Adventures living as expats.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Banda Belters 2014

I've been struggling to write a post about our trip to Banda.  All the descriptions I've come up with don't really paint the full picture of the voyage.  The destination was everything that we hoped, and the journey to get there was a truly unforgettable experience.

Jeff spent numerous hours planning our epic snorkeling trip with 8 close friends to the Banda Islands (aka the spice islands) in eastern Indonesia, see below.  Getting there was a challenge, but we were rewarded with endless pristine coral reefs and beaches all to ourselves.

In preparation for the expedition, we started a book club and read Nathaniel's Nutmeg that narrates the competition between the European countries in the 1600s to stake their claim on the "Spiceries."  The book describes the obstacles, hardships, tropical diseases, and dangers that sailors faced in reaching these islands - on average only 20% survived!  Luckily we fared much better during our trip and all members survived the trek.

We started our journey off with a relaxing overnight stay in Ambon to fully prepare ourselves for the Pelni - a ferry run by the Indonesian government.  Getting on the ship was our first challenge and unfortunately I have no pictures as we were warned about the pick-pockets and told to hide all valuables as deep in our bags as possible.  Boarding was a sweaty free-for-all with thousands of people pushing to get on and off the boat, porters forcing their way through the crowd, groups of hawkers selling all kinds of "treasures", and of course a group of 10 tall Westerners trying to find our way through the maze.   We made it to our rooms and immediately headed to the deck and cracked a few bottles of wine to celebrate.

Bottoms up!
Banda Benders 2014
Although we'd read stories about the unsavory conditions on the boat, it was really jaw-dropping seeing how many people were packed on the boat.  People were camped out everywhere - in the hallways, stairways, emergency exits, even the lifeboats.   By the end of the 8 hour ferry trip, there was garbage all over the floor and the smell was close to unbearable.

Main stairway to get to the upper decks 
Economy class has beds and a shelf to store your stuff
So many families were traveling in this condition, very sad.
Adelle is really lovin' our second class cabin
This porter was using a suitcase as a battering ram to get through the crowd.  Shortly after this picture, he slammed me in the head one too many times and got a tongue lashing along with a stink eye.
After recovering from the ferry ride, we spent the rest of the week snorkeling, playing cards, relaxing on our deck, enjoying the fine wine and cocktails we lugged along on the trip, and generally unplugging from our busy lives in Jakarta.  The snorkeling was absolutely incredible - sharks, parrot fish, turtles, tuna, puffer fish, eel, nudibranch, a tiny blue shrimp and lots of beautiful coral.

So many schools of fish!
Spotted eel
Crystal clear water and lush green jungles made this some of the most beautiful scenery we've seen 
Little blue shrimp - good find Jeff!
Love these clown fish
Shy turtle

Lion fish 
Six person selfie outside the old Dutch fort
This shot took about a dozen tries
Sunset from the dock
Our last look at the Pelni after disembarking in Ambon.  Can you spot the two bules in the crowd?