So, what's the title of this entry all about? Well, I've visited three places here in the stunningly beautiful island of Flores; in the first, Ruteng, I stayed in an actual functioning convent, in Bajawa my hotel was called Edelweiss, while in the last place in Moni I climbed up Kelimutu volcano, or more precisely rode up on the back of a motorbike.
Flores means flowers in Portuguese and was named by the first Portuguese explorers who landed here. There are indeed many colourful flowers, but there are also soaring verdant mountains, dramatic volcanoes and a lot of terraced rice fields. Sadly, the rice crop is being harvested at the moment so it's a dull yellow, rather than the jade green glistening in the water that I usually see.
The bus journey from Labuanbajo to Ruteng was fascinating, along a winding narrow road through the mountains, past houses lining the way selling fruit and vegetables. As we climbed higher, banana plants gave way to bamboo. The freshly harvested rice was laid out to dry on mats in front of just about every little house. When the bus made the occasional stop, vendors clamoured at the windows with bowls of fruit and charcoal grilled corn.
My accommodation for the night was in a convent. It was a clean and pleasant place to stay. In the evening I sat for a while with some nuns who were watching the World Cup updates on the television. In this part of Flores the local people are called Manggarai and their traditional culture still flourishes. I took a half day tour of some of the villages on an ojek, a motorbike taxi. The thatched houses are based around a circular main area, supposedly like a spider web, the spider being important to the local people. They are Catholic mixed in with animism. So, animal horns hang by doorways, while, curiously, the dead are buried with a gravestone and cross right in the village. My guide also took me to see the rice fields laid out like a spider's web.
The next day I took a shared car to Bajawa. Here I did a full day ojek tour of the area. The roads outside the town are quite spectacular. Gunung Inerie dominates the skyline, but there are also other towering mountains covered with greenery. Some roads are lined with bamboo, others with banana trees. It wasn't too hot as Bajawa is well above sea level. We stopped first at Luba, a small traditional village. The people here are Ngada and the culture is similar to Manggarai but different. The thatched roofed houses look the same, but in Bajawa they are built around a rectangle, rather than the circular spider shape of Ruteng. Bena was a bit more touristy, with lots of ikat (a traditional kind of weaving) for sale hanging in front of houses, but it was very quiet as it was Sunday morning. Everyone was in a small church and I stopped for a while to listen to the singing. After this I visited some small very undeveloped volcanic springs for a nice soak. The upper pool is a scorching 50 degrees, but lower down it mixes with a cold stream and it's pleasant for bathing. After lunch I visited the Oggi waterfall.
There are a few tourists around, but nothing like the numbers in Bali, or even Lombok. Consequently, the locals, especially the kids, are genuinely curious and everywhere you go you are greeted with a chorus of "Hello, Mister!" My next stop was Moni, a one street village at the foot of Kelimutu, a volcano famous for its three caldera lakes of different colours. I was sitting up front in the shared car for the journey there and it was a hair-raising drive as torrential rain started, reducing visibility. When we set off, I had buckled my seat belt, much to the amusement of the driver, but now I felt quite happy that at least it worked.
Most people in Moni get up before dawn to watch the sun rise over Kelimutu, since the lakes are best seen early in the morning before the mists roll in. But, given the weather, it didn't seem worthwhile making such an early start. Luckily, by lunchtime the rain had eased and the sun was out. I quickly jumped on an ojek for the ride up to the park entrance. By the time I got there clouds were threatening to obscure the views, but thankfully they held off and I was able to admire the incredible, almost alien landscape. The colours of the lakes are constantly changing due to the algae present in the water, but they are mainly blue, green and red. As the sun is briefly obscured by clouds and shadows dance on the surface, the brilliance of the colours also changes, from a deep dark hue to a shimmering brightness. Best of all, at that time of day, there was hardly anyone else around.
Flores has been a real highlight of the trip so far. Tomorrow I fly to Makassar on the island of Sulawesi which lies north of here.