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The Adventure Island You’ve Never Heard Of: Morotai

15 Oct Flickering flames and logs against a pitchblack background.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Ever heard of Morotai?

Nope?

You’re not alone. But, when it comes to desert island bliss, this smallish island off northern Halmahera in Indonesia’s Spice Islands (Maluku or the Moluccas) packs some serious punch.

Over the last four days we’ve splashed by night in luminescent water on the soft white sand of our own private island (accommodation free), got up close and personal with critically endangered dugong, the origin of the mermaid myth, visited a pearl farm, and handled Japanese bayonets and American dogtags from World War II battlefields.

Also? We’ve seen some turtles, the odd dolphin, 6-metre saltwater crocs. And eaten fantastic crabs.

And there’s much, much more to Morotai. Continue reading

A Country Wedding

9 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false] In the dirt yard, by the family sleeping platform her family have built outside their government-built wooden house, Biasri, eighteen years old and five months gone, stands pounding rice in a ripped and muddy T-shirt draped over a little red skirt, her hair pulled back.

She’s preparing cakes for her wedding. It might happen today.

More likely tomorrow, now. Or possibly the day after. She’s not concerned, though. It’s jungle time. Continue reading

One Man and His Dog: Death of a Serial Killer

7 Oct foaming waterfall illuminated in bright light, borneo

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It happened during the second gold rush they had, here in Eastern Halmahera, in Indonesia’s Wild East, back in the 90s.

When parties of twenty or thirty men from the villages on the coast, with their brushed-sand streets and corrugated iron mosques, would head upriver, panning for gold, like the San Francisco 49ers.

These guys? Well, they weren’t local, or they wouldn’t have made the mistake they made. Because to the Togutil people who still hunt and gather in the forest here, their dogs are almost as important as their children. Continue reading

Tales from the Moluccas #3: Ibilihi’s Nutmeg

4 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We pick up Ibilihi from his home on a narrow strand of yellow beach, backed by jungle sprouting out of coral cliffs, where he lives with his second wife and her disabled child, on a four by six sleeping platform with a fanpalm roof and a lower shelf for food and guests.

Skulls of deer and wild pig accumulate under a palm with split coconut shells, a midden for future archaeologists like the scallop shell mound we saw on Mariquit in the Philippines. There’s some scrappy cassava, a couple of coconut palms, some banana, but essentially, Ibilihi likes to live off the land.

The walking, breathing epitome of dour, Ibilihi is from the Togutil tribal minority. He’ll be one of our guides to the jungle of Eastern Halmahera, where we are going in quest of those of his people who still live as nomads, hunting and gathering in the forests. Continue reading

Machete Lessons for Beginners

3 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It would be fair to say that watching one’s nine-year-old son improve his machete skills while 8-12 hours from *any* form of medical care, however basic, is not a relaxing activity.

And indeed, a perhaps unnecessarily large number of utterances such as, “Christ, Z, AWAY from your fingers, not towards them,” and, “F***sake, darling, do you really need to take such a big swing? Remember when the blade flew off in Laos?” have echoed through the jungles of Halmahera of late. Continue reading

Tales from the Moluccas #2: Happiness on the Riverbank

3 Oct light shining through clove trees on pulau ternate, maluku, indonesia

Lima in his football shorts on the stony banks of the river

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Lima has just discovered clothes. Three months ago, in fact. Compared to the itchy bark loincloths he used to wear, they’re remarkably comfortable. An excellent addition, he feels, to his eminently satisfactory life.

It would be hard not to warm to Lima. He’s 40ish, he thinks, or thereabouts, with a ready laugh, a happy soul and keen eyes below wiry brows and wrinkled forehead.

A hunter-gatherer from the Togutil tribe, one of four minorities scattered across the crumpled, riverine forest of Pulau Halmahera in Indonesia’s Spice Islands, Lima is, I think at first, the single happiest human being I have ever, ever met.

He wants, he tells me, for absolutely nothing, and desires nothing either. Continue reading

Tales from the Moluccas #1: MIA

1 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]In the village, they’re still a little mystified as to what happened to Jeff. He was a missionary, you see.

At least, he said he was. Spent years of his life tending his Togutil flock, only recently salvationed away from their nomadic, hunting-gathering life and corralled, more or (generally) less willingly, into government villages.

Then, one day, he just went, well, Missionarying In Action. Continue reading

Because Children Know No Cultural Divide

30 Sep Flowering log extends over gold sand beach with coloured boats drawn up to shore.

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It never ceases to amaze me how children’s friendships cross cultural boundaries so effortlessly. We spent the Idul Fitri holiday in the Togian Islands, off Sulawesi, Indonesia, at a little guesthouse on an idyllic beach.

Amal, the son of the family, is thirteen years old. He was born at home, no midwife in attendance. Continue reading

Expedition Outfitting in Pidgin Indonesian*

25 Sep

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The scene? In and around various shopping establishments in Kota Ternate, the de facto capital of Indonesia’s Spice Islands, and home to more English language students per head of population than anywhere in the world.

An increasingly harassed single mother is wrangling a small boy in khaki with a motorbike helmet over one arm and the beginnings of an emo haircut. Continue reading

When Travel Becomes Time Travel

23 Sep

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Tomorrow we embark for Pulau Halmahera, one of Indonesia’s Spice Islands, where we will travel back in time.

Our aim? To experience the nomadic hunter-gatherer life as it is still lived today, among unassimilated Togutil people.

And this is a journey almost as close to time travel as it is possible to get. A step right back into human history. Continue reading