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Discovering the Secrets of Moyo Island | Indonesia

August 25, 2018

by Irene Barlian

There is a place in Indonesia where people have discovered the secret of living in perfect harmony. A place where the children run free and the Earth provides everything you need. Welcome to Moyo island, a sanctuary located just outside the north coast of Sumbawa Island overfull with magnificent waterfalls, lush greenery and endless savannah.

I first learned about Moyo Island a couple of years back while stumbling upon an article on the internet. A perfect picture of a splendid waterfall that has a natural stone step with turquoise water wallowed inside. A natural swimming pool tucked in the middle of wild jungle strikes my attention. I was captivated. A deep research showing that it is the Mata Jitu waterfall, an ultimate gift from the universe for the magical Moyo Island.

Moyo is not only about a luxurious resort with its pristine white sandy beach. There are two waterfalls in this 30,000-acre land, one is Mata Jitu and the other one is Diwu Mbai. More than 80 species of birds are among the indigenous fauna, as are long tail macaques, wild bovines, wild pigs, deer, and 21 bat species. Two endangered species are endemic to Indonesia, yellow-headed parrot and Tanimbar Megapode can be also be found in here. And, that’s just the tip of the island’s biological iceberg.

In 1986, a national park was established in order to protect the wonderful nature and its habitat in Moyo Island. But, conservations always had its tool to the local’s who occupied the islands for centuries. They were not allowed to hunt or fish in an unordered fashion anymore. For some people, it’s just the matter of surviving and providing food on their table.

From my vantage point inside a local boat, docking at Labuan Aji Village, the island offers a soothing, warm, and kinship sense of atmosphere. Villagers came running towards the boat as soon as it arrives. They were fetching their cargo from the nearest big island, Sumbawa. The captain handed my backpack with a gentle smile on his face and wishing me to have a great time in Moyo.

It was the most interesting boat ride I’ve ever been. A two hours journey from Muara Kali port with the friendliest locals I’ve encountered with. There were no other tourists, I was the only one who came from outside the island. They were curious about me as much as I was about them. “Where are you from?”, a woman asked me curiously in a local dialect. “Jakarta”, I replied. The conversation continues with a lot of giggles. I have travelled quite extensively in Indonesia, but it’s the little momentum like this that draw me back.

Around 3 pm local time, I greedily ate my rice with sepat, a traditional acidic fish soup dish from Sumbawa while having a conversation with Mahin, the owner of Davi Homestay. His homestay has a beach view with uninterrupted sunset every evening and it’s amongst the first in Moyo. “Do you want to visit Diwu Mbai waterfall?”, he asked. “It’s the one that allows you to jump from the top”, continues Mahin. With so much excitement, I started walking.

There is only one main road in Moyo and most of them are not fully developed yet. Electricity is only available when the sun is set and the only motor based vehicle is a motorcycle. Guided with Mahin’s pick and point show, I walked through the centre of Labuan Aji Village filled with a sprawling of colourful houses on stilts with rust-stained tin roofs and log gate. After 15 minutes of walking, I rambled through the glimmering rice paddy fields, a creek where children take a bath, and a festive wild jungle. I was going out of trek in the bamboo forest until Mahin traced me down on a motorcycle and guide me back. We tip-toed on a stepping stone trying to cross a moderate current river for the final trek. It was quite a challenging terrain before I reached the grandiose Diwu Mbai Waterfall.

Surrounded by a green massive tree with giant roots that sticking out of its soil, Diwu Mbai is enchanting. The stream is vigorous. Mahin says that the water that comes from here is the source of water supply in Moyo. The waterfall is essential for the people. “Are you ready to jump?”, challenge Mahin. At first, I was not ready. It’s quite a distance and I couldn’t see what’s within the dark green water. Suddenly, I hear a splash and saw that Mahin had already made his jump. “Come on! it’s your turn now”, said Mahin as he climbs back up. I accept the obsolescent rope with hesitation and took the leap that liberates me.

The next morning, a fifteen minutes boat ride on Mahin’s own fishing boat brings me to the sand island for snorkelling. Since Moyo is located on the borderline of east and west Indonesia, it’s ocean is populated with a dynamic marine life as well as sprawling pristine coral reefs. As soon as I dipped myself into the sea, I could spot a large collection of fishes swimming from every direction. It was so many, I lose count of them. Mesmerising as all that is, it’s nothing compared to my long-awaited arrival at the so-called ‘Queen’ waterfall, the local’s epithet to Mata Jitu Waterfall.

The name was given because Lady Diana used to visit and bathe in Moyo’s proudest hidden treasure. Since then, Moyo had attracted so many international celebrities like Mick Jagger, David Beckham, and recently, Maria Sharapova. “No wonder they were travelling through all that distance just to get here”, I mumble in awe. The queen is absolutely magical. A word otherworldly place is best to describe Mata Jitu. Located deep in the dense jungle of Moyo Island, it is an isolated place where you can just shut down and come back to nature. The seven meters tall waterfall has three main terraces created from a thousand years old limestone sediment. Without further due, I took a dip. The turquoise water feels so fresh and I have never seen a turquoise so rich and compelling as that body of water flocking under the sublime Mata Jitu Waterfall. The concept of living in harmony with nature and each other are cherished highly in here. As an outsider, I never felt so welcome in a foreign place before. Everyone you’ve met on the island will genuinely talk and share their story of life. Naturally, they will open their door and invite you to their home. The most kind-hearted group of people. On a bumpy motorcycle ride back from the Mata jitu, my path crossed with a crowd of women playing volleyball on an enormous field and could not resist their invitation to play.

“We are playing almost every day.” said one woman. “It’s been a while since I’ve played,” I replied. They were giving me the opportunity to serve and would not let stop until I could make it. Shamefully, after dozens of attempts, I finally knocked the ball passed the net. They were all cheering. By the time we were finished, the sun had already set and everyone was heading home. That night, under the mosquito net of Davi’s homestay, I felt like I was at home.

I was supposed to travel back to Sumbawa island the next morning but a heavy rain has been pouring all night long. There are no boats want to cross the sea with such treacherous current. Mahin suggests to wait it out and not take the risk of crossing the sea. I spent my time helping the Labuan Aji villager’s pulling the boat out from the seashore to a safer place.

Around noon, the sky has cleared up and the sun has once again shone. I bargain my way out on a transit boat and save myself a seat on the very back, right next to the engine. The journey of going back to the city has to begin. But if it ever gets too much for me, I know a place where I can drop out and be at peace. And then, the next time anyone complains to me that it is sucks or their problem is unsolvable, I’ll just tell them,”There is this place you can go in north coast Sumbawa, where they’ll accept you with open arms. A place where nature and its residents are living in a perfect harmony.


Irene Barlian is an Indonesian documentary and travel photographer based in Jakarta. Her work focuses on people, culture, and it’s relationship with nature. She has a particular love for the vibrancy of Southeast Asia. Her work has appeared in publication worldwide and has also received several awards, including Top 24 Creators in Miami Art Basel by See.Me. She lives in Jakarta but continues to travel.​

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