Banda Expedition : A journey to the real "Spice Island"
When I first heard about Banda Neira, there was just something that feels right about this. I didn't really know where is it, or what is in there, let alone how to get there.
Until we were talking with Tirta from Tripooke to do a collaboration project to this archipelago.
During the time before our trip started, I began to do a little research on this area. It happens to be one of the first kind of modern civilizations in Indonesia (possibly in South East Asia). This place is so rich with history and natural resources. The Westerners tried to reach this island hundreds of years ago to get Nutmegs. A type of spice that could be used for food, medicine and many other things. The price for Nutmegs during colonialism era was 30 times higher than gold. The first westerners to arrived was the Portugese by the help from some Malay traders, who has been selling spices to Europe before the westerners along with the Chinese. However, the Dutch and the British were the ones to gained control for a long time in this Archipelago. Even the Dutch traded what is now known as New York for Rhun Island (an island in the archipelago). So there were so many things going on in this area for hundreds of years. There was even 1 documentary movie in the theatre just before I departed on this trip. So the hype must be real.
Early October 2017, I finally boarded a midnight flight to Ambon, from where we will take a 6 hours boat ride to Banda Naira. It wasn't an easy ride. It was a speed boat with AC, but honestly everything was quite limited and not exactly comfortable. And 6 hours felt like forever.
Eventually we arrived at around 4pm, the first impression was that this island is very modern and civilized despite how remote the location is. Do not expect some fancy cars or big city however. What I mean by modern is how it just feels like a little town in Java or Bali. The island itself is fairly small so we can basically walk around get almost anywhere. We had 5 mins walk to our hotel which is run by a local family. It is actually an old Dutch Building that has been renovated into a hotel.
Despite lack of sleep and exhausted after a long journey, we cannot be just sitting around. So we decided to take a little walk to Belgica Fort. The biggest fort here in Banda. It was a Dutch fortress located right behind our hotel. The vibe of the entire island is just so laid back. Even just after a few hours here we can tell how laid back and friendly everyone are in this island. So , we entered the fort, and it really felt like a scene in Assassin Creed. We climbed up to on of the watchtowers and enjoying the beautiful sunset. At night, the hotel prepared a dinner for us, and guess what, everything are cooked with spices. It was a proper welcome to the spice Island.
Most of our time there were being spent island hoping, and snorkeling. Since the archipelago is made out of 14 islands. Each of them are about 10 - 60 mins away from each other. It is probably the best underwater scenery I've seen so far (note : I haven't been to Raja Ampat at this point). I think the fact that we were there in October also made this particular experience much better. October - December are said to be the best time to visit East Indonesia for a perfect underwater condition. The water was really clear, and the marine life are just so diverse and colorful. We have seen a bunch of weird fishes, octopus, clown fish, sea snake, turtles, and just some bizzare looking creatures that we don't even know what they are. One location that stood out for me in particular is Hatta Island. It has a very colorful corals, and the most clear water. the seacliff is just so spectacular with so many fishes around. And you don't even need to take a boat to get to the best spot. It is right at the beach. So just gear on and swim. How cool is that?! There are some little bungalows by the beach where we can spend our day in. Enjoying some nice coffee and some foods. It is just the best.
During our time island hoping there were some interesting scene going on. We saw some dolphins, and also some Whales!!! I'm not sure what kind of whales were they, but they were huge. I managed to captured an image of one of the whales on our way to Hatta. And it was just mind blowing. Never thought we were about to see some whales there.
Apart from our time in the sea, on the land we have had some history lessons from some local elders. They are just so passionate about the history of their area. So many dutch and british buildings are being left untouched and unmaintained here (which is sad). Most of the were built to support the Nutmeg and other spices plantations. We talked to one of the locals in Banda Besar, and he showed us his findings during his time there. He has found some very interesting treasure here. He showed us a cannon in one of the old fortress and also some 1700s VOC coins. I think this is the first time I've seen something that old. It just shows the historical importance of this area. I think the government (and the world) need to show more care to these kind of places.
During our last day there, was actually the start of "Pesta Rakyat Banda" (they simply called it Banda Festival). During that time, most of the old historical buildings which are not normally open for public were open for public. They decorated the island with photographs and arts made by Bandanese artists. They also put stories on the walls of the buildings about the local folklores and history. Such a nice day to hang out in Banda.
5 days were done. We had some of the greatest time in Banda. I think it is one of the off beaten path destinations that deserve more attentions from travelers. Despite how difficult it is to get there, the beauty of the islands and the hospitality of the people, made the journey worth taking. And I think it is now my favorite place in Indonesia.