Where I Become the General of a Dolphin Army

My host mom, Sabrina, and I took a quick weekend trip to Lampung. We took a overnight bus ride/car ferry and were there by 6 AM the next morning.

Lampung is on the bottom (or the green) of Sumatra.


My host uncle lives there with his wife and four kids. They have been asking us to visit them for a while now.

The first thing we did when we arrived was eat breakfast and then put our stuff at my host uncle’s house. Then we drove a little ways out of Lampung and went to Taman Satwa Bumi Kedaton, a zoo.


The parking lot was completely empty on a Saturday.


My host uncle asked the people at the gate if they still had tigers and elephants. They said no. My host uncle, aunt, and mom had all been there before, but it was 10 or so years ago, so I guess they did then.

I don’t know that I was expecting anything in particular, but I didn’t expect what we found.

The first animal that greeted us was a pitifully skinny bear.


He was in a tiny little cage with crusted meat smeared on the floor. It was obvious that his conditions were not good, and he whined at us in hunger.

I didn’t know it then, and I should’ve, but that bear was a representation of the state of the “zoo” in general.


Animals sat in small, dirty cages. The monkeys swung around and hooted at us.


The birds didn’t interact or tweet like birds typically do.


PC: Sabrina

It was really sad. The animals had been forgotten and were being majorly mistreated. My host mom remarked to me, “It’s not good here anymore.”

There were two other boys in the zoo besides us. They placed a dragonfruit in front of another small bear’s cage just barely out of his reach. His hungered cries echoed around the “zoo”.

Needless to say, we didn’t stay very long.

We visited a little park nearby to the zoo and rode in some bumper cars. We were the only ones there yet again.

We headed home after that. That night, we went to a special seafood restaurant. They fried whatever dish you picked in a ton of oil. The special part was that they flipped the food and abundant oil around the pot so it caught fire. The result was a really cool fire display. It reminded me of a Peruvian dish, lomito saltado.

The next morning, we woke up at a bright 3 AM (murder, I tell you) and got going. We put 9 people in a 7 person car (not that bad, I suppose) and whipped around and up and down mountain roads for the next 3-5 hours. There was a puking episode, but it was smoothly handled and cleaned up by my host mom.


The Lampung countryside.


A traditional Lampung house.

Lampung is considerably more mountainous than any other place I’ve been to in Indonesia.

Finally, we descended into a little valley.

It was really strange because Lampung is predominantly Muslim (like Java). This little valley, however, seemed to be Hindu. There were little Bali-style puras in every house’s backyard (which was another strange thing in itself; the houses had backyards).


We pulled up to the beach, put on oversized life jackets, and got in these cool boats.


They were long and thin and had these stick things out on the sides (for balance and to stabilize the boats presumably).


Now, you may be wondering, what is the purpose in getting up so early to go to the beach? The place that we were at, Teluk Kiluan, is famous for its dolphins. However, the dolphins are only out in the morning.

So, we headed out of the bay in search of the dolphins.

“There’s only a chance we’ll see them.” My host mom warned me. I decided that even if we didn’t see the dolphins, Teluk Kiluan was pretty enough to justify the 5 hour car ride.


We were way out there searching for 20 minutes. There was nothing.

Suddenly, another boat sped in a certain direction. Our driver sped in that direction as well.

“Were there dolphins, Ruth?”

Boy, were there dolphins.


At first, there were only a couple. And then there were more. And then we were in the middle of a huge group of 50+ dolphins. Many swam in close proximity to our boat.


It was ridiculous, really, how many there were. I’ve seen dolphins before. I’ve been in close proximity to a large amount of dolphins before as well (in Hawaii), but never this amount. It was almost like…a dolphin army.


Upon this realization, I stood up on my boat and shouted to the dolphins, “I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE AND YOU CANNOT CONQUER ME.” The dolphins looked on one another nervously and disappeared under the water.

There, I’m sure they held a secret meeting discussing their ruined plans. Once they came up, one approached me and said, “It is not what you think, my Good Madam. We are searching for a leader. Once we saw you on your boat, we knew we had found someone to fill the spot.

I briefly considered this.

“Very well.” I said. “Since y’all are already gathered, we might as well commence our attack on the Urchin Kingdom. We’ll launch the offensive.” The dolphin disappeared under the water.

“Ruth, what’s going on?” My host mom asked.

“Oh, nothing.” I said. She didn’t know what was happening beneath us. Some dolphins stayed on the surface to keep up appearances. My host mom pointed at each dolphin, shouting, “Wow! Cantik (beautiful)!”

Beautiful but secretly deadly, Bunda.

Fifteen minutes later, the dolphin resurfaced.

“We have overtaken about half the kingdom Genderal (General).”

“Excellent. Continue the work, Maestro. I have to return to the land now, but know that I will return to reclaim my army someday.” Maestro nodded and disappeared for a final time.


Maestro leaving.

We then headed in. Nobody else knew what happened, of course, as no one else speaks dolphin.

We pulled up to a little island in the bay. The sand was SO SOFT and super white.

(all the pictures from this island were taken by Sabrina)


The water was perfectly warm. Sabrina and I quickly discovered, however, that we were the only ones with decent swimming skills. One of my little host cousins tried swimming with her adult-sized life jacket and it didn’t work very well. She stuck to the beach after that.

And then it was just too darn pretty not to take pictures, even for my photophobic self.


My host mom and I.

d'awwww (*S*)

There was a little island just across from our bigger island that Sabrina was determined to scale. I was coerced into accompanying her. My host mom became the photographer.

And this is how most of the pictures she took turned out:


Butt in the air.

In my defense, the rock that the island was made of was really rough on my feet. Like it hurt badly. Now, I am not sure what material Sabrina’s feet are made of, because she scaled that thing like nobody’s business. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I haven’t really been able to go barefoot at all here so my feet are soft.

(My past barefoot-loving self shakes head in disappointment.)


I did make it up, however. And I made it back down after a couple eons.

After we got down, we had to leave the gorgeous island and valley.

‘Til next time, my dolphin army.

The next day was a down day. I played with my little host cousins and went to my host mom’s elementary school friend’s house, but that’s about it.

The final day, we went to the Lampung museum.


An old Qur’an.

One of the coolest things in the museum was undoubtedly the old documents with the Lampung language on them. I find old alphabets and languages fascinating.


(Of course, the one to the right is Arabic)


Traditional Lampung wedding clothes.


How the dead are dressed.


The Lampung language.

After we went to the museum, my host mom’s friend took us to her clothing shop. We also walked around a little strip mall and checked out the traditional Palembang cloths.

After, we went and ate lunch.


My host cousin is so cute. The reason he let me hold him might because he was too tired to push me away. Or maybe he realized that I was a general of a dolphin army and thought that was pretty cool.

I’d wager it was the latter.

After, we visited another clothing store, picked up our bags at home, and then went to the Lampung airport. After all that rushing to get there, our flight was delayed for 2 hours.

Lest you fear, we did get home after that.

And that was our quick trip to Lampung.


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