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Published: March 9th 2021
I was always drawn to white sand beach, and when the idea of going to Kei, South East of Moluccas islands, was presented, it was hard to resist. The Moluccas islands are also known as the Spice Islands, which attracted to Portuguese to come to the islands in the 16th
century for nutmeg and clove trading. Flying from Jakarta to Tual took half day as I had to transit in Makassar for two hours. After being aboard on a propeller plane for two hours, I finally arrived at Langgur Airport, where my guide was waiting. The airport is located at the Northern part of Kei Kecil, and it took about 15 minutes to reach the capital city of Kei, Tual, located in Dullah island. The two islands, separated by Rosenberg strait, are connected by Watdek bridge.
After checking in at Grand Vilia in the afternoon, I was ready to visit Bair island. It took about an hour by boat to reach this island. Surrounded by mangrove forest and karst walls, I felt like I was in Raja Ampat. The water was crystal clear turquoise blue, so inviting to have a swim. The locals used to believe the place was sacred, and
no one dared to go into the water until visitors started to come and visit the place recently. It was unfortunate I didn’t much time to relax and to have a swim as I had to leave for a nearby island for sunset viewing. It was a heart wrenching to see so many plastic trash on the beach; thankfully, in exchange of a small sum of money, a local fisherman agreed to pick up the trash.
The next day, I was ready to attend Meti Kei festival, held every year in October. It was a two-day festival, famous for its traditional fish catching competition event. The festival was held at Pasir Panjang (long, sand) Beach where the people from nearby villages gathered and were ready to catch fish. As I arrived, the place was packed; women were not allowed to enter the beach. It was strictly for men. From afar, I watched the opening ceremony, consisting of traditional dance performance and prayers by a local priest. Groups of men, equipped with traditional spear and rope tied to coconut leaves, went off to the sea, and whichever boat managed to catch most fish would win.
While waiting for the
men catching fish in the sea, I took a motorbike taxi to check out Sarnadan Beach, only to be greeted by bunch of school kids on a truck heading towards the festival. Thirsty, I stopped by at a nearby hut to order coconut drink. The man asked me to wait, climbed the coconut tree and served it fresh from the tree! Back at the festival a few hours later, the men arrived from sea with freshly caught fish, which were laid on the sand. After the and jury observed and announced the winner, those freshly caught fish were brought to the makeshift kitchen to be grilled in coconut leaves. Everyone at the location got his share of the delicious grilled fish, including I. Happy tummy, I left the festival and visited another long, white sand beach, Ohoidertutu, at Pulau Kecil; believe me, all the names of the beach were so difficult to remember; not only the sight of lush green coconut trees along the turquoise water but the names of the beach also made me felt I was in Vanuatu (nope, I have not been to Vanuatu but would love to go there).
I spent the next morning watching
boat race held at Tual as series of events during Meti Kei Festival. There were at least 10 boats, each carrying 30 rowers from nearby villages. The boats started from Ngadi village with finish lines at the bridge in Tual. It looked like the entire population of the island flocked to the surrounding area of the bridge to have a good view of the race. I could see that the participants took it seriously. For sunset viewing, I headed towards Masbait Hill where an old church was located, a perfect spot to have North East of the island. Often visited for pilgrimage, the place looked deserted as there were no other soul was around when I was there. Unfortunately, the sky was covered by cloud that I didn't have a good view of sunset.
The next morning, I headed towards Debut harbor, where inter island boats were busy transporting people and goods. While waiting for our wooden boat, I came across this lady coming from Pedawa Island. She told me she was a Hindu and her ancestors were from Bali. Yes, Bali! It was said that the ancestors of Kei people were from Buleleng, Bali. She invited me to
come and visit the island and said the people in the island live in harmony despite their religious background. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to visit other islands during this trip.
First stop was Ngurtavur island, sand dune in the middle of nowhere. What a beauty. I was not so lucky to see the leatherback turtles and migrating pelican birds often spotted in the area. I had the entire island by myself until a few boats started to appear from the horizon, and it was time to leave. After lunch, my guide took me to Ngurbloat beach, a 5km stretch of white beach from Ngilngof Village all the way to Ngursamadan beach at Ohilir Village. It claimed having the softest sand in Indonesia! I must have been lucky as there were no other soul visiting the beach. I still had the sight of white sand beach against different shades of turquoise blue water stuck in my mind. What a candy for the eye!
Next destination was Ohoidertawun Beach, approx. 16 km from Tual. It’s equally stunning. It was another hidden gem as there were literally no one on this long stretch of powdery, white sand beach. It
was picturesque with Maldives-like quality of beach. I was amazed by the fact there was no one around in this heaven-like place. Last stop was a visit to Goa Hawang or Hawang Cave, located at Letyuan Village, about 15 km from Tual. The location was easy to reach, within 5 minutes-walk from car park. The cave had crystal clear spring water that was so inviting to give it a miss for a dip. There were a few other people swimming inside the cave, but I didn’t bother going into the cave, where there was stalactite. The water was so cool and refreshing. If it was not getting dark, I would have stayed longer. After the trip, when looking at the pictures and brightened them, I noticed interesting figures of people inside the cave wall. It made me wondered; was it my imagination that it was mural or was it real people? I still didn't have the answers up to now. Indeed, the trip was memorable, and I had intended to return to the island again. If I were to do so, I would spend more time and stay at one of those homestay by the beach.
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