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Published: June 20th 2009
Something funny happened on the way to Flores - I discovered that the flight to Ruteng actually goes to Labuanbajo then they take you by bus to Ruteng. I wasn’t particularly impressed by this. The whole point of flying straight to Ruteng was to avoid the four hour bus trip there in the first place. You have to go with the flow when in Indonesia but sometimes they really do make it difficult. The first grueling forty minutes of the bus trip were through what appeared to be one continuous roadwork. And because it was largely being accomplished through the use of wheelbarrow and shovel, I think it’s a fair bet to say there won’t be a whole lot of progress made over the next hundred-odd years. Once past that the road was actually very good but awfully narrow with LOTS of blind corners, and it twisted and swirled through the mountains so much that I started feeling seasick. We stopped halfway for a goat curry lunch-break then it was back to the buttock-numbing test of endurance.
Ruteng sits at 1177 metres so the climate is relatively cool and the nights are a bit nippy (blankets needed). The locals here
my room at the Rima Hotel
taken from the doorway, no optical illusions -- that is the whole room.
seem as surprised by the presence of a foreigner as everywhere else in the Lesser Sundas that I’ve been, even though I’m hardly the first to pass through this way. There have even been white folk living in town for extended periods during archaeological digs. There were three places I wanted to visit when in Ruteng, and all of them are easy to get to. Two are birding spots - Danau Ranamese and Gunung Ranaka (danau means “lake” and gunung means “mountain”) -- and the third is the aforementioned archaeological site Liang Bua (bua means “cave” in the local dialect).
Danau Ranamese was the first on the agenda. Ranamese means “big lake” in the local language (in the official language of Indonesia, bahasa Indonesia, that would be “danau besar”). It is about 22km out of Ruteng, about 40 minutes by bus. Just before you get to the big archway entrance there is a stretch of high concrete wall, apparently built there to block the view down to the lake from the road! I had been imagining it to be a circular crater-lake with a trail running through forest around the circumference, which as it happens is exactly what it
is. I randomly selected left and headed off round the west side of the lake. After an easy start over concrete steps the trail suddenly changed into the work of the devil. Its no exaggeration to say that parts of it were easily the most treacherous trail I have ever been on. In many places it was only the width of my foot, with on one side a ten metre drop straight down to the water below and on the other a near-vertical forested slope. On the downward bits you couldn’t just plonk your foot down as you went because you didn’t know if the ground would hold or even if there was
ground underneath the overhanging grasses and ferns. Some lower sections were so close to the water’s surface that they must surely be submerged in the rainy season. At times the trail just petered out altogether and I had to bush-bash to try and find it again, and there were little side-shoots that looked like they might be trails but quickly ended in masses of vines. Where-ever the track came out of the trees into the open there grew head-height tangles of a fern that was similar to bracken but covered in little spines, another thing like blackberry but with even more thorns, and various other prickly triffidy herbiage. I cut my arms and hands up something fierce forcing my way through these patches.
The area is supposed to be brilliant for birdlife but I saw almost nothing in the four hours it took me to make my way halfway round the only-average-sized lake. It may have been just one of the dead periods you get when birding, or it may have been because I was having to watch my feet for the entire time! Ironically the last quarter of the lake’s trail was easy, wide and obvious, exactly how I’d imagined the whole trail would be before getting there. And it was in this section that I saw most of the birds, although the three dark-eyes all eluded me (I couldn’t find the spot-breasted dark-eye in Timor either, so I think dark-eyes must be my new nemesis bird). Apparently bird waves are common at Lake Ranamese but on the western side I’d seen only one and it had been made of just a whole lot of mountain white-eyes, one brown-capped fantail and a male bare-throated whistler, so I was feeling a little put-out. But on the easy eastern side I found three waves, the best of which contained brown-capped fantails, little minivets, leaf warblers, a female bare-throated whistler, scaly-crowned honeyeaters, yellow-breasted warblers, a pigmy woodpecker and various other flitty things that I couldn’t pin down.
Also of exceptional note, I spotted a Flores Shrew (Suncus mertensi) on the trail in the forest, a species endemic to the mountains of this island, and so little known that the only specimen in a museum is the one from which the species was first described back in 1974. It was collected at this very lake.
So in summary, bad bad start at Lake Ranamese and a good short ending, but overall a rather uncomfortable day. I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be an entrance fee to go see the lake. There’s a big entranceway on the road and a bunch of official-looking if slightly derelict-ish buildings, but apart for a couple of fishermen on the lake there wasn’t a single other person there when I arrived nor when I left. The trail is completely unmaintained. I’m told that it all used to be upkept but money was squandered here and there and now no-one bothers with the place anymore.
Back in Ruteng I met a girl called Nona in a warung and went to a wedding, possibly my own, I wasn’t entirely clear on that. But it was interesting and I got free food. The next day I learned that two of the guests from the wedding had been killed in a motorbike accident on their way home.
Something I found out recently: if you have a big Dolphin torch for spot-lighting at night, take the battery out of it when packing it in your check-in luggage for flights. Should it get accidentally switched on by pressure on the bag not only does it drain the battery but because its packed tightly in amongst clothes etc, the torch gets very VERY hot!! I can imagine the news releases now: the fire that caused the plane to crash was started by a torch in the luggage of a birdwatcher….
Oh yeah, also there is internet in Ruteng, at least at the Hotel Rima where I am staying.
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