I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Spice Islands

Picture the Spice Islands. Does it conjure up images of green mountains shooting up straight out of the deep blue, lush foliage clinging to the hillside, small huts lining the beach and a glassy calm anchorage beneath a volcano? Well, it should.

Banda, perhaps better known as the Spice Islands, are a small group of islands in the middle of the Banda sea, in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago. Things started to go poorly for the Bandanese when Europeans arrived in the early 1500's, first the Portuguese and then the Dutch. These islands are one of the few places in the world where nutmeg grows and were highly prized colonies.

It is easy to imagine Banda as a sixteenth century colonial town, and the remnants can still be seen today in the Dutch fortress which is still standing, in the sprawling governor's mansion and a few European looking hotels. The locals do not seem to hold it against the westerners who visit that their culture was all but destroyed by the Dutch who massacred the Bandanese in 1621 when they refused to give the Dutch a monopoly on the spice trade. The English had dug in on nearby islands and were profiting so richly from the nutmeg trade that the Dutch finally traded the English the tiny, obscure island of Run for the island of New Amsterdam, today known as Manhattan. The Dutch gained a monopoly on the spice trade and we got what is now possibly the most expensive real estate in the world. Funny how little quirks in history can change the face of the world. And it all happened right here -- out in the middle of nowhere -- in the Spice Islands.

The history of Banda is fascinating. But in all honesty I have been too busy touring small villages, diving, hiking up a massive volcano and enjoying ridiculously cheap Bintangs to brush up on my Dutch history, let alone visit the fortress. We arrived here after a quick two day passage that was without incident save the fact that Kyle was incredibly sick the whole time... poor guy is a trooper! But he cheered right up as we med-moored in the deep, flat calm harbor that is created by three "Banda" islands, one of which is a 666 meter volcano. Yes, we are anchored right under a volcano (awesome).

After checking in and getting the lines secured, we were whisked away on our first tour by Andy, who took us on his "Bok-Bok" boat (traditional Indonesian motor boat) to a village on the island of Banda Besar. We toured a nutmeg plantation, which is also filled with almond trees because they provide shade for the nutmeg trees to grow, and invited into a home-stay hotel for tea and cookies. Although it was Ramadan and the locals did not partake, they served us cinnamon tea and nutmeg coffee with almond cookies.

Banda has a majority Muslim population and it has been interesting being here during and through the end of Ramadan. Muslims fast from sun up to sun down for a month, not even drinking water during the day. They made me feel like a glutton. Regardless, everybody has been very kind in accommodating us -- feeding us while they fast and serving us beer even though they scorn drinking. I felt a bit awkward the first day this happened but quickly got over it, as there is nothing better than a cold Bintang after a day of diving. Fortunately Ramadan was declared over last night, and all night the call to prayer blasted over the loud speakers, fireworks were shot off and the whole city partied. Now I don't have to feel so guilty about eating lunch.

DIVING. Yes, the diving here is amazing. Yesterday I went on two dives with a local dive company and was thoroughly impressed. On our first dive my guide showed me an electric clam, a baby scorpion fish (which looked like a small rock until he poked it and it moved), massive sponges 2 x 2 meters, fans 3 meters long and all sorts of other cool stuff. I was just stoked to be back in the water but the amazing coral on top of it was a plus.

On our second dive I got up close and personal with a full grown scorpion fish. Scorpion fish look like the rocks of their surroundings, that is to say they are very well camouflaged. Since the rocks in this area are covered with pink and purple sponges, this guy was pink and purple, grey and brown. I could see the vicious spines on his back that can kill a human (if stepped on), although I do not think I would have spotted him had he not been pointed out to me. Soon after that we came across a lion fish hanging out with a cuddle fish, which looks kind of like a cross between a octopus and a squid. Cool.

By the end of the dive I had a huge smile plastered on my face -- so unbelievably stoked. I was ready to go again today, but a few of us made plans to hike the volcano in the morning, and I opted for the hike, although I questioned my decision as we clambered up 666 meters of steep, straight up, roughly hewn path through the jungle. After two hours of hiking we finally made it to the top, only slightly worse for wear (ha).

Being at the top of a volcano is eerie, especially one that is not dormant. Although it was windy and cool, the ground was hot with geo-thermal activity and I swear I could feel the ground rumbling (could have been my stomach though). The views from the top were stunning. I could see the anchorage way down below us, the surrounding mountain tops shrouded in clouds and the outlines of the reefs underneath the deep blue.

After a bite of chocolate and an orange, Kyle and I made our descent, with me sliding on my bum most of the way down. This trail had no switchbacks -- it was straight climbing up (and sliding down) lava flows. Just a bit gnarly. We made it back to the boat and after lunch and a quick rest we went for a nice little snorkel at the base of a lava flow in the outer bay and hung out with the fishies and the corals and, as you might be able to tell, are having a hell of a time.
At 8/8/2013 11:43 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 04°31.43'S 129°53.83'E

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