The name Spice Islands harkens back to a time when this small group of islands in the Banda Sea was the center of the global spice trade and the prized trading post of the Dutch East Indies. Nutmeg grows wild in the islands surrounding Ambon, and at one point was as valuable as gold.
The rest of the Banda Sea is peppered with islands ripe for exploration, still rich with more than history. With opalescent waters known for bright coral reefs and beaches bookended by looming conical volcanoes, the Spice Islands are as fertile and inviting as their storied past.
Officially called the Molucca Islands, Malukus or the Bandas, this forgotten corner of the world is sparsely populated, and still best explored by sea. The hundreds of islands offer unlimited opportunities for venturing ashore for encounters with cultures unchanged by time amidst lands that have never been touched by the forces of development.
Diving off of the renowned Nusa Laut, the underwater seascape is equally untouched. One can expect some of the best underwater visibility in the world, sometimes in excess of 60m. Divers can expect schools of large fish, rays, migrating cetaceans and occasional whale sharks.
With much of the Spice Islands remaining virtually untouched, the wildlife has full reign. Most of the islands lie in the Wallacea water straits from the Asian and Australian continental shelves, making for highly diverse flora and fauna. Inland, tropical forests host a variety of marsupials, civets and over one hundred species of endemic birds.
Part of the Moluccas, the Kai islands, offer one of the most remote areas for exploration. On an expedition, a team discovered caves covered in ancient artwork depicting the lives of the native Moluku people. Pictured therein was a society bursting with energy and a closeness to the island’s flora and fauna. This discovery was groundbreaking, as the Kai islands has no written history, only stories passed from generation to generation. It is hypothesized that their ancestors originated from Bali but is hard to establish without written records.
The intricate patchwork of culture in these islands is a fascination to tourists willing to make the journey. Trade, wars, forts, colonization, have all lead to the cultural gumbo that is the Spice Islands. A distant five hundred years ago, this region captured the attention of the world’s powers. Today, it holds a different attraction, as if preserved in a time capsule. Despite the revolving door of settlers, Maluku has held onto its more ingrained traditions and beloved customs.
Music plays a large role in the Maluku culture. Traditional dances are performed to the music of the savarngil (a native flute made from bamboo) and a calf skin drum. Kinship to one’s family and a “love thy neighbor” view of life has held true through time; the people of Maluku have often been described as kind, welcoming people.
In Ambon, the heart of the region, the volcanic island seems almost to be split in two; on one side the island is a placid peninsula, while the other side of the island hums with an urban energy reminiscent of its distant pass. With remnants of forts and structures from colonial times, it’s a living piece of history.
Ambon is known for its eclectic atmosphere; from the sultry heat of its hot springs, to the haunting sinews of its stalagmite formations, there is an abundance of aesthetic extremes. Ambon’s plant and animal life are in abundance as well, the island teeming with exotic butterflies and birds. With the air thick with the aroma of spices, vendors will gladly take visitors on a walk down memory lane, to a time when nutmeg and cloves were the most valuable commodities on Earth.
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