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Trouble in paradise

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View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

To get from Ambon to the Banda islands you go by Pelni ferry. (Or, in theory, you can fly once a week; but the plane is liable to be cancelled when a butterfly farts in Mexico.)

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It takes, at best, seven hours. It looks OK in the photos, but the journey is no fun, since the ship is home to perhaps half a million cockroaches, and hundreds of mice.

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Getting off is even worse. As soon as the ship docks, tens of people rush on to the ship before anyone can get off, thereby increasing overcrowding in the gangways. At this point my arms were pinned across my chest and I realised that someone was stealing my wallet, by slicing the back of my trousers open, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Apparently it happens on every ferry to Banda.

Banda is a bad place to have a wallet stolen. There is a bank, but it has no ATM (so I was carrying a very large wad of cash), does not change money and does not buy travellers' cheques. Without help from other tourists I would have been in serious trouble. But it turned out there were six of us staying at the same guesthouse: Hans, Bruno, Niek and Vire from Holland and Robert from Austria. I had met Niek and Vire in Tana Toraja. Niek and Vire and Bruno were kind enough to save my skin by lending me money, and so I was able to stay on the islands.

I spent most of the following day at the police station. The young sergeants tried to be helpful but did not speak English and my tourist Indonesian does not extend to giving a witness statement. Eventually the hotel manager came to help out. This was after a visit to the home of a man described to me as the 'chief of intelligence', who was not helpful. Some cash exchanged hands and eventually a man was found to type up a declaration of theft.

I hope that I will be largely reimbursed for loss and damage by my insurance company, that being the point of insurance, but I am left with overwhelming and painful feelings of stupidity and anger. After nine months, and three months in Indonesia, my defences have been lowered. I initially wore a money belt, but in the tropics they are very uncomfortable. In Indonesia, in particular, I have been trustful, even leaving my bag unattended at times, because, on the whole, you can. So I was just carrying my wallet in my back pocket - something I would never contemplate in Italy.

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Trouble, part 2

I am posting from Kota Ambon, the main town of the island of Ambon. It was home to a Japanese HQ in the Second World War, and so, like Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, was flattened by the Allies. Like the two Malaysian cities, it is spectacularly unattractive.

The city was further Beiruted between 1999 and 2002, when an extraordinary and horrific bout of religious violence gripped the south of Maluku. Christian mobs burned mosques and Muslim kampongs, and Muslim mobs returned the favour (radical Muslims travelled from elsewhere in Indonesia to participate in the fun). Many died. The area was put off limits to tourists. But amidst the general ugliness it is now hard to identify the physical scars left by that collective insanity.

As in the Balkans, people of different religions had lived side by side in the Moluccas, and exchanged favours. Now they don't, and the children are educated separately. Indonesia has a proud tradition of religious pluralism and tolerance, encapsulated in one of the five principles of the Pancasila. As conservative Islam grows in influence in Indonesia (following Malaysia), that tradition is increasingly in question.

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Anyway, that is all I have time for at the moment. I am hoping to go diving in the south of Ambon for a few days, and then to return to Makassar mid-month. And Selamat hari raya Idul Adha 1429 H to any Muslims out there.

Posted by Wardsan 07:32 Archived in Indonesia

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