Portuguese traders came to the island of Flores, Indonesia in the 16th century and named it ‘flowers’ as it was so beautiful. And we can see why they were so enamoured with its rich green rice paddies, palm trees and dark green mountains alongside rich indigenous culture and interesting villages.
However we were soon to find out that the rugged nature of the island which made it so beautiful would also make it difficult and time consuming to travel around, especially when everyone on the bus is smoking and music is blasting from the speakers. From Labuanbajo we traveled to Bajawa. This took us ten hours even though it was only 260 km. But luckily the scenery was breathtaking (although sick-inducing for some on the bus) with mountains, rice paddies and waterfalls alongside the island’s main winding road. Also part of the reason it took so long was that we waited for a hour for petrol halfway as the queue was a mile long and only two pumps were open. [Note to Chris Wall: it was a Total garage.]
Bajawa was a scruffy town but we were there to visit the surrounding Ngada villages which are still very traditional and are built in the monolithic style. We jumped on some motorbikes and set off to visit three such villages. We learnt all about their way of life and how their houses occupy an important role as organisational units. Villagers must each belong to a house and therefore a clan. Each clan is represented by a totem which is situated in the central area between the houses. The Ngada people still wear the traditional ikat fabric and build their houses by hand from wood and hand-made rope which we saw them making when we arrived.
One the way back to Bajawa we passed loads of kids who all insisted on high-fiving us as we flew past on the bikes and shouting “hello mister”!
Seven more windy hours on three buses took us to Moni, the base for visiting the three crater lakes of Mount Kelimutu. As has seemed to happen a lot in Indonesia, we awoke well before sunrise, and took a ride on a mototaxi in the dark up to the start of the trail. From there we walked for about twenty minutes to the viewpoint where you can see all three crater lakes. A trio of crater lakes is very impressive but what makes these extra special is that two of the lakes change colour over the year. The first one can be blue, turquoise or green and the second red, brown or black. The colour was so vibrant and thick it looked like a tin of paint had been poured into the craters. Bubbles of yellow sulphur made it look even more surreal.
It was amazing and we sat for several hours as the sun broke through the clouds and then rose, watching the colours of the lakes changing and the shadows disappearing.
We then walked back to the village cutting through lush forest, passing traditional villages (complete with betel nut chewing ladies holding machetes) and little kids shouting more ”hello misters” (also carrying machetes), waterfalls and fields of local produce.
Our trip to Indonesia would not have been complete without a flight on a dodgy airline, as all but two Indonesian airlines are banned from using EU airspace. Therefore, we had no choice but to take a rickety 80-seat propeller plane from Ende (the smallest airport I had ever seen – it only had two rooms – check-in and departure lounge) all the way back to Denpasar (Bali) via Sumbawa. Luckily, we lived to tell the tale but the flight did arrive three hours late.