It was my first time in West Sumatra, so I really enjoyed my two-hour journey to Carocok Painan Jetty from Padang, the capital of the province. The city is situated in a scenic cape and you pass hilly terrain to get to the jetty. By the time I arrived at the jetty it was already quite late in the afternoon due to miscommunication with the driver. Fortunately, Cubadak Paradiso Village offered to save me some food even though it was way past lunch hour, and for that I was really grateful.
Marco, one of the owners, welcomed me at the resort’s dock. The island is 700 km away from mainland Sumatra, but the calm water could have fooled me into thinking the sea was just a very big and blue lake surrounded by undulating hills of thick forests.
My bungalow is built in vernacular tradition, not unlike my late grandmother’s stilt house back in the village, but with modern amenities. The spacious bathroom, for example, has both western-style seated toilet and the shower is equipped with a water heater (very important for spoiled city-dwellers like yours truly) as well as a large mirror and an ample dry space with a counter. The best thing about the bathroom? You can actually drink straight from the tap as the water comes from a natural spring, a rarity in Indonesia. The first floor has a desk, a minibar, a safety box deposit and a daybed tucked in a cozy corner partly hidden from the entrance. I had to go upstairs to get to the attic, where the main bed is, to find my comfortable queen size bed complete with mosquito net, which reminded me of colonial dwellings of bygone times or maybe a Tarzan movie.
The lack of air conditioning had me worried that it was going to get very warm. But my pessimism was proven to be unfounded. I just needed to open the windows and the blinds (and keep the mosquito net on), and the sea breeze took care of everything. I didn’t even need to use the ceiling fan. All twelve bungalows face the sea and none of the doors and verandas face each other, so I was spared from nosy neighbours. Lying on the sun lounger, I imagined I could just stay there and watch the sea, the surrounding islands, and the sun as it sets and rises.
There’s a bar and sundeck for schmoozing with other guests with a cold one in hand. Marco and Dominique themselves act as host and hostess and they make sure there’s a steady flow of drinks to accompany you as you soak up the sun.
SEE ALSO: Peaceful Padang: A Weekend Itinerary
Sitting around and doing nothing was not my idea of a secluded island holiday. Fortunately, there are a variety of activities to choose from, such as snorkelling, canoeing, trekking, boat outing, sailing, and even a PADI diving certification course. But my first goal was to conquer the tall hill overlooking the resort.
As there are no guides, I had to climb on my own. Twenty minutes in, I was ready to give up when I saw an elderly German couple, who were resting on a mossy tree log with a small waterfall behind them. “Is it still a long way to the top?” I asked them. “Ten more minutes!” they answered cheerfully, and my spirit was renewed. It actually took me a total of two hours to go up to the peak and back to my bungalow but it was all worth it. The view from the top was simply breath-taking!
Needless to say, I was beat. After a hot shower, the sound of the lapping waves from the sea and the cicadas from the forest surrounding the resort lulled me to sleep like a baby.
The next morning, I woke up refreshed but with a growling stomach. Aside from a selection of tropical fruits, pastries and toasts, I had the choice of eggs cooked according to my preference. I opted for omelette, which was perfectly fluffy, and to my surprise, had a bit of spicy kick to it. But as an Indonesian, I could use more heat. If you are into spicy food, don’t hesitate to inform your cook.
While staying at the resort I realised all of the staff were male, which is uncommon in contemporary Indonesia. Marco told me that it’s not because they don’t want to hire women. It’s just they are in a matrilineal society as it is a very traditional Minangkabau area, and women are expected to stay home as guardians of their clans’ properties. While pondering on this, I didn’t realise that one of the fishing boats had moored nearby and a fisherman was proudly showing the day’s catch. “Our dinner,” announced Marco with a smile.
It was still early in the day, so I decided to burn some calories by snorkelling. When I arrived at the dock, the German couple I saw the previous day was already on the boat, ready for our snorkelling excursion. There are several great spots for diving and snorkelling around the islands, but unfortunately, the waters were too choppy that day. However, the sea surrounding the resort was all calm and peaceful, like a secret lagoon, making it pleasant to swim in. It was such a delight to see a variety of fish swimming in and out of the corals.
I also tried canoeing solo. Though tired after just a few minutes of rowing, I was still able to let myself to be dazzled by the view from my canoe. The water was crystal-clear, the sky was blue, and the islands were emerald green.
I stayed put for quite some time and allowed myself be carried to a sense of calm. By the time I rowed my canoe back to the resort, I was wearing a wide smile on my face and a healthy tan on my body.
Lunch and dinner were interesting communal affairs where you could have a wonderful time chatting with other guests over sumptuous meals. The owners are French, so they are naturally passionate about food, both Western and Indonesian. Each meal was better than the one before, making food definitely one of the highlights of this resort. Western food is usually the hearty Italian kind, and the Indonesian fares are cooked light. Dominique told me that Indonesian food can be overwhelming for most Westerners’ palate, and the way they serve the food suits the Western sensibility without completely losing its authenticity. What can I say? I am a fan of the rich and spiciness of West Sumatran food, but I found myself enjoying the resort’s version of perkedel (potato fritter) which is lightly fried.
Even a hesitant conversationalist like me appreciated the chance to mingle with other guests. I smiled as a young English couple told the whole table how they underestimated Sumatra, and how different everything was from home. For most of the Western guests here, Cubadak is the only place in Sumatra where they get to meet other Westerners. In fact, this was the exact reason why the late Nanni, the original owner of the resort, built the property. He fell in love with Sumatra but couldn’t find any lodging that met his standards.
In some places, the local authority insists on having a guide follow you around. So I could see how Westerners who are used to travelling independently could feel suffocated. Sometimes all you want is a place to get away from it all, even just for a while, until you’re ready to get back into the action. This is a scenario that is all too familiar for those who go through the North Sumatra-West Sumatra trail which is blessed with various natural attractions from scenic lakes to amazing wildlife.
From the get-go, it was obvious that Cubadak Paradiso Village is not your usual cookie-cutter resort. There’s a Robinson Crusoe atmosphere because of the secluded location, but there are also the usual trappings of the modern world like Wi-Fi and hot water to keep you sane. As a spoiled city boy, I initially had difficulty understanding the concept of doing things on my own, but by the end of my stay, I had a newly found appreciation of it.
In no way am I saying that you should travel in a bubble. In fact, I implore you to enjoy West Sumatra and the rest of Indonesia as their loud colours and personality can come off as overwhelming as the hearty and spicy food. But when you need a place to find your bearings and cleanse your palate in a laidback and an unobtrusive environment, you’ll definitely find one at Cubadak.
CUBADAK PARADISO VILLAGE
Address: Pulau Cubadak, Kecamatan XI Tarusan, Kabupaten Pesisir Selatan, West Sumatra, Indonesia
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Padang from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. It takes a 2-hour drive from Padang to Carocok Painan by car and another 15 minutes by boat to get to Cubadak Island. The resort offers a transfer service for an additional fee. For lowest fares and flight info, visit airasia.com.