Cycling the Archipelago

Indonesia's flag
Asia » Indonesia » Flores
July 3rd 1992
Published: August 26th 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

Heading from Adelaide to Darwin to Kupang, Timor, I started my cycling trip proper in Flores...........

21/6/ 92 Maumere, Flores
Flores is about 360km long, although its road from East to West ends up being 700km, with it winding through the mountains. It averages 60 km wide and is 72 km at its widest. Racial types are very complex in Nusa Tengarra, especially on Flores and Timor, where not only Malays and mixed blood Portuguese are found, but also descendants of even earlier Veddoids, Negritos, archaic Melanesian and Australoids- it really shows in the people who are of varying facial and stature characteristics- occasionally some with reddish or blond hair or very straight or very frizzy hair, looking Papuan.
I gave my bike legs a rest to get ready for heading off tomorrow and took a very crowded (always room for 5 more!) bemo to the traditional weaving town of Sikka on the coast. It is positioned on a truly beautiful wild ocean with the dug out boats on the shore. A large Catholic church gave evidence of the Portuguese who first established bases in Maumere and Sikka. I am often asked whether I am Catholic or Protestant- thanks to the last four Centuries of Portuguese and Dutch missionaries. 85% of the population is Catholic and Flores has the largest Roman Catholic community in Indonesia. Megalithic cultures, animist belief systems and ancestor spirit cults still persist in remote areas.
It was fascinating seeing the weaving and ikat process- seeing the bark and leaves of the trees used for the dying and tying of the threads. Indigo comes from the roots, mango is used for green. I was treated like the king trader with many women surrounding me seated on the ground showing their work. It became overwhelming with the quantity and variety of fabrics. Some of the motifs apparently show Portuguese influences from the 16th and 17th centuries- such as peacocks and European architecture. But with being on a bike and so early in the trip I didn’t purchase anything.

22/6 Maumere to Pago (43km)
It was a fairly easy ride today of 43 km, going gradually uphill on a bituminised road about the width of a car. I had to get off my bike often to let bemos and open trucks go past. The trucks were carrying many people, often with people hanging off the side and on the rooftop. I went past the most beautiful scenery with far reaching views to distant high mountains, thick forest with very high palms, bamboos and valleys of rice paddi. I was very much a novelty with whole villages running out to see me. People were loudly calling out “Hello Mister“ or just loud calls with children running after me and trying to hang onto my bike carrier. In parts it was exhausting and others scary. I saw mostly women sitting in the dirt under open bamboo shelters doing Ikat weaving. Ikat is a form of weaving where the threads that make up the warp or weft, or both, are dyed to form the resulting pattern before being woven.
I arrived in the village of Paga, which has a population of 4,660 people and asked for the Kepala Desa to see if I could stay the night. Kepala Desa translates as “head of the village”. My Indonesian is very limited and I initially could not understand why he was saying “bisa” which I quickly learnt means “can.” I thought he was saying “besar” which means “big”. It was a bit awkward for a while with our limited ability to converse. I sat with his family on the verandah of his home and had a simple meal of fish and rice with a clear soup.
I spent a couple of hours being the Pied Piper and leading (or being led) by many children who eventually thinned out to five boys. They took me to the far end of the beautiful and powerful beach to some large rocks. In a pool in one rock the water was red. It is either red or black and the children had no explanation for it. It didn’t appear to be effected by the rock, although the sand in the bottom was black as was the whole beach. The kids were lovely to be with and didn’t want any thing other than to show me their world and to exchange information. They were mostly 12 to 14 years old but looked much younger. Some of the boys had been as far as Maumere, but that’s all.

Women walk past with baskets on their heads. Most women are weaving Ikat sarongs. Older boys are parading, doing Karate movements. Loud Indonesian music is resounding from a house across the street. I met a teacher here who also teaches English but his English appears to be very limited. Many of the men I met on the road were carrying machetes. I’m glad the natives are friendly! Apparently there are five shops here but obviously very small huts with limited goods and no advertising. I am the first tourist to stay here, all going through on the crowded trucks and buses from Maumere to Ende.
Tonight we had a simple meal, which was the same as lunch, but with a green vegetable of some sort. We didn’t attempt to talk, as the TV was outside and extremely loud. It appears that it is the only TV in town. I was asked to join what was like an outside picture theatre with 50 or so people as a paying audience. The outside theatre was an enclosure next to the house screened with bamboo and rusty panels. The movie was a ‘B’ grade Indonesian movie that gave every opportunity for the hero to show his Kung Fu expertise. It was set in Jakarta and attempted to be as western as possible. It was a bit chilly and the men and women pulled their sarongs around and over their heads. They cheered when the hero did a particularly spectacular leap to beat the bad guys. I was too tired to persevere long and went off to my own room with a double bed, and slept well. I wonder whom I kicked out of bed tonight?

23/6 Paga to Wolowaru (37km)
I awoke at 6am with the roosters and the loud music again from across the street. After giving the Kepala Desa A$4 and a kangaroo pin, I set off with many goodbyes from children in the street. The road quickly narrowed today and became broken in many parts. This is apparently the best section in Flores, and so it will be interesting to see how bad it gets. The scenery was just beautiful -mountainous views, occasionally down to the coast and with European steep roofed churches, with their bright blue rooves, dotting the landscape. I rode in the shade with thick overhanging trees either side of the road. A relatively short distance of 37km still left me hot, tired and dirty on arriving at Wolowaru at lunchtime. Much of today was uphill which I came down in the last 4km into town. Wolowaru is in a beautiful setting with the volcano, Keli Mutu (1634m), closely on the horizon. I have stopped here to visit the towns of Jopu, Wolonjita and Nggela tomorrow.

24/6 48km
I’m the only tourist in town and so of course I turn a few heads. The daily market was a good opportunity to watch people buying and selling, children playing with handmade toys and to view the strange foodstuffs and ikat sarongs on display. People are so happy to have their photo taken and thank me afterwards. Today’s ride to the traditional weaving villages was interesting but also tiring. The ‘road’ to Nggela, 19km from Wolowaru was very rough for most of it and it was uphill initially. The last 6km was very steeply down hill to the town, which was nestled on top of a saddle with views over the sea.

25/6 Wolowaru to Moni
I covered a short distance today, climbing uphill out of the Wolowaru valley and then down into the Moni Valley at the foot of Keli Mutu. This is a beautiful area; surrounded by mountains on all sides, paddi fields, ikat materials from the area, Nggela, Sumba and Savu and a wonderful restaurant with a great immediate view over the paddi fields. I arrived here before lunch and spent the day slowly walking around he village, to a waterfall, going across the fields having lunch and negotiating with a woman, who spoke excellent English, for an ikat sarong from Moni. I went back to her home and looked at some others that her mother had made. One was of excellent quality that she has had for some time but is willing to sell now to send the children to school and to further her own English study. The ikat that I bought ($18.50) is made from locally grown and spun cotton and with natural dyes of indigo, tamarind and the menkuda tree bark. It is a traditional pattern from the area showing Keli Mutu, earrings made from gold given, along with horses, to the husband’s parents when he marries, and a spirit. It would have taken two months to weave and up to 4 months all together with spinning the cotton, collecting dyes etc. Some of the trees are sought after by many in the village and so are becoming more rare.

26/6 Moni
Last night I went to some traditional dancing. I had been invited earlier by a girl in the village, as a friend rather than having to pay. It was set in the centre of a Kampong part of Moni around an old grave. Old instruments of drums and gongs were played with 5 girls dancing slow body and hand movements and singing. It was a pleasant night talking to a group beforehand, showing photos etc and talking to a seminary student who spoke some English. I was the only tourist at the dancing, which I gather they have every night, as they are still practising. I didn’t sleep well due to the cold, despite my thermals. There is only one very thin small blanket on the bed. I was also restless, as I knew my alarm was to go off at 3.30am to get the truck for the 14km trip to the top of Keli Mutu to see sunrise light up the three volcanic lakes. The truck had a canopy on top and about six plank seats going across it, some of which are padded. There were about 6 tourists, a few Indonesians and a few boys who provided Kopi, teh and pancakes and lit a fire while we waited in
Portuguese Style ChurchPortuguese Style ChurchPortuguese Style Church

Flores was under Portuguese control from early 17C to mid 19thC
the cold. One little boy was really cold in just shorts and a T-shirt with a sarong around him. Other buses joined us at sunrise to make a group of about 20. The sky was clear and the view magnificent. The three craters have lakes, which change colour- sometimes black, red, green and blue. Legend has it that Keli Mutu is an abode of the dead. In the maroon lake live the souls of sinners, the green one has young men, virgins and the pure of heart and the blue lake holds the souls of the elderly. I followed a narrow track around the rim, despite the sign saying not to do so because it was dangerous. It had some loose stones and was extremely steep on both sides but it wasn’t too bad. It had great views and was a powerful place to be.

27/6 Moni to Nangapanda
I set off to Ende, the capital of Flores, taking it relatively slowly. After a climb out of the valley Moni settles in, it was pretty well all down hill to Ende. This section was just magnificent with views across and down steep valleys with large rivers and waterfalls. Single houses and villages were perched extremely high on the side of steep valleys with what must be amongst the best views in the world. I wonder if they appreciate it in the same way that we do? One valley widened out and was particularly beautiful with the morning sun lighting up the green of the paddi fields and filtering through the huge bamboo that lined the road. I stopped by the side of the road watching a line of young women planting rice and thinking about joining them. They signalled for me to do so and so I took off my shoes and precariously walked across the paddi field banks and sloshed into the mud. I helped them finish off the field, which was great fun. I joined one of the girls with her father and brother in having a coffee in their spartan bamboo house with its dirt floors. Cooking was done in one corner of another room on a wood fire on the ground. Several children crowded the doorway watching. I took several photos outside to send to them. The girl dressed up especially. I took one photo of a boy with a homemade guitar to add to
Rice Paddi Rice Paddi Rice Paddi

Where I tried the art of planting
my collection of children with home made toys.
I came into Ende early afternoon. It is a large sprawling town/ city with no particular charm other than it’s setting on a bay with a large mountain as a backdrop. I decided to avoid staying here and set off to the next largest village of about 300 people called Nangapanda. It was a pleasant ride along the coast with incredible green rocks, which had fallen from surrounding cliffs and formed green pebbles on the beach. People were collecting them, sorting them into sizes and crushing some. Apparently they are exported to overseas markets, particularly Japan to be used decoratively. What a shame.

Having done 85 km today I arrived hot, tired, dirty and a bit spaced out. There is no losman here and so I went to the Kepala Desa’s house to ask if I could stay. I had been tempted to sleep in a shelter on the beach but thought that I would miss out on an experience by doing so. An experience I had. I was surrounded by curious people who followed me into the Kepala Desa’s house. I was seated in the room on the only chair
Time out from Planting Time out from Planting Time out from Planting

Warm and welcoming
facing maybe 40 or more people. The Kepala Desa was in Ende and the Elementary School Teacher, Antonius, talked with me as he had a little English. It was agreed I stay at his house. One woman said that I looked angry but I explained that I was very tired. After a mandi in a bamboo hut in the middle of a dirt yard with pigs, dogs and chickens roaming around I felt much better. There was a party to be held that night to which I was invited. It was to be a celebration of someone finishing his degree at Ende University. This was similar to the wedding that I had seen in Timor in that the graduate, his mother and his Auntie were on chairs formally on display, barely talking and facing us like an audience. We sat round watching them for a while, followed by solemn speeches thanking the family and referring to the motto, that was up behind them, about being patient. A meal of pig, chicken rice & vegetables was followed by thick black coffee. Later some of the chairs were cleared and the M.C. asked several of the young men to dance, me included. We started off in a circle with one person in the middle who we had to follow as he came up with new steps. Some American Rock’n’Roll including Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly etc was put on and after a short rest the men got up and danced again, disco style. They were very impressed with my dancing with much laughter and clapping!

Antonius kept on asking me how much every thing cost and saying how rich I was and how poor he was. I made the mistake of showing them a photo of my house at Victor Harbor, which brought gasps. I became very uncomfortable both with my affluence, but also with the feeling that Antonius was befriending me to write to me to get money to build a new house. He asked me this outright. His house is very simple with dirt floors, bamboo walls and dirty pieces of material for doors. Someone in the family had given up their bamboo bed for the night for me to sleep in. Antonius seemed fairly creepy to me, his wife was lovely, and I actually dreamt that night of him being involved with incest with one of his children.
Belanda, BelandaBelanda, BelandaBelanda, Belanda

All day villages would run as they saw me coming

28/6 Nangapanda to Bajawa (98.42km 522km Total) 9.26hrs, av speed 10.3km
Today would have to be the most exhausting day I have had in my life! I set off at 6.40am with the idea of making it to Bajawa to stay in a losman rather than in someone’s home in a village. I was feeling overwhelmed with the cultural difference, my lack of language, being confronted with my wealth, the demands of other people looking at me and saying “Hello Mister? “Where are you going?” “What is your name?” all day!
I took photos of the family to send to them and gave them 5,000rp ($3.30) for having me stay. This was more than necessary and Antonius was pleased and his wife uncomfortable but appreciative. I waved goodbye to the 30 or so people that had collected on the road to see me off.
The initial part of the journey was fine as it continued along the coast but soon began the ascent to Bajawa, which is at 1100m. I was basically cycling up hill all day with one stretch downhill, which only meant I had to go uphill again. I only stopped three times for about 30 minutes all up and boy was I sick of the demands of people wanting to know my name as I struggled on in a bit of a haze, knees starting to hurt, and with aching legs and shoulders.
It started to rain as I came into Bajawa at 5.15pm, down a lovely stretch of new road. It was absolutely pouring when I eventually found a losman I was happy with. It is set on the edge of town on a hill with windows that open out to a view of hills, a European style church and to a volcano-looking mountain in the distance. It has a porch to sit on with the same view, the food is good, the other tourists here are nice and all in all, it’s just what I needed. After a freezing mandi and a meal of Gado Gado and Padang potatoes and a talk with the others about American TV and politics I went off to bed to a well-earned rest!

29/6 Bajawa (6km, 528km total)
After a relaxed morning I gently ventured out to the “ Hello Misters” to see Bajawa’s ancestral poles. Called locally negubu for men and bhaga for women, these totems protect the town and the fields against bad spirits (polo) or are raised in honour of the gods of clouds and mists (noca) and good spirits (ngebu). A buffalo had been killed the week before and his blood put on the totem showing that animism is alive and well in this area, despite the strong inroads of Christianity. The totems are funny things, looking a bit like an umbrella with thatched round rooves.

30/6 Bajawa (34.6km, 562.6km total)
I set off in the morning for a day trip to the traditional Ngada village of Bena, 14 km away. It was a wonderful ride all the way with magnificent views of mountains and the mighty Gunung Inerie. They get many tourists here (maybe 100 a month), not many Australians though and they have only seen 2 or 3 people on bikes before. The village people were very accommodating, relaxed and friendly in spite of the tourist ‘”onslaught” and were busy getting on with village life- weaving, preparing food and, currently, most of the village involved in building two new houses. I helped plane some wood and joked a bit and they related well with me, giving me some coffee and not expecting payment. There were a number of megaliths, stone pillars and walls which would have taken huge efforts to get from the forest depths below to the village which is on top of a ridge overlooking mountains to the sea and the Gunung Inerie. The adat houses had totems and ngebu and bhaga figures on top of their rooves. The male totem Negubu was a male hunting figure and the female a small hut on top of the gable. Wood carving on the buildings depicted horses, which are common here.

2/7/92 Wairana - Ruteng (49.55km, 663.25km total)
It’s not possible to see much from a bemo, with it being crowded and with tinted windows. The road has continued to be quite good, being mostly paved and only occasionally broken. There is little traffic. Most days I only pass say 5 or so vehicles. I have seen a few handicapped people over the last few days- clubfeet, hands, goitre, blind in one eye etc. It’s most strange when you see very European looking children. Eg, one girl had very pale skin, red hair and freckles.
Ruteng is a fair sized town but with little of interest to a tourist. I weaved my bike through the alleyway of the covered market to much local amusement.
The Wisma Agung 1 losman here is very large with a 1st class single room costing $4.70. I have my own very clean mandi, lights that work during the day, 2 blankets and even a mirror!

3/7/92 Ruteng - Labuhanbajo (124.22 km 787.47 Total) Max speed 46km Av Speed 14.6km
I set off for Labuhanbajo at 7 am and got in at 4.30 pm which was perhaps the second most exhausting day in my life. Despite the long stretches downhill there were 3 sections up hill with several smaller ones in between. I almost ended up sleeping by the side of the road (for the night) by a river at Limbung but was disturbed by some locals while I relaxed and read. They said that there was only 4 km ahead of uphill and so I decided to set off. A truck feeling sorry for me stopped and took me to the top of the rise, which was more like 10 km and the steepest section in all of Flores.
I met up with the 3 American guys and the Australian/ German couple. I’m going to join them on a 3-day trip to Komodo and onto Sumbawa instead of hanging around here. The view from the truck today was incredible and I could really enjoy it standing up without vision impaired and not having to put my energies into cycling.

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


8th April 2007

I have just got back from Flores and your impressions are very interesting to read about - especially ten years ago when fewer tourists were around. I'm also so impressed at how you mabaged to cycle, most days i was knackered from the Bemo. The leg from Labanbajo to Ruteng must have been completely knackering i can imagine!
9th April 2007

Cycling the Archipelago
Thanks Jona for getting in contact. I hadn't really thought about tourism increasing in Flores since I was there. I don't think I could do the trip now. My fitness level has gone down a bit!

Tot: 0.158s; Tpl: 0.014s; cc: 14; qc: 22; dbt: 0.1012s; 1; m:jupiter w:www (; sld: 3; ; mem: 1.6mb