A white flying object hovers over the glistening waters, cutting through the quiet surroundings with the soft humming of its engine. Skirting the sides of the boat, the drone captures images and records videos of the 52m-long sailing yacht.
As if having gained some confidence, it ventures farther to explore deserted islands thick with mangrove forests and rich with hidden treasures such as technicolour corals off their coasts.
Then my companion and I hear a yelp of distress. The exclamation comes from cruise manager Benoit Martin-Laval who has been controlling the robot. Some members of the crew and a dinghy are deployed. The drone flew too far, lost its signal and had fallen into the deep blue.
“It’s gone,” Martin-Laval says with a shrug. We also soon find out that there is no Internet connection as we venture farther into the islands. Could this be nature’s way of reminding us to be rid of technological distraction and pay her long-overdue attention?
After all, we are cruising around the Raja Ampat Islands with some of the world’s greatest diving sites and nature reserves, on board the Amandira, Aman Resorts’ latest five-cabin charter yacht that conducts expeditions of the greater Indonesian archipelago. Made by the Konjo boatbuilders of south Sulawesi, the luxury wooden sailing boat is modelled after a phinisi or traditional Indonesian two-masted sailing ship used for fishing or transporting cargo.
This is only fitting since the presence of a modern yacht would be incongruous against the majestic and secluded beauty of Raja Ampat, which the Amandira – fusing Sanskrit words for peace and intrepid – will cruise around for the next four days.
WHERE IGNORANCE IS BLISS
As if it were sent to distract and console us from the “misfortune” of losing the drone, a whale emerges from nowhere and spouts from afar as it surfaces to breathe. Martin- Laval, my companion and I hurry from the boat’s communal living room to the deck and watch the mammal repeat the act several times – quite a showoff , really – and we wonder what else nature has in store for us.
Plenty, as it turns out. Mangroves grow wild in clear, turquoise waters at the nearby Yanggefo Island.
“They are a primary reason why I moved to Raja Ampat. The biodiversity here is just so beautiful,” says Martin-Laval, who is French and previously based in the Maldives.
There is no need to even snorkel to enjoy the 20 coral species that thrive in just this small area. Their vibrant colours are clear from the surface as are the schools of redtooth triggerfish, crocodile fish and flying fish allowing the ebb and flow of the currents to gently direct their path.
Raja Ampat is a nature lover’s paradise. Over 170 types of birds live here, including eagles, rare birds of paradise, beautiful cockatoos and parrots that can be seen and heard across the archipelago comprising 1,500 smaller islands.
Sitting at the crossroads of the Indian and Pacific oceans, the divers’ haven is known to be home to 70 per cent of the world’s coral species and over 1,500 diff erent types of fish. Every day presents a new discovery, like the thousands of stingless jellyfish that fill Lagoon Bintang (so named because it is shaped like a star) off Misool. Marine life flaunting every shade of the colour spectrum welcomes divers and snorkellers to explore its world. Even some Nemos stop to say hi.
Although the Amandira crew has a detailed itinerary that includes snorkelling, diving, picnicking and hiking, nature, it seems, has its own plans, like treating us to the spectacle of eight dolphins leaping out of the water ahead of us one afternoon.
The crew tries to take the boat closer while keeping a good distance to respect their space. Such is the beauty of chartering the Amandira, which can accommodate up to 10 guests. Plans are fluid and guests are free to alter them as they wish.
The accommodating crew – attentive, but never intrusive – is what makes the Amandira and exploring Raja Ampat all the more memorable, especially during moments when one realises just how removed one is from civilisation and the mainland of Sorong, where we boarded the vessel. Hailing from different parts of the country, the all-male team personifies the genuine warmth and sincerity of Indonesian hospitality.
We are accompanied on every excursion by attendants, who regularly off er snacks, iced beverages and cold towels – a welcome respite from the unrelenting heat, and especially after a dive. We can also count on freshly squeezed juices and afternoon nibbles, such as warm banana cake and French toast, at the end of daily adventures.
In typical Aman Resorts fashion, every detail on the vessel is well thought out. It has three master ensuite cabins, one of which has its own private deck, and two cabins with bunk beds. Each bathroom comes with everything one would need under the sun. Sunscreen, cap, straw hat, insect repellent, beach bag, flip-flops – all checked.
“The point is to leave everything to us so you can recharge and spend quality time with family and friends while on board,” says Martin-Laval.
That includes entrusting your life to the crew, as this novice did. During a dive at the famous Manta Sandy off Arborek Island, the strong undercurrent had me clinging on to Martin-Laval, a certified dive instructor, during a 30-minute search for the elusive manta ray. I wanted to give up, but he said to be patient.
At times like this, you can tell that he really wants guests to experience Raja Ampat’s beauty in all its glory. Of course, we finally did spot the majestic creature gliding through the sun’s rays that penetrate the waters of the Dampier Strait.
On another evening, the team surprised us with a trip to a secret island. We were greeted with a laid-out table and lit candles placed in the crevices of a limestone boulder next to a portable barbecue grill, with our dinner cooking away.
Martin-Laval shares subsequently that the crew discovered this spot some months ago. On clearing away fallen branches, they discovered a white, sandy beach perfect for a romantic setting.
To celebrate every New Year, they bring guests to this very spot to witness a fireworks display. Here, the stars blanket the sky and plankton illuminate the sea with a blue glow, offering glimmers of light in a mystical darkness that shrouds a far removed location such as Raja Ampat.
What better way to recharge the soul and mind than in the healing presence of nature. While it is difficult to leave technology behind at first, those who bravely do so will be richly rewarded with a peace that only nature can offer.
Amandira offers the Komodo Expedition from April to October, and sets sail to the Raja Ampat Islands from November to February. Visit www.aman.com.