Another Ambon: Part II

Hengky offered to show me around the jungle in the hills above his house. He wasn’t very familiar with it–he said he preferred the coast to the interior–but he had heard there was a Japanese bunker left from the Second World War, and we would probably find some durian and rambutan as well. We walked up a steep, rutted, rocky logging road, crested a ridge, and then descended into a densely forested ravine. There was a trail–a sort of trail, anyway. It was barely visible through the thick undergrowth, and very slippery. The difference between a trail and a watercourse is often very slim in lots of places, not least a rainforest. Hengky was wearing flip-flops as usual. He slipped and fell, but we kept on going for several hundred yards before he realized he had lost his cell phone. This was a very serious problem.

We retraced our steps, but I didn’t have much hope of finding it. We were bushwhacking most of the way, and I didn’t see how the phone could keep from sliding down the steep mud, to rest in some liquid or other. The whole hill was basically liquid. Hengky went on ahead, and he eventually found it near the spot he’d fallen, nothing short of a miracle.

We continued back down the slope, and arrived at a group of cattle stalls with a roof built over them. There was a little hut nearby, but nobody was home. It didn’t look like we were heading in the right direction for the bunker. We tried a different direction, up another trail that followed the bottom of another ravine. Some rambutan had fallen on the trail–they were tart, not quite ripe. Further on we found a durian tree. “Careful, Joss,” Hengky said, “don’t let a durian fall on you!” He was serious. These durian trees are at least thirty feet tall, and a good-sized durian can injure or even kill someone if it falls on their head. This is pretty common. The word durian translates literally as “spiky thing,” and the spikes are sharp and sturdy enough to do some damage. I will have more to say about durians in a further post; my paean to this odd fruit will have to wait, because in this particular instance, none of the durian had fallen to the ground. We kept going along the trail.

The jungle opened up into a big clearing, on the lower slope of one of the ravines. Some crops were planted near the trail, and further up the ravine there was a tiny hut, with smoke from a fire nearby. “Maybe they can sell us a durian,” Hengky said. “You really need to try one.”

It was a small, narrow building, with two stories. The second story was completely enclosed, and must have been about half the size of a shipping container. The first level didn’t have much in the way of walls, but there was a small deck, on which sat a young woman and an old man, who had perhaps two teeth left in his mouth. Sheltered from the rain, the woman was grating some kind of vegetable, as the man rolled a fat tingwe cigarette for himself. Hengky talked with the man for a while, in a dialect I half-understood. They did have some durian, but they were asking an exorbitant price. Hengky asked them about the Japanese bunker, and the old man told him about a cave that the Japanese had dug into a hillside nearby. He pointed us back the way we came.

On the trail to the cave, which ran along the crest of a lush, forested ridge, we met a man carrying a parang (machete), equally good for hacking through undergrowth and fighting in Ambon’s enclosed alleyways—something not unheard of, even though the tension of the early 2000s has dissipated somewhat. Of course, this man was friendly, and pointed the way to the cave, down the ridge which grew rockier and more slippery. The trail dropped to a river below, next tow which was a small neighborhood of huts. The cave was actually part of one family’s yard, and they graciously allowed us to look inside.

I never have a flashlight when I need one, but the designers of my cheap Indonesian cell phone had the forethought to put a small LED light on it, which barely illuminated the first couple feet of a tunnel. The tunnel had been dug into the earth of the hillside –it was ordinary dirt, with pebbles sticking out of it, not auspicious material to dig tunnels in, but somehow it had held for half a century. A bend in the tunnel brought me into a slightly larger room, and for a split second I saw my light reflected off the eyes of several bats, before they flew past me, out into the daylight. The room was empty except for an unmarked green metal ammunition can. The roof had begun to cave in; there was a high shaft of empty space above me. It didn’t occur to me then, but I bet the collapse of the roof has covered some more interesting artifacts.

We weren’t sure where we were—we had traveled a long ways through the jungle, and then dropped to small town somewhere along the main highway between Kota Ambon and the airport. On our way through the town, we saw that a funeral was taking place in the middle of the road. To get around the funeral, we walked through a field filled with little brown cows.

I was surprised that Hengky had little interest in all these fascinating inland things—he only really got excited at the possibility of durian—but then, he’s a fisherman, and looks to the sea rather than the land. I think it also speaks to something more general about Indonesia, though: in the same way as most Indonesians don’t walk around for pleasure, there isn’t much exploring for exploring’s sake. I don’t think that’s so much closed-mindedness as it is contentedness with one’s surroundings.



This entry was posted in Indonesia, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Another Ambon: Part II

  1. Keith Fleming says:

    I have some archaeology-related books for Joss Whitaker if he is interested. My machine does not have his current email address in the contacts file.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *