November 21, 2012 we joined the Ombak Putih owned by SeaTrekBali, in Ambon harbour. A traditional Indonesian sailing vessel except for the en suite bathrooms and air conditioned cabins! We were a group of 23 interested and interesting people all with some connection to Indonesia, some from Holland, America, Malaysia and the rest of us from Australia.
After a day looking around Ambon we departed the following evening for the fabled Banda Islands, the only place in the world where nutmegs originally grew. The nutmegs were both a blessing and a curse, as the forts built on the islands tell the story of the battles that were fought between the Bandanese and the Dutch East Indies Company, and then the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) and the English East Indies Company (EIC), over these seeds that once they were brought back to Europe were said to be worth their weight in gold.
In the first pink light of dawn we reached the first of the Banda Islands the tiny island of Run, the once valuable nutmeg island which became famous because of the real estate deal of the millennium, when it was traded by the English in 1667 for the Dutch island of Manhattan.
Our first visit ashore was on the adjoining island of Ai and to the aptly named Fort Revenge, built after the Dutch captured the island from the English. The entrance leads to a long tunnel through the broad wall of the fort, there are no longer any buildings in the courtyard but symbols of the forts purpose and survival can still be seen – that is the gunpowder magazine, the dungeons, and the water well.
A Dutch map from 1800’s shows the Banda Islands and the allotments or perks that were allocated to the Dutch planters in 1621 after the Banda Massacre. We then entered the Welvaren Perk, which was one of the nutmeg gardens allocated by the VOC to Dutch planters on Ai. We passed through its impressive entrance gate, and the inscription over the gate tells us it was built by Paulus van den Broeke in 1754. Inside the perk are the nutmeg trees and the remains of the old Dutch buildings
From Ai, we then sailed into theremnants of an ancient volcanic crater that forms the main Banda Islands, and anchored off the town of Banda Niera, which is dominated by Gunung Api otherwise known as Fire Mountain, the active volcano which has formed inside the ancient crater and erupted as recently as 1988.
We spent an afternoon exploring the town of Banda Niera, and taking a stroll through history. Old colonial buildings line the narrow streets of the town, we visited the museums, the mini-Palace which was the residence of the Dutch Governor and the VOC administrative headquarters, and the Nutmeg Cafe. I don’t no why, but I was surprised to find a heroic statue of the Dutch King Willem III of Holland in the grounds of the VOC headquarters.
We finished the day on the walls of the restored Fort Belgica, overlooking the town. Built by the Dutch in 1611 its pentagon shape, its inner and outer defensive walls and its ancient cannon still pointing out to sea, tell of its importance for the defense of the islands. Although it was captured by the British in 1810 under the cover of darkness and heavy rain.
The following day we visited the nutmeg plantations on Lontor or Banda Besar. Here, the Dutch divided the island into perks or allotments where the Dutch planters or perkeniers could cultivate their nutmeg trees on behalf of the VOC. Some of us ‘spice nuts’ were in nutmeg heaven as we wandered through the fragrant groves of nutmeg trees, shaded by the bigger Kenari trees.
Two hooks on the end of a long stick are used to grab the nutmegs and then allow them to fall into the attached basket. The outer fruit of the nutmeg is used for making pickles and jam, the red ribbon around the shell is known as mace and has a delicate nutmeg flavour that is more valuable than the nutmeg itself, which is inside the shell.
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and about the Ombak Putih visit http://www.seatrekbali.com
The blog about the Spice Island voyage by Ian Burnett brings me right back to the extraordinary voyage we all enjoyed to the Banda Islands and all the other islands we visited and are so well described here. This sail was memorable for many diverse reasons: a lovely schooner, great crew, a very knowledgeable guide, good food, and exciting daily visits to small islands where we met the local residents and their children. We visited schools, 16th century forts, local pasars, sultans’ palaces, old cemetaries, nutmeg groves, plantation houses and so much more. Back on the boat we were pampered by the crew and had many great discussions with our travel mates and lots of laughs. Would I do it again? YES, a wholehearted yes! – if only it was not so very far from my home in the States.
Hello Sia. I had already booked you in for the next voyage!
Sounds great to me! Some day I will take you up on it!