The Wooky was incapacitated with dengue fever for the first half of our stay at the simple paradise that is Putih Lessi Indah on the small island of Saparua in the Lease Islands, Central Maluku (across the water from the relatively large island of Seram). He spent the first week doing little but resting and me, well, I didn’t do very much at all, and I did it in very beautiful and peaceful surroundings.
The journey from Bali was quite long and arduous particularly because the Wooky was feeling like death warmed up, trying to ward off fever with paracetamol so he could just remain upright and awake long enough for us to reach our destination – Putih Lessi Indah on Saparua in the Lease Islands.
Once again it was a bit of a marathon trek – we left the hotel in Bali at 4.00am and arrived in Saparua at 6.30pm. We travelled by taxi from the hotel, plane to Surabaya where we had a bit of a wait, another flight to Makassar (an extended, delayed wait thanks to Lion Air), and yet another flight to Ambon Island. We then took a taxi from Ambon airport across Ambon Island to Tuleho Harbour on the other side and along the way people constantly called out “hello mister” to us through the open taxi windows. In fact it struck us from the moment that we left the airport that the people were warm and friendly and this first impression was reinforced throughout the Maluku Islands.
The final leg of the journey was an hour in a tiny fibreglass speedboat directly to the beach at Putih Lessi Indah. We arrived after nightfall after 16 long hours, both exhausted and slightly disheveled, deaf from the noise of the old speedboat (coupled with immense gratitude that we even survived the trip which was undertaken in pitch darkness with no light except that of the driver’s (very old) mobile phone).
As soon as he saw the bed a feverish Wooky practically collapsed on it and promptly made it his home for the next week. He was not very well at all.
Putih Lessi Indah
We have been incredibly fortunate to spend time in some idyllic beachside locations. Some have been more luxurious than others, with varying degrees of isolation, some with huge expansive white sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see, sometimes on small secluded beaches with vistas across never-ending turquoise seas or across bays to mountains and the twinkling lights of hillside villages after dark. You’d think that one is very much like the other graded on tangible variables such as the quality of the food and accommodation but it is not as simple as that.
I spent almost one week just sitting on our little veranda or swinging in a hammock. When I was not reading I spent time just watching the little boats and ferries motoring back and forth and the odd pod of dolphins, watching the well fed cats marching up and down the beach seeking out shade, or getting to know the people that worked here, or chatting to other travelers as they came and went.
It soon became apparent that there was something special about this peaceful little place where time seemed to stand still. Days were structured around mealtimes where everyone eats together around a large wooden table and when the sun starts to slip below the horizon you know it is time for the first cold beer of the evening.
Our simple little bungalow had a veranda on the beach and an outside bathroom out the back. Although we had lots of creepy crawly visitors including geckos (of course), crickets, a huge huntsman spider, and the odd crab, you kind of get used to it. Meals were served in the sheltered dining area and often the two cats Black and Dusa (two of the most spoilt cats in the world, never mind Indonesia) sat impatiently close by safe in the knowledge that that any leftover fish would find its way into their bowls and resisting the urge to help themselves.
The unpredictable tides meant that the water reached a few metres from the hut at high tide and at low tide it was sometimes up to 50 metres beyond and you had to walk across rocks and coral to reach the water to go for a swim or a snorkel. Snorkeling we saw sharks and turtles and lots of fish. Much of the coral was lost in the last bleaching 20 years ago but some is growing back so there is hope.
The owner, Asis, is warm, funny, and kind, with stories told in a voice you could listen to all night. He has a team of 3 who help him and the main advantage Asis has over them is his fluency in English but his second in command, his friend of 25 years Gedi, is equally accommodating (if a little shy) as are the rest of the staff. The atmosphere here is peaceful and relaxing but it is the people who make it something a bit special.
Asis has his own story. He ran Putih Lessi Indah as a guesthouse/homestay in the 1990s but when the troubles started he abandoned his business in Maluku and left to find work in the Togean Islands. He worked for a short time at the Black Marlin on Kadidiri (where we went on our last trip and where we would probably head again) and then headed to the coastal town of Gorontalo to open a rumah makan (small restaurant). Unfortunately for him the troubles then started in Sulawesi. He stayed for a while in Gorontalo but tourists stopped coming so he continued travelling around Indonesia before finally returning to Saparua a few years ago to rebuild the guesthouse he had abandoned.
His once thriving business was reduced to rotting timber mainly as a result of termites running riot unchecked. However Asis is cautious and is slowly rebuilding Although it is not yet as prosperous as it was 25 years ago, he has great guest reviews, is planning two more beach bungalows, and tourism is increasing. We have no doubt he will continue to build on his success and if anyone deserves a bit of luck, Asis does.
That is not the extent of Asis’s story and I would not presume to share all we were told. Nor could I possibly begin to wholly describe the boundless limits of the care and hospitality shown by him and his staff here, from the old man who starts sweeping the beach at 5.30am who was so shy he couldn’t even look at me to say good morning to me for a week but when we left he hugged me hard and kissed me on both my cheeks, to Gedi who was shy to begin with but once you take some time to get to know him he has his own stories to tell and is equally generous and kind. As time went on Gedi revealed a funny and slightly rebellious side and fed me sopi (their favourite tipple) on a regular basis, I think in an effort to see if I would fall over (I didn’t).
All the time the Wooky was sick Asis seemed genuinely concerned for him. Every day he offered to take him to the doctor or to the hospital, he made him copious cups of ginger tea (which were gratefully received) and offered to buy medicine when he went to town. As there is no treatment for dengue (apart from paracetamol for the fever which we had stocked up on in Bali, and lots of water) and he seemed to be over the worst after a few days, the Wooky decided to just rest. He was very weak and very tired, he slept a lot and gave beer a wide berth for a while (evidence alone he must have been at death’s door) and slowly started to recover after a week. Even after that he wasn’t able to do very much and it took him a good few weeks to fully recover.
We had planned to try and see a bit of the island. Asis lends you his motorbike (at no cost as long as you buy some fuel) so that you can explore the island by yourself. However we couldn’t take advantage of that option because motorbikes aren’t big enough or powerful enough to carry the Wooky on his own, never mind with me pillion and anyway, he had a go and had a run in with the kick start pedal which resulted in a lot of blood but nothing life threatening so we gave up on that idea.
As the bike option wasn’t proving too successful Asis offered to tke us out in his car to Kota Saparua on market day. It was the first time we had really met people outside of Putih Lessi Indah and we were again struck by how overwhelmingly friendly the people were, from the stallholders to the shopkeepers and the people just driving past – everyone had a smile for us. It is a very mixed area, both Christian and Muslim, with people from all over Indonesia from Java to Papua and the mix seemed to produce the friendliest population we had encountered so far.
Asis offered to take us anywhere we wanted to visit on the island. Astrid, a German girl staying, wanted to visit Boi village because she had friend whose family originated from there so after the market we headed there for a wander around. It was a village built on a hill with steps instead of roads so we had to park the car at the top of the village and walk around on foot. The little houses were colourful and modern, the streets spotless and the gardens green and well kept, and the lack of cars made it a very peaceful little place particularly for the chickens and dogs roaming around.
After that we were also dropped off at the old Dutch fort (Maluku is full of them) while Asis went off to do some errands. The fort was locked so we walked around the outside and by the time we made it around to the front steps we saw someone hurrying across the green towards us. It was the man with the key who had spotted us from a distance so he came over to let us in to have a look around. He explained in pigeon English/Indonesian what the different areas were and it was interesting to see something historical for a change.
There seemed to be no limits to Asis’s hospitality and he just came across as a genuinely lovely person. We were just passing through but felt warmly welcomed by him and Gedi were sad to leave. And it was a place we met some lovely people, including some fellow travelers who had their own interesting stories to tell.