During our stay in Banda Neira, a tiny dot about one thousand miles from the national capital, Jakarta, we were tied up at the Hotel Maulana which only a few years ago, in its heyday, had hosted many of the rich and famous – including Princess Di and Mick Jagger (although apparently not together).
Sitting with an ice cold beer, in the Hotel’s beautiful leafy courtyard on deeply cushioned rattan chairs, looking over the harbour and Gunung Api, the live volcano on the island opposite, life couldn’t have felt more perfect!
The day after we arrived, a local teacher corralled a few of us to help with his regular plastic collection that he did each week with his students.
This was a perfect opportunity to do something useful for the local population and get to know a few people on the way. It also gave us the chance to see parts of the town where we wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise ventured.
On our collection route Jonathan and I were admiring a rather grand looking building called the Cilu Bingtang Estate – we thought it was a private estate but as we were looking at the recently renovated colonial building, a gentleman named Abba Rizal stepped out and invited us in for coffee.
Apparently it was a newly opened hotel and Abba immediately suggested a buffet dinner for a very reasonable price with two films about the Spice Islands thrown in for good measure. (One of the films featured Kate Humble – she apparently stayed at Abba’s previous hotel).
A group of us had a beautiful meal there that night and we returned twice more for dinner and once for a cooking course when we ate the food we had “helped” cook.
Included amongst these dishes was tuna ball soup – I will cook it for you when I see you next – it was absolutely delicious!
Other groups from the rally also went up there for delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners, so our chance meeting with Abba and his friendly welcome ended up having extremely beneficial consequences all round!
I would highly recommend the hotel as the place to stay in Banda. The marble floors and artfully placed antiquities gave it a beautiful ambiance and at $35 Aus. a night, was a bargain! Meals cost roughly $10 a head but the beer was quite expensive!
We also went twice to a nearby island, Pulau Lanthor, where we were taken to the ancient nutmeg and clove plantations.
The Banda Islands was at one time, the only source of nutmeg and it’s byproduct, mace, in the world.
Nutmeg was highly prized and ruinously expensive and in the early 16th Century the race was on to find the source of this spice which was worth its weight in gold.If the Arab and Induan traders could be cut out there were vast sums to be made.
It was the Portuguese who located the Spice Islands in the early 16th century and for more than 500 years the islands were fought over by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British.
Many people died in the name of nutmeg and cloves, particularly Bandanese, and many more fled the islands and were exiled to the Debut Islands, , where coincidently we entered Indonesia and where their descendants still live today.
Most of the residents of Band Neira today are descendants of the people brought in as slave labour by the Dutch – Arabs, Indians and people from other islands in the Indonesian Archipeligo.
Wandering through the spice plantations, all shaded by 400+ year old almond trees, was a very special experience. We were able to see the nutmeg being harvested in the traditional way (man up the top of the tree with a piece of bamboo, shaken down and collected from the plantation floor.)
Everywhere we walked each of the houses had nutmeg and cloves out to dry just beyond the front door.
Despite having a cold there was a pervasive aroma of spices – heady, rich.
The smells reminded me of mulled wine and Christmas fare and when we were invited to to sample almond or nutmeg coffee and to eat delicious spiced biscuits, in someone’s home there was indeed a festive atmosphere!
We were fortunate enough to be invited into one of the homes to sample almond or nutmeg coffee and to eat delicious spiced biscuits. An unforgettable experience!