Sunday, August 14, 2011

Banda - A Difficult Place To Leave


We love it here so much that we plan on staying for a while. Anima arrives just before the peak number of yachts. I think there were at least 25 boats here at one point. The numbers have dwindled ever since and we are some of the last to leave.

Banda scenes - nice huh?
Captain Rene decides that we need to spend some time doing boat jobs – they are always building up around us and we don't always get a chance to do them. Penny gets into cleaning – feeling and looking just like a proper crew!
Penny is making Anima shine!
She cleans our spray dodger clears, scrubs the cockpit until it shines and polishes the brass knobs inside!! Rene fixes the headsail sheet that broke on passage. Then he learns how to use my sewing machine and sews up the inflatable kayak we got in Darwin. The outer shell is really sun-damaged and requires a lot of work. He had to re-sew it twice as on the first inflation, it tore again! The kayak/canoe has it's own personality – thanks to the sewing repairs, it is leaky, lopsided and a bit funny-looking. We're happy with it though for the meantime until I work again and can earn enough to buy a hard plastic version. I got to bake bread, biscotti and Chihiro's travelling cake! I also finished sewing the Spinnaker sock (finally) and did plenty of handwashing (as usual!). Whilst also helping out Ren and Pen with their jobs, lots of tidying up and sorting out charts. Looking after a yacht is a full-time job!

So, Banda. It's a tiny group of islands in the middle of the Banda sea tortured with a violent past due to the spice – nutmeg which originates from here. The Dutch wanted to reap the benefits of nutmeg which used to fetch a high price due to its supposed health benefits of warding off the bubonic plague. Banda locals were slaughtered and enslaved as a result of this greed and it was only in the last 30 years that they have become independent again. Now it's a peaceful group of islands which still produce nutmeg and other spices and their associated products. We have become especially fond of nutmeg jam, Kenari nut slice and cinnamon cakes (rolled flat biscuit the locals call 'Ramadan cakes'). 
A local stall selling produce made from locally grown spices and nuts.
A local guide called Barkri took us on a tour of a small nutmeg plantation. He didn't have the best English so I just enjoyed walking around the farm and having a go at picking the ripe nutmegs. They have a special scoop-like bamboo tool for collecting the spice which, when opened from its shell is really beautiful. The nutmeg nut is surrounded by a rich, red lace of another spice they call Mace. 
Sam shows us how it's done.
Nutmeg freshly picked from the tree by yours truly :)
At the conclusion of the tour, we were fed a lovely sugar-fest of local treats but I was most interested in the big pile of fresh, ripe bananas! (I've totally overdosed on these since arriving in Indonesia by the way!).
Banana love xx
Rene was most into the impromptu game of soccer he and James (from Kelolo) joined with a bunch of local kids. He got plenty of laughs for his crazy foot tactics and silly acts.  
Can you spot James and Rene?
We'd been quoted that the tour was 50 000 Rupiah's each (just over $5AUD). We all dutifully paid over our cash at the farm but then at the end of the tour, back near the boats, Barkri wanted another fee – for him. We talked amongst ourselves and paid him about 20000Rp each. An amount he wasn't happy with. We weren't happy either! Us Australian yachties don't like tips and hidden fees!!
 
This became the common gripe of the rally's time here in Banda. Different yachts being quoted different amounts and then having to pay more upon the completion of the service. Rene and I decided to simply avoid all tours. It would have been interesting but we just can't fit it into our very tight cruising budget. We learnt that in Indonesia, it is really important to settle on the price before finalising the deal. Leaving things open leads to bad feelings when the price is higher than expected. Quite a few yachts were annoyed at the new fee of 100 000 that the harbour master issued to us as a clearance fee to depart here. We wonder how much of this fee goes to his own pocket? We were warned about a 300 000 clearance fee for Saumlaki that never happened, so we we take it philosophically.
This kind of small scale corruption is rife here. However, by all accounts it is a problem that needs to be tackled from the top down – normal people are just not paid enough, so that it is in most cases the way people are able to survive. According to the lonely planet, the former president Suharto embezzled 15 – 35 billion USD worth from Indonesia during his 30 year stint. People we have talked to are disgusted by the corruption and there seems to be a big groundswell against Suharto's friends in politics that could take shape over the next few years – they are prepared to fight for lasting change.
So. Bandaneira. This island is covered with cats, motorbikes and kids all wanting to practice their rote-learnt English introductions. A typical interaction is a child saying 'Hello Mr, my full name is...., my nickname is..., my call name is..., you can spell it...., my favourite colour, pet, sport, food is...., my parents names are... etc. etc.' with barely a breath between sentences! There are also plenty of bantam hens and roosters hanging about. Down one alleyway, Rene and I spotted a largish hen (they're all pretty scrawny) fending off an attack by a cat (equally scrawny) who wanted to eat the hen's chicks. We started trying to film the event and the owner of the house came out to see what we were doing. I gestured our intentions and they laughed before disappearing back inside their dark home (no one seems to use lights inside during daylight despite the houses being very dark). Only then did we hear the unmistakable sound of cats making love (not a very lovely sound!). Just beyond the bush we were standing at, there were two cats going for it! We felt horrible because it must have looked like we were filming cat porn to the owner – not our innocent chook vs. cat scenario!!  
Cats and bikes are common sights.
The entire population here is Muslim and their prayers are loudly broadcast many times throughout the day and sometimes all night. Because it's August, everyone is practicing Ramadan (a special annual religious event which involves fasting from all food and drink between dawn and dusk for a whole month). Ramadan is a bit like Christmas for Christians (minus all the consumerism) because it's a celebration. Every night there are people out on the street eating sweets and generally having fun. Home-made fire crackers go off almost constantly too. We discovered that the kids here are allowed to make and fire them during Ramadan (I think as a way to keep their minds off their stomachs). Because Bandaneira village is right opposite a huge volcano, the sound of the crackers reverberates loudly and sometimes sounds a little like gunfire. 
Ramadan fire crackers.
These crackers are not the only things burning – people burn their rubbish here and it's a very smoky environment. This wouldn't be so bad if they didn't burn everything – including plastics. The environment here is in danger if the locals don't figure out a way to stop pollution. The deep crystal clear water also contains plastic bag fish and other plastic junk, although it all gets swept away fairly quickly each tide (to Ambon!). There are programs afoot to educate the kids about rubbish and some of the yachties donated money towards getting some rubbish bins made here. We also met some awesome young people who are passionate about pre-emtively stopping over-fishing here and want to stop the corruption in government! Climate change/global warming isn't on the radar - with the current 'long term' plan being to build a garbage incinerator to power the town from, with a large chimney to keep the smoke away. I think they could do well building a geothermal plant off the volcano.

We went snorkelling a few times over a lava flow from Gunung Api's last eruption in 1988. The water is really clear which I find amazing considering the amount of rubbish and diesel that floats past in the harbour just a kilometre away. The corals growing on the lava flow were quite pretty but the best part was experiencing the water. Thanks to the active volcano, there are pockets of very warm, fresh water amongst the cold salt water. Visually, it looks like rippled glass or heat haze. I have set a personal goal to be able to dive down and swim around under the water rather than simply floating around at the top. So far I'm practicing getting the pressure in my ears to not hurt. As usual, Rene is like a seal in the water - he loved using Malonga's Hookah (battery operated air compressor) to dive down and stay down!
Rene snorkelling with Malonga's hookah
Volcano corals
Gunung Api is an active volcano that stands 666 metres tall (though the sign on top says 636 for some reason) and climbing it is one of the things to do while here. Penny climbed it before us with some other yachties and while they were sitting at the top having a snack, an earthquake rumbled and shook from deep within the earth! They climbed down quick-smart! I was in the internet cafe during the earthquake which mustn't have been very high on the scale as nothing broke and the volcano didn't erupt (thank God!). Local folklore is that the earthquakes or tremors felt here symbolise change in the weather. This did actually eventuate! The day after the ground shook, the weather was much warmer and sunnier for a couple of days. Coincidence?
One of the signs at the top!
The views are spectacular!
Rene and I managed to climb the volcano after many days of nearly making it but deciding not to. The climb was probably one of the most difficult I've ever done. The path leads straight up – nearly vertical – over scrambly, loose, falling rocks. It took me hours to climb to the peak as I had to basically crawl up using my hands to haul myself up and up and up.
Youngie came with us but powered on ahead somehow. We only caught up to him when he was on his way down! At the top, Rene set off some expired smoke flares hoping to cause some excitement to people down below.  
Rene on top of Gunung Api setting off his flares.
He rang our friends to tell them to look but they couldn't spot the orange smoke through the cloud-cover. The volcano is quite warm at the top – with smokey steam escaping through rocks and crevices. We ventured to the peak and peered over the edge. Surprisingly, there is an oasis inside the crater, filled with rainforest and small birds flitting about amongst the steam and smoke. 
The crater of Gunung Api
Sailbirds at the top of an active volcano!!
 We sat and had some trail-mix, feeling that sense of accomplishment you get after having scaled a mountain. Then we had a sneaky sinking feeling that perhaps we shouldn't be sitting here at the edge of an active volcano which, from memory, has quite a substantial overhang that perhaps we were actually perched upon! (which we were). The climb down consisted of sliding (almost like skiing on rocks, not snow) while trying not to fall over. I fell over at least a dozen times and have scratches, bruises and bumps to show for it. Rene and Youngie barely fell at all!

We're discovering that a place really opens up when we get to know some of the locals. For us here in Banda, this was facilitated through the captain and crew of Shady Lady. As I've mentioned previously, the anchorage here is a little difficult to negotiate alone due to the tricky reverse parking manouvre into tight spaces (many yachts don't reverse very well due to their prop walk - which basically means that they turn either to port or starboard rather than reversing in a straight line).  
Rene helps out Kelolo
As we arrived, we had help from a few yachties and Rene in turn helped out every boat that arrived after we did. He loves helping out and the crew of Shady Lady were most appreciative. Peter, Mark and Cathie from Shady Lady had sailed here from Ambon in pouring rain – tacking back and forth for 4 days in uncomfortable seas. They were very glad to have Rene helping out. Two days later, Rene helped out again – this time a large container ship was leaving the jetty (just 30 metres away) and its wake caused havoc amongst the yachts all tied together. Shady Lady was thrust up on the shore and she lost her VHF aerial in a tree. It took a few young men a while to free her and then more time to reposition her further away, in a safer spot. Then Rene dived under her and checked the hull for damage.  
Look how close the big ship is to the yachts!!
The crew of Shady Lady shouted us out to dinner at an amazing guest house called ABBAs. The d├ęcor was beautiful – lots of antiques, a waterfall, giant shells, nutmeg trees, lanterns and a white cockatoo! The food here is really amazing and we all ate very well that night! 
Dinner at ABBA's - AMAZING!
Cathie, Penny and Mark
The captain of Shady Lady is Peter Charles – a very experienced sailor who has for thirty-odd years, been coming here to Banda. He developed a friendship with the political leader of Bandaneira, Des Arwi and met a young man called Djufri at the age of 15. Peter brought goods here during his visits to help out the villagers and over the years has seen Djufri and maintained a friendship. 
Peter with Djufri

Peter with Djufri's photo at age 15
Djufri is a local teacher and guide who is very generous, intelligent and speaks great English. We visited his Muslim school one Sunday to give the students some gifts. The school is a simple room that is part of Djufri's house. His wife offered us Cinnamon tea and cinnamon cakes and we spoke to some of the students in a combination of English, mime and Bahasa Indonesia. The students are all very well behaved and gorgeous. Our gift of pens and pencils was issued out one by one to the eager students.  
Djufri distributing our gift of pens and pencils.
Cathie and Mark gave them jellybeans which they can of course not eat during the day during Ramadan. We were so impressed at the self-control of these kids. They all had a handfull of jelly beans which they just admired, smelt and swapped around. At nightfall, after their prayers, they would be allowed to eat the sweets. 
Swapping and comparing jellybeans
We had decided to give away our fibreglass dinghy to someone in Indonesia. It was useful to have a spare, but storing it was an issue. Every time a wave splooshed the starboard side, the dinghy (which was lashed outside) would go GAAAAADDUUUUOOOMPP!! and freak us all out. This continual action was damaging the fibreglass and also had worn away the paint on our hull! Djufri was so helpful and generous that we decided to give it to his family.  
Djufri and his sons row away in their new dinghy
Djufri's boys with their new boat.
In return, we were invited to dinner at his home one evening and were treated to his wife's amazing cooking. The best dish by far was a local speciality of eggplant covered with Kenari nut paste. YUM!  
Dinner at Djufri's
We were also able to fill a few jerry cans of water at his house for free as filling them up through the other options cost between 1500 to 20000 for 20 litres. Getting our tanks filled became a personal challenge for Rene who wanted to get the best possible price (ie. Free). We managed to get half a dozen jerry cans through Peter Charles who was staying in one of the rooms at the hotel we are tied up to. Then, once all but 3 yachts had left here, Rene negotiated with the harbourmaster to fill 16 jerry cans from the port's water supply for 60000Rp as a big ship was also filling up. Because the local water here is not drinking standard, I treated each of our 400 litre tanks. In one I used bleach (20ml for 400 litres) while in the other I tried out a special water purification product we bought in Darwin called 'Micropur' by the company 'Katadyn'. The water treated with bleach tastes a bit like tap water from any Australian captital city while the water treated with Micropur is like a public swimming pool that has just been chlorinated! It's un-drinkable! We think it will settle down after 4 days and become easier to stomach. I still wish we'd been able to afford a water maker (like so many other cruisers have nowdays) but they start at 2K just to buy, let alone install. We were impressed by one yacht, Just Magic, who have only used 100 litres since Darwin! They gave us some tips on how to save water and we've implemented some of them such as washing our dishes in boiled sea water and using a spray bottle of fresh water to rinse our faces of salt water. We keep hoping it will rain but so far there has not been a decent downpour to catch more than half a bucket of water.

Another local we've befriended is Mita, Des Arwi's granddaughter. Mita is bilingual and so we have been able to chat to her at length. She is a very motivated woman who is starting up an art school here in Banda among other things! I donated a bag of art supplies I don't use to her school. I also gave away an antique alphabet book to Jena, a local whose restaurant we've eaten at regularly for only 35000 each (about $3.70). Her restaurant is a room in her house, complete with her children walking past on their way to the mosque, cats jumping on our chairs to try and eat with us and home-style cooking that is so tasty (her mango juice is the bomb!). Jena taught herself English from a book someone once gave her and so I decided to continue her education and her children's with this old book that I've held onto and never used. I keep realising how little of the stuff we have, we actually need. It is so refreshing to give gifts to people who actually need them.

Over to Penny: ' I visited the local museum with Morshe (apologies the misspelling). We had to walk up the street to a private residence and wake up a sleeping lady named Ven who had the key. Although some of the artefacts in the museum were interesting, there was very little information about the objects and many of the objects were mislabelled. There were some fascinating 30cm high monkey statues made from volcanic rock sitting behind a large pot, there was no information about them and we were told they were Portuguese (which we thought was inaccurate). I wanted it as a garden gnome, but the museum wouldn't sell it. (Why can't people be corrupt when we want them to be?) The other object that interested us was a small round table that had a map and some cryptic Dutch writing etched into it. Again, there was no information about the table at all.

It is really sad to see how the heritage is not well preserved. Inside the main room of the four room museum, there is a hand-blown (possibly Venetian) glass chandelier, which is a bit broken and appears not to have been dusted in years. Many pieces of crockery are just stacked haphazardly in cupboards without any labels so you can't really see nor read what they are. On opening the drawers of the antique furniture, we were dismayed to find ice-cream sticks and candy wrappers. We took them out and handed them to the man who was in the museum with us (presumably a member of Feni's family), he simply put them back in the drawer. Some paintings and furniture had yellow paint on them from when the internal museum walls were repainted but no-one bothered to move the objects. We took umbrage to the request for a compulsory donation of 20 000Rp per person for visiting a museum when the money people are paying does not appear to go to maintaining it properly.' 
A Banda antique - opium jar?
Back to Cerae: Penny donated some ancient crockery she found on a beach nearby to the museum. We had heard good reports from other yachties that the local laundry service was worth it – so we gathered together a large garbage bag full of our sheets, towels and clothes and tried our hand at bargaining. My offer was a bag full of children's clothes and shoes for the washing. Getting this concept through took some time and negotiation and it still cost me 80 000 on top of the trade which I think was a mistake on my part. The laundry was returned the next day neatly folded but smelling bad and not entirely clean. I wanted to complain and have my sheet re-washed but realised that they would use the same detergent and the sheets would still stink so I didn't bother. I've been washing our laundry by hand again since then and not complaining so loudly.

There was a real party atmosphere here when all the yachts were tied up so closely together. Every night became a late one and some were more crazy than others.  
Jamming with some locals
We've met some nice folk here (both locals and cruisers) and have had a ball. I'm suffering for it now though with a headcold that I've coined as 'The Banda Bug' as it seems to be knocking out everyone! Nothing too serious though but it has waylaid our departure from this amazing spot.
Life's pretty simple out here :)
We plan on leaving tomorrow (health permitting), off the sea for a few more days to the Wakatobi island group on the south of Sulawesi. We could probably stay here another week but it's time to move on.

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