Amanwana, Moyo Island, Indonesia www.amanresorts.com
As I sit here on my sunlounger in the dappled shade of a tree, clear turquoise waters gently lap the shore, just metres away. In the distance I can vaguely see the outline of Sumbawa, the Indonesian island, which cradles little Pulao Moyo, here in the Flores Sea, almost on the dividing line between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Beyond Sumbawa is Lombok and beyond Lombok, Bali.
It’s 10 am and both water and air are at 29 degrees C but a silken breeze makes the temperature comfortable. We are on our last day of a week’s holiday at the Amanwana resort, a tented camp of 20 spread along this bay, the dense jungle immediately behind it, a dolphin shaped headland to the left, a crocodile shaped one to the right. These are not tents as we know them; they have firm foundations, bathrooms, airconditioning, windows and are beautifully equipped. Like the whole resort, they are presented in white canvas with local honey coloured wooden furniture and aqua accents, reflecting the colour scheme of the sand, sky and water. Towels are plentiful and fluffy, luxurious bathroom products abundant, the bed is comfortable. What more can you ask for? Well, a coffee machine would be nice for that mid morning caffeine boost and maybe a small cookie jar, please? And it’s strange that the fruit bowl is filled with apples and oranges. Where is the tropical fruit? Maybe it’s the wrong time of year, it’s right at the end of the season.
The Flores Sea is famous for its varied and interesting marine life, so Moyo is a diver’s and snorkeler’s paradise. Diving trips are strictly one on one (or two, if you’re a couple) with plenty of dive boats and masters to go round. There are sleek reef sharks, turtles, moray eels, sea snakes, barracuda, grouper, snapper, angel fish, lion fish, sting rays, dolphins, occasionally whale sharks, to name just a few, and healthy coral. Large shoals of small black fish can easily been seen from the beach, scattering dramatically when much larger predator fish appear like torpedos. The white beach which, in parts, can be uncomfortable to walk on without flip flops due to sharp coral pieces, is home to hermit crabs of all sizes, unnoticeable until, all of a sudden, a snail shell picks itself up and scuttles along. There are yellow butterflies and black butterflies fluttering around and, from time to time, you can hear the distinctive call of the resident geckos, small and pretty as they are, a reminder of much larger, uglier reptiles, the fearsome and dangerous Komodo Dragons, just a couple of islands along to the East. Some years ago, decimated deer were reintroduced to Moyo and, in the cool of dusk, these beautiful gentle creatures make their way out of the jungle and roam the Amanwana camp. Tropical birds are visible now and again but mostly the trees are taken up by shy, supercute macaque monkeys, adorably swinging in the branches and gamboling around outside the tents, lots of them in all sizes, Mummies and Babies and big Badboys, providing many comedy moments and great photo opportunities.
I made rather unnecessarily close acquaintance with them. On our second day here, while the lovely husband was out diving, I was passing the time on the little deck by our tent, overlooking the sea, relaxing, reading, contemplating my navel and feeling thoroughly happy to be here. On this occasion no monkeys or deer were in sight. Close to lunchtime, I thought I’d treat myself to an apple from the fruit bowl inside. I stepped out again, apple in hand, when out of nowhere and even before I had time to register it until I felt a prick in my finger, a large male monkey had grabbed the apple, swung itself on a nearby tree and sat there munching and glowering accusingly at me. Needless to say, I got quite a fright and quickly escaped back inside. So there we were, him staring in, me staring out. He lumbered over to my window sill and carefully watched my every move, pressing his face to the glass, yawning from time to time, showing off his big yellow fangs. I was trapped in my tent, while he was scrutinising this strange animal, purveyor of apples, pacing the floor. A zoo in reverse.
The damage to my finger was very small, barely as big as a paper cut and not much deeper and it didn’t hurt at all but it was bleeding, so the skin had been punctured by either teeth or claws. Macaques carry quite a few very nasty diseases, pretty much all are fatal to humans and, although the risk of transfer is very small, it is a risk not worth taking. However lovely a paradise island, who wants to die here frothing at the mouth, in paroxysms with gradually expanding paralysis and brain swelling? Not I! To cut a long and complex story short, the Amanwana and their resident nurse went into overdrive and with the help of SOS clinics in Jakarta and Bali, had all the relevant heavy duty meds, antibodies, vaccines and immunisations flown and shipped in to this remote little outpost as a matter of urgency. Baku’s own beloved SOS Dr. Charlé, herself on a much deserved break in South Africa, was in regular email contact. Having worked in Madagascar for some time, her knowledge of macaques was incredibly useful and reassuring. The finger was bandaged, the shots and meds given as they arrived and all is good. My thanks go out to all who got this potentially serious problem under quick control, most especially the wonderful staff at the Amanwana, Dr.Charlé and, of course, my own lovely husband!
As for Mr. Big Balls, as we have christened him for obvious reasons, he swings by on a daily basis to check on me and the apple situation. He’s certainly quite a cheeky monkey, far less timid than his little mates and very clever, looking under my straw hat for goodies and lifting the tea pot lid to see if anything interesting is lurking in the pot. Then he watches us for a bit before leaving his unmistakable mark on the sun deck, swinging himself up on the roof and disappearing into the jungle. It’s his territory after all and we are the intruders.
The Amanwana is all about tranquility, calm, serene and quiet. No music, no voices, no traffic, nothing, just the soporific gentle whoosh whoosh of the waves, day and night. It doesn’t get more relaxing than this. All you need is a couple of bikinis and sarongs during the day and a pair of flip flops. No make-up, no jewellery, no handbags, no heels. In fact, they even give you a sarong, a big floppy straw hat and a beach bag to keep, all of which make it more than easy to stick to your 15kg luggage limit for travel in the sea plane or island plane. The evenings require little more, the restaurant is informal, there’s no dressing up. Bliss!
For much of our time here, we have been the only guests, making us feel as though we were on our own private island escape. Some days others have arrived, a Chinese family who have come in their own private jet, as you do, an English family who have moored their chartered yacht in the bay and have popped in for spa treatments and dinner. Oh, how the other half live! There’s a heli pad too on the complex, for those that want to avoid the boat ride from Sumbawa. Apparently, this is where Princess Diana came after her divorce to escape the paparazzi. We get a bit of gossip from the staff. She stayed in Tent 20 with her five bodyguards in the surrounding tents. Astonishingly, the hotel was not cleared for her and there were other guests there at the time, with everyone mixing and mingling freely. ‘All our guests are the same for us. Everyone is a VIP’ says the charming assistant manager. Frankly, so far from the throb of the ‘real’ world, I doubt whether any of the staff would recognize or care who someone is.
The facilities are basic in a luxurious sort of way. There’s a cool dipping pool under a waterfall. Who needs a swimming pool when there is the warm clear sea right there? A small spa for massages, facials and mani/pedis, a sun deck with 14 loungers protruding into the water, a jetty, an open air restaurant with a small bar. That’s it. Jungle treks, mountain biking and visits to one of the eight villages on Moyo, many accessible only by boat, can be organized but otherwise it’s all about diving and relaxing and nothing much else. If you’re looking for bright lights and people, this is not the place for you! At night, the camp is lit by candles and you need a torch to find your way to the restaurant, then back to your tent. Luckily we’d brought our own but I was surprised that there wasn’t one in the tent for us to use. Doors are left unlocked. Each night on your return, you find a different little present on your bed: local honey, a scented candle, a set of chop sticks, a soap dish.
The restaurant offers both Indonesian and Western food. There’s a blackboard with suggestions for the evening but basically you can order pretty much anything you fancy, providing they have the ingredients on the island that day. To my disappointment, the food wasn’t great. It was alright but no more than that. Indonesian cuisine is, to my mind, some of the best in the world, so I wonder who would come here to eat Farfale Arabiata and I can’t understand why the Indonesian dishes lack all spice and their usual exquisitely subtle flavours. We had to ask for extra chili at every meal. My feeling is that they are trying to please the most unadventurous Western palates and it’s a mystery to me why the gorgeous fresh fish was not prepared simply ‘a la plancha’ but is doused in melted better and offered with new potatoes? After a few days, the local chef cottoned on to what we like and things improved a little. And there are some odd little idiosyncracies: the butter knives on the side plates are not spreading knives but butter dish knives. Funny! And the seat pads for the attractive but rather hard chairs only came out in the evenings. Why were they not on all day? Bottoms are bottoms and chairs are chairs, no matter what time of day. But, of course, the papaya and mango fest we indulged in every morning was a complete joy, as were the freshly baked mini croissants and home made jams. The staff are all delightful and warm and really seem to want to provide the very best service they can, and they do.
While I am at it, gilding the lily (or, as my lovely friend Cath would point out vehemently, painting the lily, to correctly paraphrase Shakespeare), I’d also say that the tents, which are glassed halfway around, would benefit hugely from having screening shrubs, lovely bougainvillea perhaps, planted around them for an even greater sense of privacy and it would also be a nice touch, if a member of staff would, from time to time patrol the beach, to take orders for drinks during the day. But that’s just nitpicking in paradise. As a dream holiday, a stay at Amanwana on Moyo is hard to beat.
So I lie here, daydreaming and soaking up the beauty, the warmth, the peace, feeling tremendously blessed and spoilt. Tomorrow, Robinson Crusoe and his Girl Friday will make their way back to Baku but Moyo will forever remain a very special memory to be drawn on when the winter winds howl around our ears and Baku life has us tightly back in its grip.