Posted: 19th August 2012.
It’s 2030 and I’m 1.5 hours into the first watch of the night. I had just the most amazing start to the watch, the sky was dark, no moon but heaps of stars and a few fluffy white clouds. Not much sea, maybe 1m and only 12 knots of wind but Scally is still averaging between 7-8 knots on a beam reach under screecher and reefed main. What was truly amazing was the colour of the sea, it seemed to be a milky white and a little luminous, I’ve done a few sea miles but never seen anything like it, don’t know what caused it and can’t even think of any explanation to make up. Glor reckons it could have been from underwater volcanic activity.
We left Banda first light this morning on a 380nm passage across the Banda Sea to the Wakatobi group of island. According to Lonely Planet, Jacques Cousteau described the islands as “possibly the finest diving in the world”, let’s hope he’s correct.
Banda, the most amazing location, if you ever get the opportunity for an off-the-wall travel experience, go there. Just the most magic location with a volcano backdrop guarded by a Dutch fort built in 1611.
The town; no cars, thousands of small motorbikes all purchased on tick from a local Chinese entrepreneur, hundreds of market stalls, some an extension of a house front room others just a table, the street just wide enough for a motorbike to push past, hint of spice mixed with fish aroma, the noise of bargaining mixed with laughter gets drowned by chanting from the mosques 5 times a day. It’s old and not clean but we like it, even the chanting (some say it’s preferable to my singing).
The people; to us westerners they may at first look like apprentice bomb makers but they’re a warm friendly bunch, always smiling, wanting to help despite having been severely abused over the last 400 years by at least three European nations but mainly the Dutch. The kids are just beautiful; four year olds rolling a tyre down the main street controlled by a stick and emulating the bikes by shouting beep to make sure you know he’s there, five year olds firing off bangers in a steel tube, find it hilarious when they makes you jump.
The food; just great I think we revisited one café six times, I wish I could send a picture of the kitchen, maybe when we next get internet.
We did the trip across the bay to a neighbouring island on a local canoe with a single cylinder diesel and walked up to a plateau where the nutmeg plantation grew. Watched them harvest the nuts, break them open with a machete to expose the redish mace that surrounds the actual nutmeg core nut. The entire nut is used, the outer flesh for jams, the mace sold to CocaCola for Coke and the nutmeg nut dried and sold as spice. The Dutch worked out that the trees are more productive if grown in shade so huge Almond trees were planted now towering over the whole plantation. Clove and Cinnamon trees are interspersed with the Nutmeg trees providing a lucrative trade for the locals. We walked back down through the village, side stepping the drying spices laid out on squares of tarpaulin. Stopped at a little guesthouse for cinnamon tea and biscuits plus our first clove fag, very relaxing.
Snorkelling deserves a mention. Lava from the 1998 eruption flows directly into the sea and coral seems to really like attaching itself to it. We’re not sure what the artery looking creatures are but the bright colours are spectacular, one wall was plastered in them, best we’ve seen anywhere.
So we’re now gratified owners of one cannon, about 10 inches long. Abba, the proud proprietor of ‘The Matiara’ guesthouse and Banda’s answer to Arthur Daley, managed to put one over on Scally’s best negotiator. Sold as a true relic from the sixteenth century it seemed like a bargain once I’d done the bartering bit, tactically swapping currencies a few times to add to the confusion, not so smart on my part as one of Abba’s multiple businesses handles currency exchange. Anyway, despite Colin’s numerous observations of simular relics around town I still don’t believe its mass produced. The only reservation we do have is; does it count as a firearm punishable with a life sentence over here?
For us Banda lived up to all our expectations, great to visit an island I read about 12 years ago and find it’s still recognisable from descriptions of the place 400 years previous.
And the band plays on. Despite wearing holes in the end of my left hand fingers through pressing the strings harder in an attempt to compensate for the poor chords, we nearly have The Pogues ‘Dirty old town’ off-pat and are now starting on David Grays’ ‘Repo man’.
Paul & Glor
04 59’47.56 S, 127 38’17.97 E
12-08-19 03:20:19 +0900 +0000