Bali & Beyond: Travels Through Indonesia Part 2 – Flores

Our next stop from West Timor was Flores, a short and very cheap flight away. We arrived into Maumere, the island’s capital, in order to travel overland to its western point, Labuanbajo. Like many of the Indonesian towns we’ve visited, there’s not a lot really to be said about Maumere – no pretty buildings or interesting sights; just a base from which to visit the surrounding villages and countryside. Having said that, there’s always something to pass the time in a town – lively local markets, busy fishing harbours, a choice of places to eat and time to catch up on emails and write our posts. But Flores’ beauty lies away from its towns – it’s a lush green volcanic island covered with giant bamboo, banana and coconut trees, jagged hills and picturesque rice terraces. One of the highlights of Flores is Kelimutu National Park, otherwise known as “Three coloured lakes” because the three crater lakes are usually three different colours – one is aquamarine, one is red and one is black. However, they do change colour throughout the year with no prior warning and without explanation although my guess is it’s more to do with changes in the mineral composition and not local gods. Our visit to the lakes involved a 4am wakeup call in order to be there for sunrise. The sunrise itself wasn’t particularly dramatic but when the morning light started to flood the valley it was beautiful.  At the time of our visit, the red lake was aquamarine so we only got to see “Two coloured lakes”!

Kelimutu National Park Flores Indonesia 19Kelimutu National Park, Flores

Kelimutu National Park Flores Indonesia 25Kelimutu National Park, Flores

Another interesting place we visited was Bajawa which has some beautiful countryside with several interesting traditional villages. Although most people on Flores claim to be Catholic, they also strongly believe in local customs and the layout and decor of the villages reflect that. They have male and female spirit houses in the large courtyard between the houses, small effigies on their rooftops, and a collection of animal jawbones strung along their verandas which reflects their wealth. Animal sacrifice still features quite heavily alongside the Lord’s Prayer. As with the villages we visited on Timor, we were the only foreigners there which is something of a rarity these days and the visitors’ book you have to sign shows they are still only getting a handful each week. Nice to feel you are visiting somewhere that hundreds haven’t trodden before but one can only wonder how long before it goes the way of so many other places? But that’s another debate.

Bena Bajawa Flores Indonesia 8Bena Bajawa, Flores

Examples of rooftop effigies in Bena Bajawa, Flores

In the small town of Ruteng, as in every other place we’ve visited, everyone and I mean EVERYONE wants a piece of you. Long ago we lost count of the number of “Hello mister, hello missus” we got along with hundreds of “Good mornings”; not forgetting the ever-present “Where are you going?”. Several times, we’ve had people literally running down the street after us and when we stop to see what the emergency is, or what we may have dropped we get “Hello, what is your name?” “Where are you from?” and “Where are you going?”. Sometimes they want to write our names and ages down in a notebook or on their phones. Often that’s the extent of their English and therefore the end of the conversation. One morning when we were walking down a quiet lane in search of some photogenic rice paddies we came across a school. It was at the end of a road and it was clear a quiet retreat was not going to be an option. The two hundred or so pupils were all busy amusing themselves in the playground but then we were spotted. There was no turning back. Before we knew it, every child in the school was charging towards us and soon we were surrounded by chattering kids. I had my camera in my hand and as soon as I lifted it they all started screaming, waving and jumping around as if they’d been picked up on a TV camera at a football match or in an X-Factor audience. When we left most of them followed us up the road until a teacher came to round them up by motorbike! Yes, it’s all very friendly but really, why does every single person we pass need to know where we’re going? I’m starting to recall what it was like all those years ago when I travelled solo in Indonesia. The constant bombardment of questions eventually wore me down.

Ende Flores Indonesia 1Ende, Flores

Flores: Moni (left), Bajawa (centre) and Sereya Island (right)

Wogo Bajawa Flores Indonesia 2Wogo Bajawa, Flores

Flores: Luba Bajawa (left, Wogo Bajawa (centre) and Kelimutu National Park (right)

Serayu Island Flores Indonesia 40Serayu Island, Flores

We’re now in Labuanbajo which is the jumping-off point for a visit to see the famously fierce Komodo dragons and tomorrow we join a 4-day boat trip that will end in Lombok. We’ve just spent a couple of days on the Robin Crusoe-esque Sereya Island staying in a bamboo hut right on the beach – only a few hours of generator electricity each evening, no running water – the freshwater for washing is brought from Labuanbajo and we had to collect buckets of seawater to flush the toilet. But there was fresh snapper for dinner and the beer was cold and when you see the pictures I think you’ll agree you don’t need much more than that! And so from here, it’s into the Dragons’ Den.

Labuan Bajo Flores Indonesia 8Labuan Bajo, Flores

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