sign in a cave in Laos

8 June 2008

Chilling in Sawai (Star)

Chillin’ in Sawai

THE STAR Lifestyle
Saturday August 4, 2007

A national park, bird sanctuary, scenic limestone hills, fresh seafood and a laid-back lifestyle are some of the things you’ll find in Sawai.


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, clear water with lots of fish, coral and starfish, small boats zipping past and a backdrop of scenic limestone cliffs. This is Sawai, a fishing village in the north coast of Pulau Seram.

Seram is the largest island in Maluku Province, which is part of The Moluccas, also known as The Spice Islands in Indonesia. I flew from Jakarta to Ambon, the capital of Maluku, a small town on the beautiful Ambon Bay.

From there, I took a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride to Amahai on the south coast of Seram. After an overnight stay, we went by car across the island to the north coast. This was a really scenic drive through the Manusela National Park, a pristine area of densely forested hills. The highest peak is Gunung Binaya (3,027m). I was amazed at the number of wild orchids growing along the road.

Pak Ali's place

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 could hear the bird calls as soon as we stepped out of the car.

We had to step through a disinfectant footbath and wear face masks to enter the area because of the avian flu threat. I saw cockatoos and parrots, colourful lories and even a hornbill and cassowary.

I was surprised to see two small kangaroos, natives of nearby Aru Island. The sanctuary is doing a great job of helping the indigenous birds.

As we approached Sawai, we stopped to take photos of the village. The sun was shining on the silver coloured roof of the mosque and the houses looked pretty, snuggled between the green hills and the blue sea. The roads were so narrow that our car nearly touched the buildings on either side of the road.

We continued on foot. 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 which had an ensuite bathroom. All the houses are built on stilts in the sea, as the forested hills come right down to the sea.

Later we went for a boat trip around the bay. The limestone cliffs rise steeply out of the water, their 300m high peaks hidden by clouds at times. We stopped at a small sea cave but the tide was high, so we didn’t go in. We went to the next village of Saleman to watch the evening bat flight. Every evening, a cloud of bats stream out from the cave high up in the cliff to hunt for insects. They form a black ribbon snaking across the sky. It was a wonderful sight.

The sago-making process. - Liz Price

The next day we trekked to a nearby cave 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 (plum mango). Having come to The Spice Islands, I was particularly interested to see the spices growing in their natural habitat.

The cave, Goa Hatu Putih, was beautiful with lots of stalagmites and stalactites. We were able to see fruit bats and insect-eating bats, as well as some inedible bird’s nests.

Pak Ali also arranged a river trip. On the way to the Salawai river, we saw some dolphins swimming quite close to the boat. The river was beautiful, with nipah palms coming right down to the water’s edge.

There were mangroves and sea pandan, and of course, sago palms. Sago is a staple food in Maluku and is eaten more than rice. 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 tree is cut down and the sago removed from the trunk. It is mixed with water and the resulting wet sago flour is scooped out and left to dry. One sago palm produces about 500kg of wet flour.

Delicious and straight-out-of-the-sea seafood.

I was amazed at the number of butterflies and birds flying around the river, a bird watcher’s paradise. When we got back to the bay, we headed for a deserted island for a picnic lunch. It was such a scenic place with birds singing and lots of corals and shells on the sandy beach.

If you like seafood, Pak Ali’s 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 biggest prawns I’d ever seen.

The sea is clean here and there is little rubbish floating around. I went snorkelling a few times in the clear water. It’s such a nice place 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.

Spice Islands Tours & Travel

Spice Islands Tours & Travel
Jalan Batu Kerbau
SK 5/1-48
Ambon 97125
Maluku, Indonesia
Phone +62 911 352914
Fax +62 911 347974


Tours to the Maluku islands can be arranged through Spice Islands Tours & Travel, and tailor-made to suit your requirements e.g. general sightseeing, diving and snorkelling, bird watching, trekking, historical sites, fishing. The guides speak Indonesian, English and Dutch.

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