Our Lonely Planet guide recommended a specific café which did a dish special to the area. Everyone stopped eating when we went in, and started murmuring. The waiter came over, we pointed to the dish we were supposed to eat, and he said, “Habis” – it’s finished. We didn’t have a plan B, so I pointed to something else. “We’ll have two of those,” I said. He looked askance, and I tried to appear confident. Kris was giving me a look that said: “You could have ordered anything, you idiot.” We sat in trepidation and everyone started murmuring again. Eventually, the waiter came out flamboyantly and placed two bread rolls on the table. We all laughed – the waiter laughed, then the whole restaurant laughed and became hysterical – so it was a real icebreaker. Then they said: “We’ll bring you some stuff,” and out came some fantastic dishes.
The next day, we got a ferry to the Banda Islands with two western couples we’d met who were divers – the waters around Banda are legendary. Hours later, we stood on deck as the islands came into view. The most prominent feature was Gunung Api, which means fire mountain.
It’s the caldera of an extinct volcano, with a curved outer island, a curved inner island and a perfect, calm lagoon. The volcano cone rose out of a perfect blue ocean – a view unchanged since the first people to come here saw it. There is no evidence of the 20th century – no planes overhead, no sign of any human settlement.
As you steam into the lagoon, you are greeted by the sight of this calm, green water and palm-fringed beaches, and as you get closer, Dutch colonial architecture, then a shanty town near the fish market. Up on a hill above the lagoon is an old Dutch fort, which is magical. We looked at this place and as we entered the lagoon, standing next to each other, the sun was setting. It sounds impossibly romantic – and it was. It was one of those moments where everything aligns. I don’t think I’ve seen anything to match the sunsets in Indonesia: pinks, blues, turquoises, the light playing over the lagoon…