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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Discovering the Remote Islands of Indonesia - Page 3

Written by Roger Marks
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Banda Islands a/k/a the Spice Islands


We entered into the Banda Caldera in the early morning before breakfast, and everyone immediately noticed how lush and green the islands were. The Banda Islands, also known as the Spice Islands, are the source of two lucrative spices, nutmeg and mace. Our ship was escorted in to the wharf by one of the dragon boats. It was interesting to see (and hear) that the paddling cadence by the local inhabitants was maintained by bronze gongs rather than the more familiar leather-covered drums. It is very melodious and pleasant. We were then welcomed to the historic old town of Banda Neira by a troupe of beautiful young ladies performing a dance, accompanied by the ever-present gongs, on the wharf alongside our ship.


The morning was spent exploring this very photogenic colonial town. The ship’s passengers were split into groups to walk with local guides. It was easy to discern that this place was quite resplendent in centuries past but many of the beautiful buildings are now in disrepair and crumbling abandonment. The locals probably don’t have much desire to maintain and utilize buildings that hold such bad memories of the violent and oppressive regime that once controlled the lucrative spice trade in nutmeg and mace.


We visited the old Dutch Protestant Church, the Government House, the ruins of Fort Nassau down by the waterfront, Fort Belgica high on the hill overlooking the harbor, and the Banda museum.


For many of us, the highlight was walking into a nutmeg grove and seeing the attractive trees loaded with nutmeg fruits ready for harvest. There was a time that the nutmeg tree did not exist anywhere else in the world except for Banda. In the mid-1600s, the Dutch were triumphant and dominated the production and traffic in nutmeg. Their monopoly lasted for nearly two centuries. It is almost inconceivable to us now that the control of this spice trade led to warfare, international maneuvering, political intrigue, murder, treachery and vast fortunes made and lost over several centuries. But consider the fact that before the age of refrigeration and hygienic techniques of canning and pickling foods, spices were necessary to make foods palatable and safe to ingest. The spices were valued for their preservative qualities, used in some religious rituals and served as important medicines against diseases such as the bubonic plague.


In the afternoon, we snorkeled among coral gardens. We enjoyed crystal clear water as we swam along the slope of the drop-off. My underwater camera endured a heavy workout given the abundance of colorful corals and vast numbers of tropical fish.


Triton Bay


We set sail later that afternoon headed for Triton Bay, in West Papua. Papua is the largest province of Indonesia. Geographically it comprises the western half of the island of New Guinea. This area was once known as West Irian Jaya until it was renamed in 2007. Marine biologists have concluded that Triton Bay contains more fish and coral species than anywhere else in the world. The area was not scientifically investigated until 2006 where 14 new species of fish were discovered and 330 species of reef fish were found on one dive site alone.


In the morning there were various presentations by guest lecturers; however we took advantage of the time to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast. Triton Bay is a stunning landscape filled with towering limestone pillars and karst cliffs. The jungle-clad mountains are home to a wide variety of birdlife. From the ship, we took Zodiacs and snaked our way through the many small passages amongst the beautiful seascape. Around every turn, another incredible vista was to be seen. We saw a couple of families living along the coast in very primitive houses, with fish as their primary food source. All of the Zodiacs ended up on a small beach where, as a complete surprise to the passengers, cocktails and appetizers were served by ship staff. This was a nice touch to the end of a very scenic day.


Kajumera Bay


We disembarked at 6:00am on a Zodiac cruise around Kajumera Bay. We were searching for wildlife and photo opportunities. No other expedition ship has ever explored the waters of this beautiful bay/island. We cruised alongside the limestone cliffs and thick tropical forest hugging the shore. While we saw some birdlife, we also did an exploratory snorkeling expedition. While visibility in the water was not at its best, that did not stop us from discovering a very beautiful little reef garden where jewel-like fish hovered among the branches and crenellations of a wonderful variety of colorful corals.


Late morning we departed for the Asmat tribe, spending the day at sea. We saw a very spell-binding presentation by Dr. Blair on headhunters, cannibals and Michael Rockefeller. His comments were a sobering recognition that not long ago, the tribe we were to visit over the next couple of days engaged in cannibalism and is presumed to be the tribe that engaged in the disappearance and cannibalism of Michael Rockefeller in 1961, who was in the region collecting tribal art and happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.


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Last modified on Friday, 02 September 2016

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