I had always wanted to visit the eastern part of Indonesia. Last month, I had the chance to do so. I traveled to the Maluku Islands, about as far east as I am allowed to travel on my Fulbright grant. The main reason I went was to eat food, believe it or not. Chris, a friend of mine who had completed his grant in Pulau Saparua (pulau means island in Indonesian), said some of the best food he had eaten in Indonesia was in Kulur, a small town in the northwestern part of Pulau Saparua. I had a day off due to Nyepi, a holiday celebrated by the Hindu people of Bali to mark a new year, and I don't teach on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I made a quick decision and took the opportunity to go east.
Immediately, I felt like I was in another world when I landed at the international airport in Ambon. The airport is small and very clean. White and blue tiles cover the floor, and the walls are painted white and blue as well. There are palm trees everywhere, and I was reminded that I was on a tropical island.
I naik'ed (boarded) a taxi and headed to the port of Tulehu to catch a boat to Kota (city) Saparua. The ride was incredibly scenic. The car traveled along winding roads on the hills overlooking the Bay of Ambon. The water appeared to be colored turquoise and I could see mountains on the other side of the bay. The parts of Ambon that I saw were lush and mountainous.
This is a picture I took from the port of Tulehu as
I waited to board the boat to Pulau Saparua.
Look at that water!!
The boat ride was…bearable. The previous passenger had left me a half-eaten cup of noodles in the seat pocket in front of me. The stench due to the leftovers was unpleasant. I placed the cup on the floor. Since I could not see out the windows I decided to close my eyes and go to sleep.
Once I reached the port in Kota Saparua, I naiked an ojek (motorcycle taxi) to Kulur where my friend, Ben, was waiting for me. Ben is a Fulbrighter stationed in the city of Masohi on Pulau Seram of the Maluku Islands. We stayed at the Putih Lessi Indah Bungalow, which was pretty and simple. We were on a gorgeous beach. Voluminous clouds blanketed the sky above us and mountains from other nearby islands were visible in the distance. I definitely felt like I was in paradise. Aside from an older French couple, we had the beach to ourselves.
We visited the Seven Princesses Cave soon after our arrival.
Walking back from the cave.
We also had a chance to snorkel. It was my first snorkeling experience in Indonesia. The under water life here is spectacular. I saw bright blue fish and zebra fish, as well as colorful brain coral. I snorkeled until I became tired and retired to my room until it was time for lunch.
The food was superb. We had delicious rice, pasta, fried fish, avocado salad, bamboo shoot with kenari nuts, boiled eggs in spicy tomato sauce, and fried cassava. The meals surpassed any expectation I might have had.
Ben and I take a picture with Asis, the owner and cook at the bungalow.
After staying in Kulur, we went to Kota Saparua and explored an old Dutch fort, Benteng (fort) Duurstede, the main and only attraction in town. The views from the fort were magnificent. It was a panorama of clear water, mountains, and beautiful sky. You really can't say much when you experience such a view. I sat down and just stared out into the sea.
When we returned to our home stay, Ben and I took a boat ride into the sea and around the island. I ran my fingers through the clear water. The water was so clear that in some places you could see as far as 10 feet deep.
Upon my return to the shore, I read for a little while (at the time I was reading the biography of Angela Davis) and played games with some younger children. The boys had created balls out of sand and then gained pleasure from smashing them. They came closer to me, intrigued by my hair, skin color, or general "otherness" I suppose, and started talking to me. Soon, I was playing their game. Pukul, pukul! Pukul means strike in Indonesian. After figuring out their commands, I would strike the ball of sand as hard as I could with a clenched fist to their delight. "Hey!" I exclaimed after I discovered a solid ball from the smashed ball of sand. So, this is what they were really up to. I smashed a couple more sand balls with some caution. The sun started to set and we all left the beach. That night a friend from our home stay took us out to dinner at a street warung. The food wasn't as good as the food at the bungalow, but I was hungry and it was food, so I ate it. I also tried sopi for the first time. Sopi is palm wine. It tasted like Haitian rum, but a little bit sweeter. The next morning, Ben and I parted ways. He went back to his island, and I returned to Ambon.
The beach at Kota Saparua.
The courtyard at Benteng Duurstede.
The statue of Martha Christine Tiahahu, a heroine in the
Malukan fight for independence again the Dutch.
A former dock for Dutch ships.
A bileo. This is where the community leaders have their meetings.
The narrow streets of Kota Saparua - We walked around town in search of an ATM.
A picture from our boat ride.
Sunrise at the beach.
Sunrise at the dock in Kota Saparua.
I stayed with two friends in Ambon - May May and Leah. They have a pretty house with a balcony that provides a view of the Bay of Ambon. While they were teaching, I explored the town. I decided to go to an internet café to check my email. I was in an angkot and asked Alyse, a female student, for directions just to make sure I was going the right way. She decided to get off at the same stop as me to make sure I reached my destination. We never found the internet café I was looking for. So, we decided to look for another one and walked all over the city looking for an internet café. Ambon is hot and humid. And we had to stop to get some water and rest in the shade. I think she enjoyed our little journey because she would laugh and throw her hands up when she realized how far we had to go to find another café. Finally, we stumbled upon one on a side street and stayed there for about 30 minutes. After that, we had lunch. As a thank you, I treated her to ikan bakar (grilled fish) and colo colo (pronounced choloh choloh), a spicy citrus sauce with green tomatoes and chili peppers. It's a special dish in Ambon, which she has mostly likely tried and which I wanted to taste.
Alyse and I take a photo in front of the ikan bakar warung.
The Ambon Manise sign. Manise means sweet in Indonesian.
I had a great first day in Ambon.
The next day, May May, Leah and I went to Pintu Kota (the Door to the City). Pintu Kota is basically a rock face with a round opening into the water. The ride out to the western part of the island was pretty awesome as we rode along the coast. Transportation via motorcycle is, more often than not, an enjoyable adventure. After enjoying the views from the cliff above Pintu Kota, we went back east and had lunch at Sibu Sibu, a well known restaurant in town. We all had noodles, keju pisang goreng (fried bananas topped with cheese) and tea. When we finished lunch, we naiked angkots and headed to Waai's eel sanctuary. We paid an "eel whisperer" to lure eels with chicken eggs. It was pretty cool. I got to touch and pick up several eels. They are so slimy! At one point I became scared because I became surrounded by one too many eels. There were women doing their laundry in the same water inhabited by the eels, and one of them decided to have some fun with my fear. This woman snuck up behind me and brushed my leg pretending to be an eel. Naturally, I screamed, and they all laughed at me.
On the cliff above Pintu Kota.
Before we went to Waai, we stopped by the World Peace Gong.
The one in Ambon is one of about five in the world.
How cool would it be to be a member of this committee?
Walking toward the angkots to get to Waai.
Manggis (mangosteen), snake fruit, and lemons.
More manggis, lemons, and durian.
Super shiny fish.
Channeling my inner eel whisperer.
We wanted to beat the sunset back into town, so we left for Natsepa Beach, which is along the way. May May, Leah, and I ate delicious rujak which is fruits doused in peanut sauce. Mine was spicy and it was really good. I've started to open up more to peanut sauce being on my meals.
A full plate of rujak!
I had a wonderful time in the Maluku Islands. It's insane how much the country can vary from one place to another. I learned more about the history of the islands, ate delicious food, and am grateful that I had a chance to experience another part of Indonesia.