Published: September 21st 2008September 21st 2008
The principal crater lake at the top of Kelimutu.
Greetings from Pulau Flores
, in the Nusa Tenggara island chain of Indonesia. Flores is quite a change both physically and culturally from tropical and lush Bali. Formed from volcanic activity, Flores is pretty arid and mountainous, kind of looking like Colorado, although the mountains aren't nearly as tall here. It's about the size of Florida if you were to chop off the panhandle and turn the remainder on its side. The fact that it's pretty mountainous - and since even the best roads resemble well beaten logging roads - means that many of Flores' towns and villages remain pretty isolated from one another. There are many villages where centuries-old tribal customs and traditions are still practiced. Now don't get me wrong, there aren't any bare-breasted women or guys with bones through their noses walking around (although that does exist in Papua, not too far east of here), but there are villages that still stay to themselves and live a very rustic, agricultural way of life and speak their own dialects. I'll get into that more later.
I arrived by plane in the down-trodden town of Ende
, where arriving passengers are swiftly escorted from their planes into a bizarre waiting room
Another shot of Kelimutu, this time with some idiot trying to go for a swim.
that more closely resembles a large prison holding cell. It's at this time that helpless passengers can see their luggage being carried from the plane to a make-shift desk at the head of the waiting room where you must essentially barter with the attending porter before you can retrieve it, as he feels that he is deserving of some sort of wage for carrying it from the plane... although I think that's his job. It was at this time that I met Christina, also negotiating the return of her belongings. A nice girl although a bit of a princess with an opinion and commentary on nearly everything and everyone, we realized through our chat that we were headed the same direction and so decided to travel together for a while. Our first destination was the small town of Moni
, striking distance from the spectacular turquoise lakes formed within the calderas of the now-silent volcano Kelimutu
. We took a minibus (e.g. "bemo") from Ende to Moni 30 miles. Let me just say a few words about public transport in this part of Indonesia. If a minibus is built to hold a maximum of 9 passengers, expect to share the ride with
Sunrise on top of Kelimutu, clouds below.
at least 15, including at least one live goat/chicken/pig thrown in for good measure... and that's not including at least one or two more people riding on the roof! The bigger the bus (and none of them are that big), the more humanity gets crammed in. This was certainly no exception and was a good precursor for the bone-jarring, mind-numbing journey from Bajawa to Lobonbajo that occurred a couple of days later (and will be chronicled later in this entry). Along the way we met a local hustler named Rian who offered to let us stay at his cousin's place out in the country, which he later described was actually an inn with three separate bungalows, all with running water. It sounded good so we both agreed and followed him to his cousin's who wasn't there, although there were about 12 other family members of varying age there who all were very warm and hospitable, even though communicating was sign language at best. The rates were 70,000 rupiahs per night... about $7.30 US. Now, I don't want to appear ungrateful, but let me just say that you get what you pay for. My hut (calling it a bungalow would be
Farmer's market (pasar) in Bajawa
a little bit too charitable) did have running water, but as the sink had no valve, just a faucet outlet, I had to walk around to the back of the hut to turn it on. I also later learned that the hut I stayed in was once used to house goats but they soon realized that by throwing an old bed and a mosquito net in that they had a guest house. As for the animals, well, they just learned to sleep outside. Still it was very enjoyable spending a little time with Rian and his family as they treated us both well, and being out in the middle of the country with no artificial noise was very peaceful.
We rose at 4:00 am the following morning to make it to the top of Kelimutu by sunrise. Getting up at 4 am sucked but seeing the sunrise on top of the mountain was certainly worth it. The crater lakes which take their turquoise color from the minerals in the water, are revered by locals to have great spiritual significance. It is believed (by them - not by me) that the spirits of the dead congregate there. What they do
there or where they go afterwards is a mystery. Anyways, I've taken a couple of crappy photos which don't do it justice as it was a truly beautiful place.
We got back to Moni by about 9:00 am and took another series of small buses (where again we were packed in like chord wood) to the town of Bajawa
a very pretty town situated between two volcanoes (one still smoldering!), about a 6-1/2 hour trip. I was feeling pretty good about our progress across the island until I looked at a map and was astonished that we had only covered about 85 miles, even though it seemed like the driver had just robbed a bank based on how fast he was rifling up and down the tortuously winding mountain roads. Again, another precursor for the 11-hr ride from Bajawa to Lombonbajo that I would be taking in a couple days. Regarding Bajawa, it's a really pretty little town and is at a higher altitude than much of the island, so it remains a little cooler, especially at night, which was a pleasant change from the heat of Ende. (It was 104-F when I arrived at the airport a day
Pasar Bajawa - Tobacco stall
Old men selling tobacco by weight. A large proportion of Indonesian men smoke, heavily, but I've yet to see a woman smoke, at least I haven't seen one smoking in public.
or two earlier!). It sort of reminded me of northern Arizona. The people there were also very friendly, however Christina managed to royally piss off an innkeeper within 5 minutes of our arrival to the town in her attempts to negotiate a lower price for a room. Apparently, she thought that $9 was too pricey for a private room with private bath/shower and a free breakfast, and so had some choice profanities for the unsuspecting innkeeper who , to his credit, didn't take any of her crap and told her exactly what he thought of her "potty-mouth." IN response, she pointedly replied that she would look for lodging elsewhere where rates were more reasonable and the staff was more reputable. I immediately made it clear to the guy that I wasn't really "with" her and would be happy to book a room. Ten minutes later as I was unpacking my gear, Christina skulked back in and sheepishly enquired as to whether or not a vacant room might still be available. Luckily, there was, and the innkeeper, who minutes ago had been directly called a liar and a cheat by this woman, didn't hold a grudge. I would be lying if
The village of Bana where houses are aligned in two rows with space in the middle used as a "town common." It is here where animal sacrifice takes place whenever a new house is built.
I said that I wasn't smiling a little bit as this scene unfolded.
Well, we spent a couple of days in Bajawa, went to the hot springs of Mangaruda Mata
, and hired a car for the day to check out some of the remote villages that don't mind tourists walking around snapping photos. One such village was Bana
, with a population of 350, it's own dialect, and which maintains its own cultural identity and customs. Bana, as well as most of the smaller tribal villages in Nusa Tenggara were all hit up by Christian missionaries at some point of another and have since adopted Christianity as their official religion. That's not to say that traditional, animist beliefs and practices ever died off though. THey just coexist along side the Christian practices and are often incorporated into one another. One such ritual in Bana is the that of animal sacrifice/offerings. We met one of the older guys in the village, Yosef, a really nice guy who as all too happy to tell us about his people's way of life. One such occasion for animal sacrifice is when the men build a new house for a new family. To bless the
Bana - House under construction
Totally unaffected by the mortgage meltdown crisis, new home construction continues in Bana! The village men build the house in segments and then muscle it onto the actual stone foundation. Visible here are the main body of the house as well as the decorative crown piece in the foreground - all mahogony. It ain't lightweight either.
new house, buffalo and pigs are slaughtered. The buffalo skulls are adorned on the front or side of the house. Lonely Planet says that the number of buffalo skulls (which are really pretty small, like those of a pony) indicates that family's prosperity, but from talking to Yosef, I didn't get that sense. quick note on Yosef: He speaks at least four languages and is even cited in the Lonely Planet by name for his tour guiding prowess. But nothing comes for free, and this tour cost me about $5.50 US (for both me and Christina) as guests are expected to make an offering. After just hearing about the animal "offerings" I figured that a few bucks was quite reaonable. It also cost me my ball point pen which one of the folks in the village took a shine to as I was writing notes.
Bajawa was certainly nice, but it was time to continue west towards the port town of Labonbajo. This meant an 11-hr bus journey which I had been mentally preparing myself for over the past couple of days. We caught the bus, a 23-seater with 39 people in, on, and hanging off of it, at
A crappy picture of our very informative "tour guide" in Bana.
6:30 in the morning. We spent another maddening hour circling through town looking for yet more people to jam into this sardine can. By 8 am, we were finally making slow progress west. To give you an idea of how crowded it was, I was carrying a very small day pack wedged into my lap (my big pack was on the roof). On several occasions I wanted to unzip and reach into my bag to retrieve a cookie (I was very hungry) but was unable to move my arms above my wrist joint without seriously violating my chain-smoking fellow travelers immediately adjacent to me. Although I was sweaty (oh, did I mention the heat!?), smelly, hungry, and generally uncomfortable for every bit of the 11-hr trip, I was actually in pretty good spirits overall, as the mountain scenery was beautiful. This despite being rarely able to see it through the mass of flesh and cigarette haze between me and the nearest filthy window. Christina, however, appeared to be less than amused, and seemed to interpret her immediate situation on that bus as part of the cosmos' grand scheme to destroy her. We mercifully arrived at the Labonbajo terminal at about
Last erupted in 2001. It's a really nice view from your front door... until you remember that it's a live volcano!
6 pm. The terminal is on the outside of town forcing travelers to take an additional local minibus into town for an additional 5000 rupiahs (55 cents or so). In this case, there was no separate transport service, so the bus driver offered to drive the lot of us into town for the same fare. As I was reaching into my pocket for another 5000 rupiahs (I really didn't care at this point if I elbowed someone in the ribcage) I heard Christina argue with one of the guys in charge of this little scam (it's no accident that all bus terminals in Flores are located just far enough away from the town that they are supposed to serve as to be too far to walk.) Amidst her thesis being tendered to the bus guy, which centered around the key point that she/we had paid for a bus fare to
Labonbajo rather than near
Labonbajo - which he didn't give a shit about - I paid for her too so we could get moving.
Finally, in Labonbajo, we, along with a German guy named Karl that I had met, set out on foot to look for accomodations. Christina issued
Pack 'em in
These little minibuses ("bemos") are the main staple of transport in Flores. This one took us from Ende to Mone (30 miles) and was loaded with 16 passengers, one live goat, and one live pig. The goat and pig, as well as two passengers, rode on the roof.
me the following directive: "Let me do the negotiating!" Recalling how well her negotiating tactics worked out with the innkeeper in Bajawa, I decided that it was at this time we best part ways. In fairness, I suspect that she would say the same about me. So I'm back on my own. The town is a very pretty fishing port. Most folks here are Muslim. I had heard this but didn't give it much thought until I heard the Call to Prayer loud speaker, which broadcasts throughout town... at 4:30 am. I think that most folks here probably stay in bed and whenever asked, just say that they got up and prayed though. Lobonbajo is very close to Komodo Island, home of the Komodo dragon. I'll probably stay here for a day or two and hop one of the ferries that stops at Komodo on it's way west towards Lombok, the westernmost island in the Nusa Tenggara chain, and closest to Bali.
I know this was a long article, so if you stuck with it to the end, I hope you enjoyed it.