Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could gave been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:
Wake up at the foot of a volcano and live the dream of Magellan ... what's more exhilarating? Welcome to the archipelago of Banda, the mythical spice islands, in Indonesia.
End of October 2015. I am on board of Wow. First step of this fabulous diving cruise: the archipelago of Banda, handful of volcanic islands in the Maluku, Indonesia, southeast of Ambon. It's here :
They are islands far from everything, today little known to tourists coming to discover Indonesia ... Yet it is for them that Magellan Started the first world tour by boat in history! I'm crazy about the idea of discovering this archipelago at the end of the world.
Between two dives full of hammerhead sharks in the sea of Banda, I expect only one thing: to set foot on these mythical islands, the famous spice islands, so coveted in the 16th and 17th centuries! Magellan did not get that chance. He was killed (April 27, 1521) in the Philippines, when he was nearing the goal ...
Updated 2018. The Waow, this magnificent dive-cruise boat aboard which I had the chance to embark on in 2015, no longer exists ... 😢 He unfortunately burned and sank, in Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia, at night January 31 to February 1, 2018. I refer you to the message posted on their Facebook page and on their site.
My fellow divers and I finally land on October 30, 2015 in Banda Neira, for a tourist excursion. On the program: visit of the small museum, nutmeg plantations and Fort Belgica ...
Banda Neira is both the name of the island, the port and the administrative capital of the archipelago which has ten islands in all (only six-seven are inhabited). This is where nearly half of the 14,000 inhabitants of the Banda archipelago live. It is here that we discover the bloody colonial history of spice islands (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg), disputed by Spanish, Portuguese, English and Dutch, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the time, the Maluku archipelago was the only place where the precious nutmeg grew. So precious, that she was worth her weight in gold ...
There are several schools, administrative buildings, a mosque, small shops, a diving center, a tiny airport, some guesthouses and hotels ...
The fort and the volcano
Right in front of Fort Belgica, built in the 17th century by the Dutch on the remains of a Portuguese fort, stands the volcanic cone of the island of Banda Api.
The most motivated of our small group climb to the top of the towers of the fort. Ladder scrap not reassuring and very narrow passage. But it's worth it. The view is spectacular. Steffan, the videographer of Wow, enjoy the excursion to get out of the drone!
For several days, during the navigation of the Wow, which takes us from one dive site to another around the archipelago, we could admire the volcano from different angles. called gunung api , ie "mountain of fire" in Indonesian, it culminates at about 640m, dominating all the archipelago.
The last eruption of the Banda volcano goes back to 1988. The guide who makes us visit the tiny museum of Banda Neira, remembers it. "But everyone was evacuated before the main eruption, He explains. There were only one or two deaths, elderly people who could not or did not want to leave their homes. "
The lava has frozen since. Two huge black casts dash across the flanks of the volcanic cone to the sea. The day we arrived in the archipelago, we plunged into a site called ... Lava Flow. At the foot of one of the lava flows!
Pulau Run and New York
All the children of Banda schools know this story ... The fate of New York is intimately linked to that of the tiny island of Run (pronounced "roune"), the westernmost island of the Indonesian archipelago of Banda.
Colonized first by the Portuguese around 1512, Pulau Run (pulau means "island" in Indonesian) is taken by the English around 1605 with the neighboring island of Ai. They covet the precious nutmeg of which I spoke to you above, for their British East India Company.
It obviously does not please the Dutch who, at the time, want to establish in the Indian Ocean the monopoly of their own company, the Dutch East India Company (VOC), on the lucrative trade in spices and nutmeg in particular.
It's a long and bloody story ... I make it short: the Dutch, who managed to evict the Portuguese from the archipelago of Banda, impose their domination by slaughtering the islanders in 1621. But the English resist and still hold Run and Ai.
Finally, the English will retreat, but not without negotiation. The spell of Run is sealed by the Treaty of Breda, signed in 1667. Pulau Run is ceded to Holland, and in exchange England receives a distant islet, located in the Americas, in what was then the New Amsterdam: Manhattan!
Yes ... It was difficult to imagine, at the time, the development that Manhattan would experience in the following centuries, to become the city of New York that we know today.
To learn more about the turbulent history of the Banda Islands (old and recent), I refer you to this fascinating and very complete story, written for the site "Bali Autrement" by the anthropologist Franck Michel, great specialist of Asia : → The Banda Islands, a rudely coveted archipelago
A lost archipelago
When our little group is about to leave Banda Neira to return to the WowWet in the bay, the rusty ship of the Pelni, the Indonesian ferry company, has just arrived. Suddenly, it is the crowd of great days in the village, still asleep and almost desert an hour earlier.
The street vendors have set up their stalls in the street leading to the pier - fish, spices, fruits and vegetables ... Quantity of goods are loaded and unloaded from the huge ferry, in a rush more organized than it is the air. It screams, it's jostling, there's a constant back and forth of carriers, motorcycles, people ...
As in all the isolated islands, the arrival of the boat which ensures regular connections with the rest of the world is an event. A real "life line" for islanders. As our appendix moves away, I contemplate, dreamily, all this agitation on the platform, thinking of Magellan, the great navigators of yesteryear and the countless Anglo-Dutch wars for the control of commercial shipping routes.
The spice route once made the Moluccas and Banda Islands famous. Westerners have forgotten them a little today. They attract only a few travelers, curious to get off the beaten track, and some privileged divers ...
I was the guest of Wow from October 27 to November 8, 2015, for this diving cruise called "Secrets of Seram". All opinions expressed here remain 100% mine.