As lost as lost can be, Banda Neira lies dormant in the ocean bearing its name. Here life moves a half-pace out of sync with everywhere else in Indonesia, a genuine outpost in one of the country’s more obscure corners.
By its very nature, it is a mystery. Anything that small, that far away from the world, will always retain an air of secrecy. Perhaps it lacks the folklore of Kelimutu or the jungle spirits of Borneo, but there is something. Call it a feeling, call it intuition but something stirs in the atmosphere of Banda Neira.
Superficially, the secret is physical: a secret beach to the north near Malole. Symbolically, though, the journey to find it is a voyage into the interior. First, head up from the deserted airfield and follow the single road. Fork right and there lies the village of Tanah Rata. There awaits a yapping fan club of young sentinels, eager to share Banda’s secrets. They act as a conduit and, through their enthusiastic welcome, the island reveals itself to the visitor.
Strangers and spirits form and disappear, and soon enough, so too do the children. They have located the secret beach with its attendant greenhouse under the reproachful gaze of brooding Mount Agung. The lingering impression is that of a colossal termite mound transplanted to the middle of the ocean; life is a pattern on Banda Neira, its inhabitants locked into their own distinctive grooves.