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Published: October 16th 2014
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. - Mark Twain.
I was curled up on the captains bunk on the Duyfken on night watch trolling scuba forums when I saw the trip advertised. Long Tales, Tall Shadows, diving the North Mulukas, Raja Ampat and exploratory diving further afield to waters yet unsullied by the growing procession of Liveaboards. I read closer, a dream dive trip starting with an optional land tour to Ternate and its tiny sister Tidore. Ternate, the heart of the Wallacea line, home base of the father of biogeography, Alfred Russell Wallace.
The wind whistled through the rigging and the ship creaked as I shivered as the cold winter wind slipped through the gunport in the cabin. Finally....Ternate may be within my reach. Ternate had first come to my attention seriously while I was at Uni studying geography with a heavy focus on geomorphology. I read further about the trip and started googling Tim Rock and Simon Pridmore,
Tidore and Makian islands
This image is one the Indo 1000 Rupiah note.
organisers of this trip to wilder waters.
The ship groaned. The Duyfken would soon come out of the water for a refit, summer had been hard on her. I moved downstairs into the hold to try and find better reception, hoping to hook into a nearby ships wifi. The real Duyfken had met her death in Ternate in June1608 after a battle with Portugese and Spanish galleons trying to secure the nearby island of Makian. The dutch had tried to haul her inside the reef to repair her 3 months later but in doing so she was damaged beyond repair. Was she out there somewhere still? were her ribs coral crusted reefs now 406 years and a few weeks later?. By sunrise I had decided no matter what I was going to Ternate and on this dive trip. Fate seemed to be playing too many cards for me not to.
Three months later I nervously stood at Denpassar domestic airport looking for 4 people with a tonne of camera gear who were looking for a woman with hair the color of a glass of shiraz. My travelling companions Tim Rock, Simon Pridmore and his lovely wife Sophie and
Russ, found we set off on the first leg, an overnight stop in Makassar where we were treated to a great meal by Simon and Sofie's friend Jessa at the Apong Seafood Restaurant. A quick sleep at the brand new Ibis at Makassar Airport and we were on the 8am flight to Ternate.
Arriving after a lovely flight on one of Garudas brand new Bombadier 100's took me by suprise as soon as I walked out of the airport. Ternate was way bigger a town than I had envisaged. So many nights reading the history of the spice trade and the Duyfkens tiny part in the sultans shaking hands with the dutch before being betrayed I guess my vision of Ternate was a few hundred years out of date. By Indonesian standards quite wealthy and less sullied by garbage and human detris everyone on Ternate seemed gainfully employed or at the very least busy doing something or other. Here centuries old history that changed the course of the modern world dances delicately alongside WiFi and Blackberries and false teeth shops in a clashing mosh-pit of time.
Yes, False Teeth shops. Palsu Gigi signs everywhere. I once
got toothpicks in Manado labelled Tusuk Gigi so have embraced the word as one of my Indo specials. Why the people of Ternate (The entire spice islands I was later to find out) require such a high density of false teeth shops is probably down to their love of condensed milk, nutella and a propensity for chewing betel nut. I cant see Meth mouth being that much of a problem here. Remember to brush your Gigi's kids.
Our driver wound us up past the university to the beautiful Villa Marasai, our home for the next few days. Pak Hasrun who owns this little gem is certainly doing it right. A quirky bright but somehow serene oasis filled with history and smiles. These islands have been traded and formed transport and trade hubs for thousands of years. Volcanos have blown their tops in anger and left scars of lava flows and volcanic bombies, the spirit of the volcanos quietened sometimes by the sultan taking the magic crown to the mountain to appease it. Local lore has it that the hair on the crown grows and must be cut once a year to keep the volcano happy. I would've loved to
have seen the crown but unfortunately, the sultan wasnt home...he advertises this fact by flying a black flag out the front of his house. He was probably working. Many of the sultans in these islands actually are employed, mainly as civil servants.
We had a delightful indonesian meal and breakfast before heading out for a tour around Ternate island the next day after a wonderful nights sleep. I left my windows open so I could hear the rain throwing itself tantrum like at the earth and the frogs and lizards outside in the jungle behind my room.
Our day tour around the island was fantastic. For me, the highlight was the forts, particularly Fort Oranye, the dutch fort where Captain Janszoon was given his orders aboard the Duyfken all those centuries ago. The first port we visited was the portugese fort, this one on the waters edge, well preserved, a parklike open space and gardens inside its walls. Guns would have blazed from the gaps in that huge stone wall. We continued on to the Dutch Fort...the one that interested me most.
I either have a very sad, boring life or an overactive imagination because I often
feel the sea and all to do with her, including the Duyfken is my love.
To stand before the imposing stone arch that once held thick wooden doors locked tight alongside the dungeon where captured Portugese, Spanish and locals were held in a draconian tunnel dungeon was almost emotionally moving.
Here was the final clue in the story of the Duyfken.
I looked out to where I could see the best potential spot for them to have tried to drag her across the reef from her battle at Makain.
And I saw a shop selling electrical goods, a market right up against the walls of the forts, houses and more bloody palsu gigi shops.
They paved my ships grave and put up a parking lot! And a mall! And an electronics shop!
The area the fort covered was huge. The dominance of the dutch and the importance of this tiny speck of land in the pacific ocean is one of histories mostly glossed over facts.
Did you know every clove in the world comes from Ternate to this day still? The nearby islands, collectively the spice islands or North Moluccas, with Ternate home
to the mother tree, Afo. A clove tree left unguarded was the breaking of the dutch monopoly on cloves when a french spy named Poivre in 1770 managed to steal some seeds and smuggle them to the west. Plantations then were begun in Zanzibar and Tanzania, Madagascar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, all ports of call for the spice ships on their way from Europe to Asia.
It was all over cloves. The discovery of Australia was possibly quite incidental as the dutch had really grabbed a stranglehold on the spice islands and enslaved most of the islanders and betrayed the sultans in their lust for the humble clove and its neighbours, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace. And now we buy them in the stores and think nothing of this handy spice. To this day the nearby islands still import labour at harvest time from neighbouring islands to harvest the spices.
The behaviour of the Dutch in Ternate is questionable but forever changed history. The streetlights are still ornately worked metal that would look right at home alongside the canals of Amsterdam. Run island, a tiny speck in the North Moluccas was swapped for Manhattan island on which the dutch
had staked a claim when looking for a northern passage to Asia, but taken over by the British who swapped the one spice island they controlled Run for Manhattan as a fair deal under the 1667 treaty of Breda. Obviously spice and real estate prices didnt move quite the way the Dutch had planned out.
When they first arrived, the locals welcomed the Dutch, seeing them as saviors from the Portuguese. The honeymoon was quickly over when the locals continued bartering spices with neighbouring islands and visiting ships as they had always done, perhaps not understanding the dutch ''terms of agreement''. After enslaving most of the bandanese the Dutch imported their own farmers to oversee the spice growing and harvesting.
Successive Sultans declared war on the Dutch over the years of occupation but were always betrayed and dethroned, leaving only the collapse of the VOC to bankrupcy to finally free the islands back into the hands of their owners. The Sultanates of the Moluccas trace their regencies back to the 12th century, the Islam religion arriving early with the Voyages to the Arabian nations way before the Western World fell in love with those exotic spices that carpet
the hills of these volcanic islands.
Ternate's place in history is there right next to a shopping mall. A VOC cannon, a Portugese fort, a Sultans palace, a crown with gems that could only have come from the Arab traders. We still have so much to learn about those ancient wanderers. Books and relics such as the cabinet of ships jugs in Villa Marasai are just a hint of the the honey pot Ternate was throughout history, a tiny little island fragrantly unaware of the eventual importance it would play in the world.
By the time the Duyfken was plying its waters, man had already been finding treasures on Ternate for hundreds of years.
Standing on the walls of Fort Oranje, I felt like I was standing on the cloudy edge of a mirrorglass of time - you can see as far as you can see, but only that far, the chapters of the story run deeper than we know.
If I closed my eyes for just a moment I almost could imagine her out there, hold full of cloves, bravely fighting on, outnumbered, dirty starving sailors breathing in gun powder. The end.
she is under a carpark. The land in the bay is all reclaimed land, unlike around the portugese fort which actually is on the sea front.
While my tiny little white dove was a ship of no more importance than a dutch scout armed Jacht, who knows what other ships lie silently entombed in the earth down there?. Spanish Galleons carrying gold to trade for cloves? Portugese Galleons hiding pearls described as large as birds eggs, rubies and rare gems worth a kings ransom? What ever the scavengers didnt find when these ships went down before the water above was turned into land will never be revealed, these ships hold safe their secrets.
There is buried treasure out there....you just need a lot of excavators and heavy machinery to get to it.
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