In Search of Spices

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Asia
Nutmeg and Cinnamon in Hong Kong Maritime Museum

Nutmeg and Cinnamon in Hong Kong Maritime Museum

If every single person on the planet were given the opportunity to travel around the world, I believe they would have answered ‘yes’ without the slightest doubt. Each individual, however, has his/her own preferences, things that would excite them along the way, energize them, and make them wish to spend another day on the road.

Some people travel to see cultures so different from what they’re familiar with at home, some are more intrigued by exotic cuisines made from ingredients so alien to them, but there are also individuals who are willing to spend hours to traverse the globe just to find new party scenes. Ancient heritage sites, shopping centers, intricate temples, breathtaking landscapes, majestic animals, and extreme adventures are some other reasons for people to pack their bags and suitcases to travel to places far away from home.

I was first bitten by the travel bug in 2007 during my month-long trip to Europe. Then after a short trip to Singapore in 2010, the wanderlust began to really kick in. From then on the winds brought me to places in Asia I long dreamed to visit, including Shwedagon Pagoda in MyanmarSigiriya in Sri Lanka, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

But as the list of places I visit grows longer, I began to take my travels more profoundly. The trip to Timor-Leste opened my eyes on a dark chapter of the troublesome history between Indonesia and the former Portuguese colony, a chapter often narrated in a much toned-down version in Indonesia emphasizing the role of the Indonesian military to help pro-Indonesia factions prevent the liberated colony from descending into chaos. Meanwhile the visit to Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap gave me a better understanding of  the relations between Jayavarman II – the founder of the Khmer Empire – and the Javanese Sailendra dynasty who in the 8th century commissioned the construction of what would become the world’s biggest Buddhist monument, and the inspiration for the Khmer king to develop a city unlike anything the world had ever seen.

Food, on the other hand, is an excellent way to understand how nations interacted, trade routes were established, and colonialism shaped many aspects of a region’s contemporary economic and socio-cultural landscapes. As far as historical trade routes are concerned, there was one particular place which played a pivotal role in the global power constellation, driving Europeans to venture deep into unknown oceans in search of a small chain of islands nestled among a vast archipelago straddling the Indian and Pacific Oceans: the fabled Spice Islands. The aftermath of that quest is still palpable today in dynamic geopolitical relations, as well as on dining tables around the globe.

In the spirit to get an in-depth understanding about what inspired the dishes we love, the places we admire, and the colorful cultures we see today, James and I are about to embark on a trip unlike anything we have ever done before. A journey whose magnitude goes far beyond our usual one or two-week-long trips which have been keeping our wanderlust, and blogs, alive. A journey evoked by the very spices we cannot live without.

It will be a six-month-long odyssey, spanning six Asian countries and covering many of the places along the classical spice route which brought distant nations closer than ever. Apart from the spice islands of Maluku (the Moluccas) in Indonesia, we will also explore ancient trading ports and other places in the sprawling archipelago, venturing further beyond to Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and India. We will end the spice journey in Nepal, a landlocked country which was never a part of the spice route but has enchanted us for a long time.

The big trip will kick off on July 1, and these upcoming months are the time for completing all our preparations – booking flights, getting visas, and resigning from our jobs. The journey has been more than two years in the making, and it is so big that I find it both exciting and frightening.

Already, the prospect of this trip has pushed me into uncharted territory. It has made me bike to work every day – not an easy feat in the chaos of Jakarta – and bring my own meals, so I can save the money I need to fund the expedition. But it all points to one thing: whatever comes in your way, never let go of your dream!

Very Intricate Carvings

Revisiting Shwedagon’s Majestic Halls…

1

…and the Imposing Rock Fortress of Sigiriya…

A Stopover in Semarang before Going Further East

…with A Stopover in Semarang, My Hometown, among Other Places

The Authors of This Blog and Plus Ultra (notesplusultra.com)

From Jakarta and Hong Kong, We are About to Embark on A Journey of A Lifetime

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

110 thoughts on “In Search of Spices”

  1. I follow both your blog and Plus Ultra, but I had no idea they were in any way connected! I was a bit surprised when there were two posts from different blogs with ‘spice’ in the title one beneath the other in my reader – I looked at both only to find that they were about the same adventure! Have a wonderful time 🙂

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    • Hi Bec. No worries, it’s a good thing to know because many of our readers confuse me with him. 🙂 Thank you for your wish!

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  2. You must be excited beyond words knowing this great adventure is about to start soon. What a wonderful dream you are preparing for, and you must have given up a lot to undertake it….but well worth it! God speed!

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    • I really can’t believe it’s only three months away. I’m both excited and nervous, for such a long trip will require some adjustments to my usual travel style. Thank you so much for the good wish!

      Like

  3. Great article. Different people travel for totally different reasons. It’s a unique experience for every individual.
    All the best for this exciting adventure. This would definitely add flavour to your experiences and spice up your life. 🙂 🙂

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    • Hi Ibrahim. Thank you for your kind wish, I hope to set foot in your country one day for it has such a long history and amazing landscapes. For me traveling should bring people from different cultures closer, it’s all the world needs after all.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sue, you’re one of my inspirations to do such trip. Many years from now I want to be as active as you are now – exploring the world on bicycle, doing some rock climbing and kayaking, among other things. Life is full of opportunities and surprises. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This makes me speechless, and envious at the same time. But I really appreciate your effort in order to make this trip comes true. I salute you!

    Don’t forget to visit Malabar coast in Kerala, since it was the big name in the ancient spice trade even from King Solomon era. No wonder world travelers like Ibn Battuta, Zheng He (Cheng Ho), Marco Polo, and Vasco Da Gama also left their footprints there. Oh, and my footprint also, hahaha! 😉

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    • Well, we inspire each other, don’t we? I won’t be surprised if in the near future you’ll embark on your own epic trip! 🙂

      Kerala will be one of the highlights of our trip since it was such an important trading post along the spice route. Hence the amount of time we will spend in the state. We will surely seek your advice on Kerala! 🙂

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  5. Happy for you both Bama! It is going to be an epic journey and I look forward to following along vicariously and to perhaps even hopping on board briefly 🙂 Good luck!

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    • Thank you so much, Madhu. Yes it is! We really can’t wait to see you in Chennai since we both are big fans of yours! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. prem says:

    Hi Bama, hi James, great to hear your plan. Yes! go exploring the world as long as you have time and wish you’ll find your inner world within a well ;)) I am curious to know which bazaars you both will explore. Maybe i will recognize one or two of them. Have a good spicy journey, bom viagem, bom aventura and take care! fka dret.

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    • Hi Prem. We will definitely visit traditional markets along the way as they are often the best place to see the variety of spices the locals use in their cooking. Thank you for the good wishes!

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  7. Wow wow I am so happy for you guys. You will have an amazing time and I am very much looking forward to reading about all your adventures.
    Alison

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    • Thank you so much for your support, Alison. From the spice trip alone I might end up writing tons of stories for my blog! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, this must be a big thing, leaving your job to travel… up to now I still have a reservation to do so myself, even though my husband and I had been thinking about this your years…. Anyway, good luck to you and James for the new adventure, and looking forward for your blog posts.

    N.
    ps. will you be posting your packing strategy as well? I am interested to know what people take with them on long term travel, as this is the hard part of the preparation as well….

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    • It is a big thing for both of us, I’ve left job to travel before, but never at this extent. Right now I try to be as prepared as I possibly can without getting too stressed out, because after all it will be something James and I will surely enjoy. Thank you for your good wishes!

      As for our packing strategy, right now I don’t have any plan to write about it, but we’ll see if I change my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Have a great trip! You might want to read Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World’s Most Seductive Spice, by Pat Willard. It’s the best book I’ve read about a spice. Seems fitting for your adventure.

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    • Thanks for the book recommendation, Stephen! Saffron won’t be on the list of spices we will trace, but it would be nice to read the book nonetheless to get a perspective on other people’s way in seeing spices.

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  10. What a fantastic trip you have ahead! I’m looking forward to learning about these places through your wonderful photos and writing.
    Resigning from a job is always such a freeing feeling. You guys will have a great time!

    Like

    • The idea was conceived more than two years ago, and I can’t believe it’s only three months away from becoming a reality. I must admit, there’s something so liberating about resigning from a job to do something I really love, although my current job is not bad at all. Thank you Marilyn!

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    • Thank you! I really can’t wait for July, and for the first leg of the trip we will be joined by some really nice friends of ours.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We’ve been quite meticulous in taking notes during our past trips. But since there is a bigger theme for this trip, we’ll make sure to not derail from that. However we will only be able to properly answer your question after we hit the road. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  11. That is going to be an awesome adventure and I can’t wait to read about it. When do you think you will be in Nepal and India? We will be traveling from early October to mid-December but haven’t decided where yet, but northeast India and Nepal are on the list.

    By the way, James totally rocks that Batik shirt.

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    • Jeff, we will be in Nepal for about two weeks from early December. It would be great to meet you and Kristi there!

      That photo of us was taken in Bandung, and that morning we didn’t plan to take any photos of us. But James wore batik nonetheless. People will certainly think that he’s Chinese Indonesian.

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  12. A very inspiring post! I won’t let go of my dream to travel more 🙂 Wish you a great trip, especially to my home country of India

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    • Thank you, Shikha! India has been on my wishlist for quite a long time, although this time we will focus on the south.

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  13. July! I’m about to re-visit Myanmar as well, precisely on 15th-19th, wondering if we have the same schedule, maybe we can have a light lunch or dinner somewhere in the city! But I guess you two will remain still in Moluccas or in Malaysia at that time.

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    • Actually we’ll still be in Java by then, exploring places we’ve always wanted to visit on the island. Have a great time in Myanmar!

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  14. wow.. speechless, Bama…
    am happy for you, and for James as well.
    It will be a wonderful journey, so stay healthy, travel safely… and always check the drinking water 🙂 And am sure you will enjoy Nepal…. and the mountains 🙂
    Live your dream! God speed!

    Like

    • Thank you untuk supportnya! 🙂
      I’m sure it will be an unforgettable journey, but it’s also a journey which requires tons of preparations, both physically and mentally. Although the mental part is probably more crucial. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. travellinghelga says:

    This trip sounds amazing! I really wanted to visit the spice islands when I was in Indonesia last year but money and time didn’t allow for me to do so. It’s still on my list of places I want to see, the colonial history is fascinating. Apparently the British ruined it for everyone when they smuggled seeds home and grew spices in Europe. Good luck with the rest of your planning and I can’t wait to read about your adventure!

    Like

    • Even for Indonesians the Spice Islands is one of those places not a lot of people visit. As for the history itself, in the end everyone wanted to get a big share of the market. Hence what British did to the island. Thank you Helen!

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  16. Great post. I too quit my job at the end of November 2013 to travel and ended up staying away from home for 16 months. Returning home to see family and friends for a couple of months has only made the hunger to get back on the road even greater. As I sit here in South Africa, about to travel around our beautiful country a little, I am already contemplating my next overseas destination. Right now it is England. Tomorrow it might be…well who knows. Enjoy your trip.

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    • Wow, traveling for 16 months is amazing! Right now I’m taking my baby steps. 🙂 It would be great to do what you do, but since I’m holding an Indonesian passport — not the easiest passport to travel with — I have to adjust to that. Thank you and keep traveling too!

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  17. Wohooo nggak sabar menunggu cerita keren en serunya setelah tanggal 1 Juli nih 😀
    Jadi mampir ke Solo kan? Udah siap gelar karpet merah nih hehehe

    Like

    • Hehe, thank you, Halim. Yes, kami jadi kok mampir ke Solo di bulan Juli. Nanti tanggal pastinya kami kabari ya. Karpet merah, kru TV, champagne… bring it on! 🙂

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  18. Bama, I’m so excited for you and your trip to the spice routes, wish you the best luck and looking forward to read your posts on these beautiful islands!

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  19. Hi Bama, salam kenall.. woww.. 6 months of searching of spices is so cool! no wonder that you need to resign.. hebatt bam lu bs quit kerja gt buat travel.. not all people can do that for travel.. di tunggu adventure post.nya.. =)

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    • Hi Jenita, salam kenal juga! Ya, bikin keputusan ini gak gampang sih pastinya. Butuh pertimbangan masak-masak, sambil terus bertanya ke diri sendiri kenapa gw mau melakukan ini. At the end of the day, I think everyone wants to live a life he/she won’t regret. Dan buat gw gw cukup yakin untuk bilang apapun hasil dari perjalanan ini, it’s something I won’t regret. Siiip, ditunggu aja ya! Sekarang waktunya persiapan ini itu dulu. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • true.. im in the midst of finding out what to do this year too.. dan emang susah yahh ambil keputusannya.. karena yg kyk lu bilang. harus pastiin it’s something you wont regret.. good luck for the preparation! kalo sempet pass by singapore bilang2.. siapa tau bisa nemenin jalan2 mencari spice dsini. haha..

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      • And sometimes you don’t need to rush. Good luck in finding the path to the things you love! And thank you for the good wishes!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Nate! Great to have you here. People like you are some of my inspirations to do such long-term travel, although in your book 6 months is not long. 🙂 I will keep everyone posted, and hopefully sooner than later I’ll get the chance to visit Iran. I need to look up your posts before that!

      Like

    • Everywhere! 🙂 The world is such a wonderful place and to be able to experience its diverse cultures and landscapes is truly a privilege.

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  20. mumun indohoy says:

    So looking forward to your findings. *prepare cup of coffee… a little too soon.

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  21. I love to travel and wish I had your skills and commitment to right such a great blog about it.

    Really looking forward to reading all your posts. Have a rewarding time!

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    • Hi David. Thank you for your good wishes — for me it all comes down to one thing: my passion to see the world.

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  22. Bama ~ this is so cool, and there is this incredible amount of ‘positive envy’ I have right now for you two on this trip. Spices and the spice islands/trade routes are a piece of history that holds such an intense history of beauty, terror and hope. The incredible countries of SE Asia and all the different cultures and cuisines; what an adventure to take. Retracing the spice trade, a trade that ruled the world in its day, and in fact, it still does, as the mysteries of SE Asia are available throughout the world with the spices linked to ancient history.

    Wish you both well and look forward to the future stories and post…

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    • More than two years ago James and I were discussing about a possible long-term trip we could make. Then as if it was natural, spice came up to my mind since we’re both so fascinated by how different spices create different flavors of dishes from one place to another, and we both love to eat. It’s amazing to think how today we all take spices for granted, while centuries ago they were a source of conflicts and opportunities. I wish we will learn more from this trip.

      Thank you for your support, Randall!

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      • The history of spices, and exploitation of the area and the atrocious business practices of this trace is incredible… I mentioned a book on James’ site: Nathaniel’s Nutmeg which is a great read on the spice trade. A life-changing adventure indeed. Cheers!

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      • I’ve heard of that book before and I believe it’s one of the more interesting books on the history of spices, in this case nutmeg. This is a chapter in history which people often forget, despite its worldwide effect. So I hope I can rekindle those memories to say the least.

        This trip truly is a life-changing experience for both of us!

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      • It was really a fascinating book ~ I’ve recommended it to many friends. The spice trade is an incredible piece of history, and will make for great adventure ~ enjoy 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Linda. I have always been enchanted by Quebec, and my best friend who has been to Montreal said to me that it was such a nice city.

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  23. Oh Bama, I’m so so excited for you!!! I’m having goosepimples! Six month long expedition of you dream!! It is so so incredible. I’m so proud of you and James for making it happen. I can’t wait to hear all about your adventures and misadventures. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you the very best of all journeys. Congratulations!

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    • Marisol, that is such a kind and encouraging wish! It warmed my heart. If only the trip included North America, I would have put New York in the itinerary as well so we could meet. But that would have been a big detour. 😀 Thank you again!

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  24. Bama, your upcoming trip is magnificent!!! The anticipation must be killing you! I love that you’ve been biking to work and taking your lunch — trips like these begin before you even depart. What a great route — so excited to read along as you dive into all these amazing places, especially India and Nepal. And SIX months… so awesome!! Congratulations on making it happen. Already looking forward to the first post. 🙂

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    • Kelly! So this is that big project I told you over emails. Biking to work might sound so hard to do, especially in a city like Jakarta where the roads are chaotic. But not only has it saved me from spending so much money on gas, but it also proves to be a good exercise to prepare me for any adventures I will have for the upcoming big trip. India and Nepal will be new countries for me, so I’m really looking for July when the trip kicks off. Thank you for your support, Kelly! 🙂

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      • You will love Nepal. If you need a local contact in Nepal for any reason, let me know. I can refer you to the owner of a good trekking company. Also, Hotel Hama is a nice place to stay in the middle of Thamel neighborhood in Kathmandu. Nothing fancy — but quiet with a great location and clean rooms. Cannot wait to read your posts!!

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      • Ahh, thanks for that! I will look up the info on Hotel Hama a few months before my arrival in Kathmandu.

        Liked by 1 person

  25. Wonderful post and pictures.This trip sounds amazing! Good luck with the rest of your preparation and I can’t wait to read about your adventure! 🙂

    (I have moved to a new site. If you wish to check out my new site, here is the link – http://bestplacesofinterest.com/)

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  26. I love traveling but still, I have not been able to understand why some people bring it to ‘serious’ extent like this one.. what makes someone so passionate about wanderlust. Take care, Bam & all the best.

    Jangan lupa bawa sunblock, masker, imodium & diapet, mosquitos repellent, ghost repellent (hehehe).. rendang kering, iwak pe, kering tempe, sereal, jangan lupa solat.

    Like

    • Those who travel longer than most people do have their own reasons. To me it’s a longtime dream, and it’s just the ‘right’ time to travel now. Thank you, Ika.

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  29. sapto says:

    Hi traveller,
    Yours : ‘Javanese Sailendra Dynasty’
    The fact is still in debated whether Javanese or not ; for the references :

    Sailendra is Sumatran origin, by :
    *Krom (1919)
    *Coedes (1918;1930)
    *Vogel (1919)

    Sailendra is Funan origin, by :
    *Coedes (1934)

    Sailendra is Indian origin, by :
    *Majumdar (1933:121-141)
    *Sarkar (1985:323-329)
    *Lokesh Chandra (1994:64-102)
    *Roy E Jordaan (1999b:210-243),(2006)

    Sailendra is Javanese origin, by :
    *Stutterheim (1929)
    *Poerbatjaraka (1958:254-264)
    *Boechari (1966:241)
    *Wisseman Christie (1995:273)
    *Anton O Zakharov (2012)

    To avoiding dispute like above matter.
    Takes time, takes energy, takes finance.
    I wish Sailendra shouting from the grave : ‘I am the Maharaja of Klaten origin,
    well educate in Nalanda and Abhayagiri’.

    Talking-talking, its the time for you to write a book, seriously.
    Boleh titip ya, please find the origin of candle nut (kemiri).
    Take care, liver-liver on the street..

    Like

    • Nah, memang benar itu. Kurangnya bukti sejarah yang konkrit akan sesuatu biasanya akan berujung kepada perkiraan saja, dan perkiraan itu diambil dari sumber-sumber lain yang sedikit banyak berhubungan dengan subjek dimaksud. Semakin banyak sumber lain yang ditemukan, bisa membuat sejarah subjek tersebut lebih jelas, atau malah bisa juga malah lebih kabur.

      Anyway, makasih atas dukungannya. Iya pengen banget nih nulis buku, supaya hal-hal yang numpuk di otak ini bisa tersalurkan. 🙂 Oh dan mengenai kemiri, saya juga sangat tertarik sebenarnya, karena sepertinya saya belum pernah menemukan kemiri dalam masakan dari negara lain.

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