Having a Whale of a Time

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May 5th 2009
Published: September 22nd 2009
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Ok, let's see, I left off while I was exploring Flores, a truly spectacular, volcanic island in Indonesia. So much has happened since then, I don't even know where to begin. Oh, for those of you who are new to my email blast, first off, welcome, second of all, to catch up and keep abreast of my travels (often, quite delayed, however, and I do apologize for that), please read and sign up to receive my blog: http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/travlinfool

From Moni, where I had had the break-in in my room, I traveled to the east of Flores, stopping in Maumere one night along the way. After a quick overnight in Larantuka, on the extreme eastern end of the island, sharing the room cost with a couple I had met on the local bus journey, I zipped out the next morning for the small island of Lambata, a couple hours' trip by slow boat east of Flores. The dilapidated boat left the small harbor and Laratuka's picturesque volcano behind only to provide me with more breathtaking views while traveling through the straits alongside the islands of Adonara and Solor. Here, there were even more volcanoes jutting straight out of the sea (to what I have been told to be 2 kilometers into the sky). I literally lost count as I marveled at the sight. I met a local guy on the ferry who ended up becoming a really good friend to me throughout my stay on his island, and through a series of sms (texts) and phone calls, we kept in touch throughout the rest of my trip in Indo. Hi, Danny Boy! :-)

The picturesque and steep Ile Ape volcano looms over the town of Lewoleba on the island of Lambata. I wanted to climb it (her? are volcanoes considered in the female form like a boat?) but one sole had come off my Keen trekking sandals in Flores (mysteriously...) so I needed to get them repaired before I could do anything. I never did hike up, which I'm still bummed about. I'll just bet the view from the top must be amazing. After a few days of resting and wandering the bustling town and marketplace, I took a 4-hour rough-road journey from Lewoleba (the main city on this small island) to the whaling village of Lamalera in the back of a big passenger truck (I know, all the "L" town names confused me as well when I first arrived as I'm sure they are to you right now). I have heard some travelers refer to this road as "the worst road in the world," and although I wouldn't go quite that far, I must admit it was pretty bad. An exerpt from one past traveler:

First mud, OK!, Potholes, great!. But the last section! A recipe: take the hardest available local rock: basalt. Preferred shapes: football sized globes. Build a road. Liberally add steep slopes up and down, and as many bends and turns as technically possible. Place this road at the end of a long journey. Et voila: the road to Lamalera.

We started climbing higher into the rainforest into the center part of the island. Banana and coconut palms, papaya, ferns and many other trees were in abundance up here. Colorful flowers abound. There were even butterflies that raced alongside our slow-moving truck as we struggled and chugged to get up the hills.

After over two hours inside the back of the stuffy truck, I decided to climb on top of the truck for the remainder of the trip and found a spot above the cab. Five young Indonesian guys (probably in their early 20s) decided to join the “touris” and her ipod and all crowded around me taking turns with the headset so they could all listen to my music. The truck had barely started up again from a stop when I got whacked in the head by overhanging leaves. Moments later I just looked up, still somewhat dazed, when a branch came out of nowhere and nearly stuck me on the face. I ducked fast. I learned to pay attention really quickly, focusing both on the road ahead of me as well as on the thick vegetation and forested trees growing over our one-lane gravely, potholed road. A bee flew into my left arm and stuck its stinger into me before I knew what was happening. Despite the obvious hazards and perils of sitting on the top of a really tall truck, I fully engrossed myself in the next 1.5 hours. I took in the views of the distant mountainsides, the thick forest of green, and who could forget the dodging of the low-hanging branches (which soon became more like a game)? The local kids on top of the truck sitting alongside me, shouted “touris touris” and “Hello Mister” to all the locals walking the road way below us, firewood, baskets and/or greenery on the heads of the passersby. Some acknowledged us with a smile; others had no idea why anyone would call them a tourist. They just didn’t have a sense of humor. I joined in with the kids, and it proved to be a fun way to spend a few hours. The truck eventually arrived in the isolated whaling village.

This little village of Lamalera on a scenic stretch of rocky coastline has electricity for only three hours a night (6-9pm), zero cell phone service, no landlines and naturally, no internet. The appeal? This is one of the only places left in the world (outside of the arctic!) that still exists by subsistence whaling by the local fishermen. The whaling practices have been in existence for hundreds of years and passed on through the generations. The people of today still use the same techniques to capture and kill whales, chasing after them on hand made wooden boats (no engines allowed while in persuit of the kill), using harpoons they personally made while squatting hour upon hour on the sandy beach. Because they rely on the whales for survival, they have exemptions from WWF and other Whaling Organizations. The fishermen capture a maximum of 25-30 whales in a year, and often far fewer than this number. As a foreigner, it must be a pretty spectacular sight to witness (if not truly gruesome -- I've seen scores of pictures, and it's bloody!). One is even allowed onto neighboring boats during the chase and the kill which must be an incredible experience, if not rather scary. Boats flip or get destroyed, people can be injured or killed and some even dragged by the injured whales far out to sea.

That said, you must know I did not see a whale kill during my few days in Lamalera but I did arrive to the village the day after the last day of the Opening Weekend of the Whaling Season, in early May. I did see the aftermath of some manta rays being brought to shore, and watched as the ladies trudged home up the steep hillsides with big slabs of meat taking up space in their black plastic basins, some perched high on their heads. A boat christening ceremony was happening the day I arrived and I joined on the beach a myriad of photographers and journalists who had been in the village for the festivities of the last few days. All the locals reveled in picking up, carrying and throwing everyone else into the water, locals and tourists alike. I even saw a number of photographers with their expensive cameras and tripods get thrown in!

Some interesting facts about Lamalera: http://www.highnorth.no/Library/Hunts/Other/hu-fo-wh.htm
and not the most exciting of articles but one of many, can be found here: http://www.floresexotictours.com/lamalera_hunting.php

After a week on the island, I left Lambata and headed to West Timor by Pelni ship. More on the Pelni in a future blast. I needed to go there in order to cross borders into Timor Leste (also known as East Timor) to obtain a new 60-day Indonesian visa. Indonesia only gives a two- month visa when applied for ahead of arrival. My first two months in the country were getting perilously close to be completed.

Next blast should be coming soon, very soon, so don't get up just yet from your comfy chair (for some of you, don't put down that fruity beverage just yet), wherever you may be. Blink and you may miss it.

Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the end of summer......or is it fall yet???

Much love and continued travels,



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