www.wherejacwanders.com – It was a random conversation where someone had told me I should check out the Kei Islands. As I so often do, I jotted down the name in my phone notes without too much thought. When I heard the name Kei come up again I checked it out further and on a whim booked a ticket for myself. Some of my friends wondered about me heading to the east of Indonesia alone but I wasn’t worried at all.
First stop was Ambon as there weren’t any direct flights to Kei from Jakarta, so I decided to stay a night on the way. Ambon island lies close to the south west coast of Ceram in the Molucca Group of islands. I flew there directly from Jakarta at night and arrived early morning. I’ve had friends from Ambon in many parts of Indonesia and I’ve always found them to be great fun. I wasn’t disappointed. I spent my first day driving around checking out the sights around town. I was there in January and loved all the Christmas decorations made from recycled materials such as CDs, rice sacks and plastic cups. More wonderful Indonesian creativity.
First stop was to unwind and see one of the beaches the locals go on a Sunday afternoon. Aptly named, Pantai Santai, Relax Beach, was the perfect spot to spread out a woven mat, open a cool drink and sleep away the hours under a coconut tree. Local children swam and parents enjoyed weekend picnics.
We then went to see the Ambon War Cemetery- it is known locally as the Australian Cemetery. Standing on the first terrace within the cemetery was the Ambon Memorial. This Memorial, in the form of a shelter, commemorates officers and men of the Australian forces who have no known grave. Many of those commemorated here died in the defence of Ambonia in the early months of the war against Japan and others were killed in the Allied assault on Japanese air bases established on Ambonia and Celebes. A large number perished in Japanese prisoner of war camps. The town of Ambon, situated on Laitimor Peninsula on the southern shore of Ambon Bay, was severely damaged during the war, first by the Japanese who bombed it heavily in January 1942 and later by the Allied forces who attacked it in 1943 and 1944. After the fall of Ambon in February 1942, a former Dutch army camp on the island was used to hold Australian, American and Dutch prisoners of war, captured during the invasion. The War Cemetery was constructed on the site of this camp (known as Tan Touy) after the war. The cemetery contains Australian soldiers who died during the Japanese invasion of Ambon and Timor, plus those who died in captivity in one of the many camps constructed by the Japanese on the Moluccas Islands, including many British prisoners who were transferred from Java to the islands in April 1943. In the car driving around I heard stories about the terrible conflict that occurred in Ambon in 1999 and the division can still be seen today with locals living in towns often segregated in to religious groups. Despite this I found all the people I met to be fun, helpful and friendly.
We headed up to Karang Panjang to watch the sunset under the towering figure of Ambonese heroine Martha Christina Tiahahu. She was a Moluccan freedom fighter and National Heroine of Indonesia and the monument to her stands 8 metres high and depicts her holding a spear. The statue represents the courage of the Mollucan women defending their homeland from the Dutch. Legend has it that during the battle against the Netherlands, she threw stones at the Dutch soldiers when the troops ran out of ammunition. Due to her courage fighting armed soldiers with only stones, the people of Maluku call her as Wanita Kabaressi, brave woman. At the base of the monument there are the words “Martha C. Tijahahu, the pearl of Nusa Laut, Indonesian National Heroine, who struggled to repel the Dutch colonizers from Maluku”. From the monument we could see a beautiful view of Ambon City stretching across the harbour.
After a long day and my overnight flight I was tired so I headed back to my hotel but of course my Ambonese friends insisted we stop at a friend’s wedding reception to try the famous Ambon home brewed sopi first. Sopi is a liquor is made from fermentation of sugar palm sap and has a level of alcohol above 50%. Its distinctive flavour comes from the addition of husor root powder and bamboo which is used for distillation. Usually drunk by locals at traditional ceremonies, the production of Sopi is typically done in isolated villages away from authorities. It’s not for the faint hearted!
On my second day I felt like chilling so we drove around true Ambon style, music loud and smiles all around. We went to Pantai Liang where I watched a local fisherman cast his nets and wade through the turquoise water. I stepped back into my childhood climbing the trees that lined the shore. We then headed to Natsepa Beach for lunch and its famous rujak. More about that here…
My flight to Kei was an afternoon one, so it was back to the hotel for a quick shower then to the airport. I definitely want to come back and explore Ambon some more.