Monday, May 15, 2017

A Week in Banda

April 23-May 2, 2017

Ever since I read Nathaniel's Nutmeg, a book about Europe's "Spice Race" to Indonesia in the early 1600's, I've wanted to visit Banda. The Dutch and English wrangled over exclusive access to nutmeg (primarily). During one of the plagues in Europe, some doctor declared that nutmeg would protect one from the plague... and the race was on.

Eventually the Dutch muscled out the English, and the peace settlement resulted in the British trading one of the Banda islands (the only one not already owned by the Dutch) for a scruffy little island that the Dutch owned in the New World (Manhattan).

So, arriving in Banda was like stepping into a history book--one I'd recently read.

As we wandered the narrow streets the first afternoon, we could see the relics left behind by the Dutch... Dutch architecture, cannons laying in the streets, and two old forts. We spent an hour or two in the so-so museum (Closed unless you ask for it to be opened, and the lightbulbs burned out over the exhibits, so we had to use the light from our cell phones to read the captions on the displays).

We spent the week stern tied to The Nutmeg Tree hotel & dive shop (just N of the big hotel on the water) in Banda. Reza has only been in business for 2 yrs, so he hasn't been mentioned by other cruisers. But we really enjoyed our stay. At one point during the week, we had 3 40'+ catamarans tied stern-to The Nutmeg Tree "wharf". Location: 04-31.38 S 129-53.86 E.

The Blue Motion dive shop mentioned by other cruisers has moved out of the big hotel and is one business north of The Nutmeg Tree, so there are two dive operations to chose from, side by side. We didn't really investigate Blue Motion--because we were tied to The Nutmeg Tree, we felt a little obligation to dive with them. Watching the busy Blue Motion Dive center, with it's gaggle of divers, we were happy with our choice. We all dove essentially the same sites, except we only dove with a couple of other people all week.

The Nutmeg Tree Dive Center is a small operation, but they had good reliable boats, and good rental dive equipment. We liked our dive guides, and the places they took us to also. Reza gave us a good price for diving--since we brought another boat in with us (since departed), he offered his standard rate less 20% (ends up being Rp400K per dive). We took our cell phone and got GPS waypoints and notes on the dive sites, but it would be difficult to do most of the sites on your own--on the walls you'd have to have a surface boat standing by, between currents and no place to anchor. It's been pretty good here. Not much macro but the coral is in great condition, and lots of fish, fantastic walls. There are a couple of nearby dives you could probably do from a dinghy (Lava Flow and the Lighthouse).

Reza was very welcoming and does not charge for yachts to tie up to his place (though, if you plan to stay there and not dive with him, you should consider some monetary arrangement so he continues to be welcoming to yachts). He has free wifi at his hotel which he will let you use, and will take your trash. One of his guys filled our diesel jugs for us (for a tip). You could probably get water from him too (but we had enough rain while there to keep us full). Reza speaks excellent English and several others at his place do too. And he will serve meals if you want a break from cooking. Everything in Banda is within easy walking distance of his place.

There is a fresh market, and a fish market, side-by-side in town, within close walking distance of The Nutmeg Tree. But only little shops for your other supplies, so don't expect to do a big provisioning here.

We ate out almost every night, including at The Nutmeg Tree, experiencing the buffet at the Cielu Bintang Resort (much-mentioned for their support to cruisers visiting during rallies), and the very nice but small restaurant on the corner--with signs and menus in English and a big No Smoking sign on the porch.

If you really MUST anchor, you CAN go around the south side of Banda Neira and anchor between Banda Neira and Banda Besar--the depths are reasonable there, and there are a number of fishing boats anchored in the area. But if approaching from the south, you cannot get into the harbor with your big boat--there is a power line strung across between Banda Neira and the other island immediately west of it, at the southern end. But if you want to anchor out vs be stern tied to the sea wall, the southern anchorage may be the best bet. The "4 moorings" inside the harbor were not to be found, and whatever moorings might be there were continuously occupied by 1-2 large local fishing boats. (They must kick those guys off the moorings when the rally comes through, and renew the moorings).

The only problem we had in Banda was with cash--the only ATM on the island (BRI) didn't like either of my Visa-backed debit cards from two different banks. Ended up using a Mastercard credit card which worked OK. The manager at Cielu Bintang will also do a cash advance on a credit card, for a 2% fee.

We loved Banda and could have easily spent more time there. As we found in Triton Bay, the area resorts go into "off season" mode from June-September. Friends who stopped in Banda in June found Reza gone and The Nutmeg Tree dive operation shut down. And the ferry schedule changes (few flights and ferries from Ambon).

Sherry & Dave

Cruising West Papua, Indonesia. Due in Sorong for July 27th visa renewal
At 6/29/2017 8:30 AM (utc) our position was 03°55.27'S 132°48.91'E

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