Drawing by Leonard Sheil of the boat built by Tim Severin and his team to retrace the journeys of Alfred Russel Wallace through the Spice Islands.
“At dawn on the second day the Bandas were appearing faintly on the horizon as a single peak with a plume of cloud, and by early afternoon as we drew closer, we began to see why the little cluster of islands are described as the jewels of the Moluccas. They are dominated by the splendid profile of an active 600-metre volcano, thrusting up from the depths of the Banda Sea. Silver and white clouds streamed downwind from the peak as we approached. The clouds were the turbulence where the tip of the volcano disturbed the wind flow, but from a distance they looked exactly like gushing smoke and steam as if the volcano was building up pressure and about to explode.
Before us was a small, low outlying island, Hatta Island. Across the eight-kilometre-wide channel, steep land thickly covered with coconut plantation and forest climbed away to a crest. Beyond that lush green ridge, but set well back so that there was a sense of perspective, was the cone of the volcano, dark and dramatic. Flights of gannets glided past us, and in the Hatta channel a school of 20 or 30 dolphins was lazing on the surface. They bobbed and rolled and blew small spouts, and their dark skins glistened in the sun. The entire spectacle would have been a fit backdrop to a story by Jules Verne, and it seemed highly appropriate that the local people called their volcano Gunung Api, or Fire Mountain.
The smouldering volcano had led Alfred Wallace, who visited the islands on three different occasions, to reflect how differently from most Europeans the local people must view the ground on which they stood. People in Europe, he said, regarded the earth as solid and firm, but in Banda and the other volcanic areas of Indonesia the inhabitants were always aware that the land might suddenly shake in earthquakes or erupt in showers of hot ash and terrifying lava flows.”
TIM SEVERIN is a British explorer, historian, and writer, noted for his work in retracing the legendary journeys of historical figures. Among many adventures, he has sailed a leather boat across the Atlantic in the wake of St. Brendan the Navigator, captained an Arab sailing ship from Muscat to China to investigate the legends of Sindbad the Sailor, steered a replica of a Bronze Age galley to seek the landfalls of Jason and the Argonauts and of Ulysses, sailed the Pacific on a bamboo raft to test the theory that ancient Chinese mariners could have reached to the Americas, and traced the origins of Moby Dick, the great white whale, among the aboriginal sea hunters of the Pacific. He has also written several works of historical fiction.
For more information about his work, visit www.timseverin.net.
Read more in the The Banda Islands: Hidden Histories and Miracles of Nature. To order a copy, email email@example.com.
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