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Published: June 20th 2011
Ambon was not great but it had the two things we would need - an immigration office and ATMs so we could stock up on cash as there were no reliable ones south of here. Just like our last trip we got lucky and met an English speaking person to help us through the minefield that is Indonesian bureaucracy. William was an Indonesian businessman who was staying in the same guesthouse as us.
He got us to the office and back easily and managed to get an explanation on how the visa extensions work from the immigration office where only a few words of English were spoken. They told us that we would need to come back after 25 days when our current visa ran out. This done we maxed out our cards and got a flight to Tual in the Kei Islands. The plan was to fly out as far as we were going to go and then work our way back to Ambon to renew our visa.
We knew any airport travel this far out was going to be exciting as most of the airlines used propeller planes and Ambon didn't disappoint. It was the smallest plane
we had been on and seated less than 30 people. To top it off the ticket we were given when checking in was handwritten on plain white paper. What a way to inspire confidence. The flight was only short and Emma had the honour of being the first one off the plane.
The airport we had landed in was tiny! It was made up of 2 small buildings, one was labelled the VIP lounge and the other had a baggage counter which was a wooden platform and a hole in the wall. The up side of this is that we weren't waiting long and we could see the guys throwing our bags through from the other side.
We grabbed a taxi with a Welsh teacher who worked in Jakarta and were on our way to Savannah Guesthouse. Unfortunately they only had one room left and as our preference was for Pasir Panjang and Coaster Cottages we decided to go there instead - something the owner seemed quite keen on as he didn't want more guests.
We got to the beach that looked perfect in the images we had viewed online and was Emmas screensaver since we started
researching this trip. The white sands and overhanging palm trees flowed seamlessly into the crystal clear deep blue waters. The reality however didn't live up to this. Even as we drove along the inland road we could see a band of garbage on the beach at least 3 feet deep.
We checked into a lovely cottage next door to Phillip, a Londoner we had met in Ambon, and the view was almost masked by the fact we were raised from the beach. The second you stepped onto the beach however you had to wade through a collection of discarded flip-flops, plastic bottles and even some medical vials mixed with huge clumps of seaweed.
So far, so not so good. Phillip said that it had looked perfect the day before but a storm had brought a lot more stuff in the last 24 hours.We settled in and hoped for another storm to take the rubbish away and give us a nice clean beach.There were 3 small beach huts and a large house all of which could be rented and two women managed these on behalf of the western owners and arranged 3 meals a day.
We met a woman
from Cambridge who now works in Bangkok who had walked from Savannah guesthouse and she said the beach was nicer there but the water was very shallow and the mealtimes unpredictable. Our meals at Coaster Cottages were good and always started with an odd breakfast. Usually a fishy tasting omelette, peanut butter toasties and on one occasion green pancakes. Lunch and dinner was rice, vegetables and fish or chicken. We soon came to realise that the dreaded plain rice and fried fish or chicken we were used to in Indonesia didn't apply to the Moluccas. They had small aubergines, cucumber and tomatoes and used a mix of the spices the islands are famous for to make some of the best food we have had whilst travelling. Nom.
The next couple of days we did very little, finally relaxing after working up until the day we flew out here and having so many connecting flights. The beach didn't improve although we did find an area that had less rubbish. The water was beautiful but there wasn't much in the way of coral or fish. We were told that if you had fins you could swim to some coral in
about half an hour - we settled on sunbathing. Unfortunately even this didn't go to plan. Whilst doing this a young local came onto the deserted stretch of beach we were on and mooned us before confidently strutting off.
We took this as us being not too welcome there and this being the straw that broke the camels back and we decided to up and leave to Savannah. We spoke to Phillip who was going into town to book a flight and asked him to see if there was a room available. That afternoon we spoke to some local school children and had our photos taken with them answering questions about our family and home. They had all made the hour journey on scooters because they had heard there were some foreigners (Boulé) on the island (we still cant get over the fact they ride scooters so young!). The next day we moved to Savannah and we left Phillip who was flying too Banda Neira knowing we would bump into him again.
The atmosphere here was much better and topped off with a crazy owner Gerson. He was Moluccan born but also lived and worked in Holland and
had family there. He ran the small cottages on his own and spent all his time grumbling about having to cook, clean and just have people around. Whilst he was cleaning our room we played with the pack of dogs and the new puppy who were fighting over sticks and digging for crabs. We later found out that the mother, called Narco, was an ex-drug sniffing dogs from Thailand and that the puppy was the only of 7 to survive.
There was another couple staying there but they were in Tual - the main village and so we had the place to ourselves on our first night. We paddled in the shallow water which didn't deepen for miles we discovered eventually. We had heard tales of Gersons relaxed attitude towards meal times and so were not surprised when dinner arrived at around 9 - some nights we would eat as late as 11.
The meal was beautiful and plentiful when it did arrive. Rice, soup, a huge salmon-esque fish steak, vegetables galore and all cooked with the Moluccan mix of flavours. Washed down with a few bingtangs from the fridge it was perfect. We finished up and strolled
down a few metres to the deserted beach to sit on a log and watch the stars.
This soon turned into Emma chasing crabs along the beach with a torch. She came back empty handed but there was something waiting for her. On the log next to Andy was a box with a ring in. After some cheesy soppy words and after some prompting for a definite yes it was done. Months of secrecy and planning were finally over and Emmas left hand was a little bit heavier and worth more than it ever had been.
Needless to say we drank a few more beers and some sopi (locally distilled moonshine) which Gerson cracked open, and Emma even raised her eyes from her ring long enough for a game of drunken triminoes with a Swiss couple and our host Gerson (rock and roll!). We stumbled to bed a little worse for wear planning to get in touch with home and let everyone know the next day.
We rented a moped each and took the hour drive back to the main city on the island. The roads weren't great but as a new airport is planned soon (to
export fish) we eventually hit a long stretch of new tarmac. We got into town and hunted down a petrol station and Internet cafe. After Andy got left to deal with his first bike on his own every man in the petrol station swarmed to help Emma.
The Internet place was slow loading Google and so we gave up instantly on Skype for calling home. We got directions to the Telecoms main exchange Office for the Moluccas, which was apparently the only place to call abroad from. After driving up and down the main road a few times getting hopelessly lost, a kind passer-by drove us to there. After 10 minutes of trying to get any dialtone we eventually got a scratchy line through to Emma's home where one of Andys partners in crime feigned surprise but was genuinely happy to hear the good news.
7 minutes later we were significantly poorer but Emma was happy that her mum was passing the news round the Wirral for us. The drive back would have been uneventful but for the fact that Emma managed to bash into the back of Andy's bike. From that point on her front brake disc
started screeching and we slowly made our way back to Gersons expecting an early flight back home so we could afford a new bike. As it turned out it just needed a new brake disc and including labour this came to less than £7.
Another problem that had arisen was that on the night of the proposal we had been trying to get photos of both us and rather than placing the camera on a good solid surface we stood it over some sand. The inevitable happened and it fell face first twice. We soon found this caused problems with zoom and focus and despite Gerson trying to clean it with cotton buds it became unreliable and so from this point we apologise for the lack of photos. We knew the nearest place we could get it fixed was Ambon, and even that was wishful thinking.
The next few days were lazy ones. There are no flights direct from the Kei Islands to the Banda Islands so it would be quite expensive to fly back to Ambon then to Banda Neira. There was however a Pelni ship leaving in about 6 days which timing wise was ok as
the beach was beautiful and the beer plentiful. Pascal and Bridget, the Swiss couple had left by this point, and we liked the idea of being the only tourists on the whole island.
We spent our days playing with the puppy (which was eventually named Emma by Gerson from her constant fussing), wading out into the shallow waters, reading and having siestas if the weather turned worse (which was rare). Gerson got us to leave towels out and about and if he wasn't manning the fort it was out responsibility to tell anyone coming that it was full and to go to Coaster Cottages instead. In return he made us chips and mayonnaise and regular bowls of fresh guacamole.
We couldn't have timed our leaving much better as a few days before we left one of Gersons dogs got into a fight and whilst fighting had been bitten in the scrotum. There was no vet on the island and the smell of the dog itself as it slept outside our room and its pained limping around the beach showed things didn't look good. Gerson had been to the local villagers and asked if anyone wanted to put him
down humanely for him. He said that the reason they might want to is that dog is still eaten in the village. They didn't want to and Gerson decided to go into town on the day we were leaving to see his dentist friend to get some anaesthetic and see if he could stitch the wound himself.
Gerson got us two bikes to take us into Tual and to a hotel that was almost on top of the harbour as the Pelni was due to leave between 11pm and 1am. As Gerson said it was famous for being late we thought a room for the wait would be a good idea, especially as we may not get any sleep on the boat. We checked in and hit the sack waiting to hear the loud klaxon signalling it had arrived.
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