Fairy Land at my feet
I can not be convinced that this is not Fairy Land. From above, from this tiny rusty plane we find the azure sky and the dark, choppy sea breathtaking during the 45-minute-flight but nothing compares to the view when we are approaching the airport strip of Banda Islands, once known as the Spice Islands. What special spices for gourmands! On our right, rising from that small, oval land, the not exactly dormant volcano (its last eruption was in 1988) is covered by lush, shining green vegetation and its peak is crawling out of the whipped-cream shape clouds; on the other side the bustling Bandaneira port is drawing our attention with its colourful houses and boats. Look! We suddenly spot the massive walls and watchtowers of the 17th century Dutch fort on the top of the mountain, in the middle of Banda Neira. What a sight to arrive to! The tarmac, just like the whole island, is so dangerously little and narrow that in long-distance relays the ground would soon run short under our feet.
The paradise surrounding our guesthouse exceeds our expectations: greenness everywhere, colonial houses - some of them beautifully renovated - in the clean and almost empty, car-free streets, buzzing flies, chattering birds and such a relaxed atmosphere which immediately smoothens any stress remaining from the risky flight. Who cares by now that we almost had a heart-attack at the Ambon airport when we first caught a glimpse of that ancient flying object? Who would not forget the worries about the return flight in this wonderland?
Although I have not read any fable I can almost visualise how the fairies created these ten Banda islands as their above-the-water resorts. Like mirror images of the abundant life in the sea these small heavens pride themselves in the millions of vivid organs thriving in any tiny spot: countless bugs, insects, weeds, roots, grass, leaves, flowers and huge, several hundred-year-old trees. No need for a jungle track! It is all here, just at your feet. On each island there is at least one settlement where, as soon as we turn up, a "Hello Mister!", the ubiquitous welcome and the same curious eyes follow us. "Hello Mister!" - regardless of age and gender. The natural beauty of Banda Neira, where we spend our nights, is matched only by the hospitality of its people. The non-existence of hot water and the very slow internet connection cannot prevent us from having the time of our life. For each dinner we can try out new delicious fish and vegetable dishes, many of which we have never seen or heard of. What a harmony of flavours! What different spices and fruits we can taste on this former colony! The nutmeg jam and cookies (how lucky we are to celebrate the feast after Ramadan when special treats are baked with the Bandanese) and my favourite dish, the eggplants stuffed with almonds are only some examples of these gourmet foods.
Since we are in Fairy Land we can easily check the biggest source of our dinner: just take the plunge into the Banda Sea! Almost every day we organise island-hopping boat trips to enjoy snorkelling at different shores. Even from the surface of this crystal clear deep-blue water (we do not dive anyway) we can admire the same density of life, the fairies' submarine versions of the islands: limitless number of coral shapes attached to the cliffs and rocks, multicoloured and transparent fishes circling around us (what a traffic jam at our feet! - I wonder what rules apply here) and floating greyish yellow crabs pinching our arms and legs. The adventurous boat rides - the waves can get rough at times - might take up to an hour to the remotest islands from Bandaneira port but the scenery is jaw-dropping everywhere. Even in our most beautiful dreams we could not imagine such a variety of the green colour, as if all the leaves had a different shade as the sunrays are tickling them in the heat. Their brilliant reflections in the water urge us to continuously push the buttons of our cameras. What moments our photos can capture here! For us these ten days on the Banda archipelago are synonymous with carefree enjoyment of the sunshine, the warm breeze, the refreshing sea, the cool shadows of the old plantations and mostly the exciting remoteness from the rest of the world. There are hardly any tourists besides us so we can have the sandy beaches lined with palm trees just for ourselves.
The most fantastic thing about this Fairy Land is that anybody can visit it by air or the Pelni boat from Ambon or Papua; these islands are just at your feet in the Banda Sea.