island 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 but also meaning we needed to give greatest respect to the land we were upon.


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.



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