Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Is it safe to travel to the Indonesian island of Ambon?

Families, once displaced by violence, are returning to their home villages on Indonesia's Ambon Island. Read their story Photo: Kim Johnston/Mercy Corps.

A colleague has come to me with this query:
I am thinking about sailing to the Indonesian island of Ambon as part of the Darwin to Ambon yacht race? Should I go or is it still too dangerous?

Background: Ambon is both an island and a city, and is the main centre in the eastern province of the Moluccas, (once known as
the Spice Islands). It was once a easy-going tranquil place off the beaten track - but was well known to sailors - particularly those who competed in the annual Darwin to Ambon yacht race. In 1999 violence broke out.. Ambon became another of Indonesia's flashpoints after the fall of President Suharto, when law and order disintegrated across the archipelago. (You can read about this in my book RUNNING AMOK). Once peaceful Christian and Muslim communities were turned against each other.. and the violence escalated into a bloody civil war which claimed at least 6,000 lives up until 2003. Many parts of Ambon have been destroyed - I have witnessed the fighting, arson and looting and seen the terrible trauma left by those who have been tortured or mutilated.

Suffice to say the Darwin to Ambon Yacht race was halted - but crews are once again ready to sail. So has the violence stopped? Is it safe to travel to Ambon for a yacht race, or even fly in as a tourist?

Generally, calm has returned. However there ARE sporadic acts of violence that should be noted:
  • On May 2 this year a grenade exploded as worshippers were gathering outside Ambon's
    Al-Fatah Grand Mosque in preparation for morning prayers. There were no injuries.
  • A grenade exploded on April 25 at a bus station, followed the same day by a grenade which was hurled at a house. Six people were injured in the earlier attack. April 25 was the 56thKedaulatan Maluku or FKM. This group is not widely supported.. but it could be growing in strength. anniversary of the founding of a Christian separatist group, the Moluccas Sovereign Front - the Front
The bottom line in considering whether to visit Ambon at this time is that overall the situation is much calmer, however take every travel precaution - don't do anything you wouldn't do at home (travel in seedy neighborhoods, wander alone at night - particularly in central Ambon city, or go partying in loud tourist groups). If you do go - enjoy the wonderful sail!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Travel Adventure - World Journeys that really inspire

Sometime we hear inspiring and adventurous tales. On December 10, 2006 Benji Rodgers-Wilson set off from Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia to embark on a solo expedition to circumnavigate the world by bicycle and sail.

Green Focus

One objective of his journey is to highlight the damage mankind is doing to our fragile planet & to raise awareness of the responsibility we all have to protect it. His aim is to journey using no fuel (other than calories) & emit no greenhouse gasses & he hopes his example will inspire others to think more seriously about living their lives in more sustainable ways.

Benji is currently in Darwin... and says he's always keen to meet the locals ("what better way to learn about the places I visit", he says).

By following his website you'll discover all sorts of wonderful info and stories.

I heard Benji on ABC Radio Darwin today (105.7 FM) and I found him to be a really inspiring bloke. He's headed for Japan on route for Europe, but as he noted during his radio interview.. his travel plans could easily change. Ah the wonders of footloose travel!! On the subject of travel for travels sake it's worth checking out this site too: Vagabonding.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Stars cause a stir at a Darwin cafe - Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, David Wenham

Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban in Darwin

Movie star fever has certainly hit Northern Australia's capital Darwin this week. The famous Roma Bar Cafe managed to elbow its way centre stage as two of Australia's biggest stars (and their spouses) sat down for a hearty TOP END breakfast. ABC News managed to turn the stars meal into a front page story.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hugh Jackman hits Darwin

Nicole Kidman has been joined by co-star Hugh Jackman as filming of Baz Luhrman's epic "Australia" continues in Australia's northern capital Darwin.

The burly Aussie star has been sighted as shooting continues at Darwin's Stokes Hill Wharf. (see ABC news)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Nicole in Darwin - A Helping Hand Gone Wrong!

Darwin, Australia's northern capital, is on Hollywood watch as shooting for Baz Luhrmann's multi-million dollar epic Australia gets under way.
Hundreds of locals have been trying to get close to Darwin's wharf to catch a glimpse of actress Nicole Kidman and some of them certainly did see her in an embarrassing moment.
Darwin's local newspaper, the NT News caught the moment with the paparazzi shot of the day: an Outback helping hand gone wrong.
Nicole Kidman is starring in the outback adventure "Australia" together with Hugh Jackman and a cast of top-name Australian stars.