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article imagePelabuhanratu - Jakarta's Seaside Getaway With A Ghost

By Peter Janssen     Aug 3, 2002 in Lifestyle
PELABUHANRATU, West Java (dpa) - Few public relations officers would deem a ghost with a fondness for green bathing suits as a great selling point for a beach resort, but don't tell that to the hoteliers of Pelabuhanratu - one of Jakarta's favourite getaways.

Pelabuhanratu, a picturesque seaside resort 90 kilometres south of Jakarta as the crow flies but four hours drive as the road winds, is a popular weekend retreat from Indonesia's bustling capital that has remained remarkably underdeveloped over the decades.

Sukarno, Indonesia's first president and an avid hotel builder, between 1962-65 constructed the Samudra Beach Hotel - now part of the government's INNA Hotel Group - on the stretch of black sand beach that extends to the west of Pelabuhanratu town.

Rumour has it he intended the 100-room establishment to become Indonesia's first casino, a dream that was not to be.

The hotel site is near one of the resort's chief tourist attractions, the Karang Hawu cliff, an impressive lava flow formation from which the legendary Nyai Loro Kidul (Princess of the South Sea) flung herself into the waves below in an effort to restore her beauty and end a run of bad luck.

Under Sukarno's instructions, Room 308 at the Samudra Beach Hotel has always been left vacant for Nyai Loro Kidul.

"Our first president received a message when he was praying that it would be possible to build a hotel here, but please spare one room for the queen," explained Yayat Hidayat, marketing manager for Samudra Beach Hotel.

The Nyai Loro Kidul legend runs deep in Pelabuhanratu, where the rough surf and strong undertow have claimed many unwary victims.

Nyai Loro Kidul was the daughter of the West Javanese King Prabu Silwangi and his beautiful young wife Princess Kadita.

As the legend goes, Silwangi's other wives were jealous of Kadita and her equally beautiful daughter so they used black magic to bring down a horrible disease on the twosome that destroyed their good looks and made them stink.

The stench forced the king to send the pair packing, and after some wondering and privations the mother died and Nyai Loro Kidul, harking to sirens in the waves below, took her famous plunge.

Instead of dying, she was transformed into the beautiful sea goddess who continues to haunt the bay, preying on fishermen and sea bathers, especially those wearing green - her favourite colour.

Over the years, the Samudra Beach Hotel has turned Room 308 into a shrine to the Nyai Loro Kidul legend, which can be visited by guests.

The room is packed with lavish green furniture, a green wardrobe in the closet and decorated with numerous portraits of the famous sea goddess along with one of Sukarno, not in green.

If anything, the room adds to the hotel's rundown and slightly spooky ambience.

"I've tried to change the room's image a bit, to advertise it not as a place for her to rest but as a place to remember the legend," said Hidayat. "Some people were scared of the room. I'm trying to change our image as a hotel of mystery."

That might be a good strategy for the entire resort, which now boasts about 1,000 hotel rooms, and appears to be searching for a market niche.

New establishments at Pelabuhanratu (Queen's harbour) include fairly upmarket resorts such as newcomers Ocean Queen and Kuda Laut, which cater to Jakarta's expatriate and well-heeled Indonesian crowd, especially those with their own vehicles.

The resort is only reachable by road, and the poor condition of the stretch between Bogor and Pelabuhanratu means the drive takes at least four hours, although the scenery is nice.

Kuda Laut, run by Dutchman Rob DeLange, is attempting to push the resort as a energetic getaway by offering trekking tours to the nearby Sukabumi forest reserve, in which he has helped establish 15 different walking routes.

"There is no other organized trekking operation in Indonesia," said DeLange, who is working on his soon-to-be-published book, aptly titled, "Hiking in Sukabumi".

DeLange, who opened Kuda Laut in 2000 with a dozen tastefully constructed bungalows near the beach (no TV, no A/C and no phones) has devised his own practical way of dealing with the Nyai Loro Kidul sea goddess.

"We always tell our guests to watch the waves," he said. "If you watch the waves, I think nothing can happen, but if you turn your back on them, anything can happen."
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