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Amandira, Indonesia - review
Set sail for untempered luxury, says Mary Lussiana
 

It’s almost 35 years since I was last in Bali, and with so much development on this Indonesian island in the intervening years, I feared much would have changed. However, waking up on my first morning near Manggis on the east coast, I was reassured to find it still had its old charm despite many believing that the rate of tourism here is unsustainable. That said, the change is palpable in bustling Seminyak and Kuta, where hotels, bars, restaurants and shops continue to flourish in a densely populated seaside strip. 

 

I wasn’t to stay on Bali for long, though — my mission was further afield in the 17,500-island-strong Indonesian archipelago, where tourists are yet to dominate, hotels yet to hatch and the rich marine life in regions such as Raja Ampat or the fearsome Komodo dragons in Komodo National Park lure the intrepid traveller. From the green hill of Indrakila, the morning sunshine revealed cascading bougainvillea and fragrant frangipani; beyond, the sea sparkled clean and blue, heralding the next stage of my journey to join Amandira, Amanresorts’ recently launched expedition boat. The magnificent wooden phinisi sailing boat was handcrafted by locals in Kalimantan — Indonesian Borneo — and plies the waters around Komodo National Park and Raja Ampat archipelago, its eight sails billowing in the wind. 

 

From Bali, I flew east over neighbouring Lombok to Sumbawa and from there took a boat to Moyo, where the tented Amanwana hotel is poised on a white-sand beach, co-existing with the island’s wildlife. From here, Amandira sailed into view, the 14-strong crew in pressed white uniforms, standing on deck to greet my fellow guests and me. Then we were off: three nights to view unspoiled wonders from an utterly spoiling platform, where you could dip into air-conditioned comfort, sleep in linen sheets and enjoy unlimited hot showers in this floating hotel, certainly the most luxurious way to experience these remote islands. 

 

Our first stop was Satonda Island, leaving it just as dusk fell and clouds of fruit bats flew through the sun’s last rays above us. From there it was through the Unesco-protected Komodo National Park, cruising through the Nusa Tenggara Island chain. The days that followed were filled with pure magic. From sunrise on the bow of the ship, a misty, shape-shifting world slowly revealed by the gentle light until sunset, all bold colour, extravagantly splashing the sky and sea as the fiery ball descended. In between, we snorkelled in waters that are home to some of the world’s richest marine life; we swam among giant manta rays, so graceful despite their size, watched them feeding on plankton, and saw fish cleaning their gills. We saw butterfly fish and clown fish, angel fish and orange-socket surgeon fish, fusiliers and needle fish in every colour of the rainbow. We saw coral in all shapes and sizes. Ben, the ship’s on-board diving master and cruise manager, explained: “Seventy five per cent of all known corals are in these waters and around 1,300 species of fish.” Raja Ampat, where Amandira sails between October and March, draws divers from all around the world to marvel at the exceptional coral reefs spread over 40,000 square kilometres. With strong currents, it’s somewhat of a “frontier diving” site. Untempered luxury: the islands of Raja Ampat


Passing barely another boat, our voyage had a frontier feel, too. Lunch one day was a picnic on a tiny deserted island, a dinghy taking us through the shallow turquoise waters to reach its perfect white rim. Other beaches passed were pink, the sand composed of crushed coral. Dinner was on deck — the starlit sky our ceiling — except for the last night when the crew decorated a beach with candles hanging from the trees and served us freshly barbecued lobster. After dinner we danced on the sand — accompanied by drums and singing — before releasing paper lanterns into the sky, all of us wishing we could stay just another night.

 

Our route took us past volcanic islands and pods of dolphins. On Rinca Island we encountered Komodo dragons — huge, ugly and prehistoric-looking beasts and their abandoned megapode nests; once hatched, young dragons seek refuge from their carnivorous parents. They skulked in the shadows, occasionally making a foray from one patch of shade to another with a languorous, swaying walk, their forked tongues, long and yellow, flickering in search of carrion on the warm wind.

 

And then there was Amandira herself — 52 metres of hardwood and teak, two 36-metre masts and eight sails. Four cabins are tucked in beneath deck, each   with spacious showers, delicious toiletries and more. Above deck, the roomy Master Cabin comes complete with glass walls. Breakfasts of nasi goreng, mie goreng or bubur ayam (rice porridge with chicken, vegetables and egg) ans lunches of ayam pelalah (spicy shredded chicken served with fresh salad and

udang balado (sautéed prawns in chilli and tomato sauce with steamed rice) were served in the spacious dining room. A highlight of dinner on deck was rijsttafel, its origins Dutch but its flavours Indonesian and a wonderful introduction to local food. With a cone of rice in the middle, to represent Mount Agung, Bali’s sacred mountain, around it gathered culinary specialities from all over Indonesia. 


Every comfort, then, in unforgettable surroundings. But it was not that, luxurious as it was, that I took home with me — it was the freedom of being out on the high seas, uncontained; watching the stars come out as darkness descended, the Milky Way so crisply defined; waking in the morning to a different setting. How well I understood John Masefield at these moments as we dipped “through the Tropics by the palm-green shores”, for I too, now home, long “to go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky...”

 

 

MARY LUSSIANA