In the morning we will moor close to the town of Larantuka, the capital of Flores Timur and a central hub for early colonisation and Catholic clerical activities. There we will see the five Catholic churches and the ‘Stations of the Cross’ built along the waterfront. Later we will cross the Flores Strait and visit the village of Lohayong on the island of Solor; a lot of the villagers here make a living by processing sea salt. The salt production is seasonal, but with a bit of luck we will be able to witness the process. After that we will visit the Ruins of Fort Henricus built by Dominican Friars in 1566 to protect their spiritual work from their enemies. Early Portuguese sandalwood traders left this task to the missionaries. The fort was later taken over by the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC). Back on the ship we will have a beautiful cruise through the Solor Strait with the Lili Boleng volcano on the island of Adonara as the backdrop as we navigate to Lembata Island. As always, we will plan time to stop for a swim and a snorkel.
Our destination is the village of Lamalera, on the island of Lembata, which is one of the few remaining places in the world where villagers hunt whales using traditional methods. Bordering the Timor Straits, the village is in an area long recognised as hunting-grounds for the 19th century British and American whaling voyagers. Since at least 1836 these villages have taken various species of whales and today, these traditions remain to support the village. On the beach we will see the small craft used for hunting the sperm whales and perhaps preparation for their hunt if whales are in the vicinity. This small-scale hunting (no more than 25 per year) is considered sustainable, and the local economy has some dependency upon it. We might join a short trip on of one of the boats and admire the harpooners standing on the edge of the bowsprit. In the afternoon we will cruise further east, trailing this chain of increasingly remote islands to Alor.
In the morning we will reach the enchanting bay of Kalabahi on Alor. We will visit a traditional village in the mountains where we may witness a war dance around the mesbah, the ritual heart of the village. Here we will see the moko drums, which for centuries have been part of a wife’s dowry and are thought to originate from Indochina. Alor also produces Ikat cloth famous for its intricate patterns and bright colours. In the evening we will proceed further east and reach the western Daya Islands in the southern Banda Sea.
Today, as we cross between the Lesser Sunda Islands group into the Moluccas, we will enter the region of Barat Daya, meaning ‘south-west.’ Known as the ‘Forgotten Islands,’ this group of islands is so far off the beaten path that it is largely isolated from the rest of Indonesia and from the rest of the world. The first island we will encounter is Kisar. Together with Timor, Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi, and most of Maluku, the Barat Daya Islands are part of Wallacea, a biogeographical designation for a group of mainly Indonesian islands separated by deep water straits from both the Australian and Asian continental shelves. The islands of Wallacea have several species of mammals as well as a mix of flora and fauna from both Asia and Australia. The island of Kisar is only 10km by 10km, but has been active in recent geologic history, as there are several uplifted sea terraces around its margin, with the highest being 120 metres above sea level. There is an old Dutch fort on the island which was abandoned in the late 1700s and some of the islanders are directly descendent from the 16 soldiers who manned the fort and the eight soldiers who remained on the island after the fort was abandoned.
This morning our destination is Romang Island, where we will go ashore to witness the lives of villagers in this remote region of the archipelago. While the island has recently been largely occupied with mining interests, most of the people living on Romang are farmers. They plant corn, yams, cassava, sago, vegetables, and dry rice. Back on the boat we will have lunch while we cruise eastward to the tiny island of Mapora where we will spend the rest of the afternoon snorkelling and beachcombing.
In the morning we will reach Damar Island, the next destination in our voyage as we track the volcanic string of islands known as Indonesia’s ‘Ring of Fire.’ This several-thousand-kilometre chain begins at Java in the west and ends at the Banda Islands to the south of Ambon. Damar is volcanic in nature and was one of the few islands outside of the Bandas that produced nutmeg. All the trees were destroyed by the Dutch East Indies Company in 1648 to further monopolise the spice trade. We will visit a small village consisting of simple huts made from the leaves of the sago palm. Staple foods of the locals are sweet potatoes (ubi), bananas and fish. Birds abound in the coastal landscapes with the endemic Damar Flycatcher being the preeminent avifauna species.
Continuing on our way to the historically famous Banda Islands, we will pass four spectacular volcanic islands each standing alone and jutting from the clear blue ocean. Known as stratovolcanoes, they are steep-sided and built up of alternating layers of lava and ash or cinders due to successive millenniums of periodic eruptions. For now, however, they express a quiet beauty for us to enjoy. We will make a stop at Serua, the last in this extended string of volcanoes, which is home to one of the few villages in the chain. If we have enough time, we will go to this rarely-visited village where we can observe the remotest of Indonesian cultures. Since the eruptions in the 1960s and 70s, many of these island populations have migrated to other parts of the Moluccas. Today, we will also reach the small island of Manuk, which is a bird and marine sanctuary, uninhabited by humans. Frigate birds, gannets and other marine birds have their nests in the trees. If the tide allows, we will make a landing and go in for an up-close look at the birds and the wildlife. In the late afternoon, we will proceed towards the Spice Islands.
Should the breezes favour us, as we approach Run, the first of the Banda Islands, we will experience the delightful fragrance of nutmeg in the air. The islands have had a long and fascinating history, including being among the most expensive real estate in the world. Spices, foreign traders, wars and earthquakes have all featured heavily in their chequered past. An amazing historical footnote is the fact that in 1667, under the Treaty of Breda, this small island was ceded by the English to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan. The Bandas have attracted regional and international traders for more than 3,000 years. Prior to 1500, no European had ever landed on their shores, but there had always been Asian traders. Up until the middle of the 19th century (with the exception of Damar Island until 1648), this was the only place on Earth where the spices nutmeg and mace could be found and thus the centre of the spice world. After navigating Run, we will arrive at the island of Ai. Here we go ashore on a beautiful beach to meet with the villagers. A short walk brings us to Fort Revenge which was built by the English before being captured by the Dutch. Behind the fort we will explore our first nutmeg plantation, where the evergreen nutmeg trees will be identifiable by the hundreds of ripening yellow fruits that hang from their branches. During lunch, the Ombak Putih will move to the main Island of Bandaneira. This beautiful, quaint little colonial outpost on the island of Neira is the capital town of the Banda Islands and is full of relics of the colonial era: forts, cannons and beautiful Dutch-colonial homes. With the Ombak Putih moored in a quiet bay on Gunung Api, we will enjoy an afternoon strolling through the old town viewing the restored planters’ mansions, fortifications and churches and get a feel for its incredible history. We will find that Fort Belgica built by the Dutch East India Company was an early blueprint of the Pentagon. The population here is an interesting mix of Malay, Arab, Dutch and Melanesian. At the end of the day we will spend a quiet evening under the stars in the lagoon.
Over the course of the morning we will cross over to Lonthor, the largest island in the Banda chain. We will visit the fortress Hollandia and the nutmeg plantation of the last ‘perkenier’ on the island. The perkeniers were the small land-holder farmers who managed the plantations for the Dutch; each land parcel was known as a ‘perk’ (plural: ‘perken’). By midday, we find our way back to the Ombak Putih for lunch. The afternoon will be filled with snorkelling the spectacular kaleidoscopic waters for which the Banda Islands are so famous.
The morning is free to spend at our leisure in Banda Neira. We invite the fit and ambitious to make an early morning ascent of the Gunung Api volcano. While this is a challenging climb up a narrow track to an elevation of about 600 metres, the reward when reaching the top of the ‘Fire Mountain’ it is well worth the effort. Revel in a stunning and unforgettable view over the Banda Sea, the surrounding islands, and the crater itself. When it is time to depart for our final stop in Ambon, we will navigate through the ‘Sonnegat’ (sun’s gap) between Bandanaira and Gunung Api, most likely under the escort of one or more ‘Kora-Kora’, which are long sea canoes, rowed by over a dozen muscled men and used in ancient times to attack the invading colonists.
We will wake to find the Ombak Putih anchored in the harbour on the island of Ambon, where the Portuguese arrived in 1513 to establish their regional authority. The Portuguese never managed to control the local trade in spices and failed in their attempts to establish their authority over the Banda Islands, being driven out by the Dutch in 1605 when the Dutch set up the headquarters of the VOC. Ambon therefore has a rich and colourful history having been within the centre of the world-altering spice trade. After breakfast, depending upon flight departure times, we may have a morning programme to see the town, the markets and explore Ambon’s history. A timely departure in the provided transportation will transfer everyone to the Ambon Airport for their selected onward destinations.