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Published: July 12th 2014
Well, I’m sitting here on my last night in Flores, as a huge blood-red sun slowly dips behind a distant volcano that billows clouds of smoke and scores of gorgeous tropical islands slowly disappear into the night. Admittedly it’s been a rather short holiday, but a truly wonderful one none the less…
After a brief stopover in Bali (which literally consisted of a plate of mee goreng, a couple of cold beers, a few hours of sleep and a rather bleary-eyed watching of the World Cup with an Estonian deckhand and a chain-smoking Balinese security guard) I boarded a small plane for the trip to Flores. Named Capa de Flores, or Cape of Flowers, by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century, Flores is a gorgeously verdant little strip of land, a few islands to the east of Bali. With a spine of looming volcanoes running down its middle, it boasts jaw-dropping beauty both above and below the sea and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter…
My first port of call was a lovely beach just outside of the town of Maumere and a couple of days that consisted of very little besides lounging
in the pool, eating sumptuous local fare and wandering along the black-sand beach. On the first day I stumbled upon a small fishing village where the old men sat fixing their fishing nets, the old women cleaned and gutted the fish and the kids ran riot on the makeshift soccer pitch, tirelessly kicking an old, half-deflated plastic ball on a vacant strip of sand. Language barriers aside, we managed to discuss the recent World Cup results and their favourite players before I eventually wandered back along the beach as the sun slowly dipped over the horizon, washing the coastline in the most wonderful golden hues.
The next day, I wandered into town and in the spirit of the world game, purchased a brand new football and made my way back to the village. The look on the kids faces was priceless and I was somehow coaxed into playing a full eleven aside game with them. The sight of a large, hairy white bloke who is pushing forty, sweating profusely in the hot Indonesian sun, constantly pulling spiky prickles from his un-calloused feet, as dozens of kids danced around him, frequently nutmegging him to cries of ole, must have been
a sight to behold. However, at some point we did win a penalty and to cries of bule, bule
, the ball was ushered into my hands. With a calmness that belied my utterly knackered state and that would have made the most seasoned professional proud, I smoothly slotted the ball in off the bamboo goalpost. I managed not to gloat too much, and toned down the celebrations to a suitable standard while the beaten six year old lay prone in the dust. A proud moment in my footballing career indeed…
Having managed to slip into holiday mode in a rather satisfying manner, I ventured west on the Transflores Highway. Although highway is a bit of a misnomer as the one main road in Flores is but a relatively decent one, occasionally two, laned road that wends and winds its way from one end of the island to the other. Although Flores is only 700km across, driving the highway takes somewhere between four and five days. This is due to the fifteen or so aforementioned volcanoes and jaw-dropping cascading ravines which force the road to twist and turn in such a dizzying manner that cars, bikes and buses rarely move
faster than 30kmh – see the screenshot above for an example. Added to this is the fact that it’s being widened at the moment, so extended delays of hours at a time are common as diggers and bulldozers hack away at the hillside, pushing that estimation out even longer.
My key reason for coming to Flores was centered around a doco I’d seen years ago about the volcano Kelimutu and it’s amazing multi-coloured lakes which periodically change colours, from greens to blues to whites to reds. Scientists believe this due to the subsurface heat affecting different minerals while locals believe it is due to the neglected souls of their ancestors or as a premonition of things to come - apparently it changed to a dark blood red weeks before the 1992 earthquake and volcano that killed over two and a half thousand people around Maumere.
As we slowly ascended from the coast and made our way higher and higher, the first clouds began to form and spots of rain splattered on the windscreen. Thus it was with an ever-growing unease that we slowly wound our way up through the mountains and the scenery began to disappear into a
thick, blinding fog. By the time we reached the apparently picturesque little village of Moni, the mist had become all-pervasive and the rains had begun in earnest. I checked into my room, grabbed a bite to eat and had a fretful night’s sleep, constantly waking as the rain continued to fall. I crawled out of bed just before four (thankfully watching all of these World Cup games has meant my body clock is completely skewed anyway), donned my warmest clothes and wandered into the darkness, completely expecting to be regretfully informed that the volcano was shrouded in mist and thus un-viewable.
Instead, I was greeted with a clear sky and thousands of stars twinkling up above. Bundling into the back of a garish orange bemo, I made my way with a few other yawning souls up to Kelimutu’s carpark and we slowly trekked up to the summit just before dawn. Once there and nourished with a cup of the local ginger coffee, we watched as the sun slowly peeked over the horizon and the lakes revealed themselves in their full glory. One a deep blue, one a vibrant green and one a dense, dark black. It was truly beautiful,
sitting there taking in the scenery as a cacophony of birdcalls rang out all around us and the world slowly came to life.
Eschewing a ride back to town, myself and Amy and Gerry (a Pom and a Scot) wandered the fourteen kilometres back to Moni, slowly wending our way through lush jungle and then down through the rice fields, pausing to chat to locals in pidgin-Bahasa and to rest our weary feet in a small hot spring that lay nestled amongst the paddies.
Having scarfed down a long-overdue brekkie, I commandeered the orange bemo and driver Andy again and we headed southwest towards Ende. I had been planning on visiting the town of Bajawa on the way west which is home to numerous Ngada villages in order to experience some of the traditional village life of Flores. However after a bit of research I’d been put off by what seemed to be a fairly tourist-orientated experience – come in with the tour buses, make your donation, follow the walkway, take your photos of the villagers weaving ikat, etc, so I decided to check out one of the lesser-visited Lio villages on the way to Ende instead. Andy wound
us slowly up a narrow one-laned road, climbing higher and higher through the most stunning scenery until we reached the little-visited village of Sagga. There I was introduced to the son of the chief of one of the two clans who proceeded to take me around the oldest part of the village (the newer part was off-limits as it was an unlucky time for visitors apparently). The oldest houses stretch back some eighteen generations, which considering the chief of one of the clans is somewhere in his nineties at the moment, gives some sort of indication as to the longevity of the people. It was a truly beautiful setting and we wandered slowly around, weaving through the traditional houses with the graves of their ancestors stacked one on top of the other out the front of each home, chatting about their traditions and customs, the changing way of life and the need to teach the next generation in order to preserve the old ways. After a couple of hours, I finished my visit with an introduction to the chief, who graciously welcomed me into his home with a cup of their home-grown coffee and some local words. And then he
asked if I could possibly help him, as he’s been having issues with his laptop…
I eventually made it to Ende where I spent a wonderful morning wandering around the local markets that sprawled along the harbour, chatting to locals in broken Bahasa and English and checking out the amazing array of local veggies and spices, some of which I’d never encountered before, and makeshift stalls hawking freshly caught fish of countless shapes and sizes. Having weighed the pros and cons of continuing westwards via the Transflores Highway; pros - nice scenery, cons - three days on buses, often accompanied by copious bags of vomit from Indonesians unused to long bus rides on roads resembling a half-finished plate of noodles, I opted instead to go with the forty minute flight to the western port of Labuan Bajo.
A few days of relaxing followed on a small beach a half hours drive north of town – the monotony of lazing away on a beach and plowing through a few books, interrupted by some wonderful kayaking around a couple of islands, devoid of any people and home only to a handful of chattering monkeys.
Eventually I managed to somehow
muster enough energy to then jump on board a boat to the stunning little island of Kanawa, a mere speck of an island nestled in a sea of the most stunning blues and greens and completely ringed by some of the most beautiful coral I’ve ever come across. Home for the last four nights has been a wonderful bale bale
which consists of nothing more than a roof, a mattress and a mozzie net. Bliss. On the boat over, I bumped in to a bunch of Aussies who essentially adopted me for the next few days – Mum Trish, son James and girlfriend Darcy and sister Selanie. The next day the five of us, and two elderly and rather mute Austrians, headed to nearby Komodo Island, home to the notorious massive, meat-eating (and occasionally man-eating) lizards. The park headquarters was also the scene of some wonderful Indonesian bureaucracy as we were issued with no less than seven tickets each. A ticket for entry into the park. A ticket for your camera. A ticket for snorkelling. A ticket for a ranger guide. Actually two tickets for two ranger guides apparently. A ticket covering the tax. And a ticket just for
the sake of it. Thus suitably ticketed, we set off with our guides, armed with nothing more than a decent sized stick with a fork in the end. How exactly this would deter a wild, frothing man-eating lizard which after taking a chunk out of your leg, infects you with its poisonous saliva which kills you a few long and painful weeks later. It was at this stage, after handing over wads of rupiah, that we were sheepishly informed that sightings were a bit scarce of late as it was now mating season and the dragons disappeared for a bit of privacy for their rumpy-pumpy.
And alas it seemed as we trekked through the hot Indonesian sun, past wild pigs and deer, but no lizards. We were literally on the final stretch back to the station when our ranger gasped, “Oh, lucky, lucky! Dragon!” We all scampered after a lovely big female who waddled down the path for a few minutes before heading off into the bush, seeking a likely paramour no doubt. After a brief lunch, we headed off to nearby Pink Beach which in reality, wasn’t really that pink until you went ashore, squatted amongst the shallows
and could see a few flecks of red grains in amongst the normal whitish sand. The afternoon was spent snorkelling at the stunning Batu Bolong, a beautiful pinnacle standing alone in amongst the swift and treacherous currents of the Komodo National Park. It was absolutely gorgeous and I have truly never seen so many squillions of fishies in one spot in all of my life - just floating amongst them all, schools of so many different colours and sizes and shapes.
And then the last two days have just been spent snorkelling all day around Kanawa. Each and every time I went out I was witness to some truly stunning under-the-water marvels. There are some absolutely beautiful reefs and yesterday the five of us all swam around the whole island in a couple of hours, drifting over the myriad of coral and fishies. Four massive bull-headed wrasses, as big as me, slowly drifted past. Non-plussed turtles would flipper by, briefly surfacing for a breath of air before plummeting down the drop-off. And today, I floated silently as a good five foot black tipped reef shark slowly circled me for ten minutes, checking me out as I checked him out.
And then finally watching as five baby sharks honed their predatory skills plowing through massive schools of small silver lamba lambas
And alas, the fortnight has flown and tomorrow it’s back to Bali and then home. It’s been wonderful and I’ve really had some amazing times, met some great people and seen some truly stunning things, both above and below the water. And although two weeks is always too short, a pregnant Jane awaits and this next exciting chapter of our lives beckons. A massive terimah-kasi banyak
to the amazingly hospitable people of Flores, to the Woddies and to the other travellers I’ve met. Until next time…
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