The Spice Islands

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April 21st 2011
Published: June 20th 2011
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So we got on our second ever Pelni at about half 12 when the klaxon sounded twice - this was meant to be when there was 1 hour to go before we left. If anyone remembers Emma's reaction to the 3 1/2 day Pelni trip from Lombok to Sulawesi we took on the last trip ( we didn't do a blog but family and friends should remember the look of dread on Emmas face) then you would not be surprised that Emma was not too keen on the next 8-12 hours.

The boarding was much more organised than the last one with no big shove to get on but once on we encountered the same problem as last time. Seat/beds were hard to come by and we plunged ever deeper into the huge ex-cruise liner. We eventually got as low as we could and joined a group of people waiting for the next floor to be opened by the crew. We staked our claim on a window seat (again with a view of the waves coming over half the window).

The boat eventually started moving at around 3 and we settled in for 11 hours to Banda Neira. We did manage to get a bit of sleep on the hard wood floor and when we woke up managed a few words of Indonesian with the people next to us. We ventured up on deck for an hour to get a drink and some fresh air and the rest of the trip passed by uneventfully.

Gerson had sent a text to Abba the owner of Mutiara guesthouse and so when we got of were greeted with shouts of Andy and Anna (they can never get Emmas name right because it doesn't exist in Indonesia). We shoved through the market that was setup whenever a boat docked. Abba managed to get us all the way to his guesthouse, chatting about the Bandas on the way, before telling us that he was full but could put us in his friends cheaper place until tomorrow when we could move in.

We were knackered and so took up his offer of dinner at his that night and went to sleep at his friends guesthouse. It was OK and the view of the local volcano Guning Api through the toilet window was spectacular. We woke up at 6:30 and rushed to get to Abbas for 7 and what guidebooks and other travellers promised to be one of the best meals in the Moluccas.

It certainly delivered. They served up two types of fish (trevally and tuna), 3 salads, guacamole salad in the avocado skin, vegetables, rice and chips. The pudding of chocolate and avocado shake was also a real treat. There were about 12 people eating in total - a British family of 6 who lived in Jakarta, the husband worked in poverty reduction in Indonesia, a young Dutch couple, an older French couple with their local guide and an old American surfer and diver.

The majority of these people were waiting on the plane due tomorrow. As was typical for such a small plane on such a small island it was however cancelled and so we were told it would be another day before we could have a room there. The upside of this was that all the guests were doing some trips the next day and we could jump on some.

We could do a cultural tour of the large island looking at forts and plantations, a short snorkelling trip in the afternoon or a long trip to two snorkelling locations starting at 10 and finishing around 3. We felt up for a challenge and went for the last one. The ante was upped when we found out the French couple, William and Mary, coming with us were snorkelling mad and on the last few trips the Mary had carried on snorkelling at least an hour after everyone else was spent.

The next day at 10 we kitted out with some gear from Mutiara and our cheap snorkel and mask set from Khao San Road and headed out to Lava Flow/New Coral. This area for snorkelling was the result of the volcanoes last eruption in 1988 and you could see where the lava had flowed down the mountain into the sea. This had destroyed most of the coral but already new coral was growing and lots of fish were back.

Unfortunately we have no photos of this as our camera was still acting up pretty badly. We also didn't see much that trip. Both our masks were leaking and Emmas snorkel was letting in water. We swam back to the boat early and Mary and Williams guide, Victor, helped us fix our stuff. Emmas fins also had a tear in them so he lent her his. We had a little snorkel around the boat whilst Mary carried on and we saw various small fish, all the usual small reef batfish, butterfly fish etc.

After this we went to an island that had a lighthouse at the end. We moored up and had a nasi goreng on some volcanic rock that kept us warm from the bottom up. We got our gear on again and swam around the island. There was more coral here and as we got to the far side of the island some really nice drop offs further out. We saw some Napoleon Wrasse and a moray eel. It wasn't the best snorkelling we have seen but it was a good start.

That night we ate at Abbas again for dinner, again it was a great spread -this time with a huge barracuda and some deep fried jackfish. Phillip from Coaster Cottages was there and we got chatting to him about what he had been up to. He had climbed Guning Api, even planting a British flag on top, snorkelled on Pulau Hatti and generally milled around the island. He was staying at a place called Vita on the dock front. We decided to continue our stalking of him and moved in. Thee room was nicer and you could sit on the jetty where despite the proximity to the harbour the water was crystal clear and the view of the volcano was spectacular.

We fended for ourselves food wise that day and found some good nasi goreng and fried chicken. Andy even got a sprite susu, his overconfidence in Indonesian made him think it was sprite with extra sugar but it was in fact milk and sprite. We spent the night on the jetty looking at stars and chatting to an ozzy and Phillip over a couple of beers. Just before everyone was ready for bed we got swept up in a plan to go to Pulau Hatti the next day for a snorkelling trip.

We woke up to a grey sky and mild downpour - snorkelling was most definitely off. We had worked out how many days we had left before we had to get back to Ambon to renew our visa and we would be cutting it fine getting the last Pelni back on the 29th. This only gave us around 6 days left on the Bandas and we had lots we wanted to do. So rather than waste a day in the rain we decided to get the taxi ferry to Pulau Ai, a small island about 1 hour from Banda Neira. The snorkelling here was meant to be great and there were a few beaches that were deserted.

We got the lunchtime public ferry over which took about 45 minutes. We got chatting to a guy on the boat who ran a guesthouse on the island. We had been recommended a guesthouse called Revenge 2 (named after a story about the Dutch invaders taking their revenge on the locals after an uprising). The guy on the boat however spoke really good English and we decided to use this to our advantage as it was so rare) and stay at Green Coconut instead.. We got some information on the island and some fish satay for dinner.

The next day we moved to Revenge 2 where we had been told the rooms were nice and the food some of the best on the island. So far we had been unimpressed with the local island dish of walnut fish sauce paste in aubergines. It tasted like fish and had the texture of hummus. The food wasn't great. It was the standard fish and rice - the islands fish all seemed to be smoked which Emma liked - and a few salad dishes.

We decided to get active that day and walked towards a beach and snorkel spot on the other side of the day. We headed off on the nearest thing to a trek we would ever get to. We soon ran out of road. We found the posh bungalow on the island, Alfredos, and got directions from the Austrian couple staying there. We also found out that they were staying there until well after we left so we wouldn't be able to spend a few nights there. This did however free up the plane tickets they had bought and we said we'd think about buying them off them.

After a brief walk through a very makeshift path we got onto a more reassuring dirt path and took a 15 minute walk through some nutmeg plantations to a huge beach which apparently had some great snorkelling. We were desperate to see some fish and got straight in the water. We swam over some weeds and after 5 minutes got to a big drop off with some coral along the edge. There were quite a few small fish of varying colours but nothing hugely impressive. We had heard of a cleaning station further along the beach and walked along to try and find it. Eventually however our stomachs gave in and we headed backing deciding to get more information before heading back out to this spot.

We found a welcome surprise back at Revenge 2. Phillip had moved into the one other room and we spent the afternoon scanning for the BBC World service on his portable radio and eating ice creams from a street vendor. That night we slept on our tasteful tiger print bedding and decided to move back to somewhere nearer a seabreeze.

We moved into Greenpeace the next morning. The best feature of this was the set of steps leading down from just outside our room straight into the water. We spent the afternoon snorkelling and lazing in the sun. We got chatting to Phillip who had already flow from Banda to Ambon and his description of the plane and the airfield set our mind to buy the tickets from the Austrian couple so we could experience the flight.

We went back to try the beach and coral again this time earlier hoping to avoid the currents and find the cleaning station. Again we didn't find much and struggled in the currents. Andy went out to the water in front of our room and did see a few large Napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrotfish.

Our time on the island was coming to an end and we paid our bill at Greenpeace which at 150,000 Rupiah for 3 meals and a bed per day was the cheapest we had stayed in so far. We got the boat back to Banda Neira that early in the morning with Phillip with the flight being the next day. We planned to get onto a day trip to Pulau Hatta where Phillip had already been and recommended.

We went past Delfika 2 Guesthouse on the harbourfront and Emma immediately recognised it from blogs and photos. We decided to spend our last night there and got a room with a view of Guning Api and arranged with the owner to charter a boat to Hatta with Phillip and another tourist we met on the taxi. It took over an hour to get to Hatta so we ran and got some breakfast and arranged a packed lunch and set off as quickly as possible.

We got there and got straight in the water. We swam along a drop off and saw plenty of small to medium fish but no sign of sharks and turtles which apparently were frequent in this area. We stopped for lunch on the beach - Nasi Goreng - and after a float in the shadows we headed to the second and last snorkelling of the Bandas.

We again drifted with the current along a drop off and this time saw some schools of fairly large fish. As we got near the beach we were considering heading back to the boat when Emma and Phillip saw two reef sharks and almost immediately after Andy and Phillip saw a large turtle. Satisfied finally that we had seen something on this trip we got back to boat for the long trip back.

Andy fell asleep on the boats roof and was only woken up when photos had been taken and we were in sight of the airfield. Just as Phillip had promised it was impressively small. The end of it went into the sea and the prospect of flying from it tomorrow was making it difficult for Emma to contain her excitement.

We ate at Abbas for our last night and again enjoyed a great spread despite it just being the three of us eating there. Emma wasn't feeling great and we left before the dessert but with everything arranged for our flight to ambon the next day we could get an early night - but like Christmas Eve Emma was looking forward to the flight tomorrow.

Additional photos below
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21st June 2011
Beach we reached by trecking through jungle (sort of)

hi bloggers
hi emmandy just read your blogs good to see some photos sounds like everything going well its been good catching up on skype talk to you soon look after yourselves love mum /julie xxxxxx

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