Do you believe in ghosts? Well, I wasn’t brought up in a society that does, so I don't believe in them. But I do believe that some people have the capacity to perceive supernatural phenomena more than others. Whereas in western countries, a medium who can listen or talk to deceased people is often regarded as scam, in Indonesia they are part of many people’s beliefs. And as different as the various regions of this huge country may be in other aspects, when it comes to ghosts and paranormal phenomena, they all have some. Javanese stories and beliefs may differ from Balinese or Papuan stories, but the common denominator – believing in spirits and strange things happening, especially at night – is the same for most of them.
Soon after I started working here, I heard stories about some of our staff seeing ghosts on the island at night. Hot spots for ghosts seem to be our logistics jetty, the staff area or the building with the generator/compressor. At night, our employees often go to the end of the logistics jetty to call their families, as this is one of the few places on the island with a phone signal. This seems to be the time they encounter ghosts. Iwan, one of our dive guides, told me that he sometimes sees a family with a small child around the compressor area. They open a dive tank and play with the escaping air. But apparently, the parents don’t like the sound of the compressor between 8 and 10pm, which is the time our compressor men fill the tanks for our guests’ dives the next day. So they wait and only come afterwards which is why other people usually don’t see them.
Desmon, another dive guide, had an experience in the staff area near the hot water tap. It was around 3am and he was on his way to the logistics jetty to call his wife, when he saw a woman with long hair and a white dress facing her back to him. He thought it was one of the employees on her way to the toilet and went to make his phone call. When he came back, the woman was still standing there, so he started wondering, but didn’t dare to ask her what she was doing. He remembered that one of our staff had told him earlier that she sometimes hears a woman crying at night. He was convinced that this must be the woman standing there and quickly made his way to his room.
Another time, he was sitting on the logistics jetty talking on the phone once more, when he suddenly felt someone pulling his legs from underneath the jetty. This gave him such a fright that he dropped his phone to the floor and ran away, believing it was a ghost too.
Some of the Papuans also told me that they never see ghosts themselves but that in their villages there are people who can communicate with the dead. They call it witchcraft and explained that these people use a spell to bewitch the water they spray on their face in order to see the dead. Apparently, these women feel when a deceased person wants to communicate with them, which keeps them awake until they are ready to receive the messages from the deceased.
Another interesting story was brought to me by Beti from our housekeeping team. One night at around 4am, she woke up and saw Wiwi, our cook, who sleeps in the same room, praying outside on the stairs. First, she thought nothing of it, because Wiwi, being a Muslim, does this every morning. Beti said she saw Wiwi from the front and was convinced it was her, but when she turned to check Wiwi’s bed, Wiwi was still lying there, holding her mobile phone and checking the time! When Beti turned back to look at the stairs, the «other Wiwi» was gone.
And there's more. My Javanese office colleagues told me about a legend from their area which was also made into a horror movie. Sundel Bolong is the soul of an unmarried woman who died when she was pregnant and gave birth in her grave. The baby was born through her back, creating a hole that is covered by her long black hair. She is said to be a vengeful spirit, which is why her victims consist mainly of men and children, especially newborns, to replace her lost child.
In Java, they believe that spirits live in the large Banyan Trees they have there. On sacred days, a specific Thursday night, they give offerings to these spirits in the form of various flowers, such as Magnolia, Jasmine flowers and also a special type of white and red roses. These are meant to keep the spirits happy and friendly.
Believing in spirits and supernatural phenomena doesn’t seem to be a matter of education, because many of my work colleagues are well educated. It is more a matter of traditions and upbringing. If you grow up surrounded by stories of spirits and ghosts it seems natural to believe in them. And to be a little scared of them too, as they are often described as ugly or suffering and therefore vengeful creatures.
Of course, you may say this is all just a coincidence of events, not ghosts. The woman standing in the staff are may have been a ray of moonlight on the branch of a tree, making it look like a white dress. Or the supposed Wiwi sitting on the stairs outside her room was just Bety’s imagination because she wasn’t really awake and Wiwi always sits there praying at 4am.
But doesn’t it make life a lot more interesting if you can’t always explain everything?
Just as people from this area have a big knowledge about nature, plants and animals, they have also kept a stronger sensitivity for many other things. It has helped them sense danger and thus to survive in the earlier days. And sometimes, it still does today.
The other night, I was feeling blue and was sitting on my terrace for a long time, just listening to music (old stuff, mainly, that made me feel even more melancholy…).
It was one of those almost too perfect nights on Pulau Pef – warm air, no wind at all, the sea as calm as a lake and a million stars in the sky. All that was missing to make the scenery become too cheesy was a school of dolphins jumping in the small ray of light the moon cast on the water.
There I was in paradise, feeling trapped. I knew I was in a perfect place considering the worldwide situation, but all I wanted in that particular moment, was to go home. I wanted to feel and see things moving again, because I felt that on the island, I was stuck in a routine. And I don’t like routine at all. I need to be challenged, I like it when things are moving fast, or new situations come up all the time and you have to improvise or change your strategy. Which is why I love the resort atmosphere with guests. There is always something unpredicted every day, you never know what the next day will bring. New guests come every week and with them come new inputs, new inspirations, but also new challenges. Our resort may be remote, calm and close to nature, but during normal operation, it’s bustling with energy.
There is still a lot of energy on this island and within the team. And a lot of things are moving, are being rebuilt, improved and repaired. The team is busy and Ibu Maya still has a lot of ideas on what needs to be done. As a matter of fact, she feels completely different and has the impression that many things are happening and moving on the island. I agree, they are. But just not in the direction I would like them to move: have guests again.
While having these thoughts on my terrace, I felt guilty about having them. Am I allowed to feel sorry for myself when everything around me seems perfect? After all, I still have a job, the most beautiful office in the world, the best view from my terrace, lovely work colleagues, great food and a wonderful boss who tries to do everything she can to keep our spirits up. What’s wrong with me? When I talked to my daughter the other day she said: «Don’t even think of coming home, mum, it’s so depressing here! The weather is grey, people are frustrated, and the news is bad every day. Just stay where you are, you’re much better off!». I knew she was right and yet, I felt different.
I decided that I needed to challenge myself more. Reading in my hammock and jogging every other afternoon was fine for a while, but now I need a challenge on a different level. But what could I do? Ok, for one, I'm still struggling with Indonesian. Even though I work on my vocabulary every day, I need to intensify it and improve my speaking skills. I already understand a lot, but speaking is still a different story. So, that’s one challenge. Check. What else?
As I was looking up to the stars, I saw a firefly cruising above my head in the dark. I watched it for a while, then looked down in the water in front of me. There was bioluminescent plankton, glimmering from down below. This is a fascinating sight. If you’ve never seen it, you have to google it or check it out on YouTube, it's incredible!
So, there I was, in the middle of all this amazing nature, thinking what a fool I was. I’m still so fortunate and much better off than many other people currently. It’s up to me to make myself feel better. I’m the only one who can change something about my personal situation. If this were a friend of mine telling me her story, I’d probably tell her to get a new hobby!
So, I guess I’ll start thinking about a new hobby then. It may take me some time to find one, but stay tuned and you’ll read what I come up with…
This week, we held a Zoom presentation about Raja4Divers, the creation of the resort, as well as the current situation on the island with the borders still closed for international tourism. The presentation was hosted by one of our longest-standing partners, the Swiss travel agency WeDive. As with everything we do here, we wanted this event to be as perfect as possible – at least the parts we could influence ourselves, considering there were still enough insecurities, such as technical aspects like our slow internet connection.
True to Maya’s concept of involving the team in everything we do, the entire staff was to be present, despite the presentation taking place in the wee hours (4 am Pef time, to be precise!) because of the time difference to Switzerland. Our resort’s special atmosphere has always been and continues to be based on the staff’s presence and involvement at all times. They live and work in the resort and are visible to our guests, unlike in other resorts of our area. And our guests seem to enjoy that, as their feedbacks keep confirming. For our guests to be able to witness and get to know the local people and their way of life, at least for the duration of their stay with us, seems to differentiate us from others and a reason for them to keep coming back.
We definitely wanted this presentation to be an event and to be seen by as many people as possible. So we promoted it widely. I wasn’t going to settle for 50 people watching. I have always wanted to get the maximum out of an effort for which I am willing to invest a lot of time and energy. And I sometimes have difficulties understanding why everyone doesn’t think the same way, but I know people have different objectives...
Luckily, Maya is also a perfectionist which is why we set our bar very high. I think you can be remote, informal, close to nature and authentic, as we are on Pulau Pef, and still aim for the best possible version in everything you do. And there is one thing, Maya and I both hate: boring presentations. Which is why ours had to be anything but boring!
I hope we achieved this goal and that if you watched the presentation, you were entertained.
As always with such events, the last few days and evenings were hectic. Since we were using an external camera to get a better video quality than with the built-in laptop camera, there were several rehearsals to get the technical aspects as well as the angle, the sound quality (which ended up being a challenge anyway) and the focus right. We are lucky to have Marcel, our facility manager, who is quite the tech savvy and almost always found a solution to every problem we encountered.
But in spite of all the rehearsals, there were two factors we couldn’t predict: the weather and the internet connection. Lately, it had been raining hard quite often during the night. Not a problem if you’re in your bed dreaming of beautiful reefs full of fish. But if you’re planning a live presentation at 4am and prefer not to be blown away by the wind or your presentation to be drowned by the sound of heavy rain, you hope for a quiet night. We did, and it worked out!
And to our great relief, our satellite internet was stable too, something you can’t always count on in our part of the world.
Was it a success for us? You bet! Are we happy we did it? Absolutely! Even though at first, we were not sure whether it might be counterproductive, considering we still don’t know when people can travel to Indonesia again. But I think it was the right moment to present ourselves to the world. Our guests, families and friends keep asking how and what we are currently doing on the island. This was the chance to show all of you that we are fine, still busy and keeping the resort in shape for your return. It was also the possibility for people who have never been to Pulau Pef to get a notion of what we mean by «being family», «good vibes on the island» and «informal atmosphere at the resort».
Almost 200 people watching and 90% of them staying for at least one hour is a big success for us. What did you think of the presentation if you watched it?
Your honest feedback would be greatly appreciated.
And if you missed it – don’t despair! We recorded the whole presentation and will upload it to our YouTube channel as soon as possible. Just bear with us for a few more days!
When I first arrived in Switzerland at the end of July, I was still full of hope and confident that people would travel again to Indonesia as soon as the borders reopened. But the longer I stayed, the more my confidence left me. With the regular flow of negative news regarding the virus and the rising infection rates, I started feeling unsure if we were ever able to welcome guests again on Pulau Pef within the coming months… And I felt that many people around me did not believe they would be able to travel again next year, which literally shocked me.
Why was that? What was happening to Swiss people (who are probably representative for many other nationalities too)? Even though life for most people living in Switzerland was close to normal again – with the exception that you have to wear masks and keep your distance – there was still fear and a lot of insecurity in the air. And the joy of life had disappeared because public social life was very restricted. Events and activities that bring you joy were still cancelled, and I felt that many people were sad about this. I know, I mentioned this before, but it only really struck me when I came back to the island.
On Pulau Pef, the joy of life is still so present. Even though our future is as unsure as ever, our staff keeps on laughing, singing and enjoying life as if nothing had changed in the world. You may think this is naive and that reality must be looked in the eye even if you live on a remote island. But I can assure you, it helps to be here and get infected by another virus, the virus of joy and laughter.
Just as everything else is far away from Pulau Pef, the virus also seems very distant. You almost forget it’s still around. The Swiss government keeps repeating that, apart from protecting others, masks are also here to remind us that the virus is still present. On the one hand, this seems like a valuable argument. On the other hand, why don’t they remind us to be careful on the streets? So many people get killed every day by traffic. Or why don’t they remind us to eat healthier and not destroy our bodies with junk food? Wouldn’t that be just as important?
I am convinced that the joy of life contributes to keeping your immune system in good shape. You obviously also need to look after yourself by eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis, etc. But it seems evident to me that stress and fear contribute to weakening your immune system, thereby making it more prone to viruses. People in Raja Ampat may lead a less healthy lifestyle in general because they simply can’t afford to do any different. But their joy of life definitely helps them strengthen their immune system and prevent or overcome illnesses.
Even though I do miss our guests and the bustling resort life they bring, it feels good to be back on the island. It helps me believe in a better future and not lose hope that we will survive this crisis. Our staff gives me back my joy of life because their laughter and their jokes are very contagious.
I wish all of you out there could come and see for yourself, get infected by our type of virus and feel the joy of life of Pulau Pef!
When I arrived in Switzerland, many of my friends asked me how it felt to be back and whether it was a strange feeling. I didn’t quite understand what they meant because I didn’t feel weird or anything. Of course, there were the Corona measures – wearing masks, physical distancing, etc. – that I had to get used to at first. But that took me about one day and then everything felt as it always had in Switzerland. I was back home, and it felt like that.
I live in two worlds now and both of them feel home somehow. Each of them is very different from the other, and when I’m in one of them, I don’t miss the other very much. I just switch and do completely different things, complementary almost. When on the island, I read a lot, practice my Indonesian every day, rarely stay up late, eat rice, fresh fish and vegetables and drink very little alcohol.
In Switzerland, I didn’t read one book in two months, watched a lot of movies and TV, went out to meet people almost every day, ate lots of unsweetened plain yoghurt, pasta and bread and very often had a glass of wine to celebrate meeting my family and friends. And forgot all my Indonesian, aduh!
It doesn’t take me much to change from one world to the other. They both have their wonderful and their difficult sides. But this is the reason I chose this job– to experience a new world, different from the one I was used to. However, I noticed that there is a strong common denominator: nature. The more I experience nature on Pulau Pef, the more I also enjoy it in Switzerland. One of the best parts of my day was the morning walk or jog with my daughter’s dog. I will miss him a lot, too!
Pets. I love cats and dogs and I do miss them on the island. OK, I have my very cute sugar gliders that I feed every evening. Bug they are wild animals and won’t let me caress or hug them. And my little gecko friend – let’s face it, he’s not very cuddly either. I do enjoy the spectacular underwater world of Raja Ampat. But I haven’t met a fish yet that was willing to hug me… So, my furry friends at home remain special and very dear to me. But as much as I would love to have a cat or a dog on the island, they don’t belong here. They are part of my other world.
A year ago, when I came to Raja Ampat to work, people thought I was brave to do this. I didn’t understand it, but I think what they really meant was that for them, it didn’t seem easy to switch from one world to the other. So many unknown things in this new world were expecting me. What I considered interesting must have seemed threatening or scary to others. But new things hardly ever scare me, they intrigue and challenge me.
If it weren’t for the C-crisis, I would be living the dream: enjoying the best part of both my worlds, being able to travel and switch between the two of them often and broaden my horizon. Who wouldn’t want that?
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…