Breathe Deep: Gili Iyang and the Fountain of Youth

There is no greater authority than the word of mouth. Legends rise and truths may fall on account of their sharing and by whom the words are shared. Consider Gili Iyang, one of the more obscure outposts flanking the eastern coast of Sumenep.

So the legend goes, the island’s level of oxygen is the second-highest on the planet. Only Jordan can lay claim to a greater level, but this is shrouded in hearsay. Such levels are recorded in corners as yet uninhabited by mankind; one could say, therefore, that the highest and most accessible level of oxygen resides somewhere on Gili Iyang. For good reason is its sobriquet Pulau Oksigen.

‘Somewhere’ is the keyword. No-one knows, or is willing to say, where this source can be found. Pockets exist on the island, of course, and they leave in their wake a kind of preternatural calm endowed with a still, numinous quality. Stillness and tranquility are, evidently, oxygen’s constant bedfellows. Still, no-one will share the secret of its well. This is understandable; imagine the devastation wrought as companies seek to harness this superlative something for their own ends.

No, the mystery remains, as well it should. Some things are better left unexplained, a gift from Mother Nature for her children in the corner of Java. 

Its life-giving qualities are clear. Should the traveller breach the perimeter at the island’s centre they will hear tales of villagers living well beyond their predicted life spans. Faculties still full intact, their continued health and vitality illustrates the subtle miracles of their prolonged existence. And its source? The island’s oxygen.

The feeling is vaguely supernatural; the traveller watches as an islander, evidently well into his eighth decade, shimmies, unaided, up a palm tree. The action is smooth and expertly completed in a matter of seconds; this is clearly a man with decades of such practices behind him. He completes his task – scooping up swathes of palm sugar – and begins his descent with a speed and grace that is both startling and enervating. 

Action complete, the man goes about his business. His manner is calm and his attitude content; such is the contentment endowed in its inhabitants by the superlative, inexplicable Gili Iyang.

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