There have been a few attempts to count the amount of time it would take to step on all the 17,000 islands or so of Indonesia. Answers come close to a lifetime. It’s actually considered mission impossible, but that doesn’t mean I’m discouraged to visit as many as I can. A spontaneous call brought me to pack up and visit Saparua Island, a neighboring island of Ambon to the east. I spent 3 days and 2 nights roaming Saparua Island before visiting Banda Neira, with minimal preparation and a loose itinerary. Yeah! I’m that kind of girl.
The information online pretty much says it all. With little to do, all has been written. To my consideration it’s pretty much off the beaten track, which was pleasant. Walking around the village kinda feels like you’re just another village kid finding something to do. Little attention was drawn to you as there were less people around; hardly dense. However, it can easily drag you into confusion as to what to do on such a laid back and hot island. So let the child in Firsta, Vindhya, Adlin and me, give you a few ideas.
Because we were staying at Rumah RP, naturally we would swim at the pier nearby. The concrete pier is perfect to spend the afternoon as the sun sets in front of it. One afternoon, we dragged beach chairs out to the pier and swam in the ocean till nightfall. It’s also the playground for the local kids. So, that afternoon was well spent jumping in and out of the water and having a few laughs.
At the time, the sun set behind a hill, another part of Saparua Island. Not dramatic, but no less beautiful. When sitting in beach chairs, anything would be more beautiful than it really is.
Photo by Adlien.
I heard that Saparua Island also had an intact fort, but I didn’t realise it was so nice. Being the center of the Lease Islands, it would have been logical to place for a fort. It could be one of the bases for the VOC, as there was a lot of area to be covered. The fort is located just on a small hill beside a white sand beach, giving it a beautiful ocean view from the guarding towers. Also, a great splash for a hot day.
This website did warn visitors of the possibility the fort might be locked with no guard insight. It was exactly what happened to us, but this time our curiosity caught on faster than the wait for the key holder to come open the doors. Upon the approval of locals working around the fort area, my travel mates, few local teenagers and I latched on the opportunity, climbed Om John’s shoulders (who worked at Rumah RP and tagged along) and broke in.
Not much of the inside was left but the walls were maintained well, giving some idea to the space within the fort. Some areas probably had some extra work on it, but the overall shape was still intact. Oh I felt a little too old for my own good but I hiked my ass up that fort wall and got to see the inside. Again, this is upon approval of a lot of locals!
Apparently, Maluku is home to many karst islands, which means there are a lot of fresh water pools within caves. The Maria Cave or ‘Tujuh Putri’ Cave is one of the many located on Saparua Island. Compared to the ones that I’ve visited, this cave is smaller and shallower. Hence, with the presence of just a few people, it already felt very crowded. During my visit, tragically, there were a few women doing their washing using detergents and also bathing using shampoo. It was a shame but I really can’t blame them. Water might be scarce, there is limited modern infrastructure, or it has always been their way of living. The cave is an easy solution to their hygiene necessity.
The recommended beach that apparently people keep on telling us to visit was the Kulur Beach. Located about half an hour from Rumah RP, our accommodation, it was the white sand beach with turquoise water. The ocean floor slanted slightly into deep water, giving enough base to play and submerge ourselves in. Because it was facing a channel, the current was a bit fast so we didn’t swim out too far.
The most absurd moment would have to be the passing of a local ferry. Kulur Beach is also home to the port for the huge ferries that visit the island. Rarely do I swim being watched by a ferry passing by. Usually it’s the other way around, but I guess there’s a first for everything.
Some landscapes on Saparua Island were interesting. There were fields that met up with sharp hills, giving it a dramatic sight. As appealing as an infinity view of the ocean, Saparua Island made me realize (yet, again) that I enjoy the view of the ocean with a land background.
Another favorite sight has to be the colorful wooden boats suspended in the air by wooden poles. The locals say it was to prevent them from drifting away during high tide. Because it was oddly for me, it felt like I was at an art exhibition, looking at different colors and shapes of boats.
On the other side of Saparua Island is Ouw Village, known mostly as the place for pottery. We visited home of Mama Tenis, which was the most prominent pottery place on the island. She has been making clay crafts since the 70s and has even taught her husband who currently helps her. Their workshop is very humble yet sufficient, far from a well-established studio. However, they’ve made the craftsmanship alive till today and still provide the local needs of pottery for the island, including pots for cooking and sago molds. They have also succeeded in exporting some of their work.
Their workshop opens pretty much all week, except for Sundays where the shop is open but no work can be seen live in their workshop.
Although Saparua Island was charming as many of the small islands of Indonesia, it pains me to admit there was a lot of trash lying around, both on land and in the sea. At parts, it was so bad, you wouldn’t know where to start. A friend of Indohoy said in short, it’s probably due their exile life up in the mountains after the riot in ’99. During that time, he says, people didn’t dispose their trash well and eventually the trash ran off to the sea in every rainy season. Hence, the massive amount of trash. Probably, because there are a lot of places in Indonesia that face the same problem. Again, I wouldn’t know where to start.
Motorcycles are available for rent, but we figured with four people it would be better to hire a local ‘mini bus’ that usually runs as public transport. A few other people, like the hostel staff, could tag along (good thing ‘cause, remember I climbed up his shoulders to break into the fort?) and the sun was unforgiving, so better stay shaded.
Car rent cost about IDR 400,000/day. All were arranged by Rumah RP.
There are no direct flights to Saparua Island, Maluku. To get there, you must fly in to Ambon, Maluku, to then continue on a ferry from the Tulehu Port, located about 45 minutes from the airport. a ferry ticket to Saparua Island from Tulehu was about IDR 75,000 / pax. From the port, make sure you’ve arranged transportation to get to your accommodation, in this case to Rumah RP.
Too much photos? Like what you see? Please let us know what you think.
Just haven’t got the time to write about my latest journey, so in the mean time, I’ll post some highlights of Banda Neira trip. Enjoy!
Pelni boat that only makes a 2-hour stop at Banda Neira. In that limited amount of time, passengers rush to come on and off with their goods on to floating taxis. The rush is a sight to see.
The hammerhead shark might just be my favorite pelagic fish. It’s so graceful and beautiful. It’s a blessing to see it swimming so closely.
Diving Banda Neira is like swimming in an aquarium. It’s exactly like the scene from Finding Nemo movie. Heart!
This is how surface interval should be enjoyed.
Life is a beach.
Awesome bat cave. The structure of the rock left me in awe.
Village on Run Island. Humble. On the contrary, it’s exchange island, Manhattan, is well developed.
Gunung Api is a sight for sore eyes. Glad I climbed it once.
Nutmeg and tropical almond plantation. It’s such a beautiful place.
Proud father. It’s a huge honour for the family once a member has the chance to dance the Cakalele Dance. Iqbal, the father, showed that he was just that.
So stay tuned for the whole story, not just the highlights of Banda Neira, and also the trip to Tanimbar Kei that was done with this one. Oh so many stories and information to share. YAY!
Life in Jakarta, the capital known for its bad traffic and polluted air, as exciting as it could get with all the fun and opportunities available, does push the people outside for relaxation at times. Having bought tickets to Ambon without knowing where to go from there, I was intrigued by my friend Yuki’s earlier trip about life in Sawai village. Tired with trips with packed itinerary, Diyan and I decided to just head there and lay low, enjoying life around water. So we spent the late afternoons, after all the island hopping and trekking in the forest, (trying to) mingle with the villagers around Lisar Bahari.
Through the back door of Lisar Bahari, we stepped out into a pathway that goes straight to Sawai Village. Colorful houses, wooden and bricks and mortar, lined up on both sides. Motorbikes passed by once in a while, running in slow speed, in between laughters and giggles of small children happily playing with buckets or bicycles.
Having lighter skin and different facial features than most of them, plus the camera dangling from my neck, there’s no second guessing to them that we were visitors. Children stared at us with wonder, no idea what they were exactly wondering about, then smiled sheepishly when I asked to take pictures of them. Some posed happily and asked to be photographed, with their powder smeared unevenly on the cheeks, wet hair combed neatly, and nice t-shirts tucked in. It’s the same habit for children all over Indonesia: all powdered up after afternoon shower, and then they can play outside but not getting dirty again. It reminds me of my childhood, but I don’t remember having snot dangling from my nostrils like a few of these kids were. I couldn’t stand it, I took out my tissues to clean the snot off of one kid, but he was quick enough to wipe it with his sleeve. Oh well, better than getting in the mouth.
Walking through, my eyes were fixated on small mounds of chili at a kiosk by the alley. “Oh my god, these are those evil chili!” Diyan shouted. He had told me about these chili he first found out about in Taka Bonerate, which he wrote for us here. “I wonder how it would taste if we put the chilli into noodle soup,” I said. Without further discussion, we bought some of the chilli. We put some into our hot noodle soup later at night, which we ordered from Lisai Bahari’s kitchen, and I brought the rest home for Mumun, who really likes spicy food. It’s true what Diyan said, the chili, called rica in most eastern Indonesia, were evil. But the good kind of evil, if you’re into hot spicy food.
Cloves from their nearby plantation were being dried in front of some houses that we passed, emitting the unique smell. Crossing paths with the locals, smiles and nods were exchanged. That’s the kind of interaction that I experience in big cities next to never.
A bridge went over a small river, which wall was cemented as far as I could see. It served much as a public bathroom. People, mostly women and children, were bathing and washing clothes there. The water looked so clear, I guess dipping feet in there would feel cool.
Afraid to intrude their privacy, we just walked past through and arrived at a ball court smacked in the middle of the village, next to a mosque – Sawai Village is dominated by moslems, quite a minority in Maluku (or Moluccas). A volleyball championship was going on for a few days upon our visit, approaching Indonesia’s Independence Day on August 17th. It was like everyone was out to play and watch the game. It was festive, colorful and our national red white flags flapping from wooden poles along the streets. We joined the crowd and watched the game, and just watched a snippet of Sawai village life. At the end of the game, I had no idea who won; the Sawai people or the neighboring village team. All I knew was that almost everyone in the field looked joyful.
After the game, children were sweeping the field, not all of them looked too happy about it, and I was watching the crowd while munching on a boilded corn on the cob from a warung (small shop, usually a kiosk). When the crowd dispersed and the sun was setting, it was our time to head back to Lisar Bahari, too.
The night was still so young, it’s when I would usually still type through my Word files and worry about the deadlines. But those nights in Sawai village, all I was worried about was that I soon had to leave the traffic-free and deadline-free life.
“Oh noooo! How am I gonna do this??!”I half cried upon seeing the narrow 45 degree slope I had to walk through sideways. I started to regret my decision to do trekking in Sawai Village.
“Don’t worry, just hold on to the tree trunks and step confidently on the roots over there..”
“What tree trunks? Which roots?? They’re wobbly!! %!!*^*&%$^$*?!%##&(!!!”
I swear to God I would never do this ever again! Why DID I choose trekking in the forest over snorkeling around Ora Resort?! Why do I always make stupid decisions like this?!
I hated Diyan for taking me trekking here. I hated Pak Dino, the guesthouse manager, for saying that the path was all flat. I probably should’ve chosen the other trekking route, the Bukit Bendera that Yuki told me. But nah, that one is also steep.
Diyan and our guide, Pak James, were helping me getting through the short but scary path by pulling me by the hands, and Pak James let me rest my foot on his to make sure I don’t slip. But still, it was the fear of falling that got the better of me. Unless he was a giant one hundred year old banyan tree, I still didn’t see how I could fully rely on him.
I felt a slight pain on my knees. “God damn it! Please not my knees again..!” I was scared of a reoccuring pain after past injury. Apparently you need a set of strong knees to uphold your whole body for this whole trekking thing.
A few minutes later – which felt like a whole year – the steep slope path ended. Phew! We arrived at the cave, the reason we detoured the trek and got on that hell slope. I was relieved, and asked Pak James as I was dusting off my palms, “So, we’re entering the cave and then where are we exiting to?”
“No, we’ll come back out here again, and walk back through that slope again, and then walk out of the woods…”
Say what?? Back to the slope again??
Then we heard a trumpety sound from the sky above us. “Hornbills!” Diyan remarked excitingly. “Honey, do you wanna see hornbills??
“Quick, come here!”
“I said, no!”
Why would I bother to see hornbills – other than the fact that I had seen them in Borneo a few years ago – when nightmare is just around the corner. That slope.
Then we entered the cave, each one holding a flahslight because it was pitch dark in there. We needed to watch out for stalactites. We walked further and further in until we reached a big opening, still in pitch dark. Researchers would go up, vertical caving with only ropes and hooks, but not tourists like us. That was our furthest point though I know Diyan was actually curious about what up there. There was no way we were going up because we weren’t equipped with the proper tools. Plus, I might not have the guts to do it anyway. By then, I was already in a better mood. I even enjoyed making that classic scary photo with flashlight under my chin and all.
Pak James didn’t have much to tell about the cave, so we went back out. At the mouth of the cave, I asked Pak James whether we really had to go on the same path as our way in. He pointed at another path, which was a flatter slope with a tree trunk blocking the way. We went limbo underneath the trunk. The path was indeed much easier, but I wasn’t fully relieved because earlier I saw a quick movement of the grass in that area, which must be a slithering snake. Shit, I feel goosebumps just writing about it now. But I took my chance, hoping the snake had gone far away and no friend of it was coming after.
The view on our way out was very much like the way in. Many kinds of trees and shrubs surrounded us, including the daun gatal or itchy leaves. These are unique leaves. If your skin rubs the leave, even only a slight touch, it makes the skin itch, and then you’ll feel like it’s been cut a bit, but then a few minutes later the itch and the pain are gone, just like that. You just have to endure it on the self-healing process. Pak James even said that these leaves can be used as medicine for external wounds, and had been used a lot by the villagers.
Hibiscus, the plant that I saw in Ubud’s Herbal Walk, also existed in the woods. The flowers radiate a strong smell in a short radius around the tree. There’s also sapodilla or sawo as we call it, one of my favorite fruits, and it was my first time seeing its tree. Among the shrubs I noticed some empty green bottles and what looked like a bench made of small wooden logs assembled together.
“Oh, that’s probably just the locals or rangers’ doing. They sit here waiting for birds to feed,” Pak James explained. I wanted to ask him further because I didn’t quite understand why they’d feed wild birds, but then the path became steep. I had to really concentrate on my steps again.
Less than half of an hour later we started to hear the sound of civilization. Cars and motorbikes. That could only mean one thing: a flat road! Woohoo! I could hear my knees cheering and dancing with pompoms.
We were to continue walking on the side of asphalted road for about 1 km, when suddenly a truck stopped and Pak James talked with the driver. Pak James turned to us and said, “They’re giving us a ride, let’s hop on the back of the truck.” Hooray!
I actually didn’t mind walking for another kilometer because I wasn’t really tired, but sitting on the back of the truck always excites me! I love it! The wind blows my hair, like the less sophisticated version of music video girls on convertibles, and I could see the opposite view of what we’re used to see when riding a car. Is it safe? Well.. Hey look, a flying pig!
A few minutes later we arrived at the bird conservation, simply named as Seram Animal Rescue Center; Seram being the island. A kitten welcomed us at the hut while we were resting a little while, and then followed us all through the tour. While being followed by the kitten is the highlight for me personally, it is actually the birds in cages are the stars of the conservation.
These birds are mostly confiscated from people who keep them as pets, or from poachers who’d sell them to locals or abroad. Pak James used to be one of the poachers before he was recruited by the Manusela National Park as a ranger. Poaching birds is usually just a way to make ends meet, so now that Pak James – and several other then-poachers rangers – is hired officially and given knowledge trainings, he takes much better care of these birds and nature in general.
The birds in the conservation include cackatoos, cassowaries and parrots. Some of the cackatoos are Seram endemic, which are the ones with white feather with a touch of soft peach. Very pretty. The red with black head parrots are Seram original. Then there were two cassowaries in separate enclosures; one was quiet and had only one foot, and the other was bigger, aggressive and ferocious. Feed it with papaya or something else on your hand and it will attack you like it did to Pak James, who did it just to show us how fierce this big bird is. I was quite shocked and literally took a few steps back when it was trying to attack Pak James. So anytime you see a cassowary, please stay clear from it unless you’re dressed in steel armour.
After the tour, we took the easy way back to Lisar Bahari guesthouse: by motorbike taxi or ojek for only about 10 minutes. So I could take the ojek from the guesthouse to the conservation as well if I wanted to, but I did agree on trekking my way there because I needed to sweat a little bit. So yeah, I was hating Diyan only because I was being a brat, ‘cos I was actually the one who chose to go trekking.
You could do what I did, book the tour and guide via Pak Dino the manager of Lisar Bahari Guesthouse.
The trekking trip cost us IDR250,000/2 persons, but I’m not sure how many people max he can guide per trip.
The trekking in the woods lasted about 1,5-2 hours for us, but only about half an hour for locals like Pak James.
The ojek trip cost IDR30,000/ride. You need to ask around who can ‘ojek’ for you because there’s no “Ojek” sign on streets like you would see in big cities in Indonesia.
I can’t remember whether I heard about Banda Neira because of its significant history first, or was it because of the diving. I think diving Banda Neira constantly bugged my mind compared to history. Either way, it was on my list and I finally got to set foot there, or to be exact dip my feet in the water. Banda Neira has been a diving destination, known as the home of the mandarin fish and a busy traffic of tropical fishes.
I dove five times during my stay, however I can’t recall exactly what I saw at each site. I should return writing in my logbook, I know. So, here are some highlights of the dive sites and some are more complete descriptions of my experience of Banda Sea diving.
Banda Neira used to be one of my dream destinations to see the infamous mandarin fish or the dragonets. It’s a heck of a colorful fish, boggling my mind to wonder why on earth did a fish evolve to be such an eye catcher. Luckily, I’ve seen the mandarin fish when diving Laha, Ambon. So, I didn’t need to go diving at all when in Banda Neira. Just off the pier in front of the Sea Hobbit Dive Center, mandarin fishes come out to play.
Effectively, they come out at about 5 p.m. from the pier’s rubbles. If you’re patient, you can spot them. They’re fairly friendly, popping out when there are no sudden movements around. So, stay still when you see one! Or two! Or in my case, five!
What I remember about this site was its unique landscape. The sea floor was dominated by sea squirts of all sorts of colors. I thought they only came in one shade of blue, yellow and white, but apparently they’re more various than that. Usually, I see a few scattered around a dive spot, but there were countless and dense in population at Lampu Merah. It was like treading a strange alien-like land. That was a fun feeling!
A corner of sea squirts.
Both divers and snorkelers are taken to Lava Flow for a good reason. In 1988, Gunung Api erupted pretty badly. On one side, the mountain spewed right into the sea. Surprisingly, after 26 years, the bed of solids from the volcano is now densely covered by hard coral reef. There are numerous types of hard corals that extend forever.
For a nice 50 minutes, the dive group that day floated over a meadow of coral, watching our buoyancy not to crash into the healthy grown coral. Initially, it was strange to see the lack of fish swimming around during my visit. However, looking closely between the hard corals, fishes swarm busily within.
Having said that, it can get pretty overwhelming-slash-boring seeing ‘just hard corals’ for such a long amount of time.
Local research institute, LIPI, is currently studying this natural phenomenon. Science says that hard corals grow on an average 1 cm per year. Looking at the size of the corals, they have grown way pass 26 cm. Trust Indonesia to break myths and theories! It’s corals as far as the eye can see and a happy sight for the future of the marine ecosystem.
‘I love Angel Reef,’ Kiki says with confidence, with no time to ponder upon question. Only 19 of age, but has already been a dive master for two years. I had been diving a few times with him before asking his favorite dive site. He showed me both his skinny thumbs-up, as we departed the port heading to the spot. The group dove with Toby, a dense muscular man with a mischievous face.
Angel Reef was really nice. Coral wise, it was relatively rich. The water was bright as there were a lot of sandy base reflecting the sunlight. We saw many morays, stingrays, lionfishes, and countless small fishes. In a particular moment that I will always remember, a school of black and blue metallic fishes circled our group for a good 5 minutes. For some reason, Toby knew how to control the fishes, making them circle us and not swim away. Fun! I screamed in in my regulator out of joy.
Toby talking to the fish (top); me caught in the middle of a swarm (bottom).
Toby Fadirsyair was an underwater attraction on his own. On several occasions, he offered me to touch a moral eel. That eel that has a double-locking backward-facing teeth system! Of course, I rejected but not because we shouldn’t touch sea creatures, but more of fear. Have you seen Youtube videos of moral eel bite cases? They’re scary as hell, man! To keep things short, let’s just say the ‘offer’ became ‘insist’, running away in water is possible, and I almost ran out of oxygen because I laughed and screamed through the regulator. Toby was fun to dive with no less, and I hope I get to dive with him again.
Just to add to that, Toby was one of the three people that successfully took the first photo of the psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica) in Laha, Ambon. It’s the photo that made the spot a world-class dive destination. He’s legen-wait for it-dary!
“You were right, Kiki. Angel Reef is awesome!”
“It’s my favorite dive spot,” Kiki says with an ‘I told you so’ face. Angel Reef easily became one of my favorites too, for these reasons. The Sea Hobbit gang is a lot of fun!
Kiki proud of his temporary sushi tattoo.
Since I forgot the details of this site, I can’t say much about it. But the one thing I can say is that there’s a super huge sea fan. I think it was the biggest one I’ve seen so far with a diameter a good two meters. Wow!
I have to mention Karaka for one specific reason. We didn’t go diving there but out of dumb luck Firsta and I saw a shark when snorkeling. It was probably a black tip as we both only saw a glimpse of it. Most surprisingly, it was huge. It was probably 1.5 meters in length. It was enormous for a water depth of 2 meters. Aside to that, it’s also a popular dive site.
Banda Neira is a speck on the world map, surrounded by one of the deepest and vicious oceans in the world, Banda Sea. That might sound scary but it’s a seasonal thing.
Best time for diving Banda Neira is in October – November and April – May. Other than that, it’s a struggle to get to the outer islands such as Hatta, Run, and Ay. In my case, visiting the islands in May was no good. We couldn’t sail out of the outer islands due to rough waves. The water was also not the best visibility, a bit murky probably also due to the waves. And forget the holiday season, it’s the worst time of the year!
Various dive sites in Banda Neira.
I dove with the fairly new Banda Neira dive center, Sea Hobbit Dive Center. Though new, they are a part of Blue Motion and just a form of expansion. The team consists of similar circles and the safety standards are no less different. I dove under the supervision of Sasha, who will soon run Sea Hobbit. Based on my first experience diving Banda Neira, I do recommend them.
A dive cost average IDR 425,000, while full gear rental cost IDR 150,000/day. For a full day of diving, lunch will also be included.
Information for Diving Banda Neira with the Sea Hobbits check this site, or email us for more information.
If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been absent a few days off schedule. We’ve both been traveling and off the radar, but we’re crawling back to our usual post. I’ve been traveling around Moluccas or Maluku islands for the past week and back to what I love doing afterwards, sharing the story. We’ll be coming back to post some of our old trips but in the mean time, we’ll post some photos (a little too few) of the trip.
Liang Beach on Ambon Island.
Traveled with Baronda Maluku in May, 2013.
The idea of ‘tropical islands’ is embodied in the province of Maluku. How could it not? It has white sandy beaches that, when accumulated, can go for miles. Can you imagine the amount of coconut trees they have? The marine life is so rich! The waters are fine! The people have huge pearly white smiles, the food is awesome, the air is warm and humid, and … I can go on and on just to show you how this province is the epitome of tropical islands.
Picture from Marischka Prudence’s blog here.
While I’ve been to Ambon a few times such as my trip here and here, it’s safe to say I’ve hardly seen what Maluku is all about. That’s what Achmad Alkatiri was out to show with the Baronda Maluku project. He’s out to show there’s a lot to see in Maluku and to restore it back as one of the most popular travel destinations in Indonesia before the social conflict. So, Indohoy was honored to be given the opportunity – and the free trip – to be part of this small journey, seeing just the mere first tier of the rich province.
Ironically, I found out how rich the dive sites in Ambon were from a discussion I had with the dive guide on Tomia Island. Ambon turns out to have some iconic spots such as the underwater arch at ‘Pintu Kota’ and the Hukurila cave. Interestingly, Ambon is also known for Laha, a village port that has a rich underwater scene underneath the few parked fishing boats, popularized by the sighting of the Psychedelic Frogfish. Three dives at Laha were a sight indeed, including the spotting of a Dragonet family.
For more information of the dives in Laha, you can read more here.
Any archipelago will be scattered with beaches. There will be a beach everywhere you go and on every corner you turn. During this trip, we visited some of the dreamy beaches of the province.
We visited the Ora Beach located on the north coast of Seram Island. With corals extending forever and situated within a protected bay with water flat as sheets, this beach is a private heaven for visitors.
You can read more about Ora Beach here.
It’s where I met the pelicans, had a sand fight with the gang, and where I tanned the most. Kei Island has tons of beaches within its mini archipelago for anyone to enjoy. Considering transportation is still fairly limited, these islands are gems for slow traveling and far from touristy. We visited the Ngurtafur or Ngurtavur Beach and Ohoililir Beach.
More of the story on Kei Islands here.
One of the most famous traditions from Maluku is the ‘bambu gila’ or crazy bamboo. It’s a possessed bamboo held by an odd number of people, in this case 7 shirtless local men who, I’m sure, is appealing to some ladies out there. Can I get a ‘woot’?! It’s a ritual connecting the now and the past, evoked by an ancient language. Sounds exotic and magical, right? Believe in it or not, it’s a spectacle to see and possibly try.
For more of ‘Bambu Gila’, head to this link.
If there’s anything we did aside to getting a tan and play with water, it would be eating. Eating is part of the traveling experience, giving a little bit of something to the senses, especially the taste buds. So, on this trip, it was compulsory to try the local venues, which also included home cooking from Mad’s mother, a Malukunese.
More of what we ate, and be prepared to drool, visit the blog to here.
Mad had assembled a team who would be able to help sound out Maluku back as a travel destination. He had invited some TV personalities known for their hard core traveling and diving such as Riyanni Djangkaru, Marischka Prudence, and Dayu Hatmanti.
From left to right: Pru, Riyanni, and Dayu
He also gathered some awesome photographers and videographers such as travel photographer Barry Kusuma, who is on our recommended blog list for Indonesia, Giri Prasetyo for his videos, and Ferry Rusli for his work and his resemblance to Psy.
Clockwise from the left top: Giri, Barry, and Ferry (Psy).
Ajeng and Atre.
Almascatie was our local man, who you could probably ask anything about Maluku. Of course, we also had the team from the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy.
The combination was awesome, with everyone so used to traveling. No hassle, just fun! As a rookie myself, I learned a lot from these experts along with getting who’s and what’s of the traveling world. Juicy!
Here are a few things I picked up when traveling with these TV beauties.
For the Baronda Maluku official website, head down to this site.
And of course, you can work that social media with #BarondaMaluku.
This trip was fully supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, but the opinions are my own.
Planes fly to Ambon directly or transit from Jakarta, Surabaya, and Makassar.
Ora Beach Resort
If you’re traveling on your own, it’s probably possible to stay at Saleman village just across the bay. From Ambon, take the daily ferry from the Tulehu port to Masohi, Seram Island. There are daily ferries and we took the noon ferry. Travel time on the boat was about 2 hours. VIP tickets are from IDR 150,000 / pax which include reclined seats and AC, while economy tickets cost about IDR 90,000 / pax. Arrangements can also be done with the Ora Beach Resort for an all in price.
Kei Islands can be reach from Ambon with daily planes by Wings Air for about IDR 1,500,000 / pax for return tickets.
You can also reach the islands by local ferries, but I have no information on it. Sorry.
Not a whole lot of people know that there are really good Maluku food, at least not a whole lot of my friends do. I didn’t either until my first trip to Ambon. Turns out, those people can cook! It shouldn’t be surprising though, considering Maluku is well known as a spice paradise and heavily colonised for its spices. Wouldn’t the locals use it to cook? Wouldn’t their dish taste awfully rich? And it is until today, as we encountered during our #BarondaMaluku trip.
Natsepa Beach is not only a locals’ favorite for the ‘rujak’ or sweet fruit salad as we’ve said here, but it’s also the place to find one of Mad’s favorite snacks: cempedak fritter. From the outside, cempedak is a fruit similar to jackfruit, but on the inside it doesn’t smell as strong and has smaller fruit pods. The fritter basically comprises of a few fruit pods, with seed, dipped in batter and fried in clusters. The batter subtles the cempedak taste. It’s also optional to eat the seeds, which soften upon frying. We bought a good bunch for everyone, especially since a piece didn’t cost more than half a US dollar (in 2013). And for that price, we could see Mad, this dark skinned, tall, Malukunese, smile and being nostalgic of his childhood. Priceless!
This street is known to have some of the best and most famous food in Ambon. We popped in a few places and ended up buying a little bit of something in each venue. Here are those places.
‘Sibu-sibu’ translates to gentle breeze, the kind you would find on a relaxed day at the beach. How could it not have a gentle breeze since it is a terrace-like café. It’s a whole lot of Maluku with walls decorated by posters mostly of Maluku’s famous people and traditional carving from top to bottom. During Ambon’s social conflict in (1999-2002), Sibu-sibu was the local’s reconciliation ground from opposing groups to meet and discuss the remaining fate of their land. After the dark times, Sibu-sibu is still the place where a lot of Ambonese gather and build what is to become Maluku’s future. These people are the kind I like, that knows food is a primary need and wins over a whole bunch of stuff including fear of the political situation at the time. Till now, it’s still is the place for some prominent Maluku people.
Serving its own brew, the Sibu-sibu Coffee Shop provides coffee with a wide range of mixes. Its specialty is the Rarobang Coffee, a smack in the mouth as it is coffee blended with a strong dose of ginger and added a bit of a crunch with its floating local canary nut. Other spices are hinted in the drink and condense milk is optional. It’s the coffee of stamina, keeping you up awake, keeping your cells warm and happy. With an extra egg, this coffee is said to be the ‘vitality’ booster, if you know what I mean?
Sibu-sibu mostly serves Maluku’s traditional cakes. Everything on the menu is worth a try. The snacks can accommodate any appetite as it consists of sweet and savory munchies. It also serves a few heavier courses that can fill one hungry stomach. Its instant noodle is far beyond your usual ramen and seconds will be a preferred option. Of course, the food has to be great! How do you win a man’s heart over a meeting if not through his stomach?
A pop into the neighbouring shop to Sibu-sibu bought good to our tummy. The shop on the right if facing the Sibu-sibu Coffee Shop, provides some awesome seafood dishes. One particular dish Riyanni was heavily tempted to buy was the steamed squid with papaya leave and canary nut wrapped in banana leaf. It was served with chili paste rich with cut tomatoes.
The squid was perfectly cooked and wasn’t rubbery. The papaya leaves weren’t too bitter and the walnuts gave that crunchy texture to it. Culinary Gods were being very nice to us. We were a bunch of kids stuffing our mouths and being really loud about it. Can we all go to heaven now?
Apparently, this was a big thing once upon a time. Halim Ice Cream is homemade ice cream brand in Ambon. It’s been around as long as Mad can remember. It’s amazing to see that it’s still in production, proving that they have a market. This ice cream is more of a sorbet, having more ice crystals than ice cream, but still having that creamy content from milk.
Home cooking is usually a very basic pallet. It’s the taste of home and it always brings us back to that feeling of being safe and sound. Although it might come from somebody else’s kitchen, but home cooking has that special something, which we can all accept no matter whose house it came from. I might be exaggerating but I’ll take the chance by saying home cooking has a special spot for travelers that wander a lot and once in a while crave for that homey feeling in their tummy.
It was an honor to be invited to Mad’s home and have a fiesta of Maluku food. His mother and extended family were uber nice to prepare a shocking amount of food for us hungry kids all down to dessert. We had the ‘ambal’, which was grilled sticky rice with shredded coconut. The coconut gave that rich savory hint to the sticky rice. On top of it we had sautéed papaya flower and leaves. It’s a common veggie dish for eastern Indonesia that made me kinda wonder if this part of the country has a significant amount of papaya trees compared to west Indonesia, ‘cause I don’t see much traditional dish in the west. And of course, a bunch of seafood. Grilled fish! Mmmmm… .
On top of it all, we had ‘es buah’ or fruit balls with ice in sweet water and ‘Kue Lontar’ or Lontar cake, which was kinda like custard pie but wasn’t too soft. The pie particularly was really good because the custard and the crust was just right to even each other out. We struggled to gobble everything up especially after having seconds. But, we ate as much as we can.
Happy faces after seconds
I’m pretty sure I can represent the #BarondaMaluku team by saying thank you to Mad’s mother. It was the perfect meal to end our escapade to Maluku.
I stood close and stared at the holy man reading from a red cloth, holding in tears. I must have looked captivated, creepy, and nosy. The cloth was written in what is called ‘bahasa tanah’ or the language of soil. He then chanted during the start of ‘Bambu Gila’ or crazy bamboo, evoking spirits to enter the long bamboo held by 7 men in red shorts and matching head band. I thought I’d be distracted by their topless built physic but I was fixated by the holy man’s script. I couldn’t make any of the words. None of them seemed familiar nor rooted to the Malay language, the base of Indonesian language. What is he saying? What is this language that I couldn’t understand?
As I watched the three holy men chanted and blew into the end of the bamboo in turns, I had chills down my spine. We were watching an old ritual and tapping to the world beyond our own. These people knew how. People in general may not believe it, but I do and it’s rare to have one happening in front of me. Mind blowing!
‘Bambu Gila’ is an attraction which is said to originate from Halmahera and then became popular in Ambon. It’s basically having an odd number of people trying to hold on to a long piece of bamboo that goes wild and moves on its own. Yes, ‘Bambu Gila’ is one of those metaphysical shit from the East. True enough, the more the ‘bahasa tanah’ was chanted and the more the holy men blew into the bamboo, the more the bamboo moved. Game faces of the 7 men holding on to the bamboo were on, as they became more prepared for unexpected motions. A few minutes later, the men shouted ‘Gila! Gila!’ (translated: ‘Crazy! Crazy!’) marking the start of what is now considered an ‘attraction.’
Almas, our local Maluku friend, explained that ‘Bambu Gila’ originated from the ritual to evoke spirits to induce a fearless fighting mentality before going to war. I’ve tried researching only to find little information online. Most of them have reported that this is an entertaining attraction, which actually doesn’t make much sense. Why would any primitive culture consider this purely entertainment? As if they didn’t have a lot to do in the past aside to gathering fruit, hunt, collect firewood, build their own house, and doing laundry without a laundry machine. Not to mention, catch up with the local gossip with the neighboring village, which could have been 2 days walk in those days. However, sources consistently said that the bamboo has to be picked from the Gamalama Mountain and a mini ceremony must be conducted before cutting the bamboo. It would have been too much work for mere ‘entertainment’.
So I believed what Almas said; it was to enhance fighting spirit. I had to believe him after seeing how exhausted these men were trying to keep up with the bamboo. It wasn’t like they were thrilled after a roller coaster ride. The row of men swayed left to right, up and down, ran near and far around the sandy area. Their faces cringe between smiling of the thrilling sensation and fear. We approached and stepped back following the direction of the men to get a closer shot of the action. There is no telling where the bamboo will lead them or where we would have to step to save ourselves. Exciting! At times the bamboo kinda dragged them out into the ocean, but was held back by the holy men. Most of the time, it was the holy men guiding the bamboo with 2 halves of coconut with incense burning in it.This probably lasted a good 15 minutes until the bamboo cracked; before any of us (the Baronda Maluku team) could have a go. It wasn’t meant to be.
Spooky thing was, one of Barry’s camera suddenly stopped working during ‘bambu gila.’ Was it coincidental?! *queue Twighlight music
The committee did have to call in this attraction (not sure how much) but it’s worth the money spent. Admittedly, I’ll settle for ‘tourism attraction’ rather than evoking spirits for war. I did have mixed feelings. I’m very glad to have seen it at all, ‘cause yet again, I discovered another piece of puzzle that defines Indonesia. It was amazing and brought me some compassion to see something so ancient. It was also very intriguing as to what was whispered into the bamboo making it so mad. How could you piss off a dead bamboo? At the same time, it made me feel a bit sad which brought me to my hanging tears. Somehow it felt like our generation had neglected something profound as communicating with spirits. We live in a time of logic and science, and this does not fit in our current equations. Although life is dandy, are we missing something special from our past? It already feels like depletion to see this tradition as a mere ‘tourist attraction’.
The band. Not much action.
I pray that the Maluku people will still keep this tradition and the children would want to inherit it until we reach a time where we would finally understand it. Who knows, one day we’ll understand its meaning just like we understand how ‘going back to nature’ and all that natural eastern new age stuff are important. Till that day, if you’re in Ambon, you might want to try this and pay the spirits a visit, ‘cause where else can you really meet them in person and in such a playful event?
This post is part of the Baronda Maluku project fully supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, but the opinions are my own.