The island of Madura, Indonesia — what to see and do

I posted snapshots of the Sumenep region (east Madura) earlier this year.   So here’s the west side story, mostly snaps from #Sampang and Bangkalan. Click the pix for higher resolution.

Madura tourism in the 1930s (Indonesia)

The Dutch were very proud of their military, maritime and industrial interests on Madura, located roughly between Java and Bali. Place names from the island were chosen for the  elite Batavia residential enclave of Menteng at about the same time “Madoera” was a popular stop on the trans-Java “auto wegen” route.

Between 1948-50 Madura was ostensibly a sovereign state, during which time the Dutch were plotting for a way to retain some of their former possessions east of Java.  

No matter where you chose to go in Madura you’ll quickly intuit there’s a lot to see but it’s not necessarily easy to find.

Don’t let that stop you. Take a GPS, somebody’s old PhD dissertation,  a local driver or this post to help convince people you know what you’re about.  Because — with the exceptions of Camplong, Jombang, Slopeng, etc —  there hasn’t been any serious tourism on the island for around 70 years and the locals, though totally friendly, are a bit clueless as to how it’s all supposed to work.

When cars became reliable and affordable in the 1930’s,  Madura must have been an interesting counterpoint to Bali, where filmmakers and artists were already tripping over themselves in pursuit of  inspiration, fame and fortune.

And that’s basically where these four East Java regencies (Bangkalan, Sampang, Pamekasan and Sumenep) are today. The history and geography of the island make it very accessible.  And young Madurese are very likely to have spent some time in the big city. So with luck and patience you’ll be able to get around and communicate without too much trouble.

A photo from Camplong beach hotel in Camplong, Sampang

[Camplong beach hotel in Sampang has lovely gardens, great prices, wifi and a good mix of funky bungalows and newer non-funky rooms. Beach access and a few other things are on the weird side, but it’s overall very relaxing.]

If you have time to devote to this island, then you’ll be able to pick up on how its culture merges seamlessly into that of east Java and north Bali, mostly thanks to the Madurese diaspora, which is one of the region’s most significant.  Taking the ferry is one way to ease in and out of Madura. You can cross over from Java via Kamal and even take a ferry to (near) Bali from Kalianget (Sumenep).

Here’s a note about western Madura, which has been in the news because of the sectarian friction in #Sampang. With Gili Labak and the other small “gilis” extending to the east, this part of Madura may seem the most remote. But for centuries this is where the action was, especially around the harbor area at Kalianget. Thus, although Sumenep is admittedly a time trip, sometimes the west side can be even quainter, including the back streets and empty beaches of Sampang; and the “forgotten” villages of Bangkalan, with their verdant rice terraces, whitewashed graves and awesome bamboo groves.

Be firm, friendly and self-sufficient. If people ask, do tell them what you’d like to see most. Assuming it doesn’t involve geo-prospecting, cock fighting, bull racing,  Indonesian soap operas, religion, or the price of chili peppers, they’re not going to have much to say. But they’ll at least give you the benefit of the doubt and you’ll be free to carry on. As much time as you may waste doing so, it’s best to drop by and say “hi” to the village chief or chief-apparent. And — alas — you do the same when you leave.

Note for gourmets and connoisseurs:  sadly, you may find that Madurese soto and sate (and food in general) is tastier in Jakarta than back in Madura.

Also, feel free to take comparisons between Madurese and other Indonesians with a fistful of the finest local sodium chloride. Why? Because who would be surprised to find the Javanese giving their own language and culture a few extra stars; and most of the rest is based on 19th century armchair anthropologists rehashing 18th century slave-trade chatter. For true ethnographic context, especially as regards diaspora, try Kurt Stenross, author of Madurese Seafarers. The point is, an outsider would have to be very good at people flavors to know who is and isn’t from Madura.

What do do in Madura

The photos below correspond to what we did recently during a mixed-purpose trip to Madura (Sept. 2012) — including a lot of chilling in the village. The full range (researched but only partially hyperlinked) of possible fun includes:

  • auto tour (email for vehicle/driver)
  • mt. bike (email for 4-day tour)
  • windsurf
  •  sail
  • dive (coral and shipwreck)
  • spelunk (many caves)
  • motorbike
  • hike
  • rodeo
  • photograph colonial buildings
  • hunt unspoiled beaches and historic graves
  • investigate links to Bali and Java
  • study production of batik and/or salt, the Madurese language, Javanese history, ethnobotany, magic, kite lore or Islam
  • volunteer (email for info)

For us, in September, Madura was dry but not hot, because of the brisk breeze, apparently the same one you find this time of year in Bali. In December the island is green and lovely as Ireland.

If you’re having trouble reading Indonesian websites about what to see in Madura, then try posting your FAQ as a comment below.  Just in case.

Getting in and out of Madura

What’s on the way to Madura from Jakarta? You may perhaps chose from:

  • $40/80 min. hop to Juanda int’l and across bridge
  • trans-Java rail adventure
  • wonders of E. Java and horrors of Sidoarjo mud disaster
  •  G-Land surf legend
  • Surabaya — a  diverse, relaxed city with a real center which is also (in name and in fact) the gateway to east Indonesia and lots of great hotel options (Majapahit if you wanna impress or be impressed and Hotel 88 (near Hotel Sahid) if you just want something clean, convenient, and friendly, with free wifi (it’s new)

On the way out of Madura — and back to Bali, say — you’ve got all the pretty little “gili” islands immediately to the east  of Madura, G-Land (again), banging Banyuwangi (cool for various reasons), or a 5-hr ferry direct from Kalianget to N. Bali.

More photos of Madura, Indonesia

Next door to the police "resort"

Camplong Beach Hotel, Sampang Madura (check in, unwind)

Sunset delight of swallows and kite

Dusk in the dusun

Gadis madura

Authentic Madura

Village boys in Blega, Madura

Madurese village boys

A massive kite is pictured stored in its own building in rural Madura

Competitive kite culture is worth a look. Some are massive and come with noise-makers and lights visible for kilometers. One boy responded “Lots of Madurese people in Bali,” when I noted that Bali kites were also big : )

Jakarta guesthouse for expats

Madura-Sundanese girl

Viva la raza

Asian cowboys

Laki-laki Bangkalan urus makanan sapi

During the merciless dry season, being a cowboy is mostly about coming home with something for the cows to eat

Hotel kelas wisata di Pantai Camplong

Charmed in Camplong

Fanciful yet simple design of traditional Madurese house in Bangkalan, Madura

Traditional Madurese house

Rumah adat di Bangkalan, Madura

Traditional Madurese condo

Big, little, and medium-age Madura girls chatting in the village

Madura girls, all shapes and sizes

Waiting for the sha(wo)man near Modung, Bangkalan, Madura

A pastoral scene near Sampang Madura (Indonesia)

Pastoral afternoon scene, near Sampang, Madura

A young Madurese village girl

Each family has a musholla or prayer room, which is used for many other purposes as well. The shawl reflects “traditional” Madura colors.

4 responses »

  1. Any comments on graphics appreciated. Why do these fotos look better when you click. Usually it’s the other way round. What’s the optimum size? Are these fotos way too big? So why does it look crappy? Does this page take too long to load? So many questions.

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