Published: November 14th 2007October 31st 2007
The bus from Bajawa to Ruteng took over seven hours, and by the time we tumbled out of it in Ruteng we were tired and ready to eat something and go to bed. First, of course, we had to find a bed. We took moto taxis through town to our chosen hotel, and found it completely full. So we went to our second choice, and the owner informed us that he too was full, as was every single hotel in town. Apparently there was a local festival going on, and all the people from surrounding areas were in Ruteng to celebrate.
The sun had set, and we were at least four hours from the next town with accommodation, and there was nowhere to sleep. The hotel owner looked at our dejected expressions, and mumbled something about "sister" and went to make a phone call. Well, staying with his sister would be interesting, although possibly a little awkward... but it wasn't his sister, it was The Sister, the head nun at a nearby convent, that he was referring to. He came back with a broad smile and told us we could stay at the convent outside of town, with his friend
Indonesian trucks have a habit of having odd phrases painted on them (another one, parked nearby, read "No To Druggs") and we have a habit of finding them funny and taking pictures...
the Sister. We were a little skeptical, but any bed beat no bed, so we got back on the moto taxis and headed through and out of town, turning onto a dirt road and ending up in front of a very boxy-looking building. A French family with three kids were waiting in the main hallway, apparently also in search of a room. A few nuns in white skirts and blouses were running around finding spare pillows and mattresses and doing their best of make space for five people to sleep in a spare room. They greeted us warmly, and we waited while they got the French family settled then began making up beds for us in the infirmary. They were apologetic about the room, but it was actually very nice: clean, with two twin beds and a clean bathroom around the corner. Jesus looked down on our beds from a cross on the wall. We thanked the nuns profusely for their hospitality, particularly since we were grungy-looking and pretty clearly not Catholic.
We left the convent on foot in search of dinner, and soon realized we would have to walk all the way back into town before we'd find
anything resembling a restaurant. It took about a half hour, but once we hit town we fairly quickly found a seafood restaurant and sat down for a pretty good dinner of grilled fish and fried calamari. We walked back to the convent in the dark, swatting at the flying beetles that kept running into our faces for whatever reason. The sisters seemed thrilled to see us--we were quite a novelty, I think. They told us they'd serve us breakfast in the morning, and we thanked them and went to bed under Jesus' watchful eye. The next day was Halloween, which struck us as rather ironic.
At a little before 6 a.m. someone knocked on the door. I literally didn't believe that anyone would knock on our door before 6 a.m., so I rolled over. Another knock, and Jeff was out of bed, opening the door, and blinking at a chipper nun carrying a tray of breakfast food. Super sugary coffee, toast slathered in butter, and an egg. We thanked her as enthusiastically as possible, put the tray down on a table in our room, and went back to sleep for another hour. When we woke up we ate our cold breakfasts, packed up, and went out to say goodbye and thank you. The nuns were sad to see us go, and insisted on a photo op and a tour of the convent before we left. We all stood together in the garden for photos, and the head nun showed us the chapel (bare, carpeted with what looked like artificial turf, drop ceiling) and an elaborate paper-mache-looking shrine for the Virgin Mary. We shook lots of hands and said goodbye to everyone, then shouldered our bags and headed out the gate onto the dirt road, planning to walk into town and catch a bemo to the bus station.
We had considered staying in Ruteng for a few days, but decided to just hurry up and get to Labuanbajo, the city on the western coast of Flores, and the base for visiting Komodo National Park. We walked about twenty seconds down the dirt road, and a minibus pulled up along side of us with a sign "Ruteng --> L.Bajo." The buses often go through town before stopping at the station, in hopes of getting a few extra passengers. This worked out rather perfectly for us this time, and guaranteed us actual seats for the ride to Labuanbajo. Of course, we didn't actually leave Ruteng for another three hours--first we had to weave our way through town in search of more passengers, and then stop at the bus station and wait for it to fill up. While we waited at the station we watched the constant war for passengers. A number of buses went from Ruteng to Labuanbajo every day, and the bus drivers and bus attendants fought--and I do mean fought, physically--over every poor passenger who showed up at the station. A guy would pull up on the back of a moto taxi, and four or five bus attendants would attack him, tearing at his bag and pulling at his arms to get him to choose their bus. Each time a new moto or taxi pulled up, there was a rush of people to the scene, and the same fierce grabbing and pulling at the luggage. We watched the small battles as our bus slowly filled with each victory of our own bus attendant. Finally, after two hours of waiting, the driver climbed into the driver's seat and we took off heading west to Labuanbajo.