To Sapeken--The Market of an Archipelago


On my first visit to Indonesia I visited some of the most crazy-remote places in the world.  We trekked to areas where possibly one other outsider--either foreigner or even Indonesian from outside Papua--had ever been before.  I’ve long known what the word remote means.

The first time I sailed to the Kangean Archipelago, north of Bali, I thought I’d gone to the most remote island I’d ever see.  Then the people on the main island of the Kangean archipelago told me about the even more remote Sapeken island. 

Sapeken, they said, was toward the eastern end of the Kangean Archipelago—an island merely a kilometer in diameter, but so densely populated that land there cost as much as it does in downtown Surabaya—which can mean several $100k per acre!

I asked, “Why do so many people want to live on a crowded island?”  Since the old days Sapeken has been a key trans-shipping point for the traditional wooden sailboats that ply the routes between the larger islands--Sulawesi, Borneo, Java & Bali. Wow, an ancient island port still functioning & preserved as it always was—virtually unvisited by foreigners!  How cool is that?

It was several years before I could put together a trip that would go there.  But on our last trip to the Kangean archipelago our intern Kenny, Glen Eitemiller—water expert from Community Restoration Solutions Indonesia--& I decided we had to do this!

We hopped in the back of a pick-up truck at the west end of the main island of Kangean, & rode it down the bumpy road about 90 minutes to the “port” of Kayuwaru. 

Not much of a port—you walk out on a beach till you’re in shin-deep water, . . . 

board a dugout, . . . 

that takes you out to a proper water taxi for transport to Sapeken island.

Locals fill up the water taxi--bringing along with motorcycles so that they can commute around the vast square kilometer of Sepeken island. 

We settle in for the the water taxi voyage to Sapeken,

& get to know some of the local Kangeanese & Sapekenese.

Disembarking on Sapeken we immediately get a taste of this densely packed island.  

No real streets lead away from the pier—rather alleys crowded with pull carts . . . 

& tarps stretched over narrow passages between traditional market shops—just wide enough for tri-cycle motorcycle taxis. 

Before long we realized that the name of this place means “The Market”.  It’s the central market for a couple dozen islands.  Some of the surrounding islands have no fresh water on them any more.  So, weekly, people from all over the eastern Kangean Archipelago ride water taxis to Sapeken to shop in these narrow alley ways for a couple hours before returning to their own islands.  Many must buy bottled water.  Think of this as being sort of the Super Walmart for a whole archipelago—on a traditional scale.

We looked seriously out of place, but kids quickly warmed up to us—as they always do.

Our hunger caught up with us, so we went to the nearest diner—a stall in the front of a house back in the maze of dense alleys.

The local kids size up Kenny. 

One thing is for sure, sometimes in the most remote islands that you discover the most beautiful people. 

More to come about Sapeken in the Kangean Archipelago, north of Bali, Indonesia!

Think you’d like to try your hand at shooting exotic Indonesia?  Join us this 14-21 September for our Java-Bali Photo Tour with Matt Brandon of Better yet, opt in also for the extension tour through 25 September & you’ll enrich your portfolio with Borobudur & the Javanese batik artists.    

Once you see the details, buy your spot here at this one-time introductory price & save several hundred dollars over joining us later.