Thursday, August 8, 2013

Banda Islands, Indonesia

The seas were a bit lumpy for our passage from Saumlaki to the Banda Islands but, other than that, we had near-perfect conditions. We covered the slightly more than 180 miles in around 30 hours which was no speed record but certainly well within our expectations. As usual for being this close to the equator (we're at 4 degrees South or about 270 miles south of the equator), the weather is hot and humid, the skies are frequently filled with squall-producing rain. The Banda Islands rise from the very deep ocean floor almost straight up and the steep sides of the still active volcano makes finding a place to drop the anchor a challenge. Everything is covered in thick, dark green tropical vegetation and groves of bananas, papaya, breadfruit, almonds and, of course, nutmeg, cover the six-island group.

There were 5 boats in our 14-boat fleet already here when we pulled into the harbor and our friends on Equanimity helped us Med-moor to the hotel's wharf. Rutea's anchor is some 300 feet out in the channel in over 125 feet of water and her stern sits just a few feet from the shore but still in 25 feet of water. Two thick dock lines run to shore, one tied to a stout tree but both have frisbees attached to them that I converted into rat guards. A representative from Sail Indonesia was on hand to welcome us and someone else took care of the clearing in process.

The town itself is small and busy with narrow streets that are swarmed by people riding motor scooters. Many of the buildings reflect the architecture from when the Dutch took over the islands and dominated the spice trade in the early 17th century. Typical of many Western countries at that time, the Dutch took whatever they wanted while often putting the indigenous people into near slavery. At one point the Indonesian people revolted against their Dutch occupiers and as punishment, the local head of the Dutch East India Company ordered a massacre of thousands of Bandanese. He hired Japanaese samurai to execute the 40 chiefs publicly and this was recently confirmed by a PhD candidate who was researching the islands and found records that the Dutch had kept. In 2002, a monument was erected in memorial to those who were killed back then - over 400 years ago.

Last night was the end of Ramadan and it was the first time any of us had been in a predominantly Muslim country for the end of the month-long fasting ritual. The skies were filled with fireworks and firecrackers made the whole area sound like a war zone. On a normal day, the muezzin - call to prayer - happens five times a day: Recordings of chanting blaring out over massive speakers that can be heard from everywhere in the town. Since today was special, the recordings started their blaring at 0430 instead of the normal 0500 and they went nonstop until 0730 - it sounds like their speakers are in Rutea's cockpit. Today, everything is shut down and its similar to Christmas in the West - families get together, exchange small gifts and eat traditional foods. We walked through town to find many people out on the streets, all wearing fine new clothing. Children walking towards us would stop us and press the backs of our hands to their foreheads. Our reply was to then touch our heart. It was an extraordinary experience.

Our schedule has us leaving Banda on Saturday and heading some 400 miles west to the island of Wangiwangi where Jacques Cousteau once said that the area had the best diving in the world. The forecast is for light winds which will probably make it a comfortable ride but bad because it uses our precious diesel. Diesel here is called Solar and is hard to find - when it is found, its often contaminated.

Despite the lack of diesel fuel and the island's troubling past with the Dutch, the people here are delightful and the area is gorgeous. We went snorkeling expedition this afternoon at a spot not far from where Rutea is tied up and we were all pleased to find world-class snorkeling. After some of the over-the-top snorkeling we've done in the South Pacific, we can be pretty critical of the underwater landscape. This place is fantastic. Too bad we don't have decent internet access so I can post some photos. They're unbelievable.
At 8/6/2013 10:01 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 04°31.43'S 129°53.83'E

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