Traversing Flores from Labuanbajo to Moni

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April 27th 2015
Published: May 9th 2015
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The dilemma is that Indonesia is just so big. Or more accurately just so long. In each island there is so much to see and people to visit you just have to be selective. We have seen this throughout our adventure and Flores was a classic example of the choices to be made. We arrived on the boat in Labuanbajo. This is very much a diving resort. With good reason: the reefs off Rinca and Komodo are world class as we had seen and in the deep spots big fish and sharks are accessible.

By the time we got there I was buying antibiotics (you just buy them cheaply over the counter) to fend off an ear infection. I was paying the price for all the free diving I had been doing and was glad the medication quickly had a positive effect. So it was an easy decision not to hang around.

We had in our minds to get a ferry to West Timor. It was a challenge to find out where boats went from and when. We took the decision to get a private car to Ende a potential port of exit. This was two days by bus away and although there were places to see on the way we recognised we were running out of time as we came to the end of our journey. We were lucky to find a driver, Mateo, who needed to return home to the region (Tel: +62 82339712603, We paid him 1,200,000INR (£60) for the 12 hour journey. It would usually cost a lot more because they have to drive back. Having said that it would have been slightly less to fly. Mateo spoke good English and drove well. If you are so inclined he can arrange tours across Flores for you and if you are looking to do stuff every day as part of a shorter visit then being driven round by some one like Mateo is really the only viable solution.

The drive provided a good view of Central Flores. It is all very lush with jungles, palms and rice paddies configured in a characteristic spider's web pattern (see panoramas). It is the end of the wet season and everything is green. Mateo had a smart Toyota which was much more comfortable than the local buses particularly around the thousands of bends you encounter.

Ende was a functional town with an interesting market. After some hunting we found information about ferries from Ende ('There might be one on Sunday') and also the dates of ferries from nearby Maumere, which were not convenient. We finally got to post the vanilla and nutmeg we had bought from a farmer in Lombok back to England once we worked out that the Indonesian postal computer listed our country as Great Britain and not any other variation.

To get the bus to Moni, the gateway to Kelimutu National Park, we took ojeks, informal motorbike taxis you hail from the street to the bus station. It is a bit precarious with your pack and no helmet. I was also concerned because the two ojeks took different routes. I was glad to see Jane when we arrived at the Eastern bus station.

It is supposed to be two hours by bus to Moni. After 40 minutes our bus stopped in a queue. It quickly became clear that the road was temporarily closed and we had to wait for the two hour window it opened around lunchtime. This is the
Waiting for the road to openWaiting for the road to openWaiting for the road to open

The pick up is carrying five pigs trussed up under banana leaves
Central Flores Highway we are talking about! There is no alternative. As we waited we could meet our fellow travellers who, as we have found throughout Indonesia, are keen to meet us. In a bemo/truck taxi there were two calves alongside the people. In the another truck were five trussed pigs covered in banana leaves. In a car I chatted to a family from California. He was Romanian and she was Javanese. They had met in Aberdeen! Many locals sat patiently by the roadside chewing betel nut.

We found Moni cool and very much still in the wet season. Most people just visit for barely a night, get up early to see the famous volcanic lakes at sunrise and then head for their next destination. We had decided to stay for three nights to try and see more. The road in Moni is lined with guest houses. We checked out a few and picked Andy's Lodge owned by Mateo's uncle. We got a large ensuite room with a nice porch over looking the valley for 200,000INR. Mateo's wife had a bamboo clad simple restaurant by the road.

We used Mateo to drive us the
Ladies chewing betel nut waiting for the road to openLadies chewing betel nut waiting for the road to openLadies chewing betel nut waiting for the road to open

It is betel juice not blood on the road
13km to Kelimutu (he charged 150,000INR and the entrance fee for two was another 300,000INR). Many then get driven back or on like some of our fellow passagers. We opted to walk down which had the added benefit of meaning we were not time constrained as we waited for the sun to rise over the caldera and the lakes.

To be fair there was too much cloud for much of a sun rise at 5.30am. As the light appeared billowing clouds threatened to obscure the view. Around 8am the sun got high enough to burn them off and give us magnificent views (see panorama). There are three volcano lakes, famous for being different colours that change from time to time. In fact, they have been created by a single magma intrusion that has just moved along over the last few million years. One lake is bright bluey green whilst the other two are darker. We watch one dark lake and a light blue spot on the surface appeared near its centre. It then disappeared only to appear a short while later. We didn't find out was caused this phoenomon.

At the edge of the crater lake we met a group of Franciscan nuns and exchanged photos. One, Henrita was based in Timor and said we could come and stay. I write this blog from her convent!

The walk down the mountain was possible because we had GPS. There are no sign posts but the path we needed was accurately marked on 'Open Cycle Map'. We first dropped down to the village of Pemo. First cultivation (beans, chilli, corn, cassava) appeared. We walked past several cows and horses tethered by the side of the path to graze. People waved from their houses and invited us in for coffee and to see them hand weaving 'ikat', the local cloth used mainly for sarongs.

We passed by a building from which we could hear singing. A teacher appeared and asked if we would like to hear the children sing. They were excited to see us. We went into their classroom. The floor was dirt, there were a few chairs and fifteen or so children arranged themselves in an arc. One small girl conducted. Others tapped their feet to keep time. They sang a beautiful song, about we know not what. Afterwards we talked to the two teachers. This was Pemo elementary school. It had 47 pupils and two teachers. It was a touching visit. We hope they remember it as we do.

The clouds grew ominously. The heavens were opening as we got to Agnes's Warung above the waterfall in Moni. Agnes made us papaya and banana fruit smoothies, fried rice and Moni cake. Moni cake is small deep fried balls of potato, or was in cassava, mashed with rice flour surrounding vegetables or egg. They were very tasty and very filling. We ended up taking the ones we could not eat back to have with dinner that evening.

The next day we picked out a circular walk around nearby villages. We stop at one to sample the local coffee, which is best sieved through your teeth. Just before the heavens opened we met Francikus who invited us back to his restaurant named after his youngest son, Bergilio. He spoke good English from working at restaurant service in Sulawesi. (Here as elsewhere in Indonesia many people travel to other islands and Malaysia for work.) He showed us round his garden and we helped him plant some cassava roots he had just bought. He had various plants we did not recognise for medicinal purposes. His wife, Enty, cooked us a stew with baby egg plants with cassava leaves on the side. Meanwhile Francikus picked lemons and served us fresh juice. Once he got going the stories flowed out of Francikus. We sat their spell bound as the rain fell around us.

He told us about the snake motif below pictures of recent popes. He said his Grandfather had taught him to respect snakes and had explained to him how he had fed one once out of his hand when it came down from a tree. A few years ago they had a snake in the garden. Francikus said that Enty wanted it killed. He did not want to and only killed it because of his love for his wife. The next day Enty woke with a pain in her chest (heart burn?). Francikus consulted a wise man who cracked an egg and said immediately it was the snake. Francikus had to make an offering to his ancestors straight away. The next morning his wife's pain had gone. So Catholicism can only achieve so much in these parts.

The rain had stopped and we wandered back to our room. We passed a group shelling 'patai' beans from large pods hanging from a nearby tree. Fresh, they tasted like a cross between a broad bean and macadamia nut. As is our common habit we picked up two beers ('Duo Bintang') from a road side shop and drank them on the porch as the sun set.

We called and found that there was no ferry to West Timor on Sunday. Instead Mateo drove us to Ende airport. It was very convenient although there were many buses and they would have been far cheaper (100,000INR for two on a bus verses 400,000INR for the car).

You can not argue with the excellent flight network around the Indonesian islands. We picked up a ticket for the same day for £30 each for the 55 minute flight to Kupang in West Timor. They certainly shrink the long distances although you miss the scenery. If this enables you to stay longer in one spot you can get that little bit below the surface.


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