The first day I set my foot on Banyuwangi, the intercity bus dropped me and my friends at a village road named Jajag. It was 1-hour car ride from my destination, Pancer, a fishermen’s village located in the south part of Banyuwangi.
A hired driver picked us up and drove us to our homestay at Red Island beach, not far from Dusun Pancer. It was early morning. The sun was starting to rise. The sky was still in the color of pale, light blue. I felt excited. I looked out of my passenger window and expanded my view far away.
Then I found an interesting sight: a vast blue high land with something like a big, flat, dark red and pink crater in its center.
I squealed in delight. Pointed out the amazing scenery. Then one of my friends who has visited the place several times before, told me this:
And here I thought that was the famous Red Island that people adored.
Why can’t I talk about it?
The Mountain that People Refuse to Look at
It does feel like an elephant in the room. Something so big, so striking, so obvious, yet people try so hard to ignore it.
Everyone could see that particular mountain from almost everywhere on that south part of Banyuwangi. It’s there. I saw it when I was sailing around the area. I saw it when I was standing on the Pancer beach.
If I walk quite far from the Red Island beach, bee lining my way to the fishermen’s wharf on the right side of the bay, I could see the red flat land behind the green mountain.
I mean, I even saw it from Jajag, a place 30 kilometres away from the site. How could you pretend not to see it?
When I finally saw the cute Red Island — a small island in the shape of a giant caramel pudding (pardon my imagination), the censored mountain is many times bigger than that.
Yet when you’re recording scenery around the Red Island, they tell you to skip or avoid that particular mountain.
It’s a sensitive topic, they said.
It’s Getting Shorter
My friend told me that the mountain is getting shorter and shorter in each of her visits. Someone mined it. Took the earth and strained it for valuable minerals, mainly gold.
Yes, there are reasons why the red island is red. And why the area where the red island is located is shaped like a bay.
It’s said that the place is where an ancient volcano mountain once stood.
The mountain erupted and drowned the land around it. The red island were said to be an accumulation of red lava that turned into fertile soil and hard stones through time.
So I think it’s logical if I say that there’s a high probability that the Red Island might contain whatever they searched for in the mining site.
What if they decided to dig the Red Island too?
An Old Wound that Never Heals
I had to restrain myself from asking. But on my last day at the Red Island, my friend introduced me to a local that might have the answer to my burning questions. The man is part of an ecotourism initiative in the area, mainly to make sure that the red island and the sea beyond are clean from waste. The man looks like in his 40s and has a loud voice and a very enthusiastic trait.
I had to do some disclaimers first that my friend did warn me about the sensitivity of the topic, but I really need to ask. I expressed my apology in advance just in case my words sound callous and annoying to him, but he doesn’t have to answer me if he doesn’t feel like it.
Me: I heard that the locals hate to talk about the mountain, why is that?
Because it hurts our feelings.
People asked our opinions many times, some of them are from the media and high-level organizations, but nothing happened. Nothing. They still dig the mountain. Still exploit our soil, our land. There is mud polluting the sea around the mining location, threatening the existence of our marine life and environment, but nobody wants to take responsibility for that.
This has been going on since the year 2005! We did rallies, we fought, we tried our best, but nothing happened.
I even heard that some of them just gather enough hard evidence and information to blackmail the other parties. And then poof, they went away after they got what they are looking for.
Me: This place has been a place for international surfing tournament, that means international media must have their attentions too on the Red Island. They never ask about the mountain?
How could they come here and cover the story if they didn’t get the permit to visit and write it? Nothing happened.
Me: But aren’t people worried that they might lost the Red Island too? If we gain support from the international media and maybe get global protection for the Red Island and its surrounding, maybe we could prevent it from happening.
We don’t know. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. The geologists and other experts have told me that the red island contains valuable materials, so there’s that.
But here’s the thing. People see this place as a tourism site. They care about the beauty, the cleanliness. But this is where we live. We were born here. We eat here. We want to protect not only the red island and the mountains but all of it.
All of our land. All of our people.
More Than Just a Tourism Site
And here I am trying to find solutions when I was just another outsider that cares about something shallow like beauty and cleanliness. I feel sad and ashamed.
The Red Island and Pancer beach are beautiful and the air is light compared to the city beaches that I ever visited. The fishes are big and blue. The sand is warm. The water is fresh.
The locals talk in a cheerful Javanese language. They are kind and cook the best grilled fish ever with sweet steamed cabbage and spinach, also chili condiments with fragrant basil. Their gardens dominated by dragon red fruit plant and their coconut water is refreshing and sweet. They are great conversationalists. Full of smile and charming.
They clean their beach and sea, and preserve a lot of their land. I found fir and mangrove conservation less than 10 meters of the locals’ houses. They do care about their hometown.
Remember the Name
Like everyone else before me, I have hurt my source’s feelings by reminding him about the hopelessness of the situation.
Not once that the guest or the locals mentioned the mountain’s name, I had to do some googlings to get it. Let me at least tell you the name of the site.
Tumpang Pitu Mountain.
If you have a chance to see it, I hope you remember this story and maybe some of us could do more than just asking about it.