Moluccas – The Vision

When Maluku comes calling, you better pick up that phone.
When Maluku comes calling, you better pick up that phone.

This is the trip I wanted to take since before I arrived in Jakarta. This was the one that haunted me. The books of old spoke of this—novels sending heroes through South Seas and Spice Islands—the movies won’t let the era die, and in the era of a shrinking globe, it’s one place where the adventure of the travel still clings, still thrives.

These were the Moluccas—the islands that sent the world tumbling into colonialism, the tiny flakes of volcanic earth that beckoned fleets from afar, that sparked the Orientalism that mankind, even centuries hence, has not overcome.

These are the shards of soil who somehow housed the most precious endemic species on the planet—the spices famed to fulfill human longing: from melting flavors into food to warding off plagues to giving massive, uh, interests in love. These were the isles of clove and of nutmeg, of mace and nutmeg, of nutmeg and… yeah, you get the picture—a fistful of slivers in a map’s vast fields of blue that drove a spike in the wheels of history and ground it to a crashing halt.

Nutmeg plus mace -- that's what all the fuss was about.
Nutmeg plus mace — that’s what all the fuss was about.

These were the Indies Columbus set sail in search of, these the fount of spices more precious than gold. These were dreamy beaches and charming climes that sailors sold their futures for, the sway and pull of unknown locals chanting, dancing, masking round the firesides all the wild, hidden inner urges of humanity. These islands held the key to something un-spoken, un-understood, a key that somehow unlocked a floodgate of humanity’s dark and light brimming over across the globe.

Spices brought ecstasy and bravery and slavery and genocide. It meant a revolution in science and in learning and in cementing racism in the minds the earth’s populace that evinces itself in every snide glance and every “Hello Mister” that rings through its streets today. It meant scores of high-minded, well-educated, committed evangelists waving farewell to every relative and every earthly comfort they had ever known to somehow, maybe, spread a light of love to a people strange in speech and custom. It meant hundreds of scoundrels and avaricious perverts setting sail for spoil and gain and all the forbidden pleasures the Orient could offer.

Whatever it was, it was something grand and something powerful beyond my understanding.

But of course I wasn’t thinking of any of this—I just wanted some time away from work on sandy beaches. I just wanted solitude and an exotic spot. I just wanted to get away somewhere gorgeous that most have now forgotten, of perhaps have never heard of.

Research, though, brought all the history streaming back. The European fleets under tall sails, the hasty grabs for power among colonized and colonizer alike, the paradises dotted with so many forts and artillery no one keeps track any more. Islanders here, four centuries later, still trade bronze cannons as wedding vows.

Reading up on destinations sent me back into novels I haven’t read for decades, sent me spinning through half-remembered history books and history lectures and destination movies and all the fascinations of a wandering child’s mind. This was the place imprinted on me before I knew it.

I was itching for the trip.

The mysterious pull of the long-hidden spice islands
The mysterious pull of the long-hidden spice islands

I began to feel its eastward pull, invisible fingers digging into not only my mind but also my ribs—no mere academic fascination but a visceral compulsion to see the spark that set the globe’s tendered history to combustion. It’s a pull I can’t explain, and as I poured over blogs and websites and guidebooks late into nights I should have been working, I could hardly sit still.

A year ago, we weren’t ready for this—too little language, too little experience in Asia, too many expectations of travel with polite hostesses and plentiful, well-lighted roadside diners. We came here green and needing the tourist weanings of Bali and Lombok. We needed some sharpening in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. A year’s worth of travel training invested into making ourselves ready, finally ready, to tackle the fabled East Indies, the off-the-beaten-track Moluccas, the land of quasi-reality sitting somewhere off the equator and between the pages of fantasy and the winding narrative of all modern human history.

The kind of places you thought only existed in fiction.
The kind of place you thought only existed in fiction.

This was it. This was the trip I’d been waiting for. This was the destination, finally, that could keep me coming back again and again. I could feel it.

But of course, I’d seen nothing of it for myself.

As of yet, it was ghostly glory and spectral visions conjured from who knows what imaginations and illustrations and cartoons. I had yet to see it for myself.

Would it—could it possibly—match its expectations?

And then, the tickets were bought. Then, the itinerary finalized. Then, the details of lodging and sites and bookings fell into place. Then, the day we shut of the water and electricity, locked the apartment door behind us, and set off to make all the wondering real.

Moluccas, here we come.

Maluku, here we come...
Maluku, here we come…
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