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Published: January 10th 2011
Drawn once again by the magical allure of the Banda islands The famed spice islands of old and just what they were seeking when they discovered America. The richness of the place the history and the undersea world overwhelms me and makes every new visit fresh and thrilling.
I am not disappointed that getting here and getting back off again remains an adventure in itself and that the main topic of the still limited tourist population of the islands is still how we got here how we can extend our stay and how are we to get off. , with flights (max 22 passengers but dependent on weight ) booking out fast then maybe leaving without a full plane at the last min confusion is still the main player.
The plane itself is like a builders van with wings the noise robs you of the function of your ears for 1 hour after arrival earplugs are definitely the way to go. But well it’s been flying without a crash for 30 years so the odds must be good. The seat belt won’t go round our largish European guts but no one checks. The flight is fine great views on
the way in.
Ferries though frequent maybe 4 per month travel circuitous and confusing routes to get here coming from Bau Bau or Fak Fak rather than one spot to rely on. 2 so far have been departing for Ambon but a government charter at the last min delayed the Ceramai (the main Pelni connection) by a few days and now all is chaos again.
Ha but with careful planning we are here and even have a ticket out on the plane we may have succeeded where many have failed. We can but hope it all works. Securing the outbound ticket already booked and paid for weeks in advance proves to be far from straight forward even though we have somehow managed 4 reservations in instead of 2 both sets of reservations in slightly different names
What’s to do here well very little in many ways wonder round and soak up the atmosphere visit the Historic sites and above all charter small wooden boats for some of the best snorkelling you can find. Diving is possible but many choose to snorkel.
Above all immerse yourself in the flow of the islands, Day to day harbour traffic
and the arrival and departure of the large Pelni vessels and the brief period of frantic activity generated while they are in port is a rhythm of life that has endured for a long time on small islands all be it at a slower turn around than Pelnis current attempts to maintain a schedule generates.
From there arrival it’s all frantic boats piled high with bulk products crowd the front of the vessel with the crane of the ship lowering cargo into the holds to the waiting ships crew. On the jetty stevedores and passengers are up and down the gangways en mass carrying items off for the Banda and loading all manner of items bound elsewhere all carried on the backs of wiry little guys capable of carrying a 6 foot standing fridge freezer on there backs should they be required.
There is a tangible point when the activity slows and the traffic becomes less the ships horn sounds so all on the islands know departure will be in 1 hour. Transit passengers walking the streets and sampling local sweets and foods along with the boiler suit clad off duty ships staff out for a stroll make
there way back for departure The horn sounds again and the vessel peels from the jetty on its way to its next port of call.
Instantly all of the Street vendors and there food stalls assembled for the arrival pack up and evaporate leaving only a few frail and flimsy tables as all the wares are carried back home to await the next arrival or to be sold on the market the next day.
Te ship turns a tight circle and heads out the same way as it came in to the harbour small boys waving watching it leave with there dreams. It disappears round the corner behind other islands in the chain leaving only the overwhelming panoramic sky in its wake. Life switches back down a gear and the traffic of the harbour returns once again to small wooden boats ferries freighters fishing boats and often times boats that fulfil all of these functions at different times once again they have the harbour.
The smallest boats are the single person canoes used here for transport helping larger vessels dock and single person fishing vessels, often manned by small kids learning there skills out on there own.
Come evening Frigate birds circle dipping to catch fish. Stunning little mandarin fish can be seen in the rubble on the sea front.
A small wooden freighter comes in next to our guest house, unloading Kerosene they do this by pushing part filled drums into the water then hauling them up to the small jetty by hand once the crew has swum round with them.
Life returns to watching the volcano over the bay an easy swim away and dominating the scenery of the harbour. It has in the past showered rocks on the town. Much of the island group is obviously a huge extinct caldera with some island forming part of the rim and others from secondary eruptions within. How long ago for the big bang well who knows way before recorded history for sure only smaller eruptions are on the record.
We slip into a rhythm one day out snorkelling wherever we can get to one day relaxing around the small town which must be considered a big day out from the outlying island villagers. The children and often the adults from the smaller settlements if not scared of the big European will come
and touch to see how the skin feels.
One day we are on Ai having a laugh with the local impromptu biscuit baking ladies club 15 people doing there bit to produce a batch of delicious cinnamon biscuits we buy some still hot wrapped in a newspaper. The impromptu factory is set up opposite an Old Dutch wall from times far in the past. The biscuits are delicious. We meet up with the local Hallow Mister crowd a constant feature of travelling in remote areas of Indonesia they practice there English skills with Enthusiasm and charm.
Stopping for lunch All served in Tiffin boxes, down by the beach the nearest family all come out to watch us eat not because thy are hungry because they are fascinated and there society does not seem to have the concept of privacy. They smile they behave charmingly towards us we feel welcome while there stare never wavers. The local chickens make short work of the leftovers.
Back to Bandaneira again a small boat under an endless sky. My memories of Banda are dominated by the constantly changing sky scape much more than the sunsets this is the dominant feature you
are small and humble beneath its majesty. You come away with an enhanced sense of your own place in things.
We visit the doctor my partner has a persistent cough, The Doctor is in a wheelchair after being in a aircraft crash on Banda 4 years ago. (Marapati) Here spirit of carrying on is an inspiration it his her responsibility to provide medical care for her islanders. One can’t help but draw parallels with our own societies motivating forces.
In Bandaneira there is much progress everyone seems more affluent than previous visits there is talk of more tourists coming currently only the lack of reliable transport links stops this. Talk is of small jets from Bali, Increasing the flight schedule as its always booked out, Though Jakarta says 2 subsidised flights per week is all they will do as the flights are for the islanders.
Then why subsidise tourists who happen to get a ticket I think why not let them on different flights no subsidy. Personally I don’t think Indonesia should pick up part of my flight ticket costs though I can see why they need to do it for there own people.
to help Banda is so special and too many tourists would kill the place. Though it could cope with many more than the current tourist population. Who knows what will happen Eco dive resorts may be a way to go big hotel blocks would be a disaster. Nothing will happen without transport links improving.
Well known British personalities are involved (a long term Banda fan) but it’s the old conundrum how does the place benefit while retaining its charm. And not damaging its special environment.
Masses of tourists expecting the same crap they get elsewhere would kill the place but there are enough special interest folk out there to make this place work for the good of all. Maybe the prognosis is not good but without the mass tourism potential maybe the big operators will leave it to more gentle development such as in Raja Amphat. One can only hope people see enough here to not be willing to wreck it.
While we were on Banda local ''king'' Des Alwi passed away some thoughts on his passing and the effect on the Islands
Des Alwi ----- to 12/11/2010
King of the Banda Des Alwi is
dead, many on the islands mourn him I myself have never meet him. They say he could be a fascinating and engaging man who has seen and been involved in many great events having held high office in Indonesia he has always fought to protect the Banda according to his own methods and vision for the islands.
Many resent him and his control over the affairs of the island he has claimed to own the entire waterfront of the town on Bandaneria and fiercely prevented any alternative dive operations to the Molanas hotel from springing up, also charging a levy on dive boats in the area while insisting that land based divers stay at Molanas hotel and pay the very high dive rates he levies.
Now with his passing a charismatic and dominant force in the recent history of the Banda has gone and islanders are already concerned for the future.
It is rumoured that powerful interests both on the islands, in Ambon and elsewhere want to exploit the islands some to crush the islands with tourists building all over it and others just to bomb the hell out of the reef and bank huge amounts of
fish money. Leaving the Banda Eco system as it is with so many Indonesian islands where fisherie exploitation has wrecked the natural environment.
Des for all the faults I hear of has blocked all of this activity in the past refusing environmentally damaging factory and holiday development and keeping the local population fishing with traditional sustainable methods. Anyone who has been here knows that you do not see this fish density on the reef anywhere else.
The Banda could so easily be an example to the planet on how to use resources sustainable. Almost every snorkel you see Napoleon fish not so many places this happens with there value on the tables of Asia even here I see them getting smaller but at least they are still around.
There are islanders here like everywhere else who would love to turn a quick profit spending the cash on big cars to cruise the islands few kilometres of road. Colluding with rapid and thoughtless development the culture of I want it now no matter what for the future could be as strong here as the rest of the world.
I wonder why this place is not a marine reserve
or a UNESCO world heritage site (or both) given its historic importance to the world many lesser places are. It surpasses the grandeur of Bunaken by a great distance both in the undersea world and in the charm and grandeur of the island chain on land even without the History that overwelmes you here. There is still much undamaged marine ecco system here. Without the protection of National Park status one wonders what will come up in the vacuum of the death of Des Alwi.
It may have been good if a strong ecco tourist ethic had been allowed to flourish with dive outfits intertwined and benefiting the local community to give all a stake in preservation. I know this is not without problems but the islands would not face the current vacuum.
Des has a Daughter who should take over she is OK by accounts but how will she deal with the islands something has to change that’s for sure but what and how.
I am on Banda now but this is only my occasional Holiday destination what happens here is not down to me, but like many visitors I am more touched by this place
than any other that I have visited in many years of global travel. I do feel that no matter what I think Of Des he has influenced the fact that the islands are in great condition and helped maintain a sustainable fishing industry for local people.
Banda could so easily be at the forefront of promoting Indonesian Sustainable tourism an example to the world and something all Indonesians can be proud of. I can only hope that this is the way things go.
We attend the Funeral many express ‘’what will happen to Banda now’’ for so long the islands high level voice has only been Des. The Ferry operator stops coming they Phone Des, services resume. Destructive fishing practices Phone Des he will organise stopping it. The perpetrators will have his wrath to answer to. So what now. With no national park status and organisation as in Bunaken what will stop the destruction.
The Islanders look to the Family particularly the grandchildren but I sense dismay when they arrive dressed for hanging out in the Mall somewhere in Europe or America in stark contrast the Islanders all dressed in there best clothes to pay there respects.
These kids are Indonesia’s educated elite but look like western college kids not a look that the local population are familiar with.
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