[OcelotNews] Ocelotians still playing in the Spice Islands

KD7NDG at Winlink.org KD7NDG at Winlink.org
Tue Feb 17 17:25:00 PST 2015

Dear Friends & Family,      18 February 2015  Banda Islands

We had planned to leave Banda on Monday to continue east towards the coast of Papua, but there's a big cyclone swirling high winds & rain all the way up here (about 200 miles north) so we've decided to wait it out for a better weather window.  Thank goodness we have the luxury of time to do so, as we're still on our initial 60 day entry visa, with no need to see immigration officials for another 4 weeks.

We've been loving our time here in the heart of the Spice Islands.  The old Dutch town of Banda Neira is clean & shady, with small motor scooter sized concrete walkways over & around the hills.  Some of the old homes have been renovated, & one such guest house, Mutiara II, owned by a pearl & nutmeg trader named Abba, has become our home away from home when we're ashore.  Abba has arranged day tours for us, cooking class, massages, films on Banda, & even an excursion into the dark streets to hunt the elusive couscous, a small arboreal, nocturnal marsupial with huge round eyes, soft gray or beige fur and a long prehensile tail.

We've been cruising with Per Ardua, a 40' ferro-cement cutter from NZ with Pete & Meillia & their 3 young kids on board, & we've had our friend Denise & her daughter Hannah on board since Ambon.  Our first tour took all of us around to the protected NE side of Banda Besar (big Banda island, just south of our anchorage) for snorkeling.  The water was clear, free of stingers, & alive with clouds of triggerfish & angelfish.  The corals were adorned with yellow & purple tunicates.  We've also snorkeled the base of the lava flows where life regenerated much faster than on land after the 1989 eruption. 

The Banda Islands are the original Spice Islands, where nutmeg & cloves originated.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) claimed a world monopoly until seedlings were smuggled out by the British.  The profits from the spice trade were huge, & the VOC ruled with a heavy iron fist.  For history buffs, the book Nathaniel's Nutmeg is a good recounting of the treachery, greed, heroism, & brutality that is the history of the Spice Islands.

We had a long spice tour, also to Banda Besar, where we walked the narrow streets of the village of Lonthoir, past their spirit cave & the 55' (17m) kora-kora war canoes, brightly painted in symbolic colors.  We climbed steps built in the 17th century to a hilltop nutmeg plantation.  Here the slender nutmeg trees flourish under the shade of behemoth kenari (tropical almond) trees with their buttressed roots, towering trunks & spreading foliage.  Abba asked a local plantation owner to show how they harvest with a woven picking basket to pluck the ripe fruit.  We tasted the sour nutmeg flesh, & saw the brilliant red mace veins that surround the nutmeg shell.  We watched school kids use long bamboo pincers to pick fallen nutmegs and kenari from the leaf littered forest floor, to take home in woven baskets anything of commercial value.  After touring one of the old Dutch forts, we ended the morning with cinnamon tea, fresh donuts & savory fritters at the resort home of an original Dutch family who had suffered grievously in the Troubles just 15 years ago.

The staff at Mutiara gave a cooking class for Sue, Denise & Meillia, & although Abba's wife wasn't there to really give direction, Denise speaks Bahasa & was able to translate & ask questions as the cooks ground kenari nuts, fried eggplant, & chopped pungent ingredients together.  A feast followed.  It started with a pumpkin soup, rich with fragrant nutmeg & chilies, then moved on to the tantalizing main courses: a huge smoked tuna, barbecued and smoked under a banana leaf, with 2 sauces, 1 hot & 1 mild; a Banda Salad with cabbage, cucumbers & tomatoes dressed with fresh tuna ground together with kenari nuts, lime & garlic; a delicious dish of fried eggplant with a rich tomato & kenari almond sauce;  fried tempeh balls; steamed veggies with a rich gado-gado (peanut) sauce; and of course rice & cold beer!  For dessert we had glasses of freshly prepared papaya & soursop juice.  Yum!

One day we visited the home of the island's only producer of tempeh, the fermented soy bean cakes, & learned how she made them.  The beans are boiled in huge vats of water over a propane stove, cooled, rested, then the skins removed before they are coated in rice flour & tempeh yeast, & packed in breathing plastic bags to ferment for a few days.  We've also combed the islands' forts, found odd pottery shards, & have been amazed at the friendliness & resilience of a people who were brutally subjugated by the European spice barons.

On Monday we chartered a boat with 2 loud 1-lunger diesels to take us 7 miles east to neighboring Ai island.  Here we watched men carving a new war canoe, had lunch at the friendly Green Peace homestay on the beach, & spent hours snorkeling the protected reef off town.  Visibility was over 100' (30m) & we could see deep into the blue for turtles, sharks, large wrasse, unicornfish, & the usual colorful butterfly & angelfish.  Sue racked up a few more new species.  Run Island, the small oval of nutmegs & cloves that was traded for Manhatten, lay just 5 miles further east.

On Tuesday Jon & Pete & Sam (10) climbed the volcano.  The trail went pretty much straight up the side of the mountain for 2,000' (600m) & was covered in slippery scree that rolled like marbles.  It took 2 hours & lots of water to climb up, but the views from the top were superb, looking down on the town, the boats, the many coral reefs, & the surrounding islands.  The volcano last erupted in 1989, & still has many fumeroles at the top.

We are still on a deep water mooring off Banda Neira town.  As always, you can see our position at http://www2.winlink.org:8081/maps/positionReports.aspx?callsign=KD7NDG  If weather permits, we may say goodbye to this lovely historical area tomorrow (Thursday) & begin our 250nm sail east to Triton Bay.

Fair Winds & Calm Seas  --  Sue & Jon    s/v Ocelot
http://HackingFamily.com    http://svOcelot.com
Skype: sv-ocelot   US Worldwide Phone: +1-206-923-9714

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