Lunch was already underway at the restaurant on water right across the bungalow I was sharing with Theresia’s family and friends. I settled for a table near the entrance facing the string of mountains its zenith ringed by wisps of clouds. Snatches of a conversation from across the table parallel to mine floated in the sea-kissed air as I stared at the mountain.
“It’s always chicken and fish,” remarked Heidi.
“Have you tried tempeh?” sounded a deep voice.
“Yes, the one with peanuts. We’ve tried it,” replied Heidi, “but they don’t have it here.”
Boomed that deep voice again: “They don’t like it here. If there’s no fish, there’s no food.”
I had met Heidi the night before after a long, vertiginous journey – ferry, SUV, and speedboat – starting from Ambon city. Heidi said she and her husband, Harry, were in Indonesia for a month, and alluring Ora, for the second time round, was the nth stop in their itinerary. Ora was simply too hard to resist. Raja Ampat was the last stop after Ora for 20 days then it was back to Brussels.
Heidi’s right. Resisting the charm of picturesque Ora Island is absolutely futile and imprudent. Only a fool who wants to take a leave of absence from the world would turn her back on Ambon’s Shangri-la. It didn’t take more than 10 minutes for Theresia to convince me to join her instead of flying off somewhere during the long Hari Raya holiday. The crystal clear water and majestic mountains, swathed in fluffy swirls of cotton, of Ora were beguiling and beckoning you to abandon the concrete jungle you were mired in. They hypnotically whispered, “Come to Ora and live. Come to Ora and breathe. Come to Ora and relax.”
“It’s like the Maldives, Ms,” said Theresia, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “We will stay in one of these bungalows at Ora Beach Resort. Join us, lah, Ms.”
Ora Island is paradise welcoming anyone – families, couples, friends, wearied souls, and city slickers – with open arms even in the dead of night. Energy-sapping schedules are non-existent except for meal times. Technology takes a backseat to the natural canvas enveloping the island serenaded by the susurration of the sea breeze. Everywhere your gaze lands is Mother Nature in its immaculate form – walls of mountains standing royally from a distance, stucco-colour sand, sea, cool wind, and sun. The gentle lapping of the miles and miles of clear water is music to the ears long strained by the cacophonous din of urban living. Ducking your head underwater reveals a seascape of various schools of fish and the vast number of bulu babi (Indonesian for sea urchin) that resembled rambutan.
Mornings are heavenly. The vista is unparalleled: nature’s wonder teeming with positive energy that gently nudges you to unfurl the yoga mat you lugged all the way from Bekasi on the balcony-foyer. You inhale deeply, hold for a few seconds, and breathe out slowly. The breathing is smooth, not ragged. You feel unencumbered. As the hours pass, you find yourself sitting on the balcony reading and glancing every now and then at the picture in front of you. At times you find yourself searching for the one who jumped into the water as you hear a splash only to discover it’s a fish doing a back flip. Later in the afternoon you walk to other side of the island and back with the group who’s just return from their snorkel trip behind the island. It is a golden opportunity to indulge in the frustrated dream of being a super model. Then you sit at the dock and wait for the sun to set. Along with the natural scenery, Ora’s sunset – ah, the sunset – is the ne plus ultra of the island’s magnificence with its mesmerising interplay of colours – changing like a kaleidoscope as it recedes from the sky. Although Ora is plunged into darkness as the last ray of sun disappears behind the mountain, the ambience is not sombre; there’s a vibrancy ringing in the dark mantle pierced by the lights from the dock and the restaurant. Dinner awaits and the thought of tomorrow rings with aspiration.
Ora is my reward for the arduous trip that began with a ride to the port of Tulehu at the crack of dawn to catch the ferry, but only to learn you’d missed it. And this was after braving the heaving throng of ferry-goers who had gathered at the gate and were getting agitated at being barred by the local police from entering. The police finally lift the barrier as the angry shouts punctuating the early morning sky grows more frequent, and a mad scramble ensues. It was if the deities were keeping an eye on our sleepy-eyed group, we were stopped midway and told the ferry we were running to was sailing to Saparua Island.
Several hours and anti-motion tablets later, I set foot on Ora Island wrapped in a pitch-dark mantle.
Nobody ever said that journeying to nirvana is a walk in the park, but it’s a trip I’d gladly undertake again if only to bask in Ambon’s Shangri-la’s charisma again.
Travel note: Getting to Ora Island is a long journey so have breakfast and bring a bottle of water if you’re the type with a tummy condition. If not, you’ll survive on the boiled peanuts, banana chips, and Popmie noodles vended onboard the ferry. Head to Tulehu port in Ambon for a two-hour ferry ride to Masohi Amahai and from Masohi, board an SUV (this should be pre-arranged prior to your arrival in Masohi) for a two-hour drive to Sakaa Village. From Sakaa Village (Saleman Village is another departure point), board a speedboat ride for all of 10 minutes to Ora Beach Eco-Resort.
Additional photos by Lidia Wagiu and Theresia Kafroly Sabono