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The Spice Islands
Kei Islands (Indonesia) to Bangkok (Thailand), June 2012

The days that a Pelni ships visits a harbour of an isolated island, are different than a regular day. Pelni ships do not only reunite family members, but they are also used to supply merchandise for shops in the most remote parts of Indonesia. We are leaving the Kai-islands on Pelni’s K.M. Ciremai, and we are sharing the harbour of Tual with thousands of others. For the eleven hour journey to the Banda islands we have booked a first class cabin, so we don’t have to hurry to get on board to secure a good place on the deck. The large majority of the passengers are not in this luxurious position. As soon as the Ciremai moors, they push each other aside to be the first to board the ship. Many will have to stay on the deck for days, while they cover large distances. Spending five days on board to visit a grandmother in Jakarta is quite normal. By conquering a better spot on the deck, their journey will be much more comfortable. With a first class ticket in hand, we are sure to have an assigned cabin with two beds. There is no need for hurrying, so we have enough time to look at everything that is happening in the harbour. Refrigerators are unloaded by hand, as well as bulk packages of instant noodles and large quantities of soft drinks. Passengers from Papua have already spent a few days on board and they take the opportunity to make a short stroll on land. The area surrounding the harbour is filled with street stalls selling snacks. A mooring Pelni ship is a attraction on its own in this parts of Indonesia.

Posing in front of a beautiful sunset on the Kei Islands
We have been travelling first class before (see also Cruising in Indonesia) and also this Pelni journey is very comfortable; a perfect way to round up our visit to the Kai-islands and a good way to start our trip to the Banda islands. After eleven hours we arrive in Bandaneira, the main town of the Banda archipelago. The Banda-islands have great historical relevance, as these were once the only islands where nutmeg grew. This expensive spice lured Europeans to these isolated islands. In the end, the Dutch brutally obtained the monopoly for trading nutmeg. Almost all Bandanese natives were killed, only to be replaced by more cooperative Javanese slaves. Luckily for us, the Dutch are nowadays as welcome as everybody to visit these islands. With colonial buildings and canons lining the streets of Bandaneira, this is an atmospheric town to visit if you are interested in history. Colourful coral gardens surround the islands and the seas are full with a huge variety of exotic fish. Banda is certainly one of the snorkeler’s paradises of Indonesia and with only a few tourists that visit these places, you don’t have to share these snorkel spots with many others. The truly active visitors can also climb Gunung Api. This 666 metres high volcano is only a short boat ride away from Bandaneira and can be climbed in approximately two hours. The climb isn’t very easy, but in the end you are rewarded with an amazing view over the Banda islands and a peek into the crater. Unfortunately, we had our active mood on the wrong day, which meant that we saw more clouds than views.

We visited Banda in the rainy season, which wasn’t a big problem for us. The main disadvantage is that some of the more spectacular snorkelling spots are off limits because of the high waves. Other visitors with tighter travel schedules had some troubles getting out of Banda, because they counted on one of the three weekly flights from Banda to Ambon. Because only small propeller planes are used, bad weather conditions in Ambon and/or Banda can cause flight cancelations. Some people had to stay four extra days on these islands before they could leave. On the other hand, the cloudy skies in the rainy season provide some extra shade that is very welcome when strolling around. Banda Besar (Big Banda Island) is especially attractive for walking trips. People in the small villages are waving fanatically and the centuries old nutmeg plantations are gorgeous. (see also the foto impression about Banda). We spent two weeks on the Banda islands and we weren’t bored at all. Every day ended with a culinary feast in the Mutiara Guesthouse, where Dilla prepared the best fresh tuna that we have ever tasted. Pumpkin soup, aubergine with almond sauce, avocado shakes and all the other dishes that we tried were carefully prepared with local, fresh spices. Highly recommended!

Our Ambonese friends

After fourteen days it is time to leave Banda and also this time we take the Ciremai to Ambon. This eight hour trip is by day, so we have chosen for the economy class. We can get a seat in the cafeteria and the views when we leave the Banda archipelago are splendid. Local passengers always like to practise their English with foreigners, so spending some time in the cafeteria is a great way to meet new people. Because time seems to fly when you are on a Pelni ship, the trip to Ambon is a very relaxed one. We always like to come back to Ambon. People are very friendly and because we have been here before, we know several people with who we like to spend some days. This time, we only stay five days and saying goodbye is always difficult. We are going to miss our friends again and hope to meet them another time.

From Ambon we fly via Makassar to Bali, where we stay in Kuta. In only half a day flying, we go from a place where tourists are still a rarity to the Costa Brava from Indonesia. Kuta is within walking distance from the airport and because we are only staying here a few days before we fly to Bangkok, this is the most convenient option. However, the difference between the Moluccas and Kuta is enormous. Kuta has all the facilities that a modern traveller may wish, but the warmth of the Indonesians that we experience elsewhere is more difficult to find. We are surrounded by drunk Englishmen, sexy Russians and loud Dutchmen while the locals are looking at every foreigner as if they are a walking ATM. Spending a few days in Kuta is an excellent way to appreciate places off the tourist radar even more. However, it’s a world class people-watching destination and we don’t mind gossiping for a few days, while we can drink a nice cup of coffee.

At the moment we are in Bangkok, where we are waiting for the arrival of Jorn and Robin. In the beginning of next month, they will come from the Netherlands to join us for six weeks. This son of friends of ours and his buddy want to experience life as a backpacker and we are looking forward to spend some time with them. We will combine a week in Bangkok with a five week visit to the always tropical Philippines. Our visa is already arranged, so the adventure can start!


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