Seeking Sanctuary at Amanwana

A new wellness experience by Amanwana teaches guests an old Indonesian style of meditation, guided by the purifying waters of Moyo Island.

Nov 22, 2019

By Eloise Basuki. Photographs by Leigh Griffiths.

It’s normal for meditation sessions to begin with your eyes closed. However mine are squeezed shut, not because I am gearing up to clear my mind, but because I am airborne, clinging white-knuckled to the battered metal door of a very vintage Toyota four-wheel-drive that’s careening down a rocky trail, deep in the jungle of Indonesia’s Moyo Island.

We are lying over potholes and boulders, ducking every few minutes to avoid the sudden smack of a surprise tree branch, hurtling toward our meditation destination—the sacred Matu Jitu waterfall. Sure, a rollercoaster, butt-bruising car ride doesn’t really seem like the typical path to Zen, but stick with me. On Moyo, going off track is all part of the journey.

Commanding views from the flight to Moyo Island.

And anyway, I am in safe hands. I am visiting Amanwana, Jean-Michel Gathy’s first architectural project, a pioneering tented camp that has balanced its wild surrounds with 21st-century luxury since it opened back in 1993. An hour’s seaplane flight from Bali—a meditative experience in itself, soaring through marshmallow clouds, over the turquoise Flores Sea and, on clear days, past the smoldering Mount Agung volcano—Moyo leaves the crowds far behind, with Amanwana the only resort on the largely jungle-covered island.

In fact, the biggest populations here on Moyo belong to its wildlife. From my roomy, canvas-topped suite—one of 20 that stud a long stretch of sparkly shoreline—it’s not unusual to come face to face with the island’s indigenous rusa deer, who live in the adjacent nature reserve, or to hear the footsteps of macaques scrambling on the tent roofs, or to see a reef-shark-versus-mackerel feeding frenzy in the shallows of the beach at dawn.

But it’s the resort’s ever-evolving wellness menu that has lured me, like many Aman junkies before me, to this far- flung isle. I’m here to try out a new offering led by Balinese spiritual leader and master yogi Pak Amrita Wayan, designed to help guests connect to Mother Nature, and let the island’s natural luxuries guide them closer to inner peace.

You can’t have a bad day when Pak Wayan is around,” says Marc Bittner, Amanwana’s former general manager, before my wild ride to the falls. And it’s true; the salt-and-pepper- haired guru is never without a smile. Even in the Toyota, while the rest of us shriek at every little bump, Pak Wayan instead turns to flash his ever-constant ear-to-ear grin at us, putting us instantly at ease. When we finally arrive at Matu Jitu, his smile stretches even wider, and I can tell that we’ve reached his happy place. Taking a look around, it’s no surprise: a seven-meter cascade thunders into two tiers of jungle-lined, chalky-blue limestone pools. “It feels so untouched,” Marc had mused the night before. “You really feel like you’re one of the first people there.” We’re not, though. In fact, these spiritual waters have even been graced by royalty—Princess Diana was one of the first VIP guests at the Amanwana camp.

But I’m not here to fangirl; I’m here to find peace. I think. I’m new to meditation, but have always liked the idea of turning off my monkey mind, forgetting for a few minutes about e-mails and deadlines. I wasn’t sure it would be possible, but this seemed a good place to start.

At the base of the falls, Pak Wayan sets up our meditation space: he lights a stick of incense and fills a bowl with water from Matu Jitu, topping it with a jumble of fragrant flowers. “It might look like an offering, but this helps us breathe and interact with nature,” Pak Wayan says. We are practicing kumkum, derived from the ancient Javanese word meaning “to soak in water.” Kumkum is often performed underwater, but Matu Jitu is considered too pure and sacred for anyone to swim in—even princesses. So we sit on the ground as Pak Wayan guides us with stretches and breathing exercises to let go of our thoughts, and, in turn, our egos.

As we finish up, Pak Wayan uses a large seashell to pour some of the cool Matu Jitu flower water on our heads, for purification and connection to the divine energy. It’s a lot to grasp in just one session, but one thing I notice for sure is that the thunder of the waterfall beating down calms me, grounds me. Moyo’s natural powers have begun to take effect.

Moyo takes its name from the Hindu word “maya”—the supernatural power wielded by gods and demons to produce illusions. I’ve heard of the apparitions the local villagers have seen over the years, and Pak Wayan says he has seen angels here. Whether or not you believe this, the island is a fitting setting for nature and spirituality to coexist. One day, I glide over the glassy waters on a paddleboard, admiring a universe of coral and fish below. I go for a snorkel with resident watersports guy, Supardan a.k.a. the octopus whisperer. His title conveys a lofty promise, but, sure enough, as we swim off the resort’s beach—past moray eels, waving fan corals and a green sea turtle— Supardan teases a shy little octopus out into the open with a homemade toy. I get emotional watching the octopus reach out for his new, sadly fake, friend.


Luxury tent at Amanwana.

In the evening we get a natural light show aboard the Aman XIV, a traditional wooden outrigger complete with a pillow-top canopy. We snack on popcorn and gaze up at the glowing night sky, wishing upon the many shooting stars that soar above us. Back on land, the ebb and flow of the waves becomes the soundtrack to our beachside dinner, where we feast on locally caught lobster that’s so sweet and tender I scoop it straight from the shell, no need for any seasoning.


The end of another day.

More traditional wellness experiences come in the form of Indonesian-influenced massages at the beachfront Jungle Cove Spa. I go for the Purifying Ritual, which involves a smoking ceremony using palo santo holy wood, which aims to clear stagnant qi, stabilize the heart and add some much-needed breathing space to my mind, body and soul.

But the most Zen experience for me would come after our falls-side session at Matu Jitu. Since the falls are off limits for swimming, Pak Wayan leads us farther into the forest to the smaller Diwu Mbai waterfall. The gentle trickle of water here flows into a deep, dark- blue lagoon, surrounded by shady green ferns, dragonflies darting around bright tropical flowers. We drop our towels and stand quietly in awe of this picture-perfect paradise.

Suddenly, a squeal breaks the silence as Pak Wayan whips off his T-shirt, throws it on a nearby palm, and jumps into the water. He beckons us in with that beaming grin, and one by one we follow the master into the blue.

The water is cold, so after a few minutes I stretch out on a sunlit rock to let the golden light warm my goose-bumpy skin. As Pak Wayan hands me a young coconut to drink, I ask him how long he has practiced meditation. “I’ve been studying since 1994, but I’ve been practicing since I was a child; I just didn’t know,” he says. “I would go to the forest, to the river, and just enjoy nature. After, I would feel better. I didn’t know then, but I was meditating.”

I watch the cascade of water flow across my legs. I see a butterfly try to land on the frangipani nestled in my friend’s hair. I notice nature’s beauty around me, but I just enjoy it— no thoughts cross my mind. Later, Pak Wayan’s teachings finally click. Maybe meditation isn’t as complex as I think it is. And maybe I’m not that inexperienced after all.


A scenic arrival experience.

aman.com; doubles from US$800; Pak Wayan is a resident practitioner at Amankila; Amanwana offers a variety of seasonal wellness experiences, so visit the website to find out what is scheduled.

Culture

A Note From Our Editor in Chief

We’re all in this together.

Hotels & Resorts

SO Sofitel Bangkok

Abutting Rama IV and Sathorn Road in the capital’s frenetic financial district, this much-hyped property is geared toward artsy, style-minded types as much as business travelers—check-ins are done via iPads and in-room tech amenities are powered by Apple Mac mini.

Culture

Reasons to Travel in March

T+L’s monthly selection of trip-worthy places, experiences and events.

Hotels & Resorts

Timor-Leste: Paradise Yet Untouched

Twenty years after its hard-won independence, Timor-Leste is only just beginning to open up its natural landscape to the region. Exploring every corner of Southeast Asia’s youngest country, Sophie Raynor discovers the pristine wonders we’ve been missing out on.