While in the vicinity of the Banda Islands, we decided to leave the main island to stay a few nights on some of the offshore islands – Pulau Run (Ruhn) and Pulai Ay (Ai).
It was out intention to first spend 2-3 nights on Run (about 2 hours away by small boat), and then backtrack to Ai (an hour away by boat) before returning to Banda. As is usual in Indonesia, things didn’t go quite to plan – although it wasn’t really a problem, just yet another adjustment to what plans we did have.
Pulau Run: a fair trade for Manhattan?
Pulau Run is one of the smallest islands in the Banda group with only 3 home-stay guesthouses. Not too many tourists make it here, and when we visited, we were the only ones on the island. It has a small village, jungle and not much else.
Back in the 1600’s Run had a significant role in the spice trade. Initially, the English built a fort and claimed the island, but were under continual attack from the Dutch who eventually managed to destroy all the nutmeg trees in 1621. Without the valuable nutmeg trees, the English were essentially left with an economically worthless piece of land. Britain eventually agreed to ‘swap’ the land: it gave Pulau Run to Holland in exchange for an equally worthless (at the time) small North American island. That was Manhattan Island, in New York. It’s fair to say that the English got a good deal in the end!
Getting to Pulau Run was a small nightmare for me. I love boats. As a kid, I spent a bit of time on boats, and as far as I can remember, I’ve never had problems being on a boat. I enjoy the big swells of the sea like I do a roller coaster at a theme park. I enjoy them as long as I feel safe, anyhow.
Because of the higher than normal waves, we would be taking the fibreglass ‘express’ boat as the seas were too rough for the normal wooden boats (at least, that was my understanding). When I heard ‘fibreglass boat’, images of a nice modern boat popped into my head (like the express boats I had taken in Bali).
That was not to be the case. The express was a closed in, long bullet-shaped boat with the tiniest of windows (most which didn’t open). Diesel fumes from the motor, and cigarette smoke from the locals filled the cabin, and there was no fresh air coming through. I was stuck in the middle without a window to see out of. I really wasn’t comfortable at all on this trip, made worse by the realisation that if something happened to the boat, we would essentially trapped in the boat with no real exit except the back (after clambering over seats, people and their belongings).
The situation was made worse thanks to the high seas. It was reasonably choppy for the first hour as we made our way to Pulai Ai but between Pulai Ai and Pulau Run, the swells were even higher – maybe 2-3 meters high. It was rough. Really rough. The motors on the boat were swamped and cut out a few times, leaving us with no real control of the boat the motors were restarted. At one point, a massive wave hit the side of the boat and people went flying off their seats. It really was a horrible ride, and eventually it was too much for my stomach to cope with, and let’s just say that 10 mins from shore, a bag of nuts that I was carrying were soon put to another use. It’s the first time I can ever recall being sick on a boat. (Unfortunately, the nuts were lost at sea!).
Our guesthouse (Manhattan 2) was a fairly new one right at the end the wharf, run by a very pleasant family that provided all meals during our stay, including regular coffees and biscuits and other freshly and goodies throughout the day.
As we set out to explore the island, we didn’t get more than 20 meters before the first cries of ‘’Hello Mister” rang out. Every other person wanted to stop and chat, running us through the usual gauntlet of questions (Where are you going? Where are you from? What is your name? How long have you been in Pulau Run? (15 mins!) ). It is all well-intended and they are naturally curious but it does wear thin after a while!
We met a young chap, Atu, who kindly took us for a walk around the island, and up to the remains of the aforementioned English fort. He was a quiet but friendly chap – genuinely interested in talking to us, wanting to practice his English and to show us around. After our walk, he brought us back to his family’s house and cracked open a green coconut for us. Nice!
Atu arranged to take us snorkelling to Nailaka, an offshore island about 15 mins away by boat – a gorgeous little island that took about 10 mins to walk around, and was ringed in white sand. The perfect little island. Only problem, we arrived pretty much at low tide. We managed to snorkel for about 20 minutes before we felt that the water was just getting too shallow. We said that we were ready to go, but Atu advised the tide was too low to bring the boat in so we had to wait on the island for the tide to turn. So here we were, stranded on a beautiful small island with nothing to do except wait for an hour or two.
Having run out of things to do, we decided to limit our stay on Pulau Run for 2 nights, and instead move on to Pulau Ai. Run is a nice little island, but aside from snorkelling at Nailaka, there just isn’t much to do. The beaches within easy walking distance were not appealing for swimming or snorkelling – primarily due to the amount of rubbish on the beach, and being the only (rare) tourist on the island invited a lot of well-intentioned attention – but it really did get tiresome.
We planned to catch the 8am boat – only to be told that the boat would not be stopping at Pulau Ai due to the high seas, and instead would be going straight back to Bandaneira. This was particularly frustrating as the boat went within 300m of the jetty on Pulau Ai – we couldn’t see any apparent reason why they wouldn’t stop.
So back to our guesthouse in Bandaneira we went.
Manhattan 2 is a newish guesthouse, owned by the same family that own the original Manhattan guesthouse, which we didn’t see but know that it’s up the hill somewhere. Manhattan 2 is the first house on the right as you walk off the pier and cross the road. 120,000rp per night, per person, including 3 meals plus coffee and cakes during the day. Food was Indonesian style, substantial and very tasty. Rooms were clean but basic. Western toilet, shower, fan only. Power available in evening only.
Boat to/from Bandaneira was 25,000rp each way.
Snorkelling boat charter to Nailaka was 100,000rp. You’ll need to have your own snorkel gear (or look at hiring from your guesthouse in Bandaneira). Suggest you avoid going when the tide is at it’s lowest.
Two days later, we packed our bags again and headed to Pulai Ai. This time we were on a wooden boat that I was much happier about – I got to sit on top, had plenty of fresh air, and the seas weren’t quite so high.
Again, we were the only tourists on the island on the day we arrived, although a French couple arrived the day after, and our Hungarian friends arrived the day after that. And although we did still get the usual ‘Hello Mister’ calls, people were generally less interested in us, which I found to be a welcome respite.
We did a long hike across the island, following a small dirt path through the jungle to a beach on the far side of the island. We didn’t bring our swimsuit though so missed out on an opportunity to swim – bugger! (Could have gone in my underwear, I guess, but there are always people crawling out of the woodwork in these islands, so decided not to chance it!)
The beach along the village front could have been quite nice (especially when compared to the beachfront on Run), but the amount of rubbish at the beach is disheartening. As we sat on the wharf one night for sunset, we watched as several people came on to the wharf to dump their rubbish into the tide (done at high tide so that it gets washed out to sea). It’s disheartening but in their defence, the options are limited. There is no infrastructure on these islands to manage rubbish so what they can’t burn, gets taken away by the sea. (One person we met watched as the Pelni passenger ships dumps the shipload of rubbish into the sea as it nears Bandaneira, the port. At least, it could be done miles out at sea and not near the towns.)
Having said that, we didn’t go snorkelling off the main village beach, but just at the far end of the village where there wasn’t any rubbish (nor people to watch us with their unabashed curiosity) and found it to be surprisingly good. You just had to be careful where you put your stuff on the beach to avoid excrement. (The jury is out as to whether it belonged to human or dog, but I suspect the former).
Yes, I am probably sounding a bit jaded. Pulau Run and Ai were nice islands for a short visit; they were certainly quiet with no motorised traffic on Pulau Run, and only a few motorbikes on Pulau Ai which was a nice relief. It was also nice to be able to snorkel straight off the beach (in Ai). It was difficult to just relax at the guesthouses without the feeling of being under constant observation. Overall, I’d say that these islands were somewhat underwhelming but a nice way to break up the extended stay that we were having in the Banda Islands group.
Ardy’s Guesthouse is a good budget option, at 125,000rp per night, per person, including all 3 meals. Food was Indonesian style, and was generally OK, although I suspect that they gave us packaged instant noodles for lunch when we first arrived. Possibly this was due to us arriving unannounced. Mattresses in the front room were terrible (soft) – but this room has the most windows to open. All others had good mattresses although wrapped in plastic under the sheets!
Yusuf (the owner) was friendly and helpful.
Alfredo’s – we had a little nosey here after snorkelling in their bay. The views from the elevated rooms were nice, and the rooms looked pretty good from the outside. As I understand it, they are priced quite a bit higher but they also provide a few more comforts. Funnily enough, when we spoke to Alfredo’s wife she said that they were ‘closed’, a story we had heard earlier from other tourists we met previously. Her reason: they had run out of fish, and vegetables were expensive. What? Fishing is the primary livelihood of most people in this area and the sea is all around them. How do they run out? The truth, we suspect, is that as Alfredo was back in Italy on holiday, his wife wanted some time off, too and was discouraging new guests.
Snorkelling: Average snorkelling in beach in front of Alfredo’s, although you have to swim a long way out to get to the drop-off where the good snorkelling is to be found. There was also good snorkelling to be had along the beach in front of the village: walk to the far end, to the right of the pier, when facing the ocean. Avoid the area in front of the main village due to the amount of rubbish in the water.
Hatta Island: best for last
It was our last day in the Banda Islands, and I was eager to do another snorkel day trip that would allow me to see some of the better snorkelling places in the area. Alan wasn’t so keen so while he spent the day photographing the highlights of Bandaneira, I joined some other travellers on a visit to Pulau Hatta and Pulau Banda Besar. And I obviously saved the best for last!
The boat ride out to Pulau Hatta was a torturous two hour journey in yet more high seas. Our boat was a long narrow wooden boat, and we sat single file in the boat, gripping the sides for dear life. With the waves coming straight at us, we rode up high in the air and slammed back down with brute force. I soon learned that the best strategy is to stand up, and gently lower myself into the seat with each big wave.
But oh my goodness, it was worth the ride, once we go there. This was the most gorgeous beach I’ve seen yet with fantastic corals and fish along the drop-off.
We had a prepared lunch on the beach, after which I wondered along to check out the new guesthouse that I heard was under construction. It’s actually been under construction for the last year, and was still not opened two weeks ago. However, today, someone was staying there. Bugger – I wish I had l known. I could have quite happily lazed away a few good days here. This is exactly what I was looking for.
Boat charter to Hatta Island and Banda Besar was 500,000rp for the boat. Not too bad when it’s split between you. Be prepared to get soaking wet on the way there (and back), and have your camera in a drybag.