From its hills to its beaches, Ambon boasts a range of lovely landscapes, interesting and charming historical sites and cultural performances. At present Ambon is endeavouring to bounce back from the dark events that disgraced its history a few years back.
A sun drenched Sunday in Ambon. It had just risen when I stepped out into this town. Most of its inhabitants seemed to have already started their activities. On the way to Hotel Aston Natsepa Ambon Resort and Spa, where I stayed while in town, I saw people going to church, doing their morning workouts or just strolling along the edge of beautiful Ambon Bay enjoying their weekend.
I saw remains of several severely damaged houses choked under thick undergrowth. They bore mute witness to the riots that took so many lives eleven years ago. This scene was in sharp contrast to the enchanting panorama of Ambon Bay that helped to make my day.
Ambon is the provincial capital of Maluku, one of the Provinces in the eastern part of Indonesia. This georgeous town lies on an island which goes by the same name and which is located in the middle of the Province. This island is formed by two peninsulas, Leitimor and Leihitu, which are connected by a narrow isthmus. The seashore on the northwestern part of Leihitu Peninsula is in Central Maluku District but the south shore and the whole of Leitimor Peninsula is part of the Municipality of Ambon.
The Charms of Ambon Manise Beach
The landscape of the Island of Ambon is generally mountainous with only a limited amount of flat land. Wherever we are we can see the sea fused with the green mountains in the distance. These views are never boring. No wonder that this island is nicknamed Ambon Manise (Sweet Ambon). For me, going right around the island is such a fun way to enjoy Ambon. Children swimming or playing in little boats on the edge of the clear blue sea are scenes I often came across while I was there – and I also wanted to enjoy the clear sea with them.
The charm of the Ambon’s beaches is indeed very impressive. For example there is Tanjung Beach at the end of Leitimor Peninsula in the southern part of Nusaniwe Cape which boasts a captivating view especially at sunset. Not far from Tanjung Beach there is another beach called Namalatu which was my next stop. The beach has a beautiful sea garden and is located in the village of Latuhalat, 15 kilometres from Ambon, and it is also well known as a great place for snorkelling and diving. This village is also renowned for its production of traditionally made bricks.
Ambon certainly has charming beaches that people admire. Natsepa beach, which is located near the village of Suli, has white sand. On this beach I savoured the famous rujak Natsepa (spicy fruit salad) that we could buy from the sellers lining the street with their colourful tents. This was just one attraction on this beach. Rujak Natsepa is not so different from the rujak we usually eat except that this is more refreshing thanks to the slices of nutmeg they put in it.
The last beach I visited was Liang Beach in the village of Liang, Salahutu Sub-District, Central Maluku, 40 kilometres from Ambon. It took 45 minutes to get there. A wide beach with lots of trees including coconut trees. A lovely mixture of natural charms which is anything but monotonous.
I also visited the village of Waai not far from Liang Beach, over towards Ambon Island’s eastern shore. This place is famous for Kolam Waiselaka (Waiselaka Pond), a habitat for eels. People believe that seeing them will bring them good luck. The giant eels live at the bottom of the pond, under rocks. Hundreds of them live in peace in the middle of the village in the clear water pond which is the village’s water source. Local people sometimes use eggs as bait to entice the eels to the surface.
Land of the Kings
“There are no villages in Ambon. What we have here are like nations,” said Mr. Ulen, the man who escorted us around Ambon, This is another charm that the island possesses. Historically the islands of Maluku consisted of Muslim nations that dominated the islands.
Maluku originates from the word Al Mulk meaning Lands of the Kings. Up until now, the descendants of those kings are still scattered all over Maluku. These ‘lands’ include Negeri Soya, Negeri Suli, Negeri Batu Merah, Negeri Hila and others.
Of all these countries, I had the opportunity to visit Negeri Hila, which lies on the shore of Ambon Bay, about an hour from Ambon. In this land there is Amsterdam Fort which was used by the Dutch to defend Ambon from attacks from the sea. The impressive fortress is still standing strong at present.
In this land there are also two old mosques. The first one is the Wapauwe Keitetu Mosque which was built in the 14th century and is still used today. According to the story, this mosque just appeared all of a sudden because it was moved there from a different location by a sacred ulama (Islamic teacher). The other one is the beautiful Great Mosque Hila which is distinctive with its bright green and yellow colours.
The majority of the citizens of Hila in the past were Muslims. Before the riots, the inhabitants of Negeri Hila lived peacefully together with the non-Muslim residents. The riots caused the destruction of the houses of the non-Muslims residents and so they moved out. The trauma they suffered drove them away and prevented them from living in their old houses. An old church from the Dutch era that was there had just been rebuilt in an effort to preserve the cultural heritage in this land. The old church of Hila is a witness to the peace between the people of different religions that was once well preserved.
After visiting Negeri Hila I went to Negeri Soya Atas. In contrast to Negeri Hila which is on the shore, Negeri Soya is located on the slopes of the 950 metre tall Sirimau Mountain. In this land there is a very old Protestant church, built in 1546, whose shape is unusual. From the top of Sirimau Mountain we have a delightful view of Ambon. In this place there is a satanic jug which is believed to give its visitors good luck. The water in this jug has never run out. Every December in this land there is a ceremony of Cuci (= wash) Negeri Soya, one of the most interesting events in Ambon.
One of the famous souvenirs from Ambon is eucalyptus oil, a product extracted from eucalyptus leaves. The leaves are boiled in water in a wooden container and its steam is funneled through a bamboo tube to get the oil. This oil is a good remedy for stomach aches, colds and the flu, insect bites and other ailments.
A lot of Eucalyptus trees grow on Buru Island and they are of good enough quality to make eucalyptus oil. These oil refineries are one of the livelihoods of the villagers on Buru Island and it is still done traditionally. However, there are also some refineries in Ambon itself in the village of Suli, Salahutu Sub-District, District of Central Maluku. Besides eucalyptus oil refineries there are also other refineries producing essential oils from such things as clove and nutmeg.
Sail Banda 2010
Sail Banda 2010 is an international event in which 150 cruise ships from different countries will participate and offer a great adventure for sailors as they sail in Maluku.
The route of the event, which takes place from July to Augst 2010, is Darwin – Banda – Ambon -Kisar, a small island in western part of Southeast Maluku which is rich in nature and culture.
Sail Banda 2010 also presents twelve national and international activities such as a seminar on how to save a small island, Bay Festival, Ambon Festival, Sports Channel, Yacht Race, Arafura Games, National Marine Youth Red Cross, “Bhakti Surya Bhaskara Jaya” operations, and a ceremony celebrating the anniversary of the Republic of Indonesia in Kisar Island. It is hoped that this Maluku Folk Festival will help to promote Maluku as an international tourist destination.
Historically, Ambon has been reknowned on the world stage for centuries for its producers and traders of spices. Since that time Ambon has already been a destination for various nations. Now Ambon is rising itself again to become one of Indonesia’s foremost tourism destinations. The natural beauty on offer entices us all to visit and enjoy while saying to ourselves, “Oh, the beauty of Ambon manise!”