Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tim Severin's heaven on earth: the Banda Islands

I fell in love with the Banda Islands, a group of 10 lush volcanic islands in Indonesia, when I visited them a few years ago. I sailed down there on a prahu – a small native sailing boat with a rectangular sail – and discovered a rare part of the world that was absolutely unspoilt and idyllic.

The islands were colonised by the Dutch, who grew nutmeg there, and for a long time they were virtually the world's only source of the spice. It's estimated that the Dutch sold more than a million guilders worth of nutmeg – all from these tiny islands.

As a result of the Dutch connection, the islands are dotted with these lovely Dutch colonial houses, many of which have survived thanks to the islands' remoteness. What's more, they are blessed with the most stunning scenery, most notably a volcano called Gunung Api (Fire Mountain), which has a wonderful interior lagoon.

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