sign in a cave in Laos

8 June 2008

The Splendours of Sawai (BT)

Published on The Brunei Times (

The splendours of Sawai
Liz Price


Saturday, April 21, 2007

I SPENT all my free time sitting on the veranda of my floating house, admiring the view. It was perfect stilt houses sitting in the sea, really clear water with lots of fish, corals and starfish, small boats zipping around and a backdrop of scenic limestone cliffs. This was Sawai.

Sawai is a very small Muslim fishing village, located on the north coast of Pulau Seram. Seram is the largest island in Maluku Province, which is part of Maluku or The Moluccas, also known as The Spice Islands.

I had flown from Jakarta to Ambon, which is the capital of Maluku, and is a small town built alongside the beautiful Ambon Bay. From there I had taken a two-hour ferry ride to the south coast of Seram, landing at Amahai.

After an overnight stay, we went by car across the island to the north coast. This was a really scenic drive as we went straight through the Manusela National Park. This is a pristine area of densely forested hills, the highest peak being Gunung Binaya at 3,027m. I was amazed at the number of wild orchids growing alongside the road.

A few kilometres before Sawai, we stopped at the parrot rescue centre near Kampong Masihulan. This is a sanctuary where birds are rescued from trappers and hunters and are rehabilitated before being released into the wild. I saw cockatoos and parrots, colourful lories and even a hornbill and cassowary. The sanctuary is doing a great job of helping the indigenous birds.

As we approached Sawai we stopped to take photos as there were great views over the village. As we entered the village I was aware of how narrow the roads are, our car virtually touched the buildings either side of the road, which wasn't really built for vehicles.

We parked when the road became too narrow and continued on foot to Penginapan Lisar Bahari. Seeing a white face, the kids all called out "Hello mister" in the typical Indonesian greeting for a foreigner.

A smiling Pak Ali met us at the losman and showed me to my room and I was pleasantly surprised to see an en-suite bathroom. All the houses are built on stilts in the sea, as there is little dry land due to the fact that the forested hills come right down to the sea.

We went for a boat trip around the bay. The limestone cliffs rose steeply out of the water and their 300m high peaks were hidden in cloud at times. We went to the next village of Saleman to watch the evening bat flight.

A cave entrance is visible high up in the cliff behind the village, and every evening a stream of bats issues from the cave to go on their hunt for insects. There are so many bats streaming out that they form a black ribbon snaking across the sky. It was a wonderful sight.

The next day we trekked to a nearby cave, located in the Manusela National Park. The walk took about 40 minutes and was really interesting as I was able to see all kinds of trees such as nutmeg, clove, cocoa, durian and gandaria.

Having come to The Spice Islands I was particularly interested to see the spices growing in their natural setting.

The cave, Goa Hatu Putih, was quite beautiful with lots of stalagmites and stalactites, and we were able to see fruit bats and insect eating bats, as well as some inedible birds' nests.

Another highlight of my Sawai visit was the river trip. Pak Ali arranged this, and on the way to the Salawai river we saw some dolphins swimming quite close to the boat.

The river was particularly beautiful, with nipah palms coming right down to the water's edge. There were mangroves and sea pandans and of course sago palms. Sago is a staple food in Maluku and is eaten more than rice. I was in luck as we were able to stop and watch some men processing the sago on the river bank.

When the sago palm is about 15 years old, it flowers and then dies. This is the time when the sago is most abundant. The tree is cut down and the sago is removed from the trunk, mixed with water and then the resulting wet sago flour is scooped out and left to dry. One sago palm can give about 500kg of wet flour.

I was amazed at the number of butterflies and birds flying around the river. It would be a paradise for bird watchers. We went upriver as far as we could, and then progress was halted by a tree which had fallen right across the river. There was no way we could get past, so we made a return.

When we got back to the bay we headed for a deserted island where we had a picnic lunch. The island was so small I could walk right around in a few minutes, but it was such a scenic place with birds singing and lots of corals and shells on the sandy beach.

And I have to mention the food at Pak Ali's. If you like seafood, then this is the place to go. Every dinner we had the freshest seafood, straight out of the sea. There was delicious fish cooked in different styles, squid and cockles, and the last meal we had the biggest prawns I have ever seen. I was confused about whether they were prawns or lobsters as they were so big and so delicious.

One of the best things about Sawai is that the sea is clean and there is very little rubbish floating around. I went snorkelling a few times and the water was really clear. It's such a nice place just to sit and watch the villagers go about their daily lives.

I was quite sad when it was time to leave. I would like to say a big thank you to my hosts Sinda and Tilly from Spice Islands Tours and Travel for taking me there. If you want a nice relaxing destination, Sawai is the place to go.

The Brunei Times


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