Of all Indonesian thirty four provinces, the archipelagic ones had always their undeniable charms that kept me getting back again and again. Maluku was rather special since it once defined not only the country but also the world history. Maluku was also special because it has always been – and still was – convoluted in political and religious issues; for both their similarities and differences.
Last weekend I went to Kei Islands. This archipelago was the seat of two local governments: the City of Tual and the Southeastern Maluku District with Langgur as the capital city. Being archipelago, and sitting in the bigger context of Maluku and the larger Indonesian archipelago, both City of Tual and Langgur have been historically intertwined in cultural, political and religious milestones.
And, no matter disinterested I have been to politic and religious matters, they have became an integral part of everywhere in eastern part of Indonesia. They had been of local importance that I often used as an entry to engaging coffee talks, discussions even debates.
On the last day of this trip, I shared my table and sipped coffee with a local politician who asked me to help him develop a political formula, specifically on how to win the hearts of a community that was highly segregated by religions such as Maluku.
Err excuse me? Sir, you’re talking to probably the politically-most apathethic person in Indonesia.
But that enlightening discussion actually reminded me of a thought when I dived around Baeer Island. Diving with Om Neles and his entourage, we departed from Lupus Village fifteen minutes drive from City of Tual. I have stopped asking about some of Kei language unfamiliar words and names an hour after landing at Karelsatsuit Tubun airport, including this village name which, by the way, reminded me of an illness. It turned out that this is the popular name of East Dullah Village which translated to “Lupa Pulang Sathean” or those people who – for political and religious reasons – fled and chose not to return to their homeland in Sathean Village south of City of Langgur.
I giggled listening to Om Neles explanation, but I was particularly reminded on similar stories in other areas in Maluku.
In fact, it was similarly disheartening to learn how Langgur and Tual were once highly segregated by religions – Tual has majority Muslims population and Langgur with Christians. In other areas of the province, though, it was villages segregated by religions. Here, it’s cities. But then, my new friend, Gilang, a local of Tual, reminded me about how Maluku and North Maluku were bitterly split into two provinces because of … religion.
I dove in three spots that day. The cold current slowly drifted me through coral gardens but my mind drifted further away with flashes of thoughts.
When I finally arrived at Sathean Village, meeting some eager students from Universitas Gajah Mada, the supporting facts to this segregation were unrevealed in front of my eyes. The village were not only culturally, but physically segregated. Without even guessing, I used my stereotypical judgment – duh! – to point the road that separates Muslim and Christian residential areas.
“How about people’s way of fishing?” I asked a village elder.
“In the sea, we do not know religions or enemies. We are friends, we helped each other to get the biggest possible catch. Anyway, those fishes know no politics or religion, they can not choose in which nets they will end up,” the elder chuckled.
And why couldn’t you guys do the same on land, I helplessly whispered to my self. Knowing this would escalate to a heated discussion that I had no luxury of time that day, I stopped there, ending our short talk with a super fake smile.
But at least one fact assured me that these religious people could do together peacefully and support each other: begging for money (well, okay, facilitating good deeds to their believers).
Dancing with Olive Sea Snake
I dived three times: around Baeer Island, an unnamed coral garden and a shallow dive off Hadranan Island.
As I really wanted to visit Baeer Island, we ran our longboat from Lupus Village to the island first. The corals were, to eastern Indonesian standard, okay. Almost no macro, it was about reefs. But the highlight of this underwater spot – along with nearby spots – was the super friendly olive sea snake.
Ten minutes after descending, Om Neles made a clanking sound from his metal stick and tank. He pointed to a ribbon-like critter, drifting, swimming or, looked like, dancing in a schooling anthias. I was the nearest to the critter so I got to see its olive smooth skin and its pattern, its flat tails and its pair of giggly eyes.
That snake indeed looked like it was giggling. Unlike banded sea kraits that physically scream danger, this friendly snake performed its feeding ritual in front of me. The kind of performance that let me see its rythmically wiggling tail while it tucked its head into the coral.
If that snake was a dog, it surely was inviting me to play. But no thanks, it looked more pleasing to the eye than to the surgery table.
The other two dive sites were okay. I hardly found any characters to those two, though. However, as it was winter in Australia and Kei Islands lie in channel between Australia and the equator, I got the cold sensation of diving in the tropics. In 25 centigrade, it was undoubtly cold with occasional thermoclines.
Other areas that Om Neles told me potential was around Ngurbloat Beach, with typical wall diving. In any case, one could spend a whole week to explore spots that scatterred around Kei Island.
As Om Neles was an independent guide, you could also ask Kei Pirate Diver (I did and decided that I couldn’t take repeatedly meaningless answers such as, “You just can’t dive there.” #hahaha) Alternatively, check out Sathean Village as they are currently develop their marine tourism initiatives.
Community-based Tourism Initiatives in Kei Islands
Surprisingly, I saw more communities – especially villages – in Kei Island that have, started to or were inspired to develop their tourism.
In a short period of one day, I went to some villages whose tourism initiatives were worth as my learning points.
Sathean Village was apparently famous, not only for fisheries but as home to some influential locals. The village was divided into two, Sathean Kecil where the Muslim lives and Sathean Besar where the Christian congregates. The village was located in a sheltered bay, making its shore prefect for fish landing. Culturally fisherfolks, people in this village have experienced declining catch and agreed to stop unsustainable fishing practices such as cyanide and bombing. Now fisherfolks had to extend their catch area, they felt the need for alternative income. Tourism has just been introduced that most of the community members might not even aware of this. External supports – WWF, Australian government, local and national education institutions etc. – helped boost this initiative. As of tourism, no exact dates when the village will launch their program. But when they do, it should be interesting as most eyes will be on this village.
Ngilngof Village has been actively pushing its tourism initiative around their most popular attraction: Ngurbloat Beach. The beach itself was spectacular, dubbed as the beach with most white powder-like sands. The harsh southern winds that gradually eroded the beach gave alarm to the village to build retaining wall in some part and this was one of the purpose of community efforts on tourism. As of the product, it was difficult to decide other than the beach itself (visitors have to pay Rp. 10,000 for the ticket). When I asked how the village manage their tourism income, it was hard to get an exact answer. Apart from those retaining walls – also suggested built by the notorious village fund – regular cleanups seemed to be worth the ticket. Also interesting was how people were eager to not only clean but also decorate their yards and beach.
Another village that captured my attention was Rumaidan with their seemingly more organized efforts on tourism. Their main attraction was their backwater – reminded me of Kerala – with products such as mangrove tour and shack rentals. Interestingly, tourism was managed by village enterprise (Badan Usaha Milik Desa, Desa is replaced with Ohoi in Kei language). Sadly my excitement to learn about the enterprise had to be answered by shrugs from snack. Nevertheless it was a nice surprise I didn’t expect.
The last village that I visit was Debut Village. Next to Rumaidan, they were seemingly competing with their mangrove tourism. What sets this village apart was how they utilised village fund to build attractive wooden structures over their mangrove area that turned the area into – ahem – very instagrammable spots. With a ticket of Rp. 5,000 (cheap!) I walked around the short canopy board walk, took refuge from the heat in one of the colorful shacks (included in the ticket) and got to make my picture in their love spot (err). Again, it was difficult to get detailed info on how their income was managed. But I supposed how they can utilised village fund for unpopular purpose such as tourism – think about the internal dynamic to arrive on that decision – was an interesting lesson to learn.
Those four villages shone a light on more sustainably-managed tourism in eastern part of Indonesia. I also heard other villages such as Letman and Ohoidertawun taking similar initiatives. For someone who has decided not to spend too much focus on community based tourism, I was excited about these initiatives.
A Day in Kei Islands
I know, the title doesn’t sound like the kind of trips I did and frankly I still did not prefer it. In fact, I should spend more than one day in this archipelago as there were more that I haven’t explored.
With the help of Gilang, a senior student of ocean engineering in a local fishery polytechnic, I went to ‘popular’ places that most travel blogger recommended (am I a travel blogger now?).
After Sathean Village, Gilang took me to Evu Pool, a man-made pool where its waters coming from the spring on the hill above Evu Village. At the size of half of football field, it was quite large. I didn’t soak myself in it but my feet felt the clear water fresh and a bit cold. “In the afternoon, the water usually turns murky as the black volcanic particles at the bottom kicked up by local swimmers,” a regular visitor told me.
The next swimming area was a bit different. Hawang Cave was a natural cave system with two openings (Cave I and Cave II, respectively) connected by a submerged channel. The bigger cave had clear and fresh azure water with white and black gravels at the bottom. It was large enough for ten people to bathe but that Saturday, with lots of visitors, it was definitely not large enough to create a picture that speak ‘an unexplored cave.’ #LOL
After Rumaidan and Debut Village, I went to Masbait Hill. A pilgrimage spot, it seemed like nobody went there for a long time. The grasses were tall, the rocky stairs up to the platform on the hill were slippery, and toilet did not work. The hike up the platform was, however, rewarding, both to the legs and the eyes. The platform, where Jesus statue stretched his hands toward both Tual and Langgur, had an impressive view of the city. Walk up the stairs to the small platform where the statue stand if you have the guts to get – as Gilang told me – a farther view towards Kei Besar. I’m fine, Gilang, thanks.
Ohoidertawun Beach was the last spot that I visit before spending the night in Ngurbloat Beach. The beach was spectacular, with long stretch of flat white sand. Not too many people that day, because locals prefer Ngurbloat. Apart from being rather quiet (in a positive tone), it wasn’t my favorite as I coulen’t get its characters. Perhaps I should spend one night in one of those cottages next to the cliff to get the vibe.
Arriving Ngurbloat at the perfect time for sunset, I had to accept that the sun went missing all day. Two small groups of visitors made the only sound on that sleepy Saturday afternoon. My accommodation, Johanna Cottage, was strategically located at the main intersection of the beach road and the road to Ngilngof Village. The raised cottage had a balcony overlooking the beach that is almost invisible from the beach thanks to the thick greeneries. Just when I thought Johanna Cottage was a luxury, I learned the next morning that the northern part of Ngurbloat Beach holds some of idyllic tropical cum colonial bungalows with even smoother and whiter sands stretched on a far quieter and emptier beach. That was until I learned that passing Ngilngof Village border – marked by a fish landing area – Ohoililir Village has emerged, flanked with even spectacular beach of their own, the Ngursarnadan Beach. It was funny though, that people in Ngurbloat always mentioned that Ngursarnadan is part of their beach whereas a lady who works in Coaster Cottage firmly said Ngursarnadan Beach was different #LOL However you named it, for more idyllic tropical beach experience, walking from Ngurbloat to Ohoililir was worth the effort, I guess.
On my last night, I decided to return and stay in the city. As I prefer urban setting, waterfront cities always fascinated me. But I guess both Tual and Langgur did not really turn me on as they lack of characters as beachfront spots. Tual was more compact, crowded and somewhat dirty. But it was hilly that made walking and exciting – and tiring – affair. Again, the colourful houses near Merdeka Bridge were supposed to catch attention of those instagrammers and I think they were quite successful, if one do not point their camera from the city park across the houses. Similar to the successfully failed fantasy umbrella in Ngurbloat Beach, those giant letterings and colourful houses indeed worth the picture but drew the city further from – whatever it is – its character. If Tual was somewhat kitsch, Langgur was a hauntingly sleepy area. I couldn’t find interesting spots until I happily land my tired ass in a small cafe next to my hotel. Nothing special about the cafe – and the coffee – but as I noticed one of their menu was poorly named, the barista and I hilariously laughed on this mistakes. Somehow, I didn’t care about the menu mistakes, the #meh coffee and all the tiring talks about religions and politics in this trip, but that LOL with a stranger perfectly ended my trip to Kei Islands.