South Pacific Seas: Papua New Guinea & Indonesia travel blog

Volcano at Larantuka

Tour bus decal

Friendly villager





Closing a deal

Catholic church

Woman wearing white paste



Electronics concessionaire

Family outing

Fishermen hauling in their nets

Flores Island has intrigued me ever since I read in "Lone Survivors," by Chris Stringer, about the hominid discovered there in 2004, popularly named "The Hobbit" because of its small stature and chimp-sized brain. This hominid could have lived as recently as 12,000 years ago, long after the Neanderthals and Denisovas died out 35,000 years ago. Flores Man stood a little over three feet tall, had stone tools, and probably used fire. It's likely he would be descended from a species of homo erectus found in Java, but it remains a mystery how Flores Man could have persisted for so long after the rise of Homo sapiens and how this little hominid could have crossed water to reach this island when no land bridge existed between it and Java.

To this point, Brad gave a lecture last night about Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin who also came to the realization that evolution explained differentiation of species, though Wallace placed more emphasis on environmental pressures than on competition. During his work in the Malay Archipelago, where we are now sailing, Wallace also noticed a definite line of demarcation among the islands between the Asiatic mammals on the western side and the Australian marsupials and monotremes (e.g., the echidna and platypus) on the eastern side. It is now known as the Wallace Line and indicates a deep trench between Borneo and Sulawesi and between Bali and Lomok, which unrelated species tended not to cross. Flores is on the Australia side of the line, whereas Java is on the Asia side of the line.

Our visit to Flores only went to Larantuka, missing the cave at Liang Bua where Flores Man was excavated. Anyway....Larantuka was first established by the Portuguese for its sandalwood, and it was later conceded to the Dutch. A surprising 85% of the population is Catholic, who participate in elaborate Easter processionals and observances of the Passion of Christ. Though I have never been to the Philippines, I suspect Flores might have a great deal in common with religious practices there.

We visited a traditional village named Mudakeputu, where the old people chanted and danced for us and the school children shrieked in laughter at some of our passengers and their antics. The women demonstrated traditional weaving and offered many samples for sale. In the sweltering heat, we also visited a local market which was rank with dried fish and pungent spices. The muslims ran this market, evident in the women's head coverings. Once on ship, in the distance we heard a more melodic muezzin.

I'm struck by the infrastructure of Larantuka, which we also observed in Jayapura and even in Banda Neira. There are paved streets, electric wiring, satellite dishes, and smart phones. Indonesia may like to display its armed presence, but it also offers the people who comply security and amenities.

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