It didn't happen every day around those parts.
A large Mercedes and several other luxury vehicles stop in the vicinity of a sophisticated aircraft. The unusual takes place on the runway at the Brang Biji airport in Sumbawa Besar.
I had just landed Lady Diana, accompanied by three friends and a bodyguard.
They are received with pomp and circumstance.
Shortly thereafter, they would embark on a short crossing aboard the boat Aman XI with final destination end at the elegant dock of Amanwana, a favored ecoresort of the Aman chain, founded by Indonesian hotelier Adrian Zecha.
Not even in the most unlikely Indonesia did the Princess get rid of the descriptive and opinionated articles that the world press published about her life, public and private.
Among others, the newspaper Lombok News wasted no time in reporting in its versions language, (the Indonesian national dialect) and English that Diana would stay two nights and three days. However, he added that Di looked sad.
Who swam in the Sea of Flores and enjoyed the sunset from the beach. Descriptions emerged, estimated to have been made by other guests and hotel employees.
As far as is known, during this period, Diana Spencer was safe from the hyperactive and obsessive Paparazzi British and from any countries he visited.
The characteristics of this solitary resort housed on a furtive island were the reason why the then Princess of Wales – like David Bowie, Yoko Ono and Mick Jagger – chose to evade Amanwana.
A Reserve Island. E Reserved for Moneyed Visitors
The hotel's name means peaceful forest. And not just anyone enjoys the island's natural eccentricity, tranquility and privacy.
We were exploring the neighboring island of Lombok when, as a result of geographic interest and online investigations, Moyo aroused our curiosity.
After an exhaustive exchange of emails, we managed to arouse the interest of those responsible for Amanwana and their authorization to spend a few days there. Needless to say, our trip and arrival clashed and many of the stars already mentioned.
We received the OK for the visit from the next morning, we were still by Senggigi, who we had established as a basis for the discovery of Lombok.
The news forces us to take logistical measures resolved under pressure. The next bus to Sumbawa left Mataram, the capital of Lombok, at 15pm.
The Unexpected Journey between the Capital of Lombok and Moyo Island
We have finalized some final negotiations with the Amanwana managers.
While we pack our bags, we pay the bills for the hotel and the rented scooter. Then we took a taxi to the Mandalika bus terminal.
We arrived a few minutes before departure time, still with time to buy some biscuits and packages of buffalo milk.
They massacre us passenger collectors, who found it difficult to believe so much in the unusual presence of foreigners as in the fact that we had pre-purchased tickets at a branch in Senggigi.
The first overland leg of the journey went faster than we expected.
The bus proved to be a traveling fair, animated by vendors, musicians and beggars who promoted an unbelievable array of products, played and begged along the corridor.
The musicians played hits from the national repertoire. We follow the action and other varieties in a mixture of incredulity and fascination.
Around five in the afternoon, we arrived at the port of Labuhan. A little after six, with the sun already sinking into the ocean ahead, the bus enters the oily deck of a ferry.
Lombok – Sumbawa: The Surreal Maritime Stretch of the Journey
The final destination of that jumping bus was the island of Flores, one of the few Catholic strongholds in Indonesia thanks to secular Portuguese influence. In the extensive Nusa Tenggara archipelago and in the Sonda sub-archipelago, Flores lay two islands ahead.
We would disembark next time.
Just like on the bus, on board, no sign of foreigners. We reveal ourselves as an unexpected attraction of the trip. To the point of being photographed over and over again.
In the opposite sense of cultural admiration, we were amazed by the various proselytizing TVs in which bearded imams starred in sermons and preaching. And with strange propagandist video clips of Islam, a religion that has, in Indonesia, its largest number of faithful.
At times of prayer, we see them prostrating themselves to Allah, in turns, in the prayer room muffled ship, against the direction of navigation.
Back on the Road, En route to Sumbawa Capital
An hour and a half later, we return to the bus, disembark in Poto Tano and complete the trip to Sumbawa Besar, the main city.
We complete the last road trip along a dark and winding road, lit only by moonlight.
It wasn't just any moonlight that illuminated us. It skimmed the terrestrial horizon as we hadn't seen it for a long time, its natural disk showing itself, enormous, outlined by the silhouettes of the most imposing treetops as we passed.
This unexpected cosmic aura lulls us into an uncomfortable but deep sleep. We only realize that we've arrived at our destination when the driver wakes us up and points to the exit door.
Instead of taxis, an army of insolent motorcycle taxis awaits. Too tired, we surrender to the possible solution.
We climbed aboard two motorbikes, each in its own circus act, which prevented us from leaving a large backpack between us and the driver along the way, and two smaller ones, one behind the other in front.
It was ten at night. Without energy or disposition for more, we ended up entering what would have to be one of the worst guesthouses of the island, with hygiene and comfort conditions that we still use as a standard for the worst that we were willing to endure and that we tried to forget about everything.
At five in the morning, we woke up startled by the painful singing of the muezzin of a mosque next door.
An hour later, an Amanwana service van rescues us from the torture of Sumbawa Besar, takes us to the boat that daily transports Sumbawa residents to Moyo Island, 15 km away.
At 8:30 am, we are admitted to Amanwana.
Finally, Landed in the Luxuriant and Private Coziness of Moyo Island
We had gone straight from a pool of zero stars – or negative stars – to an excellent ecoresort of five or more.
We were always averse to connecting more to hotels than to the places that justified the trip. In the case of the almost unknown and mysterious island Moyo, the rule told us more than ever.
Um guest assistant awaits us on the jetty. Take us in an old convertible Land Cruiser to the resort domain.
Amanwana accommodates guests in 20 hyper-luxurious tents, the driver also leaves us at the door of the one that would welcome us, at 17, lost in the middle of the vegetation.
We recovered body and soul in a long hot shower, the first since Senggigi's departure.
"Housekeeping!” One of the maids makes a point of completing the welcome fruit basket with more tropical specimens. “Ladi Di stayed in tent 20.
The friends and the bodyguard were on the 17th, 18th and 19th.” includes a list of information and suggestions that we strive to retain from the dialogue in good spirits, in English.
Finally, mid-morning, we registered at reception.
At that time, a seaplane was landing in front of Amanwana Inlet. We take advantage.
We photograph your gliding and the landing of new multi-millionaire guests from Bali.
Moyo, an Island Protected by National Park Statute
Upon returning to the quarters, we are faced with confirmation that we are in the jungle. A huge shaggy tarantula-style spider – possibly a tarantula – was loitering across the floor.
We spent five minutes engendering and putting into practice stratagems to make her come out alive, without touching her.
The spider was just one of many species that the Indonesian authorities decided to protect.
In 1986, the special characteristics of the Moyo ecosystem were officially recognized. A national park was established to preserve its vegetation and the countless birds – some in danger of extinction – bats, monkeys, wild boar, deer, monitor lizards and resident pythons.
We see wild boar and deer around the tents. The monkeys even use the roof of our house as a landing mattress in more than one night, with such a bang that on the first occasion, we thought we were going to fall victim.
From time to time, some of these species, almost always wild boar and deer, become too many. Authorities then grant hunting licenses that allow the island to regain balance.
Offshore, there are coral reefs rich in underwater life and this idyllic section of the Flores Sea has been declared a marine reserve.
The Privileged Concession of the Eco-Resort Amanwana
Amanwana resulted from another special license. The one awarded to a company named Moyo Safari Abadi, headquartered in Denpasar, the capital of Bali.
This was the only company authorized to install a resort on the island with the responsibility to contribute financially (but not only) to the protection of the island and the well-being of its inhabitants.
Under strict ecological rules.
This is the main reason for being housed in a tent and not in a permanent and more invasive housing structure.
With a lot of patience, we dragged an upside-down rubbish bin to the outside and, in it, the probable tarantula.
With the house in peace, we felt a new approach of the green Land Cruiser. Two hotel guides invite us on a tour of the island. We accept without hesitation. We left at once.
Discovering Moyo Island with a Pass through the Village of Labuan Aji
The path starts by going through dense jungle. Further on, it passes between rice paddies and cornfields. We still walked 15 minutes to a gentle riverbed where, with the excuse of cooling off from the humid heat, we bathed under shower-sized waterfalls.
Both guides were native.
Conversation starts, Paul, who spoke good English, tells us that around 50 of Amanwana's 150 employees were from Labuan Aji, the largest of the six stilt villages on the island which, despite its 350 km2, only has 1000 inhabitants.
He adds that the rest came from Sumbawa.
He tells us this and more: “we all look down on the resort.” To be continued. “Many jobs have fallen here by parachute and that have saved so many families from separation.
I, for example, earn the same or even more than some friends who had to emigrate to India or Arab countries.
Several do what I do, but others work in fishing or construction, which is much harder. They are all thousands of miles from home. I feel privileged to be able to go home every day.”
On the way back from the waterfalls, we stopped in front of a family's house. They threshed rice.
They savagely banged the plants as hard as they could against a wooden sieve. And they gathered the berries on plastic sheets, ready to dry.
Under the same sun as the younger women of the clan who worked in hijab were protected and kept their faces mottled with a curious natural sunscreen.
The Perfect Symbiosis between Amanwana and the People of Moyo Island
"If it wasn't for Amanwana we would only have either this or fishing!" completes Tony.
We pass through the terraced stilts of Labuan Aji.
In the village, we feel a little of the well-being and welcome of the community that, despite a relative invasion of their privacy, welcomes us with shy smiles.
That's what they do with almost everything that comes to them from the lodge.
In 2008, a conservation fund was created for the island, maintained with part of the guests' payments. Until the appearance of the lodge, villagers used to catch eggs laid by turtles on the beaches of Moyo – including some turtles – to sell in the markets of Moyo. Sumbawa.
Amanwana started to pay them double so that they didn't dig them up. Or to bury them again if they were discovered. Some inhabitants perform the role of rangers.
They patrol the forest against the illegal felling of trees and animals, recover reefs previously damaged by fishing with explosives or build schools in which they teach teachers who are also paid by the new fund.
The more we explored Moyo and Amanwana the more we became convinced that islands like these are not found every day.