August 12th was for us an exciting day, because our plane from Makassar - Sulawesi would take us to Ambon, capital of Maluku Province. This is what we have been looking forward to for a long time. Ever since we planned this trip, we have been talking, dreaming and reading about this archipelago in the far east of Indonesia, with it's tiny remote islands, clear blue waters and perfect beaches. Now we got to see whether all these expectations are justified. The answer is a definite Yes!
Ambon When we arrived in Ambon, we got a pickup by family of a former embassy colleague of Anna. Instantly you can feel a different atmosphere tourist wise. There are less or no "package" tourists at all, only a few backpackers you occasionally run in to. Ambon is a lively and bustling town cramped with yellow bemo's and offering Ojek (motorbike taxi) on every corner. Most restaurants serve fresh fish and seafood and everywhere you can find coffee houses selling their coffee specialties. Our favorite restaurant was Dede's seafood restaurant, where we could choose our own fish and they'd prepare it for you on the barbecue for no more that 20.000 idr =
1.5 euro. Along the waterfront and south of the city center during daytime in the bloody heat, you can find only a lot of traffic and hardly any pedestrians. But in the late afternoon from out of nowhere, they build these little street restaurants and bars, where you can have fresh fish and the most exotic drinks.
Difficult Planning It was clear that even though we enjoyed Ambon very much, we didn't want to stay to long in Ambon, because we had only 4 weeks in Maluku and we wanted to spend as much as time possible on the remote Islands of Banda and Kei. Here is where we got frustrated. The most exciting and cheapest way to travel in Maluku is by ship. Pelni has a route Ambon - Banda - Kei - Fak Fak (yes you pronounce it that way) and back again. The only thing: we missed the last boat by a few days and the first boat coming in again would be "somewhere" in September! &*%^&##%$@^%. We were forced to fly into the islands. Here comes another planning problem: Flights originate only in Ambon and the flights to Banda are not reliable and generally fully
booked. We heard stories from people who were about to land in Banda, could make pictures of the group of islands, but couldn't land because of the weather, so they had to fly back. Nevertheless our final planning was as follows:
Wait for 5 days in Ambon; Fly to Kei Islands, stay for 10 days and fly back to Ambon; Fly to Banda Islands, stay for a week and fly back to Ambon; 2 days in Ambon and then fly back to Jakarta. Since we had 5 days till our flight to Kei, we decided to go to some islands nearby, also said to be remote and unspoilt:
Lease Islands These Islands are located east from Ambon Island and an hour bus ride, 1 hour waiting for the boat and 3 hours boat ride away from Ambon city. The smaller Island is called Saparua with Kota Saparua being the main village. When we arrived there we booked a room in a hostel near the beach which was, according to Lonely Planet, one of the top Budget Chill Out places in Maluku. We were very disappointed when we saw the litter on the beach which wasn't even directly accessible
from the hostel. After check in we decided to go and explore the village by foot. After 15 minutes we covered the whole village and when we rested on top of a staircase, a little old lady came to us and started speaking Dutch to us. She invited us to come to her home. There we had tea and she told us, that she inherited the Dutch language from when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony. With her we visited colonial Fort Benteng. Next to it we found a deserted hostel right on a clean beach which belonged to friends of our new lady friend. We didn't hesitate and changed accommodation the same day!
We stayed 5 days in Kota Saparua, of which we chilled out a couple of days in front of our room at the beach. Our host cooked us some amazing food, which we could eat on our porch. A couple of days we went around the island by motorbike to look for a remote beach up north and to cruise thru some tiny villages, being welcomed at least a 100 times a day by "Hello Mister" (to me AND Anna). On the northern end of
the Island a 15 minute walk in the forest past the remote beach, we found a jetty which belonged to a fancy hotel they were building there. The builders were fishing for squid and asked me if I would have a go. After an hour I finally catched one! Behind our accommodation was a running track where Anna could do her running exercises. She couldn't do this without being noticed. Especially when the whole field was occupied with schoolkids rehearsing for Indonesia's Independence Day ceremonies!
Kei Islands Savanah Cottages is the place we stayed at on Pulau Kei Kecil. By far one of the best chill out places we have stayed at! This beautiful hostel located at a beach near the tranquil village of Ohoideertawun, hosts 8 persons (4 huts). It has a relaxing atmosphere, a dinner table outside over viewing the beach and the sea, a nice garden with hammocks hanging between the palm trees and very friendly, informative hosts Gerson and Lucy. The prices are a bit over average Indonesian prices, but all the comfort, coziness and it's location really makes it worth staying here for 10 days.
hanging around Savanah Cottages, reading, listening to music, laying in the sun, talking with the other guests (mostly couples). Since the place is a 40 minutes motorbike drive away from the main city and restaurants it was very handy that we could rent motorbikes by the hour. Especially at night in the pitch black dune landscape it was quite exciting to drive. We didn't eat in the city all the time, because they served also good western quality meals in Savannah, which we usually ate outside under a starry sky lit by the moonlight and some candles.
One of the main "attractions" is the best beach in the world: Pasir Panjang. A 20 minute bike drive from Savannah 3 km beach stretches out between 2 tiny villages in a light curve. The sand is so white, especially when the sun reflects is light on it and along the beach you can see nothing but palm trees on one side and on the other side, the most clear blue water you could ever imagine. I'd say a good reason to bike there a couple of times to lay there in the sun and enjoy this perfect beach. A video we
A few times we rented a motorbike for the day to explore the Island. We went to the main city and wandered around on the impressive market and headed down south to find another nice beach, for which we had to cross a water by a small boat after our motor was being carried into the boat. We visited a clear blue water cave, went up to a viewpoint, where they build a few Jesus statues overlooking the archipelago. We basically covered the whole island by bike and saw loads of tiny villages, where mosques and churches are situated next to each other. One day we and the rest of the guests of Savanah chartered a boat to visit a small island, where we could lay on the beach do some snorkeling and walk around the Island in 10 minutes wile searching for shells.
Banda Islands One of our highlights (hard to say, because whole Maluku was a highlight to us) is staying on the Banda Islands, known for their importance during the colonial occupation because of their mace and nutmeg spices. These islands are so tiny that they don't
even show on maps sometimes. The archipelago is located 8 hour by boat or a 40 minute plain trip (once a week) south of Ambon away. Since the boats are not frequently going, sometimes less than once every 2 weeks and the 20 seat Merpati airplane isn't reliable due to weather conditions, this group of islands are not much visited by travelers. In fact, during our stay in Kei, we heard many stories of travelers going to Kei as an alternative, because they couldn't get to Banda. To avoid this, we made sure we had 4 weeks in Maluku. This made us flexible enough to visit all the islands we wanted to visit, even though most of the time we had to go by air, which made it more costly. We were very glad when learned that a Pelni ship was coming to Banda and was heading back to Ambon 2 days after we had to fly back. Now we could stay 2 days longer in Banda and we got to experience the chaotic boat trip!
Bandaneira or Neira is the capital and we stayed there in Vita Guesthouse with a room at the waterfront looking towards the Gunung
Api (Fire Mountain). It's stunning location and a very good complementary breakfast made this the best option in town. Neira is an idyllic little town and island, with only few motorbikes going around. Mostly everyone walks or occasionally goes around by pushbike. The main tourist site is the Fort Belgica, with amazing views over Neira and the neighboring islands such as Gunung Api (= Island and Mountain). We even managed to be active in this laid back atmosphere, by climbing this mountain to the summit and highest point of the Islands, which gave us some magnificent views.
An hour local boat ride southwest from Neira away is the remote Pulau Ai. We stayed here 5 days to chill on it's deserted beaches walk around the rain forest and enjoy the peaceful village, where nutmeg and mace are often being dried on the street not being disturbed by motorbikes or cars. We stayed at Green Coconut home stay right on the beach with a veranda on the 1st floor overlooking the ocean with in the far corner of our vision the Gunung Api rising from the big blue. A beautiful coral garden right in front of our home stay invited
us to snorkel away for hours. All meals were included and prepared by the family living next to it.
At that time, only one other couple was staying there and with them we chartered a boat to visit 2 Islands an hour by boat away. The water we had to cross is known for it's strong currents and enormous waves, so some of us got a bit sick. First stop was Pulau Neilaka an(other) uninhabited island you could walk around in 10 minutes. There we had lunch and relaxed on the beach and enjoyed the crystal clear water to cool down. Second stop was Pulau Run, which the Dutch traded in the old days with the English for Manhattan (van ruilen komt huilen). On the Island we visited the village and climbed up a hill to get to some nutmeg plantations and a great view over Run Village. Just 100 meters out of the little harbor we did some amazing snorkeling. A huge coral garden stretched out for a few hundred meters with the best coral drop off I have ever seen.
When we were back in Neira, we found out that the Pelni ship which came from
Ambon had just left (2 days later we would take the same ship returning from it's journey to Papua). The ship has brought fresh tourist blood in town. Earlier that week we were the only tourists, now there were at least 10 tourists! Most of them stayed in a hostel were our friends from Pulau Ai were staying as well, but we stayed again in the quiet Vita Guesthouse. Since their hostel was known for their good food and in Neira there are only 2 restaurants from which we didn't like the menu to much, we decided to eat there for the last few days. The best food we ever had during our trip was being served to us: Giant red snapper, massive tuna, delicious chicken curry and a magnificent pumpkin soup and some cinnamon tea and cakes to settle the stomach after dinner.
The last full day in Bandaneira we chartered a boat with the whole gang of the other hostel to bring us to Pulau Hatta. Another Island this time, an hour south east of Bandaneira. Anna and me were sitting on top of the deck on two beach chairs they had strapped to the deck. When
we arrived at Hatta Island beach and after we again had some amazing snorkeling on the northern tip of the Island, we could see the sunburn on Anna's thighs! She had to stay in the boat on the way back to prevent her from getting more sun burnt on the last day in Maluku.
She took this temporary souvenir with her on our last boat trip. The 8 our night trip on the Pelni ferry would take us back to Ambon. I never thought a ferry could be this crowded. Getting on the ship took us at least an hour. There was total chaos when we were waiting to get in. Porters were screaming and pushing with huge bags and boxes. Meanwhile there were still people trying to get of the ship. Bikes and other luggage were being unloaded attached to ropes to bypass the crowd. On the ship people were laying everywhere. Every inch of wall where you could put your back against was taken. Luckily we booked a 2nd class cabin, so we didn't have to sleep on deck. After wandering around on deck for a wile during departure of the ship, we went to bed, dreaming
The Dutch began to colonize Indonesia in the early 17th century; the islands were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence after Japan's surrender, but it required four years of intermittent negotiations, recurring hos...more info