“Hm, tough road!” I noted from the back of the motorbike as it bumped over the steep dirt road through the jungle, dodging coconuts, palm fronds, puddles and tree roots.
“Moderate adventure,” replied Alex, our guide casually. I wondered what extreme adventure might be.
Aside from his great one liners — also including, “Westerners are stronger – because of all the cheese,”– Alex wears many other hats well, including being an entrepreneur, a social worker, a “jungle man” and a great guide and full of amazing stories passed down to him by his grandparents and other witnesses of Halmahera’s action packed history.
The jungle covered island holds many secrets, and as well as the ash clouds from the volcano, is shrouded in a complicated past involving many players, from Japanese occupiers and local soldiers fighting on behalf of the former colonialist Dutch army, to the American military and UN security forces who came in at the end of world war II to liberate the island from the Japanese. Conflicts between countries, ideologies and religions are intertwined in Maluku’s history, including most recently the religious struggles between Muslims and Christians that took place in 1998 and led to the loss of many lives.
Today there is peace, except for the Api volcano on Halmahera, which still lies dormant, puffing out ash regularly to remind us of the power gurgling below the earth.
Our full-day jungle trek up to the volcano’s crater took us through tangled and beautiful secondary forest (primary forest can only be found in West Halmahera), where we saw some birds including Hornbills and Brown Pigeons (though as Alex rightfully warned us, “they are not yet well-trained for tourists!”), stepped over lava-encrusted riverbeds, tasted fresh nutmeg and clove off the tree (the spices that made these islands famous — and made sultans and colonial traders rich — in the past) and got plenty sweaty.
As far as a workout goes, trekking up a jungle-covered volcano beats the StairMaster at the gym any day.
It started raining about 3/4 of the way up, so it was a wet and cloudy final ascent to the black lava crater, where we ate a soggy but well-earned lunch of rice, egg and a delicious cake made of coconut, palm sugar and peanuts.
The only other people on the crater that day were a group of local teenagers who had set up camp and were hiking up the rocks in their flip flops to find the best cellphone reception, others etching their names in the lava rock. As Miller said, “it looks like they took the bus here.” Meanwhile, we (in our hiking boots and raincoats) were looking a little unkempt. We have a ways to go before we’re true jungle people!
Next we leave the jungle behind and take to Halmahera’s island-dotted coastline to see what level of adventure lies in store for us. Extreme island hopping anyone? I think we should manage that.