This story was written by UWRF Founder & Director, Janet DeNeefe.
There is only one thing better than cruising around the Komodo Islands in an elegant teak Phinisi boat, and that is, cruising around the Komodo Islands with the enigmatic, award-winning author, Amitav Ghosh and his wife, Deborah Baker.
Our journey began in Labuan Bajo, a picture-perfect harbour in West Flores that marks the gateway to the Komodo National Park. This network of tiny islands is the stuff that dreams are made of, or maybe, Hollywood. Think Lord of the Rings meets Robinson Crusoe and there you have it. Lofty mountain ranges that drop into the sea, crystal clear water in fifty shades of turquoise, pink-sand beaches, and, the best part of it all, it’s deserted.
There were 11 of us, just the right amount for an intimate gathering that focused on literature, and gourmet Indonesian food. Breakfast was laid out on deck and included home-made pastries, fresh fruit, Greek-style house-made yoghurt and muesli, rice porridge, breads, black rice and sago pudding, along with the usual cooked suspects.
Lunch was fish, fish and more fish, plucked straight out of the ocean, in shades of cerulean blue and coral red, and cooked every which way, enhanced with a squeeze of lime or a pile of spices and coconut milk. This is where I kicked in and ran leisurely, informal cooking classes, on deck, waxing lyrical about Indonesia’s health-giving ingredients from turmeric to tamarind, grinding and cooking together, followed by a long table feast.
Evenings began with cocktails and conversations about writing, researching and planning novels and spilled into yet another glorious Indonesian meal.
Days were dreamy. Picture the scene; snorkelling in pristine waters and spying on a secret world of iridescent underwater macrocosm, gazing at the deserted, expanse of ocean or simply reading on deck and sipping chilled lime juice and, later, wine. Swimming with manta rays, who were as curious about us as we were about them, was a highlight. For Amitav Ghosh, seeing an emerald green turtle at arm’s reach silhouetted by a shaft of sunlight in the water, was one of the most beautiful images he had ever seen.
With a back-drop of silent mountain ranges, starry, balmy nights, an expansive sapphire-blue ocean and sunsets that turned from pink to violet-mauve matched with conversations, great food and cocktails at dusk, what more could you wish for? But wait, there was more. Mother Nature turned on a ‘blood moon’ in an inky-blue sky while the water fizzled and sparkled with phosphorescence. The power of the planet kicked in as we stared at one of the world’s most romantic symbols and marvelled at the sheer beauty of this silent paradise on earth. What a wonderful way to end the 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and next year we will do it all again.