The Ghost Schools of Ayu Island

The next day we visited the tropical island of Ayu. What people were awaiting us? Fishermen, cannibals, ghosts even? Anything seemed possible.

Sunrise at Ayu Island

The ghost town of Ayu

We reached the abandoned jetty equipped with cameras and filled with a sense for exploration. The first impression was rather sobering and scary at the same time. Just as the jetty, the village was empty. Would there have been a dead bush, rolling in the howling wind over the dusty main road, the scenery for a Hollywood western movie couldn’t have chosen any better. All doors and windows shut close, not a single footprint in the dust. What had happened here? But there was nobody to answer the question.

The village counted no more than 30 shags and was built on a flat area between the main island and an something that must have been its own island sometime. It almost felt artificial in its perfect flatness. We barely walked two minutes from the jetty to the other side of the village where a number of long fishing vessels were anchored. There must be people we concluded, but where were they? Hidden in the shags, fearfully peaking their eyes through narrow slits at the alien invaders that we were? An eerie feeling crept through our hearts.

A massive jetty in the tropics
Almost no boats in the harbour of Ayu Island

Uphill

Eventually, we continued our exploration uphill towards a radio mast, which we had already spotted from the boat. There must be something more on this island, we thought, when somebody had made the effort to install this mast.

And there they finally were, a group of elderly people squatting in the shade of low branching trees. They counted no more than a dozen, keeping themselves busy with handicrafts, chewing beetle nut and chit chat in an otherwise bland environment… well, at least from a western perspective. They seemed quite content and smiled at us when we waved our hands at them. Our attempts to communicate with them however, failed miserably. Hands and feet simply wouldn’t suffice to answer our questions about the abandoned houses between the jetty and the harbour and we were about to discover even stranger things uphill.

Of conspiracy theories and barricaded buildings

The road led us between a church and an officially looking building towards the radio mast and, as we hoped, a clearing on top of the mountain from where we could take pictures of our boat in the bay. It was surprisingly well built and wide, a thick layer of concrete that could have easily supported the movement of heavy machinery. Further up the hill, we encountered large but completely empty buildings. Some locked, some accessible. The larger ones obviously served schooling needs, as they were filled with numerous benches, small tables and empty black boards on the walls. Other buildings featured layouts that had the character of offices. Their interiors however, were completely void of everything, no desks, no chairs, no cabinets, not even the soil filled remains of a potted plant. Only the expensively tiled floor was littered with the excrements of rats and pigeons. What on earth was going on on this island?

Our theories on the purpose of this road, the village and the large schools started bearing weird fruits. We speculated about everything from a hidden military outpost, all the way to a secret school for spies and large scale, government money laundry. The entire arrangement was simply in no sensible relation to the tiny village down below.

Benches in a locked classroom
A street into the jungle

The end of the road and the top of the island

Eventually, we found the radio mast on top of the hill and discovered, with some disappointment, that it was broken. Nevertheless, the construction of the mast with a fairly decently sized solar power supply, pointed towards high ambitions with the island of Ayu. A sign said it was built in 2012. What a weird place.

Robbed of our hopes to reconnect with the world, we continued following the concrete road further uphill. At some point it just ended for no obvious reason other than a lack of construction material. Further ahead however, arranged piles of pebble indicated the intention to continue the road at some point in the distant future. The sun had already bleached the dark, possibly volcanic rocks, severely. They must had been laying there for quite some time already, maybe since the construction of the radio mast, four years ago. We used them as our guides to explore even further.

Wavy clouds over Ayu Island

Some 15 minutes later even the piles ceased as well as the clearing for the intended road. From here on, we had to fight our way through the dry bushes to get to the top of Ayu island. At times, I wished I had a machete, so dense and spiky was the vegetation. Our persistence should pay off another 15 minutes later, when we finally reached the ridge of the island and could peak over into the lagoon. The Soggy Paws was still were we had left it hours earlier, peacefully bobbing up and down in the gentle breeze. The sky above sported a graceful display of thin, wavy clouds.

Satisfied with our findings and the pictures we had taken, we followed the road downhill again.

Pupils view of a class in Ayu Island

Tropical boarding school

Because of a number of sheltering trees we had missed a group of buildings on our way up, which were now uncovered by the reversed perspective. Our hunger for exploration had not yet fully ceased and thus we decided to investigate this grove. In the beginning we found another school building, which would finally reveal the most likely purpose of the entire arrangement. On the black board of one of the unlocked classrooms was a date, May 12th 2016. The island was the tropical version of a boarding school.

Just below the school in the grove mingled the group of tin shacks showering in the waving sun rays that broke through the canopy. The light around was of a lavish, healthy green. Between the cabins I found outdoor kitchens, buildings for showers and toilettes, as well as water pumps and even some old whale bones. They surrounded a beautiful little bay with stands of coconut trees, where waves gently licked the thin beach. The kids here, must have a great time during school.

Filled up with impressions and light hearted we returned to our swimming home for another stunning sunset – the perfect end of a rewarding day with a well deserved ice cold beer.

What else could I possibly ask more – but before our next breathtaking destination the ocean had placed a long stretch of open to cover, a 32 hour passage to Helen Reef.

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