Four hundred years ago, the most valuable commodity in the world was not gold, oil or web clicks…it was nutmeg. The only known source of nutmeg were the tiny Banda Islands, which are part of a larger group of islands called the Malukus or Moluccas or Spice Islands (today in eastern Indonesia). Nutmeg was so valuable that in 1667 the Dutch traded their American colony of New Amsterdam (now New York) to the British in exchange for a 1.4 square mile Banda island called “Run.”
Or so the over-simplified story is usually told. In reality, the British and Dutch fought a series of exhausting world-wars in the 1600’s and eventually called a truce by consolidating each country’s sphere of influence. That did include the swap of Run and New York but within a larger framework. Nutmeg is still the primary industry on Run and supports a very pleasant, if simple, island lifestyle. But the locals love to tell you with a proud grin about their brush with history and fame.
We visited three islands within the Maluku chain: Run, Watebela and Banda Neira. They were a perfect microcosm of the rest of our trip through eastern Indonesia, with welcoming people and amazing snorkeling. Watebela Island was an extreme example of the phenomenon we mention earlier about the fun reception you can get in an untouristed place. As far as we could tell, tourists had never been to Watebela before and the enthusiastic welcome was off the charts. Both kids and adults with big smiles greeted us at the beach and around town. Everyone with a phone wanted a selfie with us and/or wanted to pose for a selfie with our camera.
Banda Neira, like Run, is famous for its nutmeg. And we enjoyed touring the nutmeg farms and seeing nutmeg drying on everyone’s front steps. But to us the highlight was a snorkel at Banda Api, a volcanic island just across a small bay from Banda Neira. It last erupted in 1988, sending a lava flow into the ocean. Since then, a beautiful coral garden has sprouted over the fresh lava and it rivals anything we saw in nearby Raja Ampat. There are lots of pictures below but it might be best appreciated in video.
All in all, the Maluku Islands were a great climax to our time in Indonesia. This was our second trip through eastern Indonesia and we’d be happy to do it all over again.