As Jakarta’s air was choked with heavy pollution in the last few months, I was thinking of escaping to a place whose oxygen quality was high. Out of the blue, on the internet I found a place which was nicknamed Oxygen Isle, and, surprisingly it is located in Indonesia. The Oxygen Isle, the popular name of Gili Iyang, is situated in the east of Madura Island of the East Java Province. Without thinking twice, after completing my business trip to Surabaya, the province’s capital, I decided to visit the 9.15-kilometer square isle. My wonderful colleagues from Surabaya were willing to be my trip companions.
Gili Iyang of Sumenep Regency
Administratively Gili Iyang is part of Dungkek Subdistrict in Sumenep Regency of Madura Island. We departed in the afternoon from Surabaya to Sumenep Town, the capital of Sumenep Regency. With a stop for dinner on the way, it took around five hours to get to Sumenep Town, thanks to Suramadu Bridge that connects Java Island and Madura Island. The road was smooth all the way long.
Sumenep served as our base camp. The town has changed a lot from the last time I visited it in 2011. Now, it is more vibrant with shops, modern cafes, and several decent hotels, while back then, there were only homestays available. I was surprised with the major change of the town and at night, its town square was decorated with colorful lights. We arrived late at a hotel in Sumenep. Tired, we went to take a rest right away.
None of us had visited Gili Iyang a.k.a. Oxygen Isle before so we didn’t know what to expect in our destination. We left for Gili Iyang in the next morning. The hotel staff said that the port to access Gili Iyang is Dungkek Port, in the east of Sumenep Town. It took about a one-hour drive to get to this traditional port.
Arriving at the port, our voluntarily appointed tour leader, Saadu, tried to find the boat that would depart first. Dungkek Port happens to be a privately owned port. It is a small port for transporting goods and people between Madura Island and Gili Iyang. All boats are motored wooden boats. In the morning, it was quite busy with the loading and unloading of the goods. There was actually a new public port nearby which was inaugurated in the middle of this year, but it was not used by the time we were there.
After asking around, Saadu said that we would take the boat that would leave within 30 minutes. While waiting to board I observed how fast the lumpers loaded the goods on the boat, from motorcycles to card boxes of bottled water and snacks. They also put shields in the boat’s bow to protect the motorcycles from the sea waves. From the way they arranged everything, it was clear that they were professionals.
Then, along with some local people, some of whom were senior women, we boarded the boat. Do not expect something fancy when boarding on boat from Dungkek Port. Safety precaution was minimal as no life jacket was provided. We were asked to sit on a higher platform in the boat.
When everything was ready. The captain in the stern started the engine and steered the boat. The boat slowly left Dungkek Port. I saw that the waves were quite strong, but for the local person, they were not. Anyway…
It was our first experience crossing to Gili Iyang. The short 9-kilometer distance between Dungkek Port and the destined jetty in Gili Iyang should not be underestimated since the sail could be challenging for newcomers like us. Depending on the weather, the boat trip normally takes between 30 and 40 minutes.
After sailing for about fifteen minutes, as the boat entered the middle of the sea, the waves were starting to shake us. It was not fun anymore. It looked like the boat sailed confronting the waves. I needed to lean my back on the boat’s edge and hold on to it in order to keep me unshaken. The senior women passengers who looked sick of the waves laid their bodies down as soon as the strong waves were swinging the boat. The other male passengers who looked like regular ones seemed to be undisturbed by the swinging, they kept smoking their cigarettes and talking. I needed to shut my eyes to prevent dizziness and just opened them when I felt the shaking subsided. I thought it was more than 10 minutes that the waves actively shook the boat.
The beach of Gili Iyang was getting nearer. We were going to dock in the jetty for passengers which is in the west of the isle while another jetty for fishermen is in Ropet Beach, in the east of the isle. As our boat was getting close to the jetty the boat crews skillfully started to prepare to dock.
I was relieved to stand on my feet after being shaken on the 45-minute boat trip, and, most importantly, to inhale the fresh air of Gili Iyang. The local drivers who had waited for the incoming passengers offered their service.
“The Oxygen Isle“
The mode of transportation in Gili Iyang is either a motorcycle or the three-wheeled dorkas. Since there were five of us, we rented a dorkas that had an open container in the back with banks for the passengers to sit. The dorkas was operated by two persons, a driver and a guide who accompanied the passengers in the back. The dorkas ran on a flat two-meter-wide paving block to reach our destination: the Oxygen Spot of Gili Iyang.
A ride under the blue sky in the fresh air was rewarding. We passed a row of concrete residential houses–many of them were nicely constructed–big yards of the local people and some small warung (vendor). On the way, we did not see many activities on the 7,832-populated isle that has only two villages, Bancamara and Banraas Villages.
Gili Iyang caught the attention of people after LAPAN (Indonesia’s National Institute of Aeronautics and Space) released its findings about the oxygen quality level in the isle.
In 2006, for seven months, LAPAN researched the oxygen level in 17 sites on the isles in the east of Madura Island. The research found that Gili Iyang had a 20.9 percent oxygen level. This is higher than the average oxygen level, which is 18-19 percent. At night, the level of oxygen can increase to 21 percent.
The Surabaya Institute of Technology also did similar research in 2021, and the result showed the oxygen level was still 20.9 percent. The Environmental Agency and Development Agency of Sumenep District said in 2022 that the 20.9 percent oxygen level occurred at a particular time, especially in February, though at other times the air quality is also good.
The high oxygen level in Gili Iyang has affected the life expectancy of the locals. In 2016, the Regent of Sumenep mentioned that there were 1,285 people who were over 60 years old and 157 people who were more than 100 years old living in Gili Iyang. The Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs even held its national commemoration of Geriatric Day in the isle that year.
Later, our dorkas stopped on the side of the road where there was a big shaded yard. The guide said that it is the Oxygen Spot of Gili Iyang. The spot used to be one of the sites where LAPAN conducted its research on the oxygen quality in the isle. The Oxygen Spot is marked under a tall tree in the middle of the red soil yard. Some small gazebos scatter in the yard. People could sit, relax, and enjoy the fresh air there. Although the temperature was hot, the air was unbelievably very refreshing.
This Oxygen Spot is set in the property of Sahlan, a man who is estimated to be 125 years old. We had some conversations with Sahlan who only spoke in Madurese, a local language in Madura Island. The local guide translated for us. According to him, Sahlan has lived in his current property since he was little. He is married but doesn’t have children. He adopted two children who gave him great-grandchildren. Sahlan didn’t look 125 years old. We didn’t see his birth certificate but the information of his age was based on the village head.
He was smoking as he talked with us and said that in his early years, he only smoked klobot (traditional cigarettes wrapped in dry corn husk). Every visitor that comes to Gili Iyang drops by in his land. There was no ticket as we entered, but visitors donated him some money as a token. Visitors can also order drinks like coffee or tea that his wife makes.
Second after the Dead Sea
Theoretically, the oxygen is expired from the green trees but Gili Iyang is not planted by lush trees. So, where does the high oxygen level come from? Some explained that there is an air circulation above Gili Iyang, and at night the air there is naturally filtered through the cavities underneath the isle which has 19 connected caves. The condition is also supported by the fact that in the isle the carbon dioxide level is not more than 26.5 percent and the noise level is only 36.5 decibels (the exposer limit for noise is 85 dB. In addition, the air in the isle comes from the sea and contains a salt aerosol, mainly magnesium sulfate.
We had the chance to see one of the incredible rugged stone formations that has a myriad of small and big cavities, it is called Batu Canggah. Batu Canggah is located on a cliff overlooking the Java Sea. It can be accessed by the stairs. The site should not be missed when visiting Gili Iyang.
There is Ropet Beach in the east of the isle that we didn’t get the chance to visit as we needed to catch the boat back to Dungkek Port. Overall, despite its hot temperature, the air in Gili Iyang is refreshing and we were happy to have a short rewarding visit to this unique isle.
Gili Iyang is also dubbed as having the second-highest oxygen quality in the world after the Dead Seas in Jordan.
On our way back to Dungkek Port, the guide helped us to coordinate with the boat. We took the boat that wanted to return to Dungkek Port, as there were no other passengers, we remained to be the only ones.
It is possible to have a day trip to Gili Iyang from Sumenep City by taking the earliest boat to Gili Iyang. There is no regular boat schedule. Passengers need to ask around the local people in the port.
For those who look for comfort and convenience, fancy hotels in Sumenep City offer a one-day luxurious trip by yacht to Gili Iyang from Kalianget Port with a minimum of 10 people.
- Transportation to Gili Iyang
The nearest city to go to Gili Iyang is Sumenep. There are some intercity buses serving Madura Island from Jakarta, Merak, and Surabaya. See in jadwalbis.com. The distance from Sumenep Town to Dungkek Port is about 30 kilometers. It is connected by Angkot, which is not frequent/ The one-way fare is Rp 15,000.
The one-way boat fare to Gili Iyang is Rp 15,000/person. The earliest departure from Bungkek Port is at 9 a.m. The boat is to transport local people and goods. The boat doesn’t provide a life jacket.
In Gili Iyang, the transportation mode is a motorcycle or dorkas. Dorkas can be chartered, the guide charges Rp 50,000/person to go around the isle. That includes the waiting time. The return trip to Dungkek Port is at 1 pm at the latest to avoid the big waves. But that cannot be relied on, the boat can leave earlier than 1 pm. The guide can be the middle man with the boatman. Passengers that come in a large group can also charter a boat to sail back and forth.
- Accommodation in Gili Iyang
To explore Gili Iyang more, you may need to spend at least one night at the isle since the latest scheduled boat to return to Dungkek Port is at 1 p.m. There are only homestays in Gili Iyang.
The places of interest are usually situated on private property. Supplies in Gili Iyang come from Madura Island by boat, as such the price of manufactured food may be a bit higher.