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January 7th 2011
Published: January 13th 2011
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We've reached the halfway mark of our travels and it's time for the difficult bit. We will need to speak Indonesian as much as possible and expect to get stared at a lot as very few Europeans venture as far as Maluku where the Banda Islands are.

We flew to Makassar, Sulawesi on 3rd January, the hope had been to get the Pelni Ferry to our final destination the Bandas. It had been impossible to get a schedule before hand so we had to just hope we wouldn't have to wait too long. Unfortunately when we arrived in Makkasar it turned out that a ferry had left just 3 days ago and the next one was probably on the 22nd but no guarantees.

Makassar was not a place to hang about, a very noisy, dirty city with a huge port. The temperature was a stifling 40 degrees C but every hour or so it would pour with rain and the wind would whip up turning the tiled pavements into skating rinks. After a few enquiries we managed to book a flight to Ambon a fairly big Island in the Malukus. From here the hope was that there would be a few different ferries going to the Bandas.

By 9.30 the next morning we were on the flight to Ambon. we were the only Eurpeans on board. The highest we flew was 29,000 ft meaning we had a clear view down. The sea was sprinkled with tiny islands and you could clearly see the coral reefs surrounding them through clear water. It's a shame they're virtually impossible to get to unless you have your own boat.

Two hours into the flight the steward stood up with the intercom in his hand and looked at his colleague nervously, given that Indonesia has a terrible safety record I wondered what was coming next, we were being bumped around with turbulance at the time. Panic over, he actually announced in English that there was going to be a quiz with prizes. The first person to push the overhead call button got to go up to the front and answer the question. (Despite the continued turbulance that most flights would have had you securly buckled up in your seat). It ended up with volunteers being asked to sing a Christmas Carol - all in English. Very bizzare! It gave a whole new meaning to 'in flight entertainment'! Welcome to Indonesia!

When we landed on Ambon we jumped into a taxi to Kota Ambon, the island's capital city. We tried our chosen guesthouse from the guide book but were dismayed to find it desserted, after searching around to find alternative reasonably priced accommodation we ended up at a nasty hotel near to the port. The taxi driver was demanding a much inflated price and the owner of the hotel was very unfriendly. There were some very shady characters in the other rooms who found it fasinating to stare at us as we tried to make ourselves understood. It seemed no-one could speak english at all.
After several tries at the port itself to get news about ferries to the Bandas and several agencies to ask about flights we were getting nowhere. The staff all seemed to bury their heads into their computers as we stepped through the door hoping someone else would deal with us and then giggling when we approached them. They obviously don't see many tourists here!

Finding food was also a problem, restaurants were dark, dingy, smoke filled places with no menu so impossible to order food. We eventually found a nice one near our hotel but it was quite expensive but after eating nothing but junk food for the last two days we splashed out. The grilled chicken was good but the potatoes and vegetables were virtually non existent meaning we went to bed fed up and hungry.

Next morning, however, things began to look up we went back to Beta Guesthouse. Success! the owner there and he had a vacant room. We moved in without delay. Now all we had to do was work out how to get to the much dreamed of Banda Islands. Pete, the friendly owner took Stan to the office where you can book flights there. We would never have found it on our own as there was no indication outside to say it was a booking office. Seats are difficult to get and the next available one was 22nd January, today was the 6th so we have 9 days to wait.

We spent the next two days running around from bank to bank trying to change money. No bank would change Sterling, only US Dollars. We came to the conclusion we would have to get the maximum from the ATM each day and live as cheaply as possible on the Bandas. Once we'd left Ambon we would have no access to banks or ATMs and we had planned to be away for up to six weeks.

So now all we had to do was work out to kill nine days and also haw to get a decent meal and a cold beer.
Beer prooved impossible without paying a small fortune but we did find an English style fish and chip cafe. We spent a lot of time there over the next few days!


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