Wednesday, 8 February 2017

SLOW BOAT TO THE SPICE ISLANDS PART 1- Maluku Islands, Indonesia

(It's been some time since our last blog post!! We have been busy, but nothing interesting enough for a blog post. On our return to Asia after most of the year in the UK and Europe, Sal flew to Oz, where she participated in an enjoyable and profitable few weeks of work and some great quality time with the family, while Rich returned to his beloved Fruitopia, where a healthy diet and strict exercise regime, repaired his body nearly completely. A reunion and some more time on the island was followed by a stint in Penang, researching and preparing for our upcoming Indonesia trip, meeting with friends, catching up with movies, and pigging out on more than our share of fantastic Indian food.)

Where are the Maluku Islands?

Where exactly??

We'd never flown with Lion Air before, but had always found their slogan amusing -“We Make People Fly”. It would have to be a very cheap flight to “make us fly” with them again. While in transit in Makassar, we had a mad rush when staff insisted on authenticating the Visa card we had used to book our ticket with their Jakarta office, which took over 2 hours, and although we made our flight to Ambon in time, it was a stress we didn't need.


Our arrival in Ambon was typically Indonesian- first with the immediate and literal slowing of pace, and secondly, a friendly man in a car stopping to offer us a lift into town- a favour we were very grateful for as the bemo (minibus) ride would have been long, and it was getting dark. A traipse around the city ensued, with accommodation being either way too dirty (even for us!), or way too expensive. We finally found a happy medium at a family run guesthouse slightly away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. The friendly owner showed to a dusty room that seemed not to have been used for some time, but it was cool, clean and relatively quiet- that is until the Christian rock next door woke us at 6am! 

Ambon room

Ambon room mandi (bathroom)

We can't remember ever arriving in a city, and being so completely at the mercy of the limited and sporadic transport options to leave again! Our first choice of destination after arriving in Ambon, was the Banda Islands some distance to the south-east. Options were: flying on tiny plane, with unreliable timetables that were often cancelled at the last minute; a very expensive fast boat; or the Pelni 18 hour ferry boat that left a few days after we arrived in Ambon.......of course we went for the last. 

Local transport- becak

Local transport- bemo

That did mean killing time in a noisy, traffic filled, relatively uninteresting, and hot as hell city. We tried to recover from our 24 hour marathon travel day from Penang to Ambon via Kuala Lumpur and Makassar, get our bodies used to the extreme humidity, re-learn Bahasa Indonesia in anticipation of travelling to remote areas, change all the money we needed for the next two months (we're talking 22 million rupiah- difficult to fit into our money belts!), check out the padang restaurants around town, answer 5,000 “Hello Mister”s a day, avoid the over keen bemo and ojek (motorbike taxi) drivers, and attempt a few half hearted day trips to a museum and a viewpoint- we were really in Maluku for the islands, and couldn't wait to escape the city.

Cutie on the bemo, Ambon

Local fashion, Ambon

Colourful shop, Ambon

Street scene, Ambon

Two weird statues of local heroes with big feet! Ambon

Avocado shakes, Ambon

Unidentified objects, Ambon market

Fruits galore, Ambon market

Salak fruit, Ambon market

Ticket in hand, we approached the giant Pelni ferry in Ambon port with slight apprehension. It was well founded, as we boarded to find the ship nearly completely full, with very few places left to settle. And we're not just talking a seat here. Anywhere- seat, bench, bed or floor is up for grabs on a Pelni, and the quicker we found somewhere comfortable to spend the 18 hour journey, the better. This situation was a bit unexpected, as our previous Pelni journeys had been chaotic, but fairly roomy and much less busy. Luckily, we were able to slip in when some Indonesian bums left their seat, and scored ourselves a bench. We were a lot better off than many others, but it was still too small for the two of us to both lie down, so we took it in shifts to sleep. The floor space was so completely filled with luggage and boxes, the option for lying down wasn't there. We were surprised to see several other tourists on the boat- we hadn't seen any at all in the city, and we'd thought the remoteness of the Banda islands might mean less popularity with Westerners. Little did we know.....

Crowded Pelni deck

Nearly there....


The history of this area is actually quite interesting. Maluku was known as The Spice Islands, and was literally the only place in the world one could obtain certain spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves until the 16th century. Before the colonials showed up, the sultanate was immensely wealthy, and traded with China, India, Javanese and Arabs. The spices were so sought after, the Portuguese, then the Dutch and British all had a go at trying to monopolise trade here (hence the proliferation of forts on every island). The Dutch in particular treated the locals abysmally, with many islands entirely massacred because they tried to stand up for themselves. Eventually the Brits snuck out some spices and started growing them in their colonies, thereby ending the monopoly.

Nutmeg growing on a tree, Banda Islands

Freshly collected nutmeg with mace attached, Banda Islands

Nutmeg drying in the sun, Banda Islands

Mace drying in the sun, Banda Islands


Disembarking the Pelni in Bandaneira (the “capital” of the Banda islands) was surprisingly orderly, and before we knew it, we were met by the owner of the place we'd had in mind to stay in, had our luggage whisked off to the waterfront guesthouse, and a five minute walk later, we had arrived and were relaxing with some pisang goreng (fried banana) and a coffee. Despite the rubbish in the harbour (an unfortunate theme all over the island), the guesthouse was relaxing, and a quiet respite for a few days while we explored the island of Pulau Neira and planned where to go next. We were once again unable to plan more than a few days to a few weeks ahead due to unreliable and last minute boat timetables and changes. 

Arriving by Pelni ferry to Bandaneira, Maluku

Guesthouse Bandaneia

Relaxing guesthouse Bandaneira

Lovely breakfast, guesthouse, Banadeira

We spent time walking around the island on seawalls, coast paths, through lovely little flower filled villages with colonial buildings, watching fisherman and slogging up and down interior hills. It was a good introduction to island life, and we looked forward to visiting even more remote places.

Kora kora, traditional racing boats, Banadeira

Outdoor lesson, Banadeira

Beautiful boat paint, Banadeira

Relaxed cat, Banadeira

Various drying fish, Banadeira

Typical island house, Banadeira

Island mosque, Banadeira

Colourful laundry, Banadeira
Tourist let loose on Banadeira street

Fort in Banadeira

Nice wall, Banadeira

Adorable little boy at pier

Rubbish problem, Banadeira

Pullies, Banadeira

Atmospheric old house, Banadeira

Banadeira fort

Ghost ship coming into harbour, Banadeira

Arachnophobe's horror! Banadeira

Cassava, a staple along with rice, Bandaneira


Maybe it was the previous sleepless night (ants in the bed), maybe it was the rough and scary boat ride to Pulau Hatta or maybe it was the grey, windy and drizzling day, but on arrival we were very disappointed with this island other travellers had described as “paradise”. Despite our grumpy and negative mood, we managed, by luck, to find what turned out to be the best bungalow operation of the six to stay on the small beach at Kampung Lama. After a couple of days we realized what a lovely family ran the place, and the other guests were enjoyable to chat with and exchange information. The sun came out and we began to relax and enjoy the island much more. 

Boat to Pulau Hatta

Bungalow, Pulau Hatta

View from bungalow, Pulau Hatta

Shell collecting, Pulau Hatta

Our home on Pulau Hatta

Beach in front of bungalow, Pulau Hatta

Old pottery fragments washed up on the beach, Pulau Hatta

More shells, Pulau Hatta

Then the rain came, Pulau Hatta

The friendly family running our place had it's own boat which meant free fishing trips and seemingly endless amounts of fresh fish twice a day. All the accommodation on Pulau Hatta was inclusive of three meals a day as well as tea, coffee and water. We struggled with the amount of food- it was mostly so delicious and varied we couldn't bear not to eat, but it was way too much compared to our usual pretty basic diet. We were spoiled most days with a constant stream of coconuts, papaya, avocado and bananas being brought to out hut.

Hatta-style sashimi

Papaya salad- similar to somtam (but not as good!)

So much fresh fish caught fresh everyday

Most days were spent admiring the view from the verandah of our brand new little bungalow (“special price for us”!), walking to the cute little Muslim village of Kampung Baru through the nutmeg forests, reading, studying Bahasa Indonesia, listening to music, enjoying the sun (when it was out- we did have a fair amount of rain as well!), swimming, snorkelling, and of course talking and eating! We found it amusing how uninterested most of the population was with seeing foreigners- especially the kids.....we put it down to us not being a novelty after 300 years of contact with Europeans!

Main street Kampung Lama, Pulau Hatta

Lovely boat colours, Pulau Hatta

Fishing gear, Pulau Hatta

Friday in Kampung Baru, Pulau Hatta

Nutmeg forest, Pulau Hatta

Tourist let loose in tiny local shop, Pulau Hatta

Fishing boats, Pulau Hatta

Surveying the scene, Pulau Hatta

Pulau Hatta beach

Inventive little fence, Pulau Hatta

Fisherman's home, Pulau Hatta

Ship wreck, Pulau Hatta

Typical house with drying nutmeg, Pulau Hatta

"Our" beach, Pulau Hatta

Cous cous in tree, Pulau Hatta

Glorious sunset, Pulau Hatta

Local drinks lady, Pulau Hatta

The main reason the majority of tourists come here is for the amazing snorkelling- it's well known amongst those sorts. The reef is very accessible- right off the beach and a dramatic drop off is 30 meters from the shore. We are not serious snorkellers, and the 7000 meter drop off was a bit scary for us, but we had a few goes in between the rough weather, and were happy to see the best coloured corals, and the most big, small and colourful fish we have even seen. 

We returned to Bandaneira to decide what to do next...............................