Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Flores

With our limited time in Indonesia, I'd pretty much decided that the island of Flores would be our main destination. Komodo NP is reached from Flores and having completed that, it was off to the other major attraction, Mt. Kelimutu. Time wise it was roughly 2/3 of the island away from us and would require 2 full days of journey.
The trans-Flores highway from Labuanbajo to Larantuka is only about 700km long but takes 3 days to cover (and we ended up doing the whole thing) because Flores is very mountainous and for most of the way it is impossible to find even 50m of straight road. It is the windiest 700km of road I've ever been on and if you are even slightly prone to getting car sickness don't even think about it. The western half is the worst and that's where we started, with a 10hr day to get to Bajawa where we had to stay a night. We were lucky in finding a good guesthouse (Nusantara) with an honest and helpful lady in charge. Unlike everywhere else, she helped us to get bus tickets approaching the right price. Indonesians seem to overcharge tourists for all transport, even in non-touristy places so it's really bad where tourism actually exists. The drivers want to charge ~25% more than the local price for long rides (well over double for inner city bemo rides) and a hotel or travel agent will charge another 20% or so on top of that so quickly you are paying 50-100% above the real price. The bad news is that it seems like everyone is in on it and even the locals who in another country would tell you the correct price will quote the high price to you. It's frustrating trying to figure out what we are supposed to be paying. The good news is that it's like Ethiopia (very tempting to hate because of the hassle, but so beautiful and everything bargainable so it's still cheaper than all the neighbouring countries so still worth visiting). We also figured out that for some reason the buses will give tourists a better deal going west rather than east.
I did not enjoy that first ride at all. Departure before dawn so all you want to do is sleep but can't because you keep getting thrown around in your cramped seat. All I can say is that it's a good thing it wasn't a packed bus because I was on the verge of going insane. The 2nd day was much the same but for only 7 hours. Still up and over mountains with their dense mass of greenery. Rice and bananas where any attempt at cultivation has been made, palms and bamboo and 1000 other plant types where it has not. At times the road would descend to a coastal city and you'd look down on a rugged, undeveloped coast of clear, blue water. Not much sand though. To complete the perfect wild beauty picture we even passed a smoking volcano. Dad got a little excited and I think we have 50 photos of it now, haha.
With the help of a recommendation from some other backpackers we found a nice place to stay just outside Moni, the village base for Mt. Kelimutu. Again, the ladies running Palm Bungalows were very nice and charging a lot less than elsewhere for extra services like food and motorbikes up the mountain. Kelimutu is a sacred active volcano (though it hasn't blown in over 100 years) famous for its 3 coloured crater lakes. The lakes are currently dark green, turquoise and black but have been known to randomly change colours and have been red and yellow in the past. Each lake is quite different, with different mineral concentration and colour histories. The locals consider the 3 lakes to be the resting places of souls, separated into 3 groups, bad, young and old. Most people go up for sunrise so we went up at late morning just as the clouds were sitting in and had the whole place to ourselves, with the exception of a group of Indonesian tourists who took just as many photos of us as the lakes! It took us about 3 hours to walk back down, through a few villages and fields along the way. The views would've been more impressive without the clouds but we did make it back just before it started pouring.
We needed to get from Flores to Timor to reunite with Jake but couldn't get reliable info on the ferry schedules. Everyone had a different idea and after getting someone to call the ferry office in Kupang (Timor) it was decided to continue the final 7 hours to Larantuka at the eastern end of the island rather than backtrack 2 hours to Ende. So we had another long day on the bus, only to learn on arrival of yet another different departure day! This is why we had to rush through the other islands, so we could hurry up and wait. With the help of a local girl we got into a cheap guesthouse beside the dead port 5km out of town. And we waited...... It would've been nice if I hadn't already finished all of my books.
I guess I should also address the religious situation here. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world and the 4th most overall. With a few bombings in Bali and Jakarta, it's often portrayed as another hotbed of extremism. That couldn't be further from the truth. With 250+ million people in a poor and politically turbulent country like this, you are bound to get a few nuts, but really it all seems quite tolerant. Bali is Hindu and Flores seems to be mostly Christian but even in Muslim Java it felt very moderate. Headscarves are the norm but everything feels pretty relaxed. This is not even close to the Middle East. But I have to admit that I haven't been overwhelmingly impressed with the people here. I think I am often reminded more of obnoxious and immature Indians than respectful and hospitable Muslims and I really didn't expect that. I also suspect that being constantly laughed at is getting to me more than it should because I'm so tired, so you can probably ignore what I've just said. At the same time we have met the odd very friendly person here and there, but in general you can't say that they are like the Filipinos or quiet and straight forward like on Borneo....
Ammon

2 Comments:

At 8:51 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I swear I left a comment, I think the gasses are scrambling my memeory. Sorry guys.

Bear

 
At 11:58 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Guys, I hope this finds you safe, my asian geography sucks, so no sire if you are through or going to Thailand, but it is very unstable at the moment so I hope you are past it. We had glorious sunshine and warm temps this past weekend, so naturally it is supposed to snow tonight to punish us for enjoying it..... rats. I like the cold, but this is ridiculous!!
Where are you now, and how are you fairing these days?

Hoping this Finds You
The Bear.

 

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