Currently I’m stuck in Ambon, Indonesia. I want it to be an idyllic, oozing sort of tropical provincial capital city but my optimism has mangled to carrion. Death by bugs, rain and bland bustle.
Despite the guidebook’s attempt at a favorable description, Kota-Ambon fails to live up to anything but reality: this is a bonafide bustle in a country that holds up universally-execrated Jakarta as a model metropolis. Ambon fits the mold of its big, mean, ugly older sister city: it’s polluted, littered with trash and produces odd smells that mix feces with NASA-grade adhesives. It is uninspiring to the extreme despite its picturesque seaside setting–and I’m a devout “always look on the bright side” kinda gal. What a shame. My impressions are not rectified by the citizens who seem to have either an unfortunate lisp, poor comprehension of anatomy or highly misinformed English teachers–or might they be cursed with all of the above? “Hallo Mister!” children and teenagers jubilantly proclaim to me as I stroll past in teal skirt and purple sunglasses.
Before arriving to Ambon I’d read the Lonely Planet guide and brushed up on travelers forums about my short-stay home. The research hardly required even one cup of kopi rorobang, the local answer to caffeine-injected rocket fuel… Prior to immersion I learned that Ambon is best known for three things (besides its aforementioned notoriety as the capital of one of Indonesia’s most scattered and largest regions):
1) jumping off point to more chic and alluring archipelagos
2) world-class but undemocratically priced muck diving
3) site of a religious massacre in the late 1990s
Signs of the bloody murder-fest that pitted nationalistic Ambonese Muslims against independence-minded Ambonese Christians are practically non-existent. Mosques and Cathedrals perch with equal footing around Kota-Ambon, the main city. My English-speaking Ambonese friend Mattias-Joseph keeps the animosity alive by warning me off of anything remotely Islamic, be it hotels in proximity to “the wrong side of town” (his words) or pastries procured from potentially pork-prohibitive proprietors. It seems the undercurrents of religious and cultural mistrust run deep, but that’s not surprising given how recently Ambon’s citizens hacked one another to bits. I’d be suspicious too and thus I wave off his warnings and do as I please–preferring to target the majority of my waving efforts on the kamikaze attacks mounted by the menacing gangs of local insects.
Diving is not in the cards. No, I do not have the requisite $120 USD to spare on 2 dives, despite the promise of all the coffee and tea I care to re-deposit into the Banda Sea via my at-no-extra-rental-charge wetsuit. Thanks but tidak terima kasih. Besides, the weather more resembles low hanging grey Oregon clouds than tropical paradise.
As for those chic and alluring archipelagos: Yes please! Now please!
My arrival midday last Monday was inglorious save for the fact of the act of actually arriving (it was a protracted, triple-installment journey across too many timezones) and the almost instantaneous news that my outbound flight for pristine Banda was cancelled, indefinitely. “Not to worry” comforted jovial Michael, Ambon’s de facto Tourism Ambassador. “You’ve got options” he reassured me with a broad smile and so I warmed to him instantly. “You will be able to stay in Ambon a few days longer and may purchase a ticket on the next outbound ferry.” I found my affinity towards Michael turning suddenly mercurial.
Unlike the diving, Indonesia’s ferries are very democratic, if democracy was designed by Darwin. A more apt and unjustly favorable description of PELNI is this: Noah’s Ark. All are welcome but toss aside Pentecost intentions, do anticipate a couple dozen additional species jostling for space on the manifest (because komodo dragons are God’s creatures too) and adherence to an extreme gender imbalance. Like most Biblical tales, I strongly prefer not to be cast in this saga.
My only alternatives are to await the immaculate resurrection of the twice-weekly government run flight or chance a cargo ship. ‘Gee, Alex I think I’ll take unpleasant and culturally seedy transport for 600.’ The optimist and cynic in me are both resigned to my fate and offer a rare aligned reaction: Fuck it. As long as I don’t end up shipwrecked maybe I can at least get a half decent travel story out of it..?
And so, with practically a week to kill here in Ambon, I’m bound to my fate. I’ve resided in and subsequently quit three different lodgings due to bad location (a penginapan literally at the end of an airport landing strip with no food options in sight); “Beta homestay” was no better on account of absent appointments (no fixtures in the “bathroom,” no screens on the window, no fan) but abundant annoyances (hordes of kamikaze mosquitos and marauding ants), and finally Homestay Asri. With its high ceilings and cigarette stenched mandarine curtains polka-dotted with gold accents, I hoped I’d finally found my respite however by nightfall the plummeting trajectory of my Ambonese lodgings landed heavy with a heinous smack. Red little critters about the size of sesame seeds crawling slowly across the bed. Feck. Bedbugs. Then I spot a minuscule multi-legged, white bodied thing. Double-feck, lice AND bedbugs.
I pull out my yoga mat to sleep on the floor. It is in my ensuing fog that I see Ambon’s unraveling slump of disappointment. Get me out of here, sooner the better. This descending luck fills me with dread for my overnight on the PELNI. What’s next, fleas & scorpions? More likely fleas, rats and vagrants (excuse the redundancy).
Tomorrow is Sunday and I’ve arranged to join Mattias at his Church. At 10am there will be singing and I will pray “God/Allah, Jesus/Mohammed: Please have mercy on me.” By 5pm I will bound for bedlam, Banda, or both.