Pulau Banda Besar, Maluku, Indonesia

Spice Islands II

Dayak, mace and nutmeg

The man with the big grin is Dayak, the guy who carried my camera bag and showed us the way to our guesthouse when we first arrived on Banda Neira. His eyes lit up when we gave him what we thought was a rather paltry ten thousand rupiah, and now he's grinning at the thought of how much he's gonna get for convincing me to spend a whole day exploring the aptly named Besar (Big) island with him.

As we head for the nutmeg groves of the old Kelly Plantation, he cracks up laughing when someone hails him from the shade of a verandah...

Prime fresh Banda nutmeg
Prime fresh Banda nutmeg
Pulau Besar nutmeg plantation
Afternoon tuak session - thanks for the pic Dayak :)
Another one Dayak had to take

"Dayak! Mu punya parawisata kecil putih!"

I've just enough Bahasa Indonesia to laugh along. It's true - Dayak has a small white tourist!

The nutmeg groves are a welcome relief from the heat as we enter their cooling shade. Dayak says you can tell a prime nutmeg by the way the fruit splits to reveal a bright crimson mace. Despite the signs threatening dire consequences for picking the fruit, Dayak plucks one to show me.

Before we came here I only had a vague idea of what a nutmeg actually was. Being a bit of a literalist and having seen whole NUTmegs at home, I thought it fair to assume they were some kind of nut. As you can see, they're actually the pit of a fruit. Dried nutmeg fruit is everywhere in Banda and trying some was a foregone conclusion. If you imagine a nutmeg flavoured dried pear with a furniture polish aftertaste you've pretty much got it. It's a taste that needs some acquiring!

We wander the eastern side of the island, passing Lonthoir's gleaming mosque and taking the sweaty climb up the imposing Dutch Stairs to the hilltop where lie the earthquake shattered remains of the 1624 Dutch fort of Benteng Hollandia. Once the largest fortress in the Dutch East Indies, the jungle clad ruins are still imposing, doing a Banda version of Angkor Wat. The deep shade, cooling breeze and hilltop views demand time out for rest.

Lonthoir Mosque Either a Seram or a Moluccan cockatoo Canoe in the jungle

We cross the island, dropping down a steep path to a tiny bay where dugout canoes line the jungle edge, then climb back through a nutmeg grove sheltered by the largest kenari trees I've seen so far. These buttressed monsters tower at least forty metres above the ground, holding aloft a branching of titanic boughs that must weigh hundreds of tons.

Kenari bear seeds which look like a bit like pecans, but split to yield four or five kernels that appear alarmingly like the red-brown bush cockroaches I know from home. The Bandanese call these almonds and they prove to be similar indeed once I get past the idea that I'm chewing on roaches. Needless to say, the almonds are gathered from the ground once they fall.

Back on the ridgetop, the path leads us through dense and mercifully shady jungle. Even still, by the time we regain the island's eastern shore I'm thoroughly drenched in sweat. Dayak insists on taking my photo beside a kora-kora boat. These were once the longboats of the Maluku, bearing warriors and arms to raid and make war throughout the islands. The biggest of them in their heyday carried hundreds of men. Today they're more like dragon boats and this one awaits the next championship race.

Dayak casts a sidelong glance at me as we emerge into the sun. He suggests a drink might be in order. I'm hoping the sweat that's flowed from by back down my buttcrack doesn't look as bad as it feels and readily agree. Dayak's got some friends just down the way and suggests we drop in on them and take a rest with our drink. Fine by me! When we arrive and the introductions are made, Dayak asks me for some cash to go get the drinks. I pony up the rupiah and he hands it to his mate who vanishes on a motorbike. Ten minutes later he's back with two five litre containers of a milky white liquid.

"You like tuak, Doug?" they ask. I'm thinking cold juice or softdrink and they've got ten litres of warm palm beer! Oh well, when in Banda...

An hour or two later, we stumble out of Dayak's mate's place - I hope you'll forgive me for being unable to remember your names fellas! - and head for the nearest jetty to catch a boat back to Neira.

After the day's heat and the afternoon's tuak I'm feeling nearly as wrecked and almost as old as the 1768 arched entry we pass on the way...

Ruined entry to former nutmeg trading ground

Pulau besar, hari besar! (Big Island, big day!)

You are here: Home Tales from the track Pulau Banda Besar, Maluku, Indonesia