Can you believe it – we finally left Nemberala! Not that we went far, mind you – just to a nearby island called Ndana (“pulau” means “island”). It’s the southern most island in the whole Indonesian archipelago, and is uninhabited apart from a small military base.
We motored the whole way into a moderate south-easter – which took about 1.5 hours, being less than 10 nm away. The big Indonesian flag at the military base could be seen from a couple miles away, and our anchorage was in the bay right in front of the military base – which is actually hidden from view when you get there. We were blown away by how beautiful the bay is – clear turquoise water, jagged limestone cliffs with birds soaring the updrafts, waves peeling down the reefs on both sides, an incredible white beach – and not a soul to be seen!
Our first mission was to “report in” with the military. They allow people to visit the island (which is fantastic), but we were told that one has to report to them on arrival – preferably with a gift of sorts. I was expecting quite a formal bureaucratic atmosphere, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. At the top of the beach is a little palm-fringed beach hut, complete with hammock, benches and table – and a big sign welcoming visitors to Ndana.
From there, it’s a short walk along a track (complete with solar-powered street lights!?) to the main group of buildings. We found a couple of “marines” (as they called themselves) playing cards, and they entered our names in the official “Visitors Book”. Check in complete! They were young, down-to-earth and friendly, and we had a good chat and a couple laughs with them before heading back to the beach. They appreciated the Cokes we brought them – but I doubt they were necessary. One gets the feeling that it’s more of a holiday camp than a military base – and is probably there to maintain a presence in case of trouble / uprising in the area.
We now had the bay to ourselves – what a treat! The waves were beckoning to the guys, who went off to try them out. The swell was a little smaller and the waves were perfect for Josh, who relished having them all to himself! I grabbed the SUP and headed for the beach, where the reef forms a calm lagoon – perfectly for SUPing, swimming and exploring. The beach sand is really beautiful here – made up of tiny perfectly round balls like mustard seeds, interspersed with flecks of bright red coral and tiny seashells. I could have examined it for hours!
The next couple of days were spent much the same way – mostly in the water. Marco found a heavy hollow wave around the northern headland which he enjoyed, and the boys surfed the left right near the boat. Noah had a slight cold (I didn’t think one could get a cold in Indonesia!), so spent a little more time reading and resting.
One morning, when the tide was low, we went exploring the limestone cliffs and exposed reef. The cliffs are really jagged and look like molten lava that has solidified into strange shapes. There are many caves and tunnels made by the waves, and the cliff faces are full of crabs that scurry away into crevices and holes when you come near, making a bizarre rattling noise. One lost its footing and fell onto Marco’s bare back – aargh! There are numerous “brittle stars” (closely related to starfish) on the reef, and many unusual seashells and hermit crabs. We enjoyed a refreshing swim in a rockpool in a cave in the cliffs, and couldn’t stop photographing the reflections and unusual angles in this picturesque setting.
We came across a most unusual sight in the shallows – a snake/eel type fish that had literally bitten off more than he could chew! It was a long white snake/eel with a fish sticking out of its mouth – both dead. After some research I identified it as a “crocodile snake eel” – I had never heard of these before. They burrow in the sand and wait for their prey to come near, then grab it in their jaws. This one must have been too greedy, and choked to death! How bizarre!
We also did some snorkelling along the reef – there were some beautiful sections, with bright blue and turquoise schools of fish and big sea sponges. We didn’t venture too far from the boat channel, but I’m sure the reef would have been more pristine away from the main thoroughfare (albeit with minimal traffic).
I got a little experimental with food whilst we were here – making Nasi Kuning with fresh turmeric and lemongrass and Cah Kangkung (stir-fried water spinach) with dried shrimp paste. It tasted delicious – but I think I overdosed on the turmeric and ended up with a woozy tummy and pounding headache. Everyone else was fine – but I’d had seconds and more leftovers for supper, and maybe absorbed extra turmeric through my hands (or not). Anyway, I had a day of feeling horrible – and vowed to use the turmeric juice rather than the whole root next time (as stated in the recipe – but I thought I knew better).
After about 4 days we headed back to Nemberala. We’d run out of milk and milk powder (Noah’s worst nightmare) and cereal (Noah’s second-worst nightmare), and I was dying for a pizza or hamburger from Bekky Boos (no turmeric please!). Farewell Ndana – stay as untouched as you are!