Touring the Moluccas

THEY MUST have had the Moluccas in mind when the first people sought the need for spice in their life. And this is not at all unthinkable, with seas voyaged and wars waged centuries ago in search of the elusive delectable spices once stumbled upon by the earliest “discoverers” of these parts of the world. DSC_0742 The things that the Moluccas or Spice Islands are known for can thus be summed up with all the five senses, with the sense of taste merely one of them. These parts of Indonesia offer a gift of adventure for those who seek it, and legends in the form of history and mystery for those who seek to discover new places. For the adventurous, the beaches of Ambon and Kei Islands. For the music lovers, Ambon City has produced many a gifted musicians and singers. In fact, it is common knowledge that Ambon residents are gifted with song. For explorers of the deep, snorkeling and dive sights are in resorts usually packaged together along with hotel offers. For the religious, Indonesia has a religious diversity as plural as their archipelagos.

VIEWS like this are plenty in the Spice Islands, if one knows where to look.

VIEWS like this are plenty in the Spice Islands, if one knows where to look.

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ONE of the islands at Banda Neira. The place boasts a secluded beach and dive and snorkeling sites.

ONE of the islands at Banda Neira. The place boasts a secluded beach and dive and snorkeling sites.

From Davao City, the journey to the Spice Islands is tedious, despite Mindanao and the Moluccas being practically neighbors in the hemispheres of the globe. Absent direct flights, one has to fly from Davao City to Manila, where one can catch a flight to Jakarta. Jakarta then connects to Ambon City’s Pattimura airport (named after the island’s hero), which then connects to a shorter flight to the Langgur Airport. The inexperienced would whine at the idea of a total of at least 15 hours in the air and the in-betweens at the airport. But the task of the traveler is to discover, and Indonesia’s Moluccas is an entire package, a gift if you must.

PORT for boat rides headed to Ora Beach

PORT for boat rides headed to Ora Beach

ORA Beach

ORA Beach

In Ambon City, Pak Frankie, our tour guide welcomes us with a smile on his face and a warm eagerness to show what the Moluccas has to offer. “We call this the city of music,” he says with an infectious smile, the tall guy who resembles former U.S. President Barack Obama hunched inside a van that picked up our delegation from the Pattimura Airport. “Pak,” is the local endearment close to our “kuya” or other honorifics such as “sir.” Frankie tells us of the history of Ambon. Pattimura, a former British soldier, decided to fight against the Dutch colonizers and seek independence for Ambon. Pattimura is the National Hero of Indonesia whose full name is Thomas Matulessy. But Indonesians fondly call him Pattimura, and one can easily spot a sense of pride that begins with their persistence for the local language while able to converse.

PAK Frankie welcoming us to the City of Music

PAK Frankie welcoming us to the City of Music

Frankie’s stories, even as they weaved from Bahasa Indonesia to English, were rich with history, filled with culture, and with a hint of health warnings (he was, apparently, a trained teacher in the medical arts). The Tour of Moluccas was organized as a familiarization tour in time for the Provincial Government of Maluku’s own ‘Tour de France,’ a major international cycling event anchoring on the success of other areas that held cycling tilts in their own areas. As such, the cyclists too hopped from one part of Maluku to another through regular ferries. During the race, cyclists negotiated winding terrains of various altitudes and difficulty levels, enjoying the sceneries offered by our next door neighbors a few time zones away. That said, the tour brought the country’s visitors another glimpse of Indonesia, aside from the popular spots such as, say, Bali or Bandung. Information on tour packages are easily available through the Ministry of Tourism, and the hotels usually offer package deals. Alongside advanced bookings of promo flights via Garuda, Indonesia’s flag carrier, and hotel reservations, a trip to the various islands of the Moluccas various destinations usually ranges P15,000 to P50,000 pax, depending on visitor preferences on hotels and other amenities. Lone travelers can look at traveling to the Moluccas as an alternative to, say, getting the latest gadget and find the ultimate “me time.” Group travelers, meanwhile, can get the most out of the experience, as the area is practically secluded to the buzz of too much tourism. This is perfect for those seeking a new experience.

TRAVELED with my trustee neck pillow Snurtle (half snake, half turtle) on this trip, and he had so much fun. He was quite a star on Facebook and has since gained a small following.

TRAVELED with my trustee neck pillow Snurtle (half snake, half turtle) on this trip, and he had so much fun. He was quite a star on Facebook and has since gained a small following.

Along with two other journalists from Malaysia, I was invited by tourism personnel to visit places such as Ora Beach, the Banda Islands, and Kei Islands. Aside from a sunrise welcoming our group to the Langgur Airport, one of my favorite memories of the Tour of the Moluccas was us sitting on the beach, the white sands listening to the whispers of the shore. We were comparing words in our own languages and were astonished at the similarities and differences. Ambon, for one, meant rain in one of my local languages. And sure enough it did drizzle a little when we landed. There we were, sitting under a hut on a beach, listening to songs by the Eraserheads, talking about bands such as KRU and the 90s MTV Asia, laughing about food preferences, and just waiting for the sun to set over shared meals of sweet potatoes and bananas in sambal dips. Terima kasih, Maluku. So long, Indonesia. You are treasured, and I will return one day.

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