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The Spice Islands! And Buffalo Soldier Goes AWOL.

Some of the rally sailboats opted out of the passage north across the Banda Sea to the Spice Islands, a cluster of about half a dozen small islands in eastern Indonesia. This was primarily because it would necessitate beating back south later, with no help from the tradewinds blowing from the southeast. We didn’t have to worry about that aboard the Buffalo, though, and we wouldn’t have missed our visit to Banda.

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Below is a Google Map, with my crude line drawn around Indonesia. It’s hard to get one’s mind around how big and sprawling this country is, especially when you begin to take in the variety of languages, customs and ethnicities as you move from one end to the other. The red marker is in the Banda Islands, which you can’t even see at this range.

When we arrived at Banda Neira after a night or two underway, we could actually smell the cloves as we dropped anchor. Cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg were the principal enticement prompting over three centuries of Dutch colonialism, which ended with Indonesia’s independence only after World War II. Big draws for us were the spices, the vestiges of Dutch colonial history, and the scuba diving. The lovely, lush jungle backed by dramatic volcanoes didn’t hurt, either.

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Cloves in various stages of drying in the sun.

The diving couldn’t be considered world-class only by virtue of the moderate to poor visibility. Water clarity is very seasonal and our arrival at the wrong time of year for scuba diving couldn’t be helped. Despite this we got together with a group of fellow cruisers on two different days, and the ‘dive boats,’ pictured below, were an adventure in themselves. We encountered plenty of critters and it was time well spent.

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The highlight for me, though, was touring the spice plantations.

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Nutmeg fruit with the mace-covered nut within; clove blossoms.

I’d never seen where cloves come from, but the delicate blossoms grow on trees. Nutmeg fruit is like a very small, very firm peach. When split, the brown egg-like nut within can be seen through the lacy scarlet covering of the mace. Within that nut, you can hear the nutmeg itself rattling around.

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Nutmeg (left) and bright red mace dry in the sun.

The red mace, once it’s dried, is sent to Java where it goes into Coca Cola. Now we’re one step closer to figuring out the secret formula! I bought some mace jam from a local woman. I think it was made with some of the fruit as well as the mace. And it DID taste kind of like Coca Cola jam. Really.

The cloves have found their way into kretek, the local clove cigarettes. In fact, where once all the cloves in the world came from Indonesia’s Maluku Islands, now the kretek has become so popular here that Indonesia has to import cloves from abroad just to keep up with the demand.

The plantation owner showed us how cinnamon bark is peeled in squares from the tree, which is unharmed by this bit of dermabrasion. The bark squares roll up as they dry, resulting in the cinnamon sticks you buy commercially.

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Cinnamon bark is harvested using a machete.

During the days we spent in Banda, we wandered the towns and villages. The vibe is very peaceful. A mixture of Dutch colonial architecture, shady tree-lined streets, small patches of cloves and nutmeg drying in front of the homes, and a generally chill pace of life.

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The house that spice built.

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And once again, the open curiosity towards us, particularly on the part of the children, and the welcoming smiles and shouts of ‘Hello mister!’ and ‘Where you from?’ warmed our hearts.

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In the main town, evidence of former Dutch colonialism is everywhere. Below are some iron cannons probably from the late 1800’s, just lying in the street. A group of us remarked you could just carry one off and nobody would care, though I imagine it would take more than the few cold Bintang beers we’d enjoyed to give us the will to try to lift one off the ground.

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Stumbling across random Dutch cannons.

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A woman shells and sorts peanuts.

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Fish drying on a village street.

In the category of bad news this season, we discovered, only after schlepping our new quadcopter drone Buffalo Soldier back to the boat with us from the States, that it’s not in working order.

Stan had been diligently practicing piloting the drone in Seattle, without the camera in place. (In case of one too many misadventures due to inexperience, he figured there was no point in risking both the quadcopter AND the new Sony camera.) We had tested the camera itself, and Stan’s skills were good enough to practice piloting from the deck of Buffalo Nickel.

Unfortunately, we never bothered testing the controller circuit that directs the camera once it’s attached to the drone. That part doesn’t work, and after e-mails back and forth to Finland and every other conceivable place, Stan had to accept the sad reality that we won’t be able to get Buffalo Soldier to take any amazing footage for us until after we get that part repaired back in the U.S.

Bummer! We watch the cool drone footage our friends aboard s/v Delos  publish all the time… we want to do that on our boat! Oh well, first world problems, right?

Next up: Wakatobi, and some truly world-class diving. Plus: day-to-day power management while cruising aboard Buffalo Nickel.

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