Flores - land of dragons and hobbits

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March 3rd 2009
Published: March 3rd 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY


The ferry arriving in port in Kupang
I’m writing this offline sitting off the back of a ferry, which might not be a great idea as a small crowd has gathered behind me, I guess by how they react to this I’ll see if they can read English or not.

My ferry ticket said that the ferry leaves at 04:00, and the office told me to be there at 02:00. So I dutifully arranged a car to pick me up at 01:30 for the half-hour drive. When I got there we were met by a young guy in jeans and a T-shirt who told us that the ferry would now leave at 07:00. So that was a trip all the way back again, and arranging for the guy to meet me again at 06:00, and a few hours’ sleep, woken up as someone kept banging on the drainpipe every hour which I always thought were the hotel staff come to wake me up. I got there at 06:30 and my driver charged me Rp 180,000 in total for the three trips which I thought was a bit steep but of course much less than you’d pay for the same privilege in Australia.

It turned out that

All the islands surrounding Larantuka make it look & feel like it's in a sheltered bay.
the ferry didn’t arrive until about 09:00. A great flood of people poured off and shortly thereafter a great flood of people, including one foreigner - me - poured on. By some amazing stroke of fortune I ended up on exactly the right deck. I’m travelling “Ekonomi” class of course, so everyone’s a bit packed in but not as bad as I expected, basically we each get a bit of a bed. It’s a bit hot in there and of course everyone is smoking. So I’m sitting out on the deck, which is quite pleasant. The ship is powering along at a fine rate of knots, I have no idea how to quantify that. I’m facing out the back and can see our wake stretching back to the horizon, and a small trail of rubbish as every 20 minutes or so someone dumps a small bucket of rubbish overboard. The ship sat around for a fair while after everyone got on, perhaps waiting for the tropical downpour to dissipate, finally leaving at about 10:00

At the terminal, and even on board, I’m getting less stares than normal. I guess there’s all sorts of people on the boat, which I
Larantuka - electionsLarantuka - electionsLarantuka - elections

In case you haven't heard, Indonesia has a general election coming up on April 9.
think goes on a lot further, all the way to Kalimantan, I think, although I could be wrong there. Like airports, I guess Indonesian Pelni Ferry terminals are a bit more multi-cultural than your average street corner.

At the moment I’m confused about how long it’s going to take. Someone told me it was only a few hours, but the guidebook says fifteen hours. The locals here seem to be saying nine hours. If it’s nine hours, that’s fine by me because it means we should get in by about 19:00, if it’s fifteen hours that’s less fun.

I had a bit of a sleep but it’s nicer out here on the deck. A young student tried to practise his English with me but it wasn’t that great and after a while I got a bit tired and excused myself. When I came back out, I was surprised to hear a perfectly formed “G’day mate”.

Of course it’s common to hear Aussie accents in the most remote places, but there weren’t any Aussies to be seen, and this was more ocker than you hear from your average traveller. It turned out to come from the guy sitting

your guess is as good as mine
next to me, an Indonesian fisherman who had learned his English in Australian prisons and immigration detention centres. I think his name is Daewan.

Daewan told me how he was caught nine times fishing in Australian waters. Each time they destroyed his boat, and I think got a notional fine. Apparently his thing was (I use the past tense because he told me that “after nine times, I thought that’s enough, no more fishing in Australian waters”) shark fishing, as Indonesian fisherman tend to do. The normal thing - cut the fin off and leave the rest of the shark to rot. I profess sympathy for the poor shark, he grins and says that that’s the only bit they need and they can’t take the whole thing all the way back. We talk about the dumping of rubbish at sea, which he knows Australians don’t like.

Apparently for his third offense he was imprisoned in an Austrailan detention centre - not Woomera. For his eighth offense and some other one, he was imprisoned in Darwin and Albany, with one 14-month stretch. His English actually isn’t all that great, so I’m a bit vague about some of the details

a cemetary, I'd guess Catholic, pretty much in town, at the edge of the hills
of his story. He tried to help me out with information about Flores, most of which I didn’t need, and told me about Kalimantan and his life as a fisherman. In return, I told him that outside prison, Australians don’t generally refer to women as “bitches” so much.

He talks about the various nationalities he met in the detention centres ... lots of Tongans, Kazakhs, Iraqis, Afghans. We talk about how the Afghans were in a different position to him, they were fleeing a war-torn country, probably came through Indonesia in the first place, and were wanting to stay. I asked him if he’d ever taken people like Afghans over in his boat.
“No”, he told me. “That’s illegal”
I suggest that entering Australian waters without permission and taking our sharks is also illegal.
“Yes but for bringing people in you get maybe 10 years in prison”
“But you could argue that you’d be helping Afghans; not like cutting the fins off the poor sharks”
“Yes, and can make a lot of money. But 10 years... That’s like my friend who is from Singapore, he got caught bringing in to Australia three tonnes of heroin ...”
“Three tonnes!?”

This old lady signed for me to take a photo of the boy, but then after this one insisted that I take one of just her.
three tonnes. And he go to prison for life. When I met him I ask him ‘how old are you when you get caught?’ and he tell me ‘21’, and I ask ‘how old are you now?’ and he tell me ‘74’ ”.

I asked him if it’s true, as all the Australian media reported last year when an Indonesian ferry sank, that most Indonesians can’t swim. He said that except for the fishermen, it is true. I asked why, and he shrugged and said that they just don’t want to. I’d imagine they could, a bit, if they had to, since the kids are always playing on the beaches and rivers, although not actually swimming much.

So the boat got in to Larantuka, Flores, at night, I forget the time now, but I think it was about 21:00. I got a motorbike to the hotel, told the proprietor vaguely that i hoped to catch a bus to Ende the next day, ate three mandarins for dinner, and fell asleep.

The next morning I was woken up by pounding on my door. The bus to Ende was there to

There appears to be a sizable but quiet muslim minority on Flores.
pick me up. Now, it seemed. The only time in the last few years i’ve slept past 06:00 and this happens. There was no way I could repack my bag in time, and I needed some breakfast before a six-hour winding bus ride full of smoking Indonesian men and loud Indonesian music. I told her I couldn’t make it. When I finally surfaced, and another worker from the hotel, with a comically “Jeeves-like” mannerism and perfect English, appeared, he told me that the last bus to Ende had already left. After a bit more conversation and checking on my maps and Lonely Planet, I worked out that I might still be able to make it to Ruteng in two days.

Ruteng was where I wanted to go, to see Liang Bua, the cave where the Homo floresiensis (the “hobbits”) were found. This meant I would miss the coloured volcanic craters at Ende, but I don’t have time to see everything, there’s always the possibility that I’ll see it on the way back. I worked out that I should be able to get a bus that afternoon to Maumere, and from there a long bus ride direct to Ruteng.

Another Mosque going up.

This gave me a morning to look around Larantuka, which was good because it’s very scenic. It’s set against the backdrop of some real high mountains, up around 1500 metres. In fact the whole city, at least the bits I saw, is only about three blocks deep, between the mountains and the sea. It looks like it’s set in a cove, but the map shows that to be a lot of islands surrounding it, with local ferries going back and forth, fishermen in the sea, a clean beach, etc. When it wasn’t so hot, the mountains made it remind me, probably for no good reason, more of Locarno in Switzerland than anything else.

So that afternoon I got the bus from Larantuka to Maumere. About half way there a tyre blew out, so they replaced it with another equally bald one. Soon after they dropped it off at a backyard workshop where some guy was working on a motorbike tyre with what looked like a file and some ancient metal contraption which included a small coal fire. For a culture with such a cavalier attitude towards safety, I thought getting the spare fixed right away was being very cautious. Still, it proved to be a wise move on their part, since a few hours later it blew again. I think it was the actual same tyre, though, so maybe it just wasn’t repaired properly. This time it was dark though, so if I hadn’t offered my headlamp, they’d have had to change it by the light of mobile phones. So that was the bus from Larantuka to Maumere - it was cramped and smoky and noisy and by the end I was starting to become the typical grumpy tourist, annoyed at people who can’t even drive buses right and can’t even speak English, and chain-smoke indoors and spit on the floor and are pretty much all male ... For the first time it started to annoy me when they made good-natured jokes in Bahasa Indonesian about my giant backpack or my giant feet or my general, comparative, giganticness. I don’t think I let this show though.

One of the guys working on the bus (all the minibuses have a driver and two guys who job it is to hang out the door and tout for passengers, collect money at the end, tell people where to sit, and generally get in the way) asked where I was headed, and I told him that I hoped to get to Ruteng the next day. He told me he would come and pick me up at 07:00. He didn’t speak good English, but he repeated it back to me, and I know how to say “7 o’clock” and “to Ruteng” in Bahasa Indonesian, plus he repeated something like “my bus pick you up 7 o’clock tomorrow for Ruteng” in English.

Of course, the bus never turned up. One of the guys at the hotel spoke good English but didn’t seem as good at listening to it, and his spoken English seemed to mainly revolve around organising tours with his friends. He told me that the buses would not run the next day, being Sunday (something that someone at the bus station also said), and it was too late to go that day. He said he could organise me a “travel car” for 200,000 Rupiah, and he said that a bus would be 150,000 Rupiah, which sounded believable, so I asked for him to organise the “travel car”.

I then went down to the Internet place, and as I was sitting there began to feel awful. I felt fairly feverish and a bit disorientated. I walked back to the hotel to lie down. As I entered I was greeted by a very serious-looking man.
“Sit down” he ordered
I sat.
“Where are you from?” he asked
“You want to go to Ruteng?” Ah, so he wasn’t from any of the branches of government that his mannerisms might suggest
“I can take you there in a car, tomorrow, we leave at 6:30 get there maybe 8:30 pm”
“Excellent. How much?”
“To Ruteng, two million”
I don’t think so.
A bit of haggling and suddenly it was down from 2 million to 200,000, the price I’d originally been quoted. I presume that the 2 million price is for a car by oneself, and the 200,000 price is a car crammed with whoever they can find. I told them that it would depend on how I felt, as I wasn’t feeling well.

I went to bed and lay there feeling sorry for myself for the next few hours. Eventually I worked out that I probably wasn’t really sick at all but just dehydrated and not been eating enough. Also the hotel I’d

from the bus depot, a few km out of town, looking back towards town
stayed in that night had been very hard to sleep in. I took a couple of cups of my electrolyte replenishing mixture, drunk a litre or two of water, went out and bought something that approximates a sports drink, and went for a bit of a walk. I felt a lot better. That evening I got a big meal, and felt even better. By the next morning I woke up feeling fine.

But that same evening, when I finally emerged, the officious guy was there. “Are you feeling better now?” he asked. I felt pleased that he had noticed, because I didn’t think he’d heard. I started to tell him how I’d just been dehydrated from sweating too much in the heat and not eating enough and all that.
“Because”, he said, “If you still feel sick you can sit in the front of the car, it’s 50,000 more, only 250,000”
No. 200,000 Rupiah to Kuteng.
“There will be eight people in the car, you might want to sit in the front”
“No, I’ll be fine, I can squish up. And you’re not going to try to make me pay extra for my backpack like the buses do, are
Larantuka - fishing boatsLarantuka - fishing boatsLarantuka - fishing boats

found these while waiting for the bus to take off
“No”, he looked offended. “That’s included”.

This time the car did arrive. Strangely enough after cruising the streets of Maumere for an hour, for no apparent reason, we headed off. There weren’t eight people on board, there were two - me and the driver. At this point I was getting a bit worried that they were going to try to charge me the full 2 million, but the driver who spoke no English assured me that it was 200,000 Rupiah to Ruteng. We eventually picked up one person who also spoke no English.

While it somewhat offends my pride as a backpacker to not take the cheapest form of transport available, even though it’s only $AUS 7 more, this really is an even better way to see the scenery of this beautiful island. All the way along the island, runs a spine of mountains, many up over 2000 metres high. There’s a few villages along the road, a few with rice plantations, and, at the moment, almost all with half the population or more walking down the road in their Sunday best, some carrying their bibles, to the churches where people are already spilling out in the
Larantuka Larantuka Larantuka

at a guess I'd say this is a monument to glorious Indonesian soldiers who helped their injured comrades in some war
courtyards. By afternoon it started raining, turning the narrow road, at some places, into a riverbed, complete with large river stones. It’s now cloudy, which means I can’t see any more cliffs or waterfalls, and getting quite chilly, which I assume means we’re heading up into the mountains. I think Ruteng is at a fair altitude itself.

I’m starting to see signs of the Indonesia as we caricature it in Australia - the one about which the mantra is that it’s the world’s largest Muslim country, 88% Muslim, more Muslims than in the middle east, etc. We’ve had a nervous opinion of our second-nearest neighbour, which in the 1950s might have been said to be the country with the world’s largest communist party, but in the brave new world is the largest Muslim nation. This is of course an oversimplification, as about half of that 88% are actually Muslim in pretty much the same way that most Australians are Christian. But in more and more small towns you see a mosque, increasingly more ostentatious, and a church. The eucalyptus trees are gone too, I imagined I saw a few in one spot on the bus to Maumere. On
Larantuka - islandLarantuka - islandLarantuka - island

One specific island just off the coast of Larantuka
the boat of course there was a little mosque and as we got on, an announcement in Bahasa Indonesian which I think was the times for Muslim prayers. I feel a bit like as we get closer to the Muslim heartland, the Catholic churches grow more ostentatious, and the people more devout, as if aware that they need to stop the spread of their competition. It is, I think, something you see in most places around the world when you get to the “border” between Christianity and Islam, locked in their 1500-year old battle for new parts of the world on which to impose their foreign spiritual imperialisms.

So that’s the trip from Kupang to Ruteng. I’ll save Ruteng (hobbits) and the tourist town of Labuanbajo (dragons) for another blog, even though, by the time I post this blog, that’ll have already happened.

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


Road to MaumereRoad to Maumere
Road to Maumere

Taken the first time the bus got a flat tyre. I should probably have included the bus in the photo.
Road to MaumereRoad to Maumere
Road to Maumere

as per comment for previous photo
Road to RutengRoad to Ruteng
Road to Ruteng

a waterfall ... I don't know why I don't have any actual photos of Maumere, I guess there wasn't much there.
Road to RutengRoad to Ruteng
Road to Ruteng

this was trying to give some impression of how rugged some of the mountains and cliffs on Flores are.

6th March 2009

Great blog - nearly as good as a postcard!!! I look forward to hearing if you get up close and personal with any hobbits or their habitat . . .
14th January 2011

great stories
Nice stories about Flores...it felt like I am in it..travelling around flores through your stories..love to read them, nice photos.... greetings Christine
19th December 2012

You got all that I had in my mind, homesick :(
Reading your blog made me feel like homesick, thought that you came to explore the Islands but I still sitting on my desk and looking around *wanna fly over to*. I really like your blog, I was looking for some pictures to post on facebook for friend of mine (we will trip to flores next year) and got caught of your blog. The weather was completely hot compare to any other places in Indonesia, where I do love to spent time near by the beaches as you stories told me Flores people just played in the water but not good for swimming *I agreed*. Still lots of things and culture in Larantuka or I could say East Flores you need to know like whale, weaving, some small party, easter season in Larantuka and many more. Oh no, I bet everybody wanted to explore Flores Islands including me for next year 2013. I\'m the islands lady, flores - larantuka. Thanks for the nice story ...

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