Boat on the Kei Islands, Maluku, Spice Islands of Indonesia

How My Wine Obsession Almost Got Me Confused For A Terrorist

What a day! I write this at the end of a very long twelve-hour day. An exasperating day, one of those horror stories of Asian travel kind of days, but at the end, I have found one of the last untouched paradises on Earth.  The Kei Islands of  Maluku-the Spice Islands. The islands that Christopher Columbus was trying to find when he found America instead. An island full of stories and mysticism, not all of them happy. Here is my story of getting there.
I arrived at the airport in Bali at 5 AM ready to set out on the journey. However the check-in didn’t go so smoothly as I was told that the planes were small, and we would only be permitted to check 15 kg of luggage. Mine was 20. Crazily enough, the weight of the plane would still be the same, as I was allowed to take my belongings. I would just have to hand carry some. Now, I travel pretty lightly in the clothing department. The problem is that I carry enough potions, essential oils, and incense to preserve a mummy for an Egyptian tomb. For me, I feel unbalanced without my lavender, sandalwood, chamomile oil to rub on my pillow when I sleep, and my spray mister of cinnamon, patchouli, lavender mist to refresh myself during the day. I have also bought a few things here like coconut milk shampoo which I don’t know how I ever did without. The problem is all of this stuff can weight quite a bit. So, once I was told I could take liquids on the plane, I grabbed one of the cosmetic bags which took away three pounds, and they let me slide. However, all chaos broke out when I arrived at the X-ray machine. First of all, I want to say, I was never once asked for an ID or passport the entire day for the four flights that I had to take to get here. But, God forbid, I tried to get on the plane with a wine opener. Well, OK, make that two wine openers.
As my bag went through security, all the officers looked at each other questioningly. Uh oh, my heart sank. They aren’t going to let me take my liquids. No, I soon found out, I had a much bigger problem on my hands. They grabbed the big bag of cosmetics and started all talking very fast to each other in Indonesian and staring at me like I was the most evil person to ever exist. First, they found my scissors. They held them up for everyone to see and looked at me, and asked why I had them. I tried to explain that I had checked them, but my bag was too heavy, so I had accidentally grabbed them. Then, they found the wine opener. I had bought it in Bali, actually for the beer opener on the end of it because I soon learned that wine here was really expensive. But, the Bintang beer is actually really quite refreshing at the end of a long day. The man who found this soon started looking through my other belongings. He found my portable hard drive for my computer and started trying to pry it open even though it doesn’t open. The rest of the men continued to glare at me. I started to worry. He then found it. My other wine opener, the simple one I had brought with no beer opener on the end. “Why do you have two wine openers”, he demanded? “I didn’t know I had two”, seemed to be the simplest way of answering his question. He took the second one over to the other men, and they were talking quite rapidly in Indonesian. I was sweating and worried that I would be kicked out of Indonesia before my trip had barely begun. Finally, he came back over, and said, “Sorry, we have to take these.”, and I was on my way.
I made my way to the gate for my first flight which would land in Java, and soon realized that I was the only Westerner who would be getting on the plane. Everyone stared at me like I had just arrived from outer space. They say that the blood pressure is higher of people who get stared at. I started to believe it, and knew it was because of my blonde hair, but also couldn’t help but wonder if I was also being stared at because I seemed to be the only one not carrying a rice cooker as a carry-on. Also, there seemed to be a huge problem with my bag. I was carrying a bolsa from Mexico. It was one of the kinds that sugar comes in or rice, and they sell them everywhere there, and it’s what people in Mexico carry their shopping home in. Here, people were pointing and laughing. A few women even asked, “Where did you get your bag?” I have noticed this type of bag here discarded on the streets, almost like they are trash. So, I can only guess, that to them, it looked like I was carrying my belongings in a trash bag or a pillowcase.
People at Java Airport
I arrived to a gorgeous view of the volcanoes in Java, only to then leave myself halfway crippled at the airport. I went into the bathroom, and the woman was mopping the slippery shiny floor. My flip flops were no match for it, however, and all of a sudden my knee twisted as I was washing my hands and I found myself sprawled out on the floor. Unfortunately, I landed on my ribs, and ever since, I have intense pain when I laugh or exhale. I fear I may have broken or cracked one or more ribs. All of this time being afraid I would get hurt riding a motor scooter, and the thing that takes me out is a slick bathroom floor!
It was in Java that I also learned, that my flight was actually going somewhere else, and I had to get on yet another plane to get to Ambon. I had no idea where I was flying to, as I had never heard of the city, but what a tiring day to realize that I would be taking four flights to get to my destination. When I landed, I tried asking people where I was, but no one seemed to understand the question and more people continued to stare and stare and stare. I later learned that I had been in Sulawesi.
Finally I arrived in Ambon, but with only thirty minutes to get my luggage, recheck it, and get on the flight to the Kei Islands. I was beginning to fear that I would miss the flight as I couldn’t figure out where to go to check in for the next flight. I asked three people and got three different answers. Finally Magic Mike appeared. He told me he would help, and all of a sudden he was carrying my bags, we were navigating the airport, cutting through security lines, going back ways through secure areas that no one else could go in. He told me his name was Mike and he is listed in the Lonely Planet and that I should text him. He said he would help me plan my trip to Raja Ampat when I go back to Ambon. I thanked him profusely, and he said he was just doing his job. I made the waiting area with minutes to spare.

LUV Airport, Tual Kei Islands Maluku

The arrival into LUV airport (appropriately named) in the Kei Islands was the single most breathtaking arrival that I’ve ever had. You hear that Indonesia has 19,000 islands, and I started to see how it could be true. Lush green islands seemed to go on forever, rising up out of smoky blue-green glassy waters fringed by colors of lime green and aqua. The water was so glassy that you could see the reflections of the cotton candy fluffy clouds and I just wanted to cry, it seemed so sacred. Unfortunately, my camera was in the overhead bin, so you will just have to imagine it for yourselves.
I then arrived at the airport, the only tourist. Alone in a sea of smiling and yet staring faces, I really did start to contemplate shaving my head. I have never been stared at this way in my life. (Maybe that’s the real reason security took away my scissors. They didn’t want me doing anything drastic.) I walked on the runway towards the airport and was greeted by island children all standing on the fence and waving their little arms off in greeting. I entered inside and once I got my bags inquired about a taxi to my hotel. Thankfully, I had written the name of the village and beach down because people didn’t seem to understand what I meant when I said Coaster Cottages. I walked outside with my taxi driver to another sea of staring faces and people pointed and laughed at my driver and seemed tickled over the fact that he was driving me. What was funnier is that he reached for my light back while I was saddled with the two heavy ones. There was a huge roar from the crowd as one local, stopped him and turned him around and pointed at my heavy backpack. He took my bag and off we rode into the sunset.

Baggage Claim at Tual Airport (LUV), Kei Islands, Indonesia

And what a sunset it was, as I arrived just in time for it. One of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen on a totally untouched and remote beach. Bats swept from the palm trees, as unique bird calls graced my ears, and I knew I had arrived somewhere special. I was relieved to find a German couple at my hotel, staying in the bungalow next to mine,(this seems to be a habit of mine-staying in bungalows next to Germans!) and they gave me all kinds of advice for my time in the Spice Islands. They confirmed that, yes, we are pretty much the only tourists. The room here is pretty basic with only a mandi for bathing. But the food is made by a local woman is like the home cooked Indonesian food you would get from your grandmother. And I feel pretty lucky to be going to sleep (with lavender oil rubbed onto my temples) to the gentle sound of lapping waves on an untouched and unspoiled beach of the Kei Islands that many others will never get the opportunity to know.

Kei Islands Sunset, Maluku, Indonesia