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Indonesia again
Bangkok (Thailand) to Banda Naira (Indonesia), Mar-17-09 / Apr-07-09

On March 24th we take the airplane from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur. We decided to stay one full day in Kuala Lumpur before we continue to Jakarta. We still do not know what part of Indonesia we are going to visit first. It will depend on the prices and availability of seats on the domestic airlines. On March 26th we arrive on the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport of Jakarta. Jakarta is not a nice city to stay, so we decide to take an airport bus to the city of Bogor, a little bit south of the capital. Bogor (formerly known as Buitenzorg) is a nice and friendly city with a beautiful botanic garden in the centre of the city, constructed by the Dutch in the colonial past. We planned to visit Bogor in any case, because we want to bring also a visit to the office of Burung Indonesia, the Indonesian version of Birdlife International. Burung Indonesia sells Indonesian versions of bird field guides for the Wallacea area (Moluccas, Nusa Tenggara and Timor) and Papua.

After doing some research on the internet we decide to visit the Moluccas first. The months of March and April are still good months to visit the area, if you take the weather in consideration. At the end of April, the monsoon is coming in. For Papua, it is different. The rain season ends in April, and from May onwards you have a good chance of clear and sunny days. So, the decision was made easily. We managed to book two seats on the Lion Air flight of March 29th from Jakarta to Ambon. The departure time is annoying. We depart at 01.30 am which means that we are already on the airport early in the evening, because the last airport shuttle bus leaves Bogor around six o’clock. The flight is only three hours and fifteen minutes but because of the time difference of two hours between Jakarta and Ambon, we arrive a quarter to seven in the morning on the cute little airport of Ambon. The flight was carried out by one of the brand new Boeing 737-900ER that are purchased by Lion Air. The leg space in this brand new aircraft is the worst we have ever seen so far. The Indonesian airlines have a very bad reputation. Most people know for example that the pride of Indonesia, Garuda Indonesia, is not allowed to fly anymore to European destination because of the bad maintenance of the airplanes. When you google on internet for safety information and travellers reviews of other Indonesian airlines, the tears appear in your eyes. The general impression is that you are lucky if your plane leaves, and that you are even luckier when the plane arrives at the destination without major problems. Of course, most of the stories are exaggerated. But if you take a look in the database of all worldwide airplane crashed of last decades, you don’t need to be a smart guy to see that Indonesian airlines are well represented in the list.

Waiting for the flight to Ambon on Jakarta Airport
In Ambon we check in, in the small family run “Avema Lestari” guesthouse. In this hotel we meet Kees and Lydi Heij, a Dutch couple from Rotterdam. Kees and Lydi lived in Ambon for four years, and helped to setup the Pattimura University of Ambon. Kees is an enthusiastic biologist who did an extensive research to one of the rarest birds that you can find in the world, the Moluccan Scrubfowl. This bird still lives in small populations on some of the Moluccan islands, including the remote island of Haruku. Attracted by the enthusiasm of Kees, we decide to go with him and his wife for one day and night to Haruku to see how the population of the Moluccan Scrubfowl is doing (see also the article: On the way with the Sparrow Doctor).

During the first days of our visit to the Moluccas, we get to know Ambon as a very friendly city. It is almost unbelievable that this town was the epic centre of the violent clashes between the Christian and Muslim population between 1999 and 2004. People who lived together peacefully for decades, became each others worst enemy over night, resulting in a huge number of casualties. According to researches, the Indonesian army played an important and very negative role in this conflict. During that time there were discussions going on in Indonesia, that the power of the army in the daily governance of the country was too big. The army did not function as a subordinate entity of the civil government, but was one of the most powerful political entities. In fact, the army ran the country. To show the importance of the army, they were benefited by an internal conflict. In that case they could interfere and show the people of Indonesia how important they are to keep the country united. For that reason they set alight the problems in the Moluccas and used the local Muslim and Christian population to reach their goals. The army supplied the fighting parties with arms and didn’t give the protection to the people in need. Even worse, they even send murder squads to the islands to deteriorate the conflict. At this moment it is peaceful again in the Moluccas and it seems that people are living restful together. Let’s hope that it will be forever.

In the shopping mall of Ambon we meet a group of lovely female students. Synthia and her friends Nonni, Kiki, Emeel and Phoeby are studying English and they got an assignment from their university to interview foreigners to practice their English. Like most people on Ambon, they are very friendly and even offered us to take us around the island to show us some of the sight. This was an offer we couldn’t refuse (see also the article: The girls from Ambon).

View on the Banda Islands from the plane

We are almost a week on Ambon when the day approaches that we take a flight to the nearby tropical islands of Banda. The Banda Islands is a group of picturesque islands that played an important role as spice islands during the colonial times. Nowadays, the islands attract a lot of travellers because of its superb snorkelling possibilities. It is quite difficult to get to the islands because they are only connected to Ambon by a weekly flight and a two-weekly boat. We managed to buy two tickets for the weekly Sunday flight with Merpati Airlines from Ambon to Bandanaira, the main town on the islands. On the evening before we left we were invited by the girls for a nice dinner at the home of one of the students. The next morning we got up at 03.15 am to go to the airport for the flight to the Banda Islands.

The propeller plane that will take us to the Banda Island is of the type: Casa 212. It can take twenty passengers, but the plane is only half full. It looks quite good maintained so we sit down unperturbed on one of the ramshackle seats of the plane. With a lot of noise it makes speed on the runway and some seconds later we leave Ambon. The flight takes us through the white cumuli above the Banda Sea and after less than an hour, the Banda Islands appear in the distance. The islands are so small, that a part of the runway is constructed in the sea. We circle around Guning Api (the Api volcano) and after that, the pilot puts down the airplane safely on the short runway. After we get off the plane, we immediately walk to the representative of Merpati Airlines to make a booking for the flight back to Ambon on next Sunday. But unfortunately, the seats are already booked. In reality, that is probably not the case, but for some reason Merpati does not want to sell all the seats in advance. It seems that you still have a good chance to get on the flight when you show up on the day of departure, but it is not sure. We do not want to take the risk of getting stuck on the islands for two weeks, so we decide to travel back to Ambon by Pelni Liner (state operated boat company with an extensive network of routes). The boat leaves Tuesday in the evening, which means that we only have two and a half days on these beautiful islands. We spent this time hiking on the main island and snorkelling at some of the beautiful spots in the area. We also visit the Merpati office once in a while to try again to get tickets for the plane of next Sunday, but none of our attempts are successful. It is now Tuesday in the afternoon and we are waiting on the terrace before our hotel room for the boat to arrive in the harbour of Bandanaira. The owner of the hotel tells us that we will know when the huge sea steamer arrives, because it will make known its arrival by ships horn. The ship is delayed for two and a half hours which means that we still have time for a cinnamon tea before we start the seven hours return journey to Ambon.


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