By Alexis Fosler. Photos by Kerry Lorimer and Hayley Baillie.
The magic of the Indonesian archipelago has whispered to me since I was a little girl, the call to explore her 17,000 islands sometimes a murmur, at other times a siren song. I can’t quite recall when I first heard mention of the Forgotten Islands, but I know I was instantly smitten, drunk with longing for these lost and lonely isles.
I had almost forgotten the islands myself, when a serendipitous email from Jos reminded me to inquire as to the availability of a cabin on these much sought-after voyages. Finally, I am here, skimming across a wine dark sea. Lightening flickers on the horizon, and the black foresail crackles and snaps in a stiff night breeze. I remember that my happiest moments are aboard the Seven Seas – she is a seductress, a sorceress, a magic and moments and memories maker.
Welora’s dives offer up a lurk of barracudas. A storm of fish darkening a forgotten sky, a menacing cloud stacked above us. The island of Dai displays an underwater landscape of the most diverse corals we have ever seen. Autumnal shades of russets, reds, oranges, golds and vibrating, vivid yellows, lie below a drizzle of autumn leaves as butterfly fish and antheas become a blossom rain of petals over the ocean floor. In a stronger current, a coil of jacks turns tightly above us, agitated at the arrival of a squad of unicorn fish. These are the unofficial policemen of the underwater world, their truncheons borne proudly before them, anxiously policing the reef edge as a a fury of sergeant majors dashes by, a prison break of convicts making a mad escape. We are distracted by a veritable flock of parrot fish, a school the size of which none of us have ever seen, preening and pirouetting against the reef. We surface, our grins as wide as the ocean.
Kelapa and Semata bring rain and drizzle and a darker kind of magic, mating GTs, black and silver pairs upon pairs, darting against the dark blue sea in perfect finchronicity. An enormous sail of batfish briefly blocks out the sun. Sailing that night for Teun, we experience a 360-degree sunset, the horizon that encircles our vessel tinted with hues of rose, gold, Tiffany blue and lemon yellow. Later, we dance on deck, whirling dervishes under a dragon blood red sky.
Teun alerts us to her sulphurous presence upon arrival. The tip of the cone of a tiny volcano, the villagers here are hungry and barely hanging on and we deliver rice and biscuits. We dive that morning with a lone hammerhead and then head into the village to find men working on dugout canoes and distilling arak. The villagers have made homemade ukuleles that we strum, and Johnny, who is apparently the quality tester of all that booze, serenades us with “My Bonnie”. We all join in, singing like madmen under the noonday sun.
Magic lurks in Teun. Diving later that day an underwater boom reverberates through the sea as the volcano stirs, and a canopy of tiny blue fish erupts overhead like fireworks. The sea here is deep and dark and daunting.
Serua brings more hammerheads and a perched village, rising steeply on a precipitous mountainside. We are the first visitors here for a long, long time, and as we leave, the island’s caretaker bids us farewell, watching us for what seems like an age before he pops on his homemade wooden goggles and dives where he says the hammerheads cruise the deep blue ledge.
Banda serves up fish, fabled forts, nutmeg plantations and swimming with dolphins. There are Mandarin fish at the pier, and achingly beautiful rosettes of coral under the lava flow of Gunung Api. That afternoon, we are suspended in time as Kora Kora, the ancient long canoes, accompany us out of the harbor, oars slapping a sun dappled sea, drums reverberating behind us as we set sail for Raja Ampat.
Raja Ampat is an aquarium after the darker and unfathomable mysteries of the Forgotten Islands. Iridescent blue dash fusiliers dash past my mask, the tail of a trigger fish brushes my lips, and I almost steal a kiss with a leathery batfish. The moon is becoming heavier and heavier, until it rises so engorged and fat and golden on the horizon that we can see the man in the moon beaming upon us. There is a magic here. On the Seven Seas, it would seem, there is magic everywhere.