Villages & Volcanoes….Flores, Indonesia West to East

A gorgeous specimen of a mini-bus arrived at our hotel in Labuan Bajo, Flores to take us east to Ruteng. And that’s not sarcasm. We will forever be ruined by this bus – leather captain’s chairs, a/c, not crowded at all, for only about $8. During our 4 hour trip, we researched our destination only to find out that there wasn’t much happening there. We confirmed this when we arrived and took a walk during the 3 hour layover until the next bus left. There is one main road across Flores and we had planned to stop at a few towns across the way to break up a long, arduous minibus trip to the volcano we wished to climb. Luckily, there was room on the next bus, though it was not as nice as our first trip, we made it to Bajawa the same day.

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Here we discovered a bit more action and even some options for hotels, though they were slim pickings. Our room ended up having mold so thick on the walls that it caused shadows. Unfortunately, we didn’t discover it until the next morning, when the sun came out and Riki’s nose was already forecasting its existence.

We arranged for two motorbike drivers to take us around the area for about $12 for the whole day. Don’t worry, this included helmets and we even stopped when the rain got so bad we couldn’t see.

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Piglets when we stopped for inclement weather

First, we climbed Wawo Mudo, a volcano that is less than 15 years old. At the top are a few lakes and a nice view, if the clouds clear out, which they didn’t. The hike up was nice though and our guides gathered a bunch of passion fruits for us to try, which was new for me.

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Passion fruit

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Nature’s umbrella

Our next stops were at three villages nearby, Luba, Bena and Gurusina. They are a couple hundred years old and very close to each other. They are mostly intact for tourists, but we were the only ones there at the time and judging from the guestbook, not that many people make it up the winding roads to see them and pay the small donation that’s required.  Flores is largely Catholic, but this has mixed with animist religions in these areas.

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The villages all have icons that represent the clans – the grandmother and grandfather versions. The grandmothers have little shrine houses and the grandfathers have umbrella-like huts. There were also small houses and totems on the crest of the main roofs. Very picturesque. Only a few hundred people live in them now, but during certain festivals, people come from all over to celebrate.

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Lorens, one of our guides in front of one of the shrines
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Boy with tire and stick
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Puppies!

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Our last stop was a hot spring, that mixes with a cold stream. You can sit in the middle of these two and find your perfect temperature, which I did for about an hour, before we headed back to Bajawa.

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Downriver of hot springs
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See the steam?
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Mt Inerie in the distance

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We had intended to head further east to Ende, but came to the same conclusion as in Ruteng. Just keep going. Despite possibly the worst mini-bus trip yet, we decided to stay on the bus a few more hours to make it to Moni, the location of Mt. Kelimutu and our reason for trekking across Flores to begin with.

The bus was awful – the exhaust pipe was just behind the driver, so everything blew back into the bus. The seats were too small (or we were too big, but I don’t think so) and we were crammed in with 30 other people on an 18 seat bus, not including a yapping puppy and the two live chickens hanging in the back window, flapping and pecking along. Oh, and all the ladies were puking. The one next to me had a hard time getting it in the bag.

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Our Halleluya bus. Note the LIVE chickens hanging on the back and the pile of luggage on top. There were also no less than three guys up there for most of the journey as well.
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In case you can’t quite make these out: Anatomy of a Flores bus: 4-5 guys hanging out the open door. Small children stacked on womens’ laps (2 infants in this case). Multiple puking ladies – some missing. Pseudo-spongebob window hangings. Center rearview mirror says: Woman…?? And then a telephone number. About three square feet of visibility through the front windshield. Multiple air fresheners do nothing for exhaust. Fold down TV – luckily not on. Yapping puppy. Boxes and boxes and bags and bags.  For SEVEN HOURS.

 

So we were happy to arrive in Moni and find a hotel with hot water and a nice lady, who brought us tea and explained about the town and how to get up the mountain. But she turned out to be a con lady – trying to charge us for hot water when she knew it didn’t work (per another couple staying in the same homestay) and then trying to sell us everything from an over-priced meal to weavings to a private driver – all for way more than they should be. Really, the only thing that bothered us was the hot water. We hadn’t had a hot shower in weeks, and after the terrible bus ride, that’s all I wanted.

But we were set to make the most of it, as Mt. Kelimutu was something we were very much looking forward to climbing, the next morning, before dawn. So we spent that afternoon looking for a local hot spring with some of the few other tourists in town, finally succeeded after some local assistance. It turned out to be more of a warm stream and we interrupted a man taking a bath. But it wasn’t cold, so that was nice.

Our trip up Mt. Kelimutu began at 4:30 the next morning with a motorbike ride 40 minutes up the mountain. There is a crazy $10+ fee (almost $20 on Sundays) to get into the park (this apparently has not been good for business according to a guide we met). But we paid and continued hiking up in the dark (except for the light of Riki’s phone, as both of our flashlights were out of batteries). At the top are three lakes that change colors at random intervals. Currently, they are turquoise, reddish-brown and green. The sunrise was beautiful and the sky was almost completely clear. There were only 20 or so other people, not including the locals selling coffee, tea and anything else they could carry up the mountain. We were some of the last to leave, waiting until the sun actually hit the lakes before descending the mountain.

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Pre-sunrise
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Sunrise
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A bit cold

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As is the case most places we have been, maps are not so great. We had intended to take a trail down the mountain for an easy 2.5 hour trek. Well it turned into over 3 hours and it was not so nice. We could see little, as the trail was mostly enclosed in bushes and the few villages we went through were little more than metal huts and oinking pigs. Oh, and we got lost – per usual.

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Old school selfie
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Followed by a dog
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Flores is largely Catholic

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Eventually, we made it back to our homestay, had a decent enough breakfast and proceeded to wait by the side of the road for the next bus to pass through headed to Maumere, which it did, after about an hour. Maumere has an airport and our plan was to catch a flight back to Bali. We had initially thought to skip Bali, but after the week we had on Flores, we were convinced that it would be nice to do something easy for once. We could have tried to go back west, the way we came, but there was a landslide and the road was only open for an hour and a half, so we would have had to wait until the next day – at our dreary homestay with our con lady host.

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Made friends while waiting for the bus. All the dogs just lay in the streets – sometimes moving for cars, but mostly not.

We arrived in Maumere after a much better bus trip and proceeded to one of three hotels we had read about. Riki somehow managed to offend the hostess at the first hotel by asking if the a/c worked, while I was out checking on the other hotel next door owned by the same people. This resulted in the lady being very upset and contributing to our feeling of needing to get out of Flores asap. That and there was no hot water, towels or toilet paper provided. We did get a TV with an English channel and sheets splattered with mosquito blood. And a Disney-themed cabinet. This was the VIP room. We’re not travel divas. Our standards are pretty low, but this takes the cake. We immediately got on the phone and booked a flight to Bali for the next morning.

In hindsight, which is always 20/20, we should have started with Mt. Kelimutu and finished up with the Komodo dragons, to end on the highest note.

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