Sandals for Soul Mates
Dang Lis and five colleagues created a new tourist spot by producing installations made of recycled trash after cleaning up a beach in Bengkulu. The spot now attracts photographers and dating couples.
HUNDREDS of mismatched sandals hang in neat rows on a two-by-three-meter wooden mount. Next to it, another installation displays more sandals painted in a variety of colors hung on two mounts, one in the shape of a heart and the other in the shape of a butterfly.
Other works of art made from used bottles and trash are also on display at the Pondok Sandal Jodoh (the soulmate sandal hut) on Tapak Paderi Beach in Bengkulu. Many visitors can be seen taking turns snapping pictures in different poses.
Located not far from the city center, the hut has become a tourist attraction. People come especially to pose for pictures with the sea as the stunning backdrop. Queenaira, 7, visited Pondok Sandal Jodoh two weeks ago with her parents.
She took photos of herself in different spots in the Pondok Sandal Jodoh vicinity with her parents looking on. Her photo session began at Ayunan Cinta (the love swing), went to Kupu-Kupu Sandal (the butterfly sandals) and ended at Penjara Cinta (the love prison).
"I never get bored of this place," said the little girl. Queenaira and her family have visited Tapak Paderi many times, but she still gets excited when she discovers new spots to photograph.
Unlike Queenaira, Ema Yuliana, 26, was visiting Pondok Sandal Jodoh for the very first time. She came all the way from Central Bengkulu because she was curious. "I saw all my friends' photos on Facebook. The pictures look really cool, so I decided to make my own," she said.
Ema likes Pondok Sandal Jodoh because it makes for a unique beach experience. Also she soon discovered the beach to be clean, although she had heard from a friend how Tapak Paderi Beach used to be so dirty.
"Not only is it a pristine beach, the residents have also been innovative in creating something out of trash," she said.
PONDOK Sandal Jodoh was initiated in early 2016 by six people from the Pondok Besi subdistrict: Mukhlis, Deri, Dero, Dodi, Buyung and Aji. Mukhlis, 50, said the original idea was to simply clean up the beach because they had become concerned with the amount of trash washed ashore daily.
Along the Tapak Paderi to Pasar Begkulu coastline, piles of trash had become an only too common scene. Most of the garbage came from the sea, and was swept onto the beach. The rest was locally-generated litter .
"It was a horrible sight. The beaches' inherent beauty was marred by the rubbish," said Mukhlis, also known as Dang Lis.
The six decided to pick up and sort out the trash. Dang Lis, a fisherman, hit on the idea that they might be able to make something out of the washed-up pieces of wood, plastic bottles and cast-off sandals. They created wooden structures, and piled the sandals into installations.
"At first we only hung them on a wooden frame. As it turned out, visitors seemd to like the display and took photos there. Then more people followed suit," he said.
The six men did not have a name for their recycled-art space. Dang Lis' friend, Glenn, a tourist from the United States, suggested the name Pondok Sandal Jodoh. He said the reasoning behind it was, the unpaired sandals on display could give hope to singles seeking their soulmates.
Dang Lis and his mates became excited seeing how more and more enthusiastic visitors were taking pictures at Pondok Sandal Jodoh. They added new installations from the garbage, and extended the love theme.
Aside from the sandals, they created a heart-shaped installation, and made up boards brandishing romantic quotes. The photo sites were given names appropriate to their shapes or materials used for construction.
The Karang Cinta (love coral), for instance, is in the shape of a small room with a bench, decorated with corals and used plastic bottles. Ayunan Cinta (love swing), said Dang Lis, is a favorite spot for couples out on a date.
Dang Lis added that they even have something for the broken-hearted. "We built a structure that resembles the machine in the TV series Doraemon and dubbed it the 'eliminator of bitter memories about your ex'," he said.
With the site becoming so popular, the group decided to collect a contribution from visitors, although they never set a fixed price. "People pay whatever they want. We use the money to expand Pondok Sandal Jodoh," he said.
Dang Lis said the increasing number of tourists has given him extra income. During peak season or holidays, the beach gets more than 1,000 visitors a day. His nephew and son, who help him manage the site, can also enjoy some added income.
Dero, 25, said his income from Pondok Sandal Jodoh has helped his family. The young man, who works as a freelance laborer on a day-to-day basis, was not thinking of making money when he started helping his uncle out during construction of Pondok Sandal Jodoh.
"I only wanted to clean up the beach. I consider the extra income a bonus," he said. Dero stressed that they never enforce an entrance fee on visitors because the project was never thought to be a profit center.
Locals have benefitted from the cleaner beach, with the installations now considered tourist attractions. Peoplew opened food stalls around the beach.
"Before, no one wanted to set up shop here. The location was filthy," said Winda, who sells roast corn-on-the-cob and drinks.
The group continues to do routine clean-ups, said Do'o Nugroho, Dang Lis' son. They now have volunteers, made up of locals, students and people from neighboring areas. "We go up and down the beach twice a week to clean up the garbage and collect the plastic for recycling," he said.
From the beginning, Pondok Sandal Jodoh was funded by the six initiators and gets no outside financial assistance, said Do'o.
Syarifuddin, of the Bengkulu tourism office, said the local government has limited resources, and cannot conduct regular beach clean-ups. "We have limited transportation and manpower, and the beaches are vast, while trash continues to come in from the sea," he said.
He lauded the Pondok Sandal Jodoh crew and hoped that others would follow suit. The city of Bengkulu has great potential for tourism, said Syarifuddin, but the city needs its local residents to be proactive in improving their environment.
His office is currently raising awareness on beach cleanliness. "We plan to make many improvements," he said.