The Spice Islands, also known as the Malukus, have been described as a hothouse of biodiversity. It was here that the great Welsh naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace developed his theory of evolution in 1858, which he expounded to his friend Charles Darwin, who was coming to similar conclusions in the far-off Galapagos.
While the sleepy provincial capital Ambon is large enough to have a chain of volcanoes, boasting hot springs and sultry rainforests, it seems incredible that the tiny island of Ternate could once have been the administrative headquarters from which all the Dutch East Indies was governed. Perhaps these islands were destined for great things from early on. After all, the Chinese had traded for spices here long before European explorers even found their fabled route to the east.
This archipelago – wedged tightly in a nutcracker of shifting tectonic plates, ominously known as the Maluku Sea Collision Zone – was the only place in the world where nutmeg (a spice which was said to be a cure for the dreaded black plague) grew. Even today the primeval forests and ancient plantations of the Malukus are fragrant with the scent of nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and mace.
Among these mysterious islands, unique cultures and traditions thrive that are unusual even by Indonesian standards. The Kei Islands may well be one of the most haunted places in the world and locals will tell you intriguing tales of spirits and ghosts … invariably friendly, they say, as long as you treat them with respect.