The Spice Islands Kora Kora Racing

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November 22nd 2006
Published: March 12th 2007
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Gunung Api Lava flowGunung Api Lava flowGunung Api Lava flow

The flow from 88 is a mass of coral underwater.
Blogged already about getting down to the Banda Islands, Great place definitely worth the trouble. As luck would have it we arrived at the right time for the Kora Kora races of which more later.

We arrived at Bandaneira with all the bustle of the ferry docking, horn echoing round the island street stalls set up selling food, every Ojek and Becak driver on the island waiting for a fare, porters running around all over loaded up to impossible levels. The cargo is on and off by hand no cranes here. Nothing like the hassles we had in Ambon people are polite and it all goes well. Folk trying to get you to look at there Guest house all very good natured no hassles, We had phoned ahead and booked Vita (misspell on the sign) on the water overlooking Gunung Api so Alan the proprietors brother meets us on the dock, He had been on the boat as well but we didn’t see him.

Even the local guest house tout who works the ferry to pick up strays for accommodation is OK and polite and helpful though can be a pain if encouraged.

There is not much in
Lama village beachLama village beachLama village beach

Amazing drop straight off the beach
the way of Tourism to the Banda’s while we were there for 17 days, Other European tourists numbered between 3 and 6 persons, mostly for the Snorkeling but some for the History. Local tourists come down on Pelni for a couple of days while the boat does a loop then returns to Ambon.

Alan speaks excellent English along with a few of the other guest house owners on Bandanera, although English is not widely spoken. Vita also has Bintang another plus for me. Food was excellent at Vita they serve you then the family eats what’s left, you don’t feel bad about it as there is plenty for everyone. They do really well on Variety when you consider the small local market is the only available source of fresh food. All the Europeans who came through the islands said they had good food at there guest houses and the accommodation is also to a high standard. Even with AC available if you want it. We checked out Delfica in the village and Mutiara near the fort both looked really good. The used to be up market Malunas hotel looks pretty run down and charges way to much this place
Hatta beachHatta beachHatta beach

A pleasing little beach with the right crowd density
runs the diving on the island. Ex haunt of British Royals and Mick Jagger. They have a signed picture of Princess Diana behind the bar but no pictures. People don’t get to take pictures when these types are on private holidays Paparazzi wouldn’t make it here how can they follow a private flight from Bali. Any locals taking pictures had there cameras snatched and the film removed.

Its only a short walk from the Jetty to Vita towards the end of the village. A day of chilling out followed our normal routine after travel do nothing except maybe get in the sea at the guest house.

The sea outside Vita gets a bit of rubbish sometimes dependent on the tide, it’s a harbor so it’s not spotless, Snorkeling on Banda’s involves either walking or going on an Ojek around the Island or much better a boat to the other islands, Boat prices are 100,000 to 300,000 depending on how far you go. This was dealing through the guest house not all boats have steps and we can’t get back on without.

First trip off to the new coral off Gunung Api Lava flow the coral all destroyed
Bandas local transportBandas local transportBandas local transport

Popular kids pastime Banda's style
in 88 during the last volcanic eruption. (an angry little bugger this one) It has grown back at an amazing pace, huge table corals and many other varieties, some of it has fallen over as its got so large the condition is excellent with all the usual reef fish. Though it’s the coral here that’s amazing. Scientists come to study the coral growth rate.

I could wax lyrical about the snorkeling for some time Everywhere we went was fantastic, great visibility, as far as coral is concerned even the odd damaged bit would be the star attraction elsewhere, Many big fish were spotted Napoleons on virtually every session, Bump head Parrot fish, Turtles, Tuna, Barracuda, Large snappers, Groupers sharks and more Coral fish than I have seen anywhere. Most people who have been here rate this as the worlds top snorkeling spot.

It was mostly drop offs and slopes, One place that deserves a special mention is Lama beach on Pulau Hatta, Never seen anything like it the drop off is about 2 ft from the beach when the tide is right you can jump straight off the beach sand. Over the drop off with fantastic coral and
My turtleMy turtleMy turtle

I keep my turtle in the sea
sea life everywhere has to be seen to be believed. The beach here was great as well particularly just round the corner from the Village.

Pulau Ai is also rated with good beaches and some accommodation, you can snorkel straight off the beach here, we didn’t make it with leaving early.

Life on Banda is slow and relaxed, there are only a couple of cars and nowhere to drive them, Ojeks and Becaks about to a manageable level, the Nutmeg price has been OK and there is more cash around, it certainly isn’t the tourists not enough of us.

It’s just plain strange to see ancient cannons just littering the streets one even sticking up out of the ground, Fort Belgica has been well renovated and is interesting.

We walk round the fort and a guy who speaks English starts chatting to us and giving us the history of the place, Turns out to be a school teacher at the local school is class are 10 year olds, he talks us into doing a lesson for him, (my wife has taught in college) He would like us to do English grammar, poor kids get the weight
A turtles JourneyA turtles JourneyA turtles Journey

Fresh from the market and back to the sea
of English grammar on them before they can hold a simple conversation. Many of the teachers whose job it is to teach English don’t speak it themselves so they fall below government set standards.

We refuse to do Grammar for a start we are rubbish at it, choosing instead to do a drawing class for drawing a face, the subject wasn’t taboo there even though the kids were all Muslims. We talk and interact as much as possible The kids are so good many of the other teachers come for a look, I had never done anything like this before, Amazing every kid had there personality in the drawing they did I would like to do more it was so rewarding just to dip in the 10 year olds are so eager to learn.

The airport runway which hangs off both sides of the island is used as a motorway as flights don’t get here that much local people racing up and down on there small motorcycles at sunset.

We are sitting around vita one day and Alan comes in do we want to buy a Turtle there is a live one on the Market, Fishermen catch
Yes its a cannonYes its a cannonYes its a cannon

Where else do you see this
Turtles in Maluku and they can be seen on markets but not frequently. Is this a scam I thought with my suspicious western mind, quickly dismissing the idea when I realized the Turtle would have to be in on it.

So I became the owner of a live turtle for a brief period. Alan brought it from the Market flapping furiously still had plenty of life in it even though it had small injuries and had had a traumatic time. Couple of Photos and back in the sea, it seemed to make off OK after its ordeal. Alan has had this before and one guest had insisted he went to the Police and had the fisherman arrested as it was illegal. If that’s your instinct remember where you are, do what good you can. Get the police and they will just take the turtle for dinner. A turtle on the market is not a regular thing. What of Alan if he had the fisherman arrested, off goes the holiday maker leaving Alan to inhabit the same small island as the fishermen they all know each other.

An American guy told us of the Kei islands where he had been on a hunt for Leatherback Turtles traditional fishing carried out by only a few villages with everything from the turtle used, they pass the Keis on the way down from laying on the coast of Papua. What the American was trying to do was persuade the villagers to call up the Leatherbacks for snorkelers (they use a special horn to attract them) and leave them alive while the village gets an income all they need now is the Tourists.

Wake up one Day and its Kora Kora boat race day finally it has arrived after a few false rumors, First off it’s the local races with about 6 or 7 boats all hand made by the villagers and rowed by about 34 oarsmen with about 4 other people keeping time. Betting down the market is hot everyone exited, Des Alwi the Famous local Chief of Chiefs has flown in with some of his people Love him or hate him he is an Interesting guy who has had a huge influence on the islands and Indonesia Though we didn’t manage to get to meet him he was only there a day.

The Pelni Boat Sigutang is due and
The SchoolThe SchoolThe School

So who do you think drew the boldest face
the race has been waiting for its arrival day. But this being Indonesia They run the race before the boat arrives and the Sigutang Passengers coming to see the race insisted the ferry turns back to Ambon and drops them off no wonder transport arrives late so often. Personally I like this kind of approach to life in some ways.

The race itself was exiting; the boats race from Hatta and into the harbor with the finishing line near to the Malunas Hotel. Very physical Hatta are the favorites from Lama Village and they do indeed win but not by to much excitement all round a great day at the Races Fantastic to see the flotilla of race followers packed in there boats bursting into the small enclosed Harbor that made the Banda’s such a defendable haven. It seemed like everyone from the islands was in town.

Kora Kora wasn’t over with this event there were still the National races to be run in a few days. For this the Regional Governor came to town. With 13 boats racing each with about 38 people on board and prize money totaling 7Million it’s worth a thought that our Holiday

How would you value it then
cash was more than the total prize money for almost 500 participants. Still it’s defiantly a living tradition and enthusiasm is high I don’t think for a moment that it’s just about the prize money most of them didn’t get any.

The tradition was revived after the 2nd world war as it had stopped during the war. There is much love and care and many special ceremonies involved in the preparation, both building and preparing the boat. One village is not allowed to participate because they cannot remember the rituals involved in preparation.

National race day about everyone from all the Islands is in Bandaneira, some of the old colonial houses are temporary home to whole villages from other islands. Kids about not used to seeing westerners, older ones come up and touch you then run off giggling younger ones in there mothers arms are scared and hide on moms chest looking away.

Again the Indonesian flare for organization took over, The big shots kept everyone waiting (they have to) the race was hours late, starting to loose the light by the time it finished, everyone baked in the sun all afternoon for hours, the Carnival feel flagging in the heat. It’s revived by the Race. Huge crowds for such a small island chain. Again Hatta are the favorites but longer odds as some of the boats that didn’t participate in the Area race are rated as well. With more boats the entrance to the Harbor is to narrower and the race finishes at the pier before the Harbor. The pier is shaded and lined with chairs for the invited few.

Again it’s Hatta leading the pack, crowd cheering them on the big local favorites another great day and great food on the stalls. That night there is a party in the main house, we are too tired to go, Tourists that go were in constant demand for dancing and were exhausted.

Having a another lazy day at the guest house in comes Alan, Some kids on small Pisang island have found some treasure, tales of a Gold figure with Gold coins around the base, Hidden in a small cave accessible only at low tide. Places like the Banda’s people say they have found treasure it just might be right. Stuff still gets found there. Alan wants to check it out I go with him

Some things have not changed
a western treasure expert for a day. We get to the island and climb the hill past the Coconut crab holes, the village was full of excitement the kids quite with expectation. The Kepala Desa goes to his house and emerges with the treasure, I don’t know what to say I am taken aback, They have a plastic Chinese happy man (the fat guy) in a plastic liquid filled dome (like the snow scenes you shake) plastic Gold coins are in there with him and cascade down on his head when you shake it. A Chinese dream come true money falling from the sky.

It falls to me as the treasure expert to explain this to the Villagers. Who had enjoyed a mourning of joy from the treasure find. Slowly I talked them through it explaining it was a Chinese charm made only recently, and not worth anything, Would I like to buy it, must be worth something they say not wanting to become the legend of the westerner who ripped them off for there treasure I declined. The people were disappointed but stoic boys who had found the treasure enjoyed there 15 minutes even if it was just
Kora KoraKora KoraKora Kora

Lets go for it lads
very local fame.

Having been on the Banda’s for awhile we had to start planning our trip back, We booked the Merpati flight for about 10 days time it flies Monday they claim, not a big deal you go round the guys house and he writes your name down in an exercise book, He doesn’t take any cash until the day before the flight as he never knows if it will fly. Fallback position is Pelni earlier than we want to leave or charter a boat to Ceram with others who want to leave. We are number 11 and 12 on the flight (18 seats) the first 10 are a big money group of American Divers bound for the Malunas who are due in the Monday before the flight out we have booked. By this time its getting later in the year the weather changes there is a larger swell, a few days we cant go out of the bay snorkeling as we don’t find it fun in choppy seas. The plane comes to the island cant make the runway in the wind turns, and back to Ambon, we never see the divers. We are now No 1 and
Kora Kora BoatKora Kora BoatKora Kora Boat

Just look what we built
2 on the plane there are 30 people on the list so far we haven’t seen a commercial plane the Military brought Des Alwi in and the governor has treated himself to a floating gin palace that would look more in place in Monaco. Still he does have an area of many islands and he has to look important that’s just the way it is.

With the weather being changeable, varying sea states we decided not to rely on a boat charter, though not out of the question. So we left earlier than planned and go with Pelni Merpati hadn’t given us confidence. Alan was very glad we decided to go, he has had guests stuck on the islands getting wound up with him before and he knows Pelni is the most reliable. People ask him will the plane fly as if he knows what the guy is supposed to say it scheduled, and then make it his fault if they get a problem. It’s your decision get the info and decide no one can take that on for you.

We hope to go back soon October, November and April, May are the best weather windows but people
Kora Kora race dayKora Kora race dayKora Kora race day

Its neck and neck
go and have good experiences all the time.
Des Alwi’s plans to make the islands for the Rich few seem to be currently on hold so its still excellent value.

Stay loose and be flexible the islands are one of the great destinations for the few the many would wreck them, with access being as it is the many will not be around for awhile. Take responsibility for yourself, figure out what transport risks are OK for you and don’t rely on anything being definite. You will get off eventually and the weekly Pelni is fairly dependable if a little late.

Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


Race followersRace followers
Race followers

Flotilla bursting into the bay following the first race
Kora KoraKora Kora
Kora Kora

Going for it
Kora KoraKora Kora
Kora Kora

Its all together
Kora Kora dayKora Kora day
Kora Kora day

Help me mom I have never seen one of those before
Kora Kora dayKora Kora day
Kora Kora day

The other islands are all empty

13th March 2010

Great blog, I also enjoyed it. I am trying to assist promotion for Maluku on the net. Have a non- commercial Facebook page named Maluku Spice 2010. Also trying to help promote Sail Banda. I am from Oz but my husbands family are from Maluku. Any chance of displaying your photos under your name especially the one of Lama Village beach?
17th March 2010

Yes happey for you to use the photographs thanks for the comments send a link to your site
14th August 2010

let's do it
We were wondering were to spend 2 weeks out of Jakarta this ummer. Your convinced us to go to Banda. We are leaving tonight with Batavia..thx for all your tips!
19th August 2010

Banda travel
Hi glad to be off assistance getting to Banda may be hard check threads on Loanly planet Thorntree for info, let me know how the transport links are from Ambon planning trip in November by the way Lease islands around Ambon also very nice if you dont make it.

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