Sunday, September 18, 2011

Playing Hooky in Ambon

Headingeast to the Maluku Islands, formerly known as the Moluccas, had always been onmy things-to-do-before-I-die list, thanks to the alluring descriptions intravel guidebooks and images friends had posted on Facebook. So when my editorassigned me to cover Sail Banda 2010 on an invitation from the Ministry ofMaritime Affairs and Fisheries, I believed I was the luckiest writer in theoffice.

I woke up early for a sleepy-eyed cab ride to Soekarno-Hatta InternationalAirport to catch my flight for Ambon, the capital of Maluku province.

The rushed and panicked crowd milling around the check-in counter of thelow-cost airline I was flying with made it feel more like a hectic marketplacethan an airport.

The flight to Ambon took about four hours, with a 20-minute transfer atMakassar Airport in South Sulawesi.

I took the opportunity to look around the new terminal, built in 2008, and itsbright, modern interior put gloomy, dull Soekarno-Hatta to shame.

Stepping off the plane at Ambon’s Pattimura Airport, I was immediately awarethat I was quite far away from home, both physically and psychologically.

The way people looked, talked and called to each other was different, andthat’s what I’m after when traveling. Ambonese people tend to be tall,dark-skinned and speak in fast, high-pitched voices that get even faster nearthe end of their sentences.

The first thing that excited me was when I heard people use the word “beta,”which means “I” in its land of origin.

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